Plangrid report highlights industry inertia

Plangrid has expanded from north America into Europe, and is now aiming to improve construction productivity in the UK – its survey suggests the industry has a long way to go.

Plangrid logoIn June 2014, I wrote about a then recently-launched California startup called Plangrid. The San Francisco company offered a simple-to-use, mobile-oriented platform to manage simple collaboration and file-sharing in construction projects. I have continued to monitor Plangrid’s progress since then, noting, for example, its successful May 2015 Series A funding round which raised US$18m to help fuel its growth.

Plangrid UK

This growth has seen it expand overseas, and in October 2017 it exhibited at London’s Digital Construction Week, signalling what it described (see news release) as “a deeper commitment to the UK”. All the Plangrid personnel that I spoke to at DCW then were American, but the company said it was hiring UK-based personnel and planning to localise the core Plangrid system for the UK English market (plus Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish).

Around a year later, it now has UK staff manning its stands – the company exhibited at the Institution of Civil Engineers’ “Shaping a Digital World” event in London last week (I talked briefly with Rob Elvidge, MD of EMEA operations, among others), and will be taking a stand (No D5) at Digital Construction Week again next month (17-18 October 2018).

Plangrid says its “construction productivity” software has been used on over a million projects around the world [see comments], and claims to be “the first to provide contractors and owners in commercial, heavy civil and residential construction the tools they need to collaborate effectively and collect and manage project information throughout the project’s construction and operations lifespan,” (a claim that will almost certainly be disputed by several UK incumbents who developed the UK SaaS market from 2000 onwards, plus others – eg: GenieBelt, Basestone and FinalCAD in Europe, FieldLens and Raken in the US – that have exploited growing mobile device adoption). Its DCW blurb details some UK customers including AbraxysGlobal, Cleveland Clinic, Facebook, Jerram Falkus, Interserve, Kier, Lendlease, Mercury, Structure Tone and Voyage Care.

“Solving construction’s productivity puzzle”

The UK version of the Plangrid website features a research report produced in conjunction with the CIOB’s Construction Manager magazine, and describing productivity challenges in construction. Its findings, based on an online survey of 235 construction managers in May 2018, are a reminder that large parts of the UK construction industry are still struggling with basic information exchange challenges – just as they were 20 years ago. Timely sharing of accurate information and reliable version control are still problematic; collaborative team-working remains (despite the best efforts of Constructing Excellence and others) a dream for many projects – still riven by conflict and adversarial attitudes; Plangrid’s report says “The majority of construction firms still rely on paper to share drawings, plans and other key documentation with the project team“; and – aside from file-sharing applications – low levels of adoption of construction technology solutions such as BIM (used by just 13% of the sample – and a starkly lower figure than that suggested by the NBS’s 2018 BIM Report – post) and SaaS construction software (just 1% – really?!).

Plangrid productivity report graphic

Having worked in and written about this technology field since 1998, the report doesn’t tell me anything new, but it is a depressing reminder that despite widespread adoption of consumer technology by society at large, construction remains a laggard when it comes to using information technologies to support project working. Paper-based working apparently remains widespread, while working on outdated information and poor management of change creates conflict, waste and inefficiency (at least that’s the experience of the surveyed construction managers – all CIOB members? – the report’s methodology gives no further details about the sample). The Plangrid report obviously suggests “It’s time for construction firms to use digital tools to improve their performance and make the industry future-ready”, but, as suggested in an audience poll at the ICE last week, the challenge is not just technological – people and process issues are the real barriers that need to be overcome.

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    • William J Parker on 2 October 2018 at 1:04 am

    I queried their claim of over a million projects several years ago, their answer was that they can’t talk about that…. why do you quote the figure as is. At the time they were claiming to be bigger than Aconex…

    I have looked at the system almost since it first appeared and founf it to be lax in security, it allows random drawing markup, it lacks the enforced ‘document control’ procedures required by projects of almost any size.

    It is pretty and clean, it has a few decent tricks, but ultimately it looks like a generic software company’s idea of a construction document system and for that reason I think it needs to mature for a while and start building in user comments, i.e a real RFI process…

    1. I have seen some hugely inflated project numbers from other vendors too. It can be down to inclusion of numerous small projects (many of which may not even be construction related – for example, internal office moves, IT implementations, minor repair works, etc), sub-projects within projects (sub-contractor packages, say, perhaps even broken down into individual tasks), different team separately using the system within the same project, even projects using the system on a free trial basis. (I was sceptical of Plangrid’s numbers at the time of its 2015 funding round, comparing its claims with the more mature Aconex business, and I remain sceptical of its claim to be deployed on “more than 1 million projects around the world”.)

      Internationalising a US system for the UK market is particularly challenging as UK project teams demand high levels of document control functionality, with secure audit trails detailing who did what and when, plus strong support for common UK workflows. This has been a challenge for past businesses crossing the Atlantic. My brief conversations with Plangrid’s people at the ICE confirmed it had been more challenging than they expected.

      Customer lists must also be treated with care. As I have written before, the named firms may be using the system, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their corporate standard. Often firms use multiple systems; sometimes they are required to use a system mandated by a client or other project team member; and they will often test technologies by running short pilot projects. Enterprise adoption of an application is a more reliable indicator of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

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