At the Viewpoint UK customer summit in London this week, the Trimble-owned business announced its ViewpointOne platform strategy.
Some clarity on the future of the various solutions in the Viewpoint collaboration portfolio emerged at the Royal Institution of British Architects in London this week (22-23 May 2019), where the now-Trimble-owned business unveiled its intentions to gradually migrate its solutions to a new “Fourth Generation” platform, ViewpointOne.
Viewpoint, best known in the UK as the provider of the former 4Projects Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration solution (acquired in February 2013), was itself acquired by US-based Trimble in April 2018 for US$1.2m. As Trimble already had Meridian, GTeam and e-Builder applications in its portfolio, there has understandably been some debate about whether or how the Viewpoint collaboration tools might evolve, while Viewpoint also launched a new collaboration product, Viewpoint Team (in the US in 2017 and in the UK in 2018).
Viewpoint growth in 2018
Viewpoint EMEA CEO Steve Attwell, who joined the business following the Trimble deal and after the September 2018 departure of Viewpoint veteran Steve Spark, gave a rundown on the UK business’s progress since the 2018 user conference, which took place while the Trimble news was still being absorbed (post). Industry confidence had, Attwell said, been dented by the lower-than-expected sector growth, continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and the January 2018 collapse of UK contractor Carillion (a long-standing Viewpoint customer). No financial figures were given, but he said adoption of Viewpoint solutions had continued to grow.
Viewpoint for Projects (VfP) user base growth was up 19% year on year to over 380,000, while the user base of Viewpoint’s mobile Field View application up 30% to 72,000. The 2018 UK launch of Viewpoint Team – targeted at businesses not needing the “full fat” capability of VfP – had seen growing adoption, and the global user base was now approaching 10,000, with over 600 paying customers.
Technology-wise, Viewpoint was on the cusp of the next major iteration of its technology, Attwell said. The “fourth generation” solution was in development, centred around a core platform branded ViewpointOne. VP of Product Jeremy Larsen gave more details in the following presentation, while later ‘deep dives’ into Viewpoint Team and VfP fleshed out the direction of travel.
Development of the current three products – in order of maturity, VfP, Field View and Team – is now being managed so that a growing proportion of their functionality is supported on ViewpointOne. There is no danger of VfP being discontinued in the near future – the transition will take place over “several years” – but the software architectures of the former 4Projects and PriorityOne tools needed to be updated, Larsen said.
Viewpoint Team has been developed on the ViewpointOne platform (described as “a suite, a wrapper for Viewpoint applications” and built on Microsoft Azure) to offer capability for smaller or less “needy” projects. Launched in the US in 2017 and in the UK in 2018, the currently somewhat basic solution developed to date offers some features already delivered by VfP (“Viewpoint Team does many things that VfP does but in an easier-to-use, more mobile version“), but the development roadmap will see gaps filled in. During 2018, Site Diary and Drawing Management features had been added, and Larsen showed several features currently at various stages of development including:
- building information model (BIM) collaboration incorporating the Trimble World Viewer (currently at proof of concept stage)
- Viewpoint Analytics reporting tools (predictive analytics, are “right around the corner”)
- use of Slack text bots (deploying ‘natural language processing’, a form of AI) to interrogate Viewpoint databases, enabling users to search for specific information, and
- a voice-to-text feature (using Microsoft LUIS Framework) in Viewpoint Team mobile for daily logs, currently in development.
Defects reporting, correspondence management and contract change management are planned as future developments for Viewpoint Team. Of course some of these are already features in the company’s VfP or Field View solutions but their addition to Viewpoint Team will require them to be extensively re-engineered (in 2010, as 4Projects, Viewpoint was one of two UK vendors – with BIW/Conject – licensed to provide documented support for NEC processes).
Larsen demonstrated the Analytics toolset, showing how its dashboard can pull in data from ERP systems used on AEC projects to produce cost reports, with simple double-click, and drag-and-drop actions. He told me there was no intention to launch a UK version of Viewpoint’s widely used US-oriented ERP application, Vista (“it’s just too complex to internationalise for this market”) – but the Analytics toolset was being developed to enable integration with such solutions, recognising there was a demand for visibility of the impacts of contract changes on project costs.
VfP deep dive
EMEA product manager Andrew Brennan delivered the ‘deep dive’ into Viewpoint for Projects (VfP). He said usage of the SaaS platform continued to grow, with over 200,000 active users on some 77,000 projects – around 7,000 users login over 100 times a month, he said. Enhancements added in the past 12 months included multi-file upload, an improved VfP desktop application, improved BS1192 file-naming convention support, improvements to email notifications, and the option of multi-factor user authentication (using Google Authenticator on users’ mobile phones). Brennan also demonstrated an updated viewer – VfP now offers the latest HTML5 viewer from Brava (no need to download a separate ActiveX control) with new mark-up capabilities.
Viewpoint for Projects is being transferred to new Amazon Web Services hosting (its main UK hosting was with Rackspace – 2015 post). Brennan said this has proved to be a major undertaking, partly because of the sheer volume of data currently held – over 150TB – and had prompted some re-engineering of Viewpoint’s solution to improve separation between the application and the underlying SQL database of documents and drawings. These are already hosted on AWS, with the application set to be transferred soon, he said (earlier, Larsen said these VfP database optimisations had also improved page serving times). The transition will also enable faster implementation of new VfP features including support for new ISO 19650-compliant BIM processes, and integrations with the ViewpointOne / Trimble ecosystem, heralding a convergence of the Viewpoint solutions into a suite managed on a common software architecture.
The Extranet Evolution view
Viewpoint has been relatively quiet since its 2018 acquisition by Trimble, but this was perhaps to be expected as both sides explored their direct relationship and the potential of Viewpoint relationships with other Trimble businesses. There was a strong Trimble representation at the event (Tekla’s Duncan Reed spoke in a session on the second day), Trimble integration was a repeated theme, as was the reassurance to Viewpoint UK customers and end-users that, as a construction-focused business, Trimble was going to offer a better long-term future than its previous backer (venture capital investor Bain). Inevitably, perhaps, there have been some changes of personnel following the ownership change, so this summit event was a vital step in building relationships between existing customers, Attwell and the new Viewpoint UK/EMEA leadership team, and the wider Trimble group.
Trimble also appears to be backing a long-term evolution of the Viewpoint platforms – allaying some user fears that it might be replaced by other collaboration solutions in Trimble’s portfolio. EMEA VfP and Field View customers and users will also have been reassured that they were not about to forcibly migrated to Viewpoint Team. The ViewpointOne technology strategy, it seems, will provide a platform to gradually improve common areas of all three solutions, with Trimble and other technology partners (including Microsoft and Amazon) providing more extensive development resource.
[Disclosure: I attended the Viewpoint conference at the company’s invitation and chaired a discussion forum at the conference, receiving a fee.]