The Bricsys collaboration platform is being rebranded for a fourth time, finally adopting the parent company’s branding, and, as the company’s core product embraces BIM, its cloud solution is positioned as a BIM model server.
In April 2017, I attended a Bricsys Insights event at the Ghent headquarters of the Belgium-based engineering software developer. Showing off the capabilities of the Chapoo AEC SaaS collaboration platform and underlining the growing importance of BIM, that event offered a foretaste of developments announced at the company’s user conference in Paris, held last week (24-25 October 2017).
As outlined in April, Chapoo is a (profitable, privately held) sister company of Bricsys, providing a cloud-based information management platform known at various times as Vista, Vondle and – until this year – Chapoo (“Was Chapoo collaboration tool or hat cleaner?“). Bricsys CEO Erik De Keyser told me the separate branding, introduced in October 2012, had helped underline that its platform could be used in non-engineering environments to share files created by multiple applications as well as BricsCAD. Five years later, that requirement seems to have passed, as the service is now being rebranded for a fourth time, to Bricsys 24/7 (read Chapoo’s 6 October 2017 blog post; the rebrand will take place in early November). It is adopting the Bricsys logo and other branding elements, but is still delivered via a separate company (it has slightly different shareholders) covered by an inter-company license. (Online, it will be at ‘bricsys247’ or bricsys24-7 as the slash breaks up web addresses.)
This re-alignment of the brands comes at at time when Bricsys is redoubling its development of building information modelling (BIM) capabilities. Indeed, Chapoo’s blog post says the rebranding is a first step in “a much bigger development. … In addition to the existing Chapoo functionality, Bricsys 24/7 will be a full cloud-based BIM solution” (the term ‘common data environment’, CDE, wasn’t used, but was inferred).
Bricsys’s growth has partly been fuelled by expansion of a substantial network (De Keyser, right, and colleagues last week repeatedly referred to it as an “ecosystem” or “collaborative”) of developers building complementary specialist engineering and construction design and analysis solutions based on the Bricsys platform. It now offers an ‘App Store‘ (gaining nearly half a million visits in 2017 so far, up over 200% on 2016). In April, Chapoo-compatible applications included AproPlan (March 2017 post), time management tool TIQ, property inspection app SmartCheckups, and project imaging and timelapse platform C-Site; recent additions include Netherlands’ Kyp and Belgian field reporting app vendor ArchiSnapper.
Bricsys and BIM
Bricsys regards its BIM solution as a viable alternative to other modelling solutions – drawing heavily on its .DWG heritage (its BIM product application planning interface was described as “DWG API + 1%” at the Bricsys developer forum on Tuesday) and on its compliance to international standards, notably BuildingSmart’s IFC.
Some will be familiar with BricsCAD as an affordable and fully functional alternative to AutoCAD, with fewer of the perceived drawbacks of dealing with Autodesk (Hexagon, formerly Intergraph’s Peter van der Weijde summed up some of the differences, right). However, the BIM application will, of course, be competing with Autodesk’s mature Revit BIM solution – in some building circles seen as the de facto cross-project standard – while Bentley’s BIM tools have a strong position in the infrastructure sector.
WorldCAD Access‘s Ralph Grabowski, live-blogging from the @Bricsys2017 annual conference, summed up Autodesk’s stumbles and self-imposed road blocks: “forcing subscriptions, writing desktop software for being eventually cloud-only, running the corporation to please Wall Street, and slowing down development of flagship software AutoCAD.”
Bricsys is therefore one of several AutoCAD workalikes doing the opposite of what Autodesk is doing, with a BIM product, BricsCAD BIM, that uses .DWG instead of a single-vendor proprietary format (like .RVT). Bricsys is a member of the Open Design Alliance; the ODA’s Neil Peterson, right, spoke briefly at the conference saying: “No company should have a competitive advantage by making it hard to get data from your files.” Bricsys also joined BuildingSMART International in December 2016, and BricsCAD BIM comes with IFC import and export functions to streamline data exchange with other IFC-compliant models.
Several of the live BricsCAD BIM presentations demonstrated Bricsys 24/7 in use to update shared model information. I am no expert on BIM authoring software, but in the demonstrations the Bricsys V18 product handled large file sizes impressively quickly, while collision checking was completed in a fraction of the time taken for Revit to handle the same tasks (I think Bricsys BIM – priced November 2107 at £1180, versus £2460/year for Revit – would excite a lot of interest if it raised its profile at some of the UK construction technology events such as Digital Construction Week; thousands of firms will be making their transitions to BIM over the next three years if the UK BIM Alliance succeeds in its aim of making BIM “business as usual” across the industry).
Bricsys 24/7 as a CDE
Any way, back to Bricsys 24/7…. Apparently, Chapoo had become the number one collaboration product in the Benelux region of western Europe. Head of communications Don Strimbu highlighted the product’s use at Brussels Airport, on the A11 highway and on Zaha Hadid Architects’ design of the Antwerp Port Authority’s head office.
Bricsys 24/7’s development team, led by Jurgen Schepers, is relatively small and is co-located with and shares many of the same developers involved with Bricsys’s core CAD and BIM design authoring products. In this sense, it shares characteristics with Autodesk’s BIM 360 and Bentley’s ProjectWise as a BIM developer’s CDE.
Bricsys 24/7 opens in a browser without plugins, presenting authorised users with a dashboard view of their project information. Schepers demonstrated the ‘document inspector’ function that allows users to quickly view the properties associated with a file. More than 70 file formats are supported by the system’s viewer; the BIM viewer is primarily .DWG; Schepers told me:
“We are going to add IFC so for Revit you should export to IFC. If it really seems required we could create a Revit plugin that provides a ‘Upload to Bricsys 24/7’ button that will automate the export to IFC and then upload.”
I asked about viewing of federated models. Schepers said:
“In theory yes, as we already do this now for the master and xref files. All files have their own viewing info and data. When you view the master you are basically viewing a consolidated view of the master and each of its xrefs at once. For files that are not xrefs, we need to create a user interface to select the files you want and consolidate them in the viewer and that should be it. Keep in mind though that this will only work if they are the same scale, have the same origin and probably some other constraints.”
The current dedicated Apple iOS and Android Chapoo mobile apps will continue to work with the Bricsys 24/7 platform but will be rebranded in due course.
The AEC SaaS collaboration field is filled with competing solutions that were developed to be design file-agnostic, cloud-based information sharing and workflow platforms. Leading providers active in Europe such as Aconex, think project! and Viewpoint spring to mind, several of them describing themselves as common data environments, CDEs (again, not a phrase I heard in Paris last week), so this may be terminology that Bricsys 24/7 will need to use so that it gets linked from web searches for CDEs. If Bricsys 24/7 is to serve more than its BricsCAD heartland, it will, I think, need to be addressing the needs of users of other BIM authoring solutions and looking at the BIM compliance requirements of markets such as the UK.
Update (10 November 2017) – Bricsys VP communications Don Strimbu has written a blog post introducing Bricsys 24/7 (and talking about it as a CDE). A video of the 24/7 presentation is now also available:
[Disclosure: I travelled to Paris as a guest of Bricsys who paid my transportation, overnight accommodation and some meal expenses.]