Will Trimble’s US$1.2bn acquisition of Viewpoint be managed as a ‘gradual convergence’ or a ‘rapid managed migration’?
Two days after Trimble’s announcement of its US$1.2bn acquisition of Viewpoint, I attended a Viewpoint UK ‘roadshow’ event in London yesterday (25 April 2018). The presenters carefully avoided saying too much about the deal, but in talking to a couple of delegates the conversation immediately focused on what the acquisition might mean for Viewpoint’s people and technologies. Each time a SaaS construction collaboration vendor has acquired a rival platform, customers and end-users immediately begin to wonder how the enlarged business will manage the previously competing systems. Strategies have varied from what might be described as ‘gradual convergence’ over 4-5 years to ‘rapid managed migration’ within two years.
For example, after Germany’s Conject brought UK-based BIW Technologies in December 2010, for example, there were few redundancies and the two SaaS platforms continued to co-exist for some time (and the BIW branding survived until 2012), while Conject’s German business continued to support some on-premise technologies. Eventually, a new platform combining the best of the two SaaS systems began to emerge to support new demands for functionality to support building information modelling (BIM) processes in March 2015.
Rapid managed migration
Contrast Conject’s measured, almost leisurely, approach to that of Aconex. After it acquired Conject in March 2016, there were a few redundancies as sales and administration overheads were rationalised, and Aconex quickly began to talk to existing Conject customers and started to integrated some of Conject’s sector-leading technologies into the Aconex platform. In May 2017, Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper told me customers had not been forced to switch to the Aconex platform; existing projects continued to be managed on Conject’s system, but new projects were started on the Aconex platform.
Aconex’s Connected Cost platform was also said to be a compelling proposition to former BIW/Conject customers who had valued the mature Financial Control functionality, and Conject’s UK BIM experience was also valuable. But there was no huge demand from customers for Aconex to develop an FM solution (one of Conject’s strengths in Germany), Jasper said, so Aconex remained more focused on supporting design and construction processes. By the time Oracle made its bid to acquire Aconex in December 2017, the Conject name had almost disappeared and the rationalisation was largely complete.
What next for Viewpoint for Projects?
In 2018, Trimble has invested $1.7bn to, first, acquire e-Builder (a US SaaS construction management business strongly favoured by US owners) and, second, to acquire Viewpoint (offering ERP, financial and accounting systems used heavily by US contractors, the former 4Projects SaaS platform, acquired in 2013, that historically tended to be targeted at UK constructors, and the former Priority1 mobile platform, acquired in December 2014). These are added to a Trimble collaboration portfolio that already includes the former Meridian systems (notably Prolog), SketchUp, GTeam (relaunched as Trimble Connect in October 2014) and the mobile ProjectSight application – though when the latter was launched in December 2014 it was clear some convergence of the software portfolio had already occured. Other related solutions include Tekla Structures and Tekla BIMsight, the Vico 5D platform, the Manhattan Atrium FM application, and the Sefaira sustainability analysis web toolset (acquired in February 2016).
In short, Trimble has been assembling a portfolio that extends beyond a focus on design and construction to also embrace owner/operator requirements, and which also includes substantial support for (open) BIM. Tekla and Vico provide powerful BIM authoring and management capabilities; both e-Builder and Viewpoint have invested in supporting BIM in their cloud environments; and Viewpoint’s UK business has benefited from detailed involvement in the UK’s government-led BIM adoption programme – widely regarded as an exemplar to other countries.
And while we might expect there to be some rationalisation of overheads, the bigger challenge will be assimilating the two recent acquisitions, which both bring substantial customer and user bases (at yesterday’s London event, Viewpoint said it now had over 315,000 current active users of Viewpoint for Projects on almost 160,000 projects; e-Builder has supported over 200,000 projects), with the Trimble Connect applications. There will be scope for economies of scale in rationalising hosting and other infrastructure provision, and also – as Aconex did following its Conject acquisition – to identify and invest further in the highly valued functionalities of the different SaaS and mobile systems. By developing the ‘best of breed’ capabilities that will retain customer and end-user loyalty, Trimble might encourage them to migrate to enhanced new solutions.
(Some industry watchers fear a far more negative scenario in which the US giant eventually cans the UK-developed system in favour of its US solution(s) – one told me: “In essence it is a client grab. A very expensive one“.)
Once the Viewpoint transaction is completed (anticipated in Q3 of 2018), I expect there will be some rebranding to bring the new solutions into Trimble’s universe (a conversation yesterday contrasted the approach of Trimble – and firms like Autodesk and Bentley – with that of Nemetschek which acts more like a holding company for brands including Allplan, Vectorworks, Graphisoft, SCIA, Maxon, Bluebeam, Solibri and dRofus); e-Builder is already branded as “A Trimble Company”.