Stuttgart, Germany’s RIB Software is expanding aggressively beyond its central European heartland, winning customers in Australia, the US, Asia and the UK, and plans growth in its cloud-delivered construction ecosystem developed in partnership with Microsoft.
Earlier this autumn, I talked to RIB’s COO and executive board member Mads Bording about the company, which he joined when the German software business acquired Copenhagen, Denmark-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor Docia in July 2014, having previously (October 2012) acquired Australia’s SaaS player ProjectCentre (since rebranded as iTWOcx and revamped in 2017). RIB has over 800 people and in 2017 achieved revenues of €108.3m (c £96.4m or US$123.8m).
Docia and iTWOcx still co-exist within the RIB portfolio as part of the “iTWO ecosystem”, Bording said, providing a strong basis for document management, and catering for the regional markets where they were developed. Docia usage continues to grow, he said, while iTWOcx’s more enterprise orientation continues to sustain a stable client base.
The RIB group’s core product is iTWO which Bording described as an “integrated 5D BIM solution.” Emphasising how construction has lagged other industry sectors, he said iTWO was inspired by SAP and digital transformation in the automotive industry during the late 1990s. SAP identified opportunities to rationalise and integrate the hundreds of software applications used to design and manufacture a motor vehicle, and to build it virtually, integrating internal stakeholders and external suppliers, and eliminating mistakes before even committing to an assembly line. “This enabled co-development, co-creation – they could reuse data from one platform, and reuse standard components from one BMW series to another, and they could do integrated concurrent engineering with suppliers like Bosch.”
RIB was founded in 1961. It started out as the internal estimating and IT department of a German contracting group that was then spun out as a separate entity before being acquired. It then grew organically, Bording said, benefiting from Germany’s very detailed and cost-oriented culture. “It had a fantastic estimation kernel that had been created within the industry, and which became the de facto standard, and this eventually became the cost backbone of the RIB tool used today for 3D, 4D and 5D.”
The first version of the iTWO technology was deployed as client-server technology in 2011, and the business initially targeted the top 1,000 contractors, providing a premium-priced enterprise solution in the ERP space. “It was also agnostic so far as design solutions were concerned, so we could connect to whatever formats contractors might be using and create a federated model that was clash-free and also buildable.” Bording explained how iTWO could, for example, take an architect’s design of a building’s floor plate and translate it into manageable processes for constructing that floor plate, detailing the quantities and the sequence of construction.
“At an inflection point”
However, iTWO is no longer aimed solely at contractors. RIB found asset-owners such as Deutsche Bahn, major municipalities and technology clients wanted a less wasteful process than that traditionally provided by contractors. “By building virtually, you can simulate different alternatives, and also plan for future building scenarios.” A technology business, for example, might need to anticipate future hardware, power and cooling requirements in its data centres and office buildings, and factor these costs into its cost model for the building. “For them, buildings are mission-critical, so we are now at an inflection point in the construction space.”
Previously the core platform had been heavily dependent on Citrix technology, but Bording explained how the iTWO product has been recoded in the last four years, using HTML5 so that it can be fully cloud-enabled and deployed as an on-premise solution or as a private cloud or a multi-tenant architecture. Major industrial customers with substantial IT resources often want RIB software hosted internally and integrated with other tools inside their businesses, he said, but RIB also has a mass market with less sophisticated requirements. For these, RIB offer the product as a subscription-based cloud solution, and, in May 2018, the company engaged with Microsoft as a development partner to offer RIB via the Azure cloud, as MTWO (rather than iTWO), with hybrid on-premise hosting as an option where customers have stringent security requirements.
He sees the technology market shifting towards support of more collaborative and value-adding work which demands “a more democratised end-to-end process leveraging data in the model, helping companies make money from the data in BIM” (we touched briefly on the UK Construction Leadership Council’s report on best whole life value and on the Project 13 alliancing model). Asset lifecycle costs are also vitally important, Bording said, but current business models often don’t let information flow. “Virtual design and construction is still very new. It is easily understood by university students, but if I am talking to a 55-year-old cost estimator or engineer I get inertia or resistance.”
Marketing the iTWO ecosystem
RIB’s strongest markets are in central Europe (“around 90% of assets created in Germany use our technology”), while Bording says the Nordic region is also very mature in terms of its adoption of BIM and of collaboration tools. UK customers include LendLease; US customers include general contractors plus manufacturer clients such as Procter & Gamble (June 2017 news); Asia is also a key RIB target market – the company signed a deal with China’s MyHome group in June 2017 (news), and its 6th annual global community and partner event, the iTWO World Conference, was recently held in Guangzhou, China. Since August 2018, the company has announced major deals with Siemens Energy Management (September), German/Dutch power transmission business TenneT, and American Electric Power (November), plus three other enterprise deals with unnamed clients.
As well as acquiring SaaS technologies, the Docia and ProjectCentre acquisitions helped raise the regional profiles of the core RIB iTWO/MTWO ecosystem in Scandinavia and Australasia. The long-term vision is to consolidate everything into the core platform with over 600 software developers all focused on the same technologies and able to leverage still further the group’s 30% investment in R&D (a policy that was a factor in Bording’s decision to sell Docia to RIB, he said).
RIB aims to become a large European-based global player like SAP, Bording continued, and is planning a higher marketing profile in the coming months and years. “We have a great ecosystem – if you want a strong estimating tool, we have that; if you want scheduling, we have that, and if you want an enterprise system, we have that as well.” RIB offers Platform-as-a-Service capability, he explained, and has open APIs that will enable ‘open BIM’ or other technologies that complement RIB’s core solutions and can be sold as third party tools from RIB’s ecosystem (similar to Autodesk’s Forge platform – see post).
A fund-raising round in April 2018 raised €131m which is earmarked for further acquisitions (in January 2018 it completed the acquisition of Australian estimating vendor Exactal, and in August acquired an 80% stake in German CAFM vendor, IMS), and for building a partner and reseller channel network to help in distribution of the product portfolio. Also in August 2018, RIB announced its first MTWO MSP partnership and investment agreement with ICS, a Microsoft certified partner from Redmond, California, and it has since signed two further MSP deals – in Australasia and Holland. Update (7 December 2018) – RIB has agreed a three-year deal with California contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie to implement MTWO.
Seeking to target the maturing BIM market, RIB will be making a further push into the UK too (the company announced an April 2017 deal with UK contractor Carillion, nine months before the Wolverhampton-based group collapsed into liquidation) – it has established a London office and has a UK website.