Invicara CEO Anand Mecheri is looking to shake-up the SaaS CDE market by stressing it’s all about data, not files.
Last month (January 2018), construction products giant Kingspan announced a US$10 million investment in Invicara, the developer of BIM Assure, a cloud-based building information model checking application. Soon after that announcement, I talked to Invicara’s founder and CEO, Anand Mecheri about his business and its intended future direction.
Indian-born Mecheri trained as an electronics engineer and in 1989 set out to be an entrepreneur, although success was initially elusive (“I first learned how not to do business”). But, encouraged by his father, he tried again, bootstrapping and scaling a successful security, safety and building automation systems business, Chennai-based DATS, growing it to a 300-strong business achieving revenue growth of around 30% a year.
In 2003 he embarked on his first capital-raising exercise, and in 2005 acquired Dublin-based Europlex, another provider of security control and management technologies, merging the businesses to form the iMetrex Group, with combined revenues of around US$23m. Four years later, sporting US$40m in revenue, iMetrex was acquired by the building technologies division of Siemens AG and Mecheri stayed with the business as the division’s chief marketing officer in Switzerland helping developing Siemens’ digital strategy.
BIM: Great potential, not yet realised
Having made the transition from entrepreneur to multinational corporate once, in 2012 he decided he wanted to start a new business. “I encountered building information modelling, was fascinated by it, and decided to develop my next business around it,” he recalled. “BIM is a great concept with a great aspiration, but its potential has not yet been fully realised.”
He says the vision of BIM is about creating a platform for building data from different sources, and then assembling an integrated database. “But nobody was building the platforms, and no platforms will succeed if the base data is bad (garbage in, garbage out, of course) – and BIM, particularly at Level 1, has been too focused on drawing deliverables rather than data.”
At Invicara, Mecheri says, “digitisation is about everyone using data to drive workflows.” BIM Level 2 has greater potential, he believes, as it is more focused on data. BIM Assure was developed to assure high quality BIM data, after which customers can extend their data, augmenting the geometry and graphics of models with richer data, but not necessarily only within the design tools.
“The transition to being data-driven won’t be quick. Data still isn’t a high priority for everybody; supply chain interest in data only materialises when the client demands delivery of data to agreed standards. We need more aware owners and more mature practitioners. So it’s early days for BIM. It’s a marathon not a sprint, but I see Invicara as one of the first movers.”
Data-driven early manufacturer involvement
Mecheri has not had to rush the development of the Invicara platform. He says he has used the past four years to get deep context to industry problems and opportunities through customer engagements and to validate his data-oriented business model. He also believes the key is to integrate the manufacturer into the digital design process from the outset.
“Every manufacturer needs to look at their digital portfolio, and be able to provide digital product data today if they want to continue to sell in the future. Designers are currently reticent about assuming liability for designs when the detail originates from the manufacturer, so they need to collaborate with manufacturers on design development. And manufacturers need to be more sophisticated. Successful collaboration will be more than just publishing object models via object libraries or on the manufacturer’s own website.”
In Mecheri’s view, Invicara provides visibility of how products are incorporated into designs, assembled into systems, and operated in buildings. It provides a data connection from manufacturer right through to the asset owner-operators’ data needs.
Its platform can enable clients, designers and manufacturers to collaborate in the early stages of product design. Working with Kingspan will provide much-needed context to the challenge, he said, helping Invicara pilot solutions.
Data not documents
“Invicara takes a different approach to the current generation of ‘Common Data Environment’ (CDE) vendors. They come from an EDMS background; we come from a world of data. We are data-centric, not just documents which have no intelligence. We start from validated data and then enable clients to put good data on top of that, and to then get actionable intelligence from their built assets. As our entry point is different, so our approach to APIs is different.”
He says Invicara will provide application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow data to flow between the systems of all the participants in project design, delivery and operation, facilitated by a new generation of CDE vendors. “We will need open data models, no silos, no duplication. The APIs will build bridges between the different systems so that data is synchronised.”
The first release of BIM Assure created a plugin for Autodesk’s Revit, but Invicara also has an IFC publisher, but these are effectively work-arounds to overcome current industry practices where client data can get locked in proprietary formats. Mecheri says we need data that is fit for everybody’s purpose:
“BIM Assure is BIM agnostic. We have one standardised view of the data model able to cope with multiple sources, and so we can develop plugins to draw data in from other solutions. And we are the only vendor providing rules-based BIM data validation in the cloud (Solibri does BIM validation but on the desktop) – and the future is all about the cloud.”
However, we are still in the early stages of the marathon. “This is the biggest, most complex, and least digitised industry on the planet. The big boys will stay on side lines until they see it heating up, and they tend to catch up through M&A, acquiring multiple diverse tools sets and attempt to integrate them – which does not always provide the best result. But data will grow in value, particularly when asset owners start to analyse their business operational metrics and see how better economic, environmental and social performance is related to how their built assets perform.”