Many AEC firms use Microsoft SharePoint application internally. Now a cloud-based tool, it is the foundation of a new UK-developed solution, Atvero.
A new Microsoft SharePoint-based project information management (PIM) solution, Atvero, was launched at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London today (10 September 2019). Developed in just over a year by a small team of developers at London-based IT and consultancy services provider Nittygritty, Atvero is positioned as providing a cloud project delivery capability for design and construction professionals.
The launch event was fronted by Paul Daynes, right, formerly at Newforma UK (post), and he differentiated Atvero from traditional on-premise database-driven information platforms and index-based platforms (such as Newforma). He said:
“We are very excited about the possibilities and opportunities for improvement that Atvero will provide to the industry. In a digital age, design and construction companies that have or are looking to migrate to cloud strategies, will benefit hugely from Atvero – increasing efficiency, improving quality and reducing risk in project delivery. Atvero is unique, it’s modern and presents a smarter way to manage project deliverables and communication, when compared with on-premise PIM solutions.”
At the launch, Microsoft consultant Andy Talbot talked about the depth of collaborative capabilities built into the Microsoft 365 platform – notably using OneDrive, Teams and SharePoint, but also bringing in wider Office tools, including Outlook and Yammer, and some 140 integrations with other vendors’ solutions. These capabilities deliver Team, Communication and Hub sites for intranets, and are today accessible across multiple devices. “SharePoint has a new lease of life,” he said (perhaps conscious that some people – like me – have had poor past experiences of the original manifestation of SharePoint).
Atvero – augmenting SharePoint
Nittygritty’s operations director Liam Southwood was somewhat less positive about SharePoint (“… in terms of it’s document management capabilities, it doesn’t really offer much more than Dropbox”), underlining that Atvero was developed to add new areas of AEC-focused capability (right). He described how it integrated with Autodesk products such as Revit and AutoCAD, plus graphics tools from Adobe. It also has the potential to share information with other collaboration products (his slide showed links to AEC platforms including Autodesk’s BIM 360, Oracle Aconex, Trimble’s Viewpoint For Projects and GroupBC). Southwood said the platform could manage file naming (a la BS 1192:2007), and had powerful versioning and revision control. A project portal can also be created to share information with external partners, creating issue sheets and the like. An Outlook plugin in Atvero also allows tight email integration “to lighten that pain”. In a live demonstration, he showed how a Revit plugin for Atvero can “reconcile Revit revisions in compliance with BS 1192/ISO 19650”, support approval processes, create standard issue sheets, and issue model files in DWG, DWF and PDF formats.
Daynes outlined future plans including further enhancements to core functions, integration with Autodesk’s BIM360/Forge tools and markup using Bluebeam. 2020 aspirations include project accounting integrations, and support for ISO 19650 CDE information workflows. Integrations with other SaaS extranet/CDE platforms are possible, Southwood added, dependent on functional requirements and API access. The product is licensed at £16 per user per month, with initial consultancy costs of around £2,500, but negotiable depending on the size of the customer firm, Daynes said.
London-based architectural firm Chapman Taylor has been using Atvero for some months and plans to roll out the platform more widely later this year (it has 455 staff in 17 offices around the world). Andy Hudson, a director at the firm, said the firm has been using Union Square (acquired by Deltek in July 2016) but is in the process of transitioning to a SharePoint-based platform (he also said the firm had painful experience of retrieving information previously shared via the Viewpoint For Projects system after the liquidation of Carillion). It had lots of Office 365 licenses and wanted to leverage its investment; originally, SharePoint couldn’t provide the document management requirements of the firm, but, over the past 18 months, Atvero has given the business those capabilities. All internal management of its UK projects will be via the SharePoint-based platform by the end of 2019, he said. Hudson also provided an Atvero endorsement:
“Atvero PIM provides Chapman Taylor with a modern and scaleable project information management solution that meets our business needs for the next decade and beyond. For Chapman Taylor to be competitive, win and deliver more successful projects, we need a platform that gives us flexibility, but also rigour in our project delivery processes. Atvero PIM offers us this capability.”
Daynes said Atvero enabled firms to move from existing on-premise solutions – including 28Hands’ Mail Manager, Deltek PIM and Newforma – to a cloud-based Sharepoint platform. This can be hosted by Microsoft in region-specific locations, helping firms meet clients’ data sovereignty requirements.
Architecture-trained, Southwood, right, believes Microsoft, Autodesk and Adobe are the “holy trinity” of providers for the AEC sector, but also recognises that some firms may be using other vendors’ tools: Bentley products, ArchiCAD, Vectorworks, etc. When it came to interoperability between solutions, IFC wasn’t mentioned in the presentations, but Southwood said Atvero used Microsoft tools which were format-agnostic, so IFC models could be manually shared using the platform, and didn’t rule out his team developing more integrated IFC export capabilities if customers required them.
Extranet Evolution view
The SharePoint application connects multiple Microsoft products, and perceptions about it have changed since its transition from an on-premise product to being a cloud-based tool. Previous SharePoint-based AEC solutions (Organice’s Cadac, for example) were based on the on-premise system, but Atvero is looking to capitalise upon the reinvigorated product to provide, effectively, a cloud-based intranet for AEC design and construction firms.
This is not the only solution of its kind. Another developer, US-based Simplex Group, launched its VPO Cloud (‘virtual project office’) to customers wanting construction management software in the Microsoft Cloud in 2017 (read VPO: Microsoft 365-based project management); TonicDM (post) is also tightly integrated with the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem. Such tools will help organisations still working predominantly with traditional 2D drawings and other construction deliverables (and this remains the case, even in the UK – at the CDBB Digital Twin Day yesterday [9 September 2019] it was said that 62% of projects are still mainly designed in 2D), but the demands of BIM and creating a common data environment require additional capabilities. With the UK continuing to push forward with BIM and data-driven approaches, Atvero clearly has to integrate with CDE platforms and workflows.
The almost universal adoption of Microsoft Office products across the AEC market has made integration with Microsoft a common requirement for other AEC tools. Outlook plugins have been a long-standing feature of many SaaS collaboration platforms and CDEs, and some vendors have pushed the relationship still further. Since 2013 (post), Bentley Systems has been nurturing a strong relationship with Microsoft using Azure to support its “connected data environment” (among others, Germany’s RIB has a similar relationship – post), and in October 2018 Bentley announced general availability of its integration between ProjectWise 365 Services and Microsoft 365 (post).
Mention of Bentley also raises a question about Atvero’s focus on Autodesk’s design authoring tools as a basis for its platform. While this might be valid for architectural firms and others involved in conventional buildings and structures, Atvero is not catering for many potential customers who work primarily in civil engineering / infrastructure projects. Also, other design authoring platforms are favoured in some marketplaces (in central Europe, Asia, etc), while Autodesk’s new subscription model has antagonised some customers who have then been tempted by lookalike products such as BricsCAD from Bricsys (acquired by Hexagon in October 2018 – post).