Silos (both company and IT) have long inhibited collaboration in construction. Newforma’s ‘Connector’ strategy seeks to break them down.
I recently wrote (16 August: Newforma now playing cloud catch-up?) about Newforma’s Cloud Services initiative, which has seen the vendor expand its extranet-type capabilities, complementing its original core on-premise, behind-the-firewall application.
I spoke last Thursday to Newforma CEO Ian Howell, and he said the company’s vision is to provide “a footprint inside a company alongside a footprint in cloud collaboration – what we call a hybrid solution,” able to support three “legs of a stool” or three tiers of collaborative endeavour:
- collaboration between individuals, often via mobile applications
- collaboration within the enterprise firewall, perhaps subject to governance, regulatory and compliance constraints, and
- collaboration between teams in separate companies, often via private or public clouds
“Silos have been a big part of the fragmentation which has been a major factor contributing to problems in the construction industry,” he said. “Some firms – Autodesk, for example, with its 365 platform – would be delighted if we could resolve this by all using the same suite of applications, but the reality is that project team members from different companies will alway be using a variety of distributed systems.”
He explained how Newforma Cloud Services complemented Newforma Project Center, which is used to manage all of the projects in an architect’s or engineer’s office that are in various stages of design for many months (or even years) before some subset of them eventually go to construction. Newforma Cloud Services was developed to enhance the core benefits of Project Center, adding functionality for better design collaboration with other design consultants and/or contractors that are part of the project team, allowing users to synchronise files between the hosted domain and the cloud, and providing web/mobile access and full audit trails as part of the design process.
Work in progress
This approach supports building information modelling design management principles associated with common data environments (CDEs), particularly as BIM is requiring more multi-company collaboration. UK BIM Level 2 practices, for example, require use of a CDE to manage “work in progress” on tasks before they are moved to a shared space for further design collaboration with the wider project team.
Other collaboration vendors (eg: Viewpoint) are increasingly finding their platforms being used for supply-chain collaboration by subcontractors – work that previously might have been Dropbox-ed, for example. However, as I discussed with Viewpoint’s John Adams in May (Viewpoint 2016 UK customer summit), connecting different CDEs (a supply chain CDE to a main contractor and/or client CDE, say) is still a challenge, still itself “work in progress” (Viewpoint is involved in an Innovate UK-funded project relating to ‘satellite’ or ‘Tier2Tier’ CDEs, due to finish this autumn).
To help overcome the challenge for teams using multiple collaboration platforms, Newforma has this week announced (1 September news release) its Newforma Cloud Services Connector strategy, an “open platform” initiative that integrates its Cloud Services with complimentary applications used by its customers. The first connectors to be published will integrate its platform with generic sharing tools Box and Dropbox, plus the AEC-specific mobile platform PlanGrid (incidentally, Plangrid followed up its $18m Series A funding in May 2015 with a $40m Series B funding round announced in November 2015).
In Newforma’s announcement, Vice President of Business Development and Co-Founder Jim Forester says:
“We recognize that our customers like to use certain specific point solutions that they’ve identified as critical to their business initiatives. Regardless of the application that creates or edits project information, Newforma Connectors to these solutions will give our customers confidence that those applications will not only remain an integral part of their project delivery process, but they will also be enhanced by being integrated with collaboration workflows to eliminate information silos and enable teams to work with the most up-to-date and correct information.”
Tracy Young, CEO of PlanGrid says:
“Owners, architects, engineers, and contractors all leverage Newforma’s project information management solution to organize, find, communicate and share construction project information. We’re proud to partner with Newforma, allowing our joint customers to synchronize projects, teams, and documents between our industry-leading applications.”
Breaking down the IT silos
I talked to Jim Forester on the day of the Newforma Connector announcement. He reiterated Ian’s earlier point about silos hampering collaboration, and added the challenges of poor software interoperability (both executives were involved in the early days of the International Alliance for Interoperability, now buildingSMART). He continued:
“We now have an ecosystem which lets us connect to each other more easily. Within Newforma we have had an API [application programming interface] for our enterprise solution for quite some time, but now we’ve opened up our cloud services. Our Cloud Services Connector strategy formalizes our one-to-many systems approach. We do not want to force people into one stack, but allow them to continue to use their preferred solutions.”
He explained Newforma had a twin-track approach to its Connector integrations:
“Where we identify and start to work with a strategic partner, Newforma will build a Connector – this is what we did with PlanGrid. Other customers or partners may have enterprise tools that they want to connect to Newforma. We have built an open platform on top of our cloud services, providing an API and a soon-to-be-launched SDK [software development kit], so that businesses (or even some of our larger customers) that want to become part of our partner program can license the Cloud Services APIs and get support from Newforma in developing their own connectors.”
Newforma will be announcing more details about its Connector SDK at Newforma World 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia on 13-14 September 2016.
The marketers in several construction software firms are emphasising their businesses’ abilities to connect. For example, as well as Newforma’s launch of its Connectors, Aconex launched its Connected BIM service in October 2014, the same month that Trimble Connect was launched.
Partnership and APIs are also recurring refrains. I have covered partnerships between various vendors including ones, for example, between Viewpoint (4Projects) and Solibri in January 2014, Asite and Nemetschek Vectorworks in July 2014, and, in May 2015, Trimble and Nemetschek announced they were collaborating “to promote openness and interoperability across their solution portfolios.”
In 2009, Aconex was one of several AEC SaaS vendors providing web services APIs to enable integration between their system and other software products used by clients (Incite, Asite and Business Collaborator were doing the same). Germany-based think project! launched its RESTful API in May 2014, and Viewpoint has also spoken publicly about its API capabilities, utilised to help integration with its Field View toolset and with customer’s ERP systems (November 2015).