With the UK coronavirus lockdown into its second month, construction software vendors are still trying to encourage new use of their applications.
Since I first wrote about the impacts of the coronavirus shutdown on construction (Coronavirus, construction and software – 23 March 2020), there has been a constant stream of UK construction trade press coverage. Thousands of office and site workers have been furloughed, and – amid sometimes ill-tempered debates about what constitutes “essential work” and about contractors’ enforcement of contractual obligations – the impacts in the UK have been been widely variable.
The UK is now some five weeks into its coronavirus lockdown. Constraints on “non-essential” construction work are being interpreted differently in different parts of the home countries: Scotland and Northern Ireland have fairly stringent restrictions (with the result that work on around 80% of housing sites has been suspended), but England and Wales is less restricted (last week, around 44% of private housing and 32% of social housing schemes were suspended – work on the North Greenwich residential sites that I can see from my office is currently suspended).
Meanwhile, some of the UK’s largest firms have lobbied hard to continue working and so mitigate the potential economic impacts of a prolonged lockdown. Some brick manufacturers and builders merchants have closed and then reopened; some contractors and house-builders have already resumed work on some sites (or are planning to do so soon) – but there are still concerns that safe operating procedures may not be universally observed.
Software sector impacts
Construction software businesses are, of course, heavily dependent upon continued planning, design and construction activity by their customers. Slowdowns and suspensions of project work will have knock-on impacts, and, in some cases, these may be quite rapid. Company software purchase or subscription decisions may be delayed until projects resume and circumstances are more certain and predictable.
There will be some interesting negotiations about the volume of use of some applications, particularly where they are licenced per user, for a specified pool of users, or for company users at a particular location (in the March/April 2020 issue of AEC Magazine, Martyn Day looks in detail at Autodesk’s switch from perpetual licenses to subscriptions for design authoring tools including AutoCAD and Revit: read The subscription yoke). Alternative licencing approaches, such as the per-project variants used by some Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platforms, may also prompt some discussions between vendors and customers where the schemes in question are on hold.
Vendor offers to meet coronavirus pandemic needs
Meanwhile, offers of training or free use of software applications during the pandemic have continued. A month ago, I outlined deals offered by Revizto, Autodesk, Graphisoft, WeBuild, Vectorworks and Procore (among others), and there have been more since. For example:
- Viewpoint is offering contractors in the UK and Ireland a complimentary six-month trial of its cloud-based construction project management solution Viewpoint Team (its entry point solution for small-to-medium contractors, subcontractors and housebuilders – not Viewpoint for Projects) during the pandemic.
- Bentley Systems opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service (launched October 2018 – post – with an SME offering launched a year later), including waiving subscription fees through to 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home.
Some new services are also being developed to support projects working through the pandemic. A COMIT webinar last week, for instance, included a presentation from Visilean (March 2018 post); James Ellis described how its web and mobile applications are being used to help plan site-based activities so that they are not only lean but also comply with COVID-19 safe operating procedures. The company is also offering complimentary access to its suite of cloud-based construction management solutions for three months to all projects related to agencies supporting healthcare and infrastructure in the fight against the pandemic.
Asite focuses on building resilience
London, UK-based SaaS collaboration vendor Asite has published a report, Building Resilience, which talks about the need to build greater resilience into the construction sector’s operating methods to mitigate the impacts of threats such as the COVID-19 outbreak. Nathan Doughty, Asite CEO, said: “Now more than ever, I believe our industry needs to come together and operate as the global industry it is to solve future challenges and build resilience.”
The Asite report says digital engineering and the establishment of strategic operating models are key to building resilience and safeguarding the industry in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. It also calls on the global industry to recognise regional interdependencies and to develop a strategy that is both regionally engaged and globally responsive (read more about the report in this BIM Plus story). Themes include BIM, Brexit, modular construction, climate change and smart cities.
(One small hiccup in the report, however, is its mention of BIM Level 3. “Level 3” was never formally defined, and the UK BIM levels were effectively discontinued in October 2019 following the launch of the ISO 19650-compliant UK BIM Framework by the Centre for Digital Built Britain, the UK BIM Alliance and BSI.)