Israeli startup ShapeDo has a powerful 2D drawing change identification capability to which it has added strong workflow management, making it an attractive contract change application.
With most of the world’s construction industries still heavily reliant upon 2D drawings, Jerusalem, Israel-based start-up ShapeDo says it is finding a ready market for its software that helps manage design changes. Its software detects differences between drawings, and can then help manage associated workflows (requests for information, change orders, etc) and can help project managers track the cost implications of changes in contracts, budgets and other agreements.
I talked to ShapeDo co-founder Ari Isaacs about the company and its Software-as-a-Service application, which he said “has had a very high success rate” with contractors in the Israeli market. The company is now looking to expand overseas into markets including the UK, where – despite the recent growth in use of building information modelling (BIM) – he feels there is a lot of potential for the software’s use in dispute avoidance and resolution as well as for collaboration.
Spot the difference
“We create order in the drawings,” he said, demonstrating how a sequence of design drawings can be produced, with the differences between them prominently highlighted. These differences can be the focus of comment discussions that can be shared (as GIFs or PDFs) between designers during early stage design (work in progress), or, later in a project (during construction, say), can be discussed in RFIs, early warning notices, change orders, compensation events (Isaacs’s reference to NEC terminology underlines the company’s interests in the UK market).
Superficially, such ‘differencing’ is not new. Existing collaboration platforms (eg: Aconex, Asite, Viewpoint) already have ‘drawing overlay’ facilities (Ari also mentioned Bluebeam and Plangrid), but perhaps not to ShapeDo’s level of sophistication. Its comparison engine can review differences between drawings that are of different size, scale, scope, alignment or orientation – even import scanned images of drawings or other low-resolution views. The views of drawings also load very quickly, being created from initially low-detail ’tiles’ that incorporate more detail as users zoom into the detail (a la Google Maps) – ideal for viewing on mobile devices or where only low-bandwidth site connections are available.
While viewing a design change, RFIs and other workflows can be quickly created. Isaacs said customer onboarding includes the creation of web forms and reports that replicate existing outputs (in Word or Excel, for example) – familiarity helping boost user adoption. New workflows can, he said, be created in five minutes instead of the 25 associated with manual creation of emailed forms and associated attachments, while future tracking and reporting via the application’s workflow dashboard is also quicker. On a typical project, 600 RFIs might be created, so the time-savings can quickly mount up (at 20 mins per RFI that works out at 200 man-hours, or around 25 days).
Dispute avoidance and resolution
We discussed how the system can be used by either individual businesses or by project teams sharing information. Often, ShapeDo has first been used to help adversarially-oriented firms resolve a dispute. The sequence of production of design information – and any associated changes – can be quickly established, helping identify who did what and when, and what the impacts were on contracts and budgets, to provide evidence to support a claim or explain a delay. Once customers realise the power of such an audit trail, Isaacs said they often look to implement the system on future projects across teams and so encourage more timely identification of issues before they escalate into disputes (we debated the extent to which supply chain adoption of collaborative working and ‘expert clients’ would influence how the application is used).
The ShapeDo SaaS product is normally licensed to a customer on a per-project basis, with no limit on the number of users or the amount of drawing uploads, etc. For a project in the £20m-£200m range, Isaacs said the annual fee would be £25,000 including initial implementation and creation of customer-specific forms, security provision, training and support. Enterprise deals can also be negotiated.
Hosting is provided via Microsoft Azure cloud facilities, and ShapeDo is expanding the locations where its servers are located. For sensitive projects, on-premise hosting can also be provided at extra cost, and the company also offers premium services to help customers engaged in litigation review the drawings and other documents involved.
I asked about support for BIM (in 2013 the company offered a service for sharing 3D objects); Isaacs said they had since (c. 2015) taken a strategic decision to focus on the 2D construction market: “For most project managers, their practical needs are focused on 2D information and supporting documentation.” The UK may be pushing forward with BIM (some momentum seems to have been lost since the passing of the government’s Level 2 deadline in April 2016, though NBS’s 2017 National BIM Report suggests progress continues), but most of UK projects are still reliant upon 2D drawings, especially on-site. “We will move forward with BIM when this becomes a market requirement,” Isaacs said.
While our BIM conversation suggests that ShapeDo is not setting out to compete direct with vendors of ‘common data environments’ (CDEs), ShapeDo’s application bears comparison with other ‘project extranet’ platforms – most of which also have good process management tools. Its design change identification technologies and related notification processes seem particularly applicable, even complementary to, contract change solutions. Isaacs mentioned UK vendor CEMAR, formerly CMToolkit, which specialises in NEC3 contract event reporting; in a busy battlefield, other vendors include Sypro and MPS, the two [now expired] NEC-licensed content providers Viewpoint For Projects and Conject (now merged with Aconex), plus Asite, GroupBC/Business Collaborator and Oracle’s Primavera Unifier.
ShapeDo also faces something of a marketing dilemma. Should it position itself as a platform to help traditional contractors (or their claims consultants) retrospectively substantiate claims, or is it a platform that can help contractors demonstrate a more collaborative ongoing approach with their clients and suppliers to avoid claims in the first place? Or both? Most of ShapeDo’s customers to date have been contractors; if the platform was mandated from the outset by an informed owner/operator then it might be effective in preventing later nasty surprises – this might appeal to some contractors but dismay (more adversarial) others.
Almost as soon as I saw the drawing differencing capability, I asked if this was something that might be licensed to other technology providers. The drawing overlay functions in existing applications are fine when working with successive versions of existing drawings, but of little value when dealing with images that may have been uploaded from different sources, in different orientations, scales and resolutions. Vendors looking to improve the functionality of their viewing tools might be interested in incorporating ShapeDo’s core technology into their own platforms.