London-based startup Hivemap launched in early 2019, and is trying to disrupt the construction collaboration market by a focus on business data analytics.
New Civil Engineer’s TechFest event in September 2019 featured a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style contest between five early stage technology businesses. Alongside the relatively mature EviFile* (see post) was a London-based company which only launched its solution in early 2019, and which is trying to disrupt the collaboration market by its focus on analytics and business intelligence.
Hivemap was incorporated in 2018 by Matt Hobby, a former healthcare analytics specialist, and Torsten Wolter, a former product and business leader at Amazon, who felt they could apply insights gained from trying to solve problems for software teams to other industry sectors. And with insights from advisors including former Bechtel executives with experience of launching AEC software products in the US (Rhumbix – November 2017 post – was mentioned), construction was selected as Hivemap’s initial target industry in late 2018.
Hivemap’s target market
Hivemap is targeting medium-sized projects in the £5m to £50m bracket – schemes, Hobby (left) said, often undertaken by SME main contractors run by ambitious 30-something construction professionals. These are often frustrated by the sheer volume of reports, spreadsheets, emails and other communications – Wolter (right) says “Hivemap helps project leaders focus on the crunch points. No need to read lengthy reports and emails. This means better and faster actions“.
They believe many managers are not helped by cumbersome document management platforms, by new “voodoo” technologies (drones, AR/VR, etc) or by the Luddite attitudes of many SME business owners in an ageing industry. Some ten years on from the first wave of mobile-first application developers (SmartBuilder, Woobius – post), Hobby says a younger generation of entrepreneurs want to set up their own businesses and apply the kinds of agile, intuitive mobile and social media tools they have grown up with. He sees construction as being at an inflection point – “45% of the industry is aged under 35” – and believes the time is right to launch a new generation of project management and coordination services underpinned by rich analytics.
A prototype minimum viable product was launched in January 2019 to elicit feedback from use on a residential development in Yorkshire. This prompted a major overhaul of the user interface, and Hivemap is now at what Hobby described as a Beta test stage, looking for new users to road-test the latest version of the system.
Coordination and insight
Hobby says Hivemap seeks to resolve a trio of strongly connected problems arising from disjointed project information common in fragmented multi-disciplinary, multi-company project delivery teams:
- Poor and/or slow decision-making: most projects generate huge volumes of documents – daily reports, quality assurance documentation, health and safety reviews, plans and programmes, etc – and, for many projects, email is a poor way of connecting people to this data
- Opaque logistics: The supply and delivery of materials, components, plant and equipment to sites is poorly managed
- Legal disputes: Owners, consultants, contractors and suppliers can sometimes find themselves embroiled in time-consuming arbitration processes relating to project time and schedule overruns or quality issues (many small contractors, Hobby said, stand a more than even chance of becoming involved in at least one arbitration if they work on a typical projects over a five-year period).
Of course, there are SaaS/mobile solutions that solve one, or sometimes more than one of these problems, but, after talking to 100s of businesses, Hobby said he had yet to find one using a solution that could manage all three. Moreover, he said the commercial delivery models of existing solutions does not reflect where the value is added (collaboration platform license fees calculated on a small percentage – say 0.8% – of project capital value are commonly deployed on UK projects, he said).
The basic project management features of Hivemap are provided free of charge. Documents, drawings and forms can be uploaded to the system and accessed by authorised team members via a standard web browser (native mobile applications are in development, applying a WhatsApp style interface to encourage near real-time conversations, while retaining records of who did – and said – what and when). A mindmap-style interface is easy to navigate; users can define shared team and private spaces, populate these spaces with project-related content, manage a range of common industry workflows (including progress on ordering and taking delivery of materials, etc), and rapidly create reports via a drag-and-drop report builder.
And as well as standard tabular reports and barcharts, Hivemap can present analysis in other formats: network diagrams and word-clouds, for example, showing clusters of issues arising in, say, design, procurement or project communication. If a business encounters a problem, the core system does more than provide the documentary background. Hivemap’s selling point is its analytics toolset that can be used to identify the root causes of changes, delays, budget overruns, defects, health and safety problems, etc. Particularly where these might cause legal disputes, Hobby says its customers are happy to pay for the analytical insights; using natural language processing (NLP) to search through ingested information, the core platform’s algorithm is constantly learning from 1000s of exchanges, searches and queries run by previous and current users. Wolter says there are lots of tools that are good at quantitative analysis, but few make sense of the language used in projects to identify the critical pain points.
The Extranet Evolution view
In some respects, Hivemap shares similarities with the kind of business intelligence (BI) generated by Autodesk’s Construction IQ platform (see BIM is not Big Data). However, Hivemap is making that kind of insight available to SMEs, not just large Tier One contractors (who might pay for it as an additional paid-for service on top of their common data environment, CDE). In the currently highly fragmented construction market (one in five of the UK’s SMEs work in construction – over 300,000 UK businesses), that means there is a lot of untapped potential, and many share Hobby’s frustration with spreadsheets and email (as, for example, did the founders of another London startup, Aphex – post)
Hivemap is at a very early stage in its development, and while it was unsuccessful in its bid to win at the NCE TechFest, Hobby said the experience confirmed the cloud analytics capability set it apart from other solutions.
The pricing model is potentially disruptive. Collaborative information management via the web is a mature market with a lot of UK and overseas suppliers of both generic and AEC-specific solutions. There were at least a dozen at Digital Construction Week in London, 16-17 October 2019 – I noted Asite, Atvero, Autodesk (and Plangrid), Bentley, BuilderStorm, Clearbox, Dalux, Glider, GroupBC, iBinder, Kreo, LetsBuild, Procore, RIB and Viewpoint, to name just a few). SaaS/mobile document management is therefore something of a commodity (Wolter used the phrase “red ocean”: cut-throat competition in existing industries turning the ocean bloody red) and, in an enormously price-sensitive target segment like SME contractors, a ‘freemium’ model could be very appealing (it’s a route also taken by Kreo – see November 2019 post).
[* Disclosure: I am a non-executive advisor to eviFile.]