Jun 14 2017

ShapeDo: change management in the cloud

Israeli startup ShapeDo has a powerful 2D drawing change identification capability to which it has added strong workflow management, making it an attractive contract change application.

ShapeDo logoWith most of the world’s construction industries still heavily reliant upon 2D drawings, Jerusalem, Israel-based start-up ShapeDo says it is finding a ready market for its software that helps manage design changes. Its software detects differences between drawings, and can then help manage associated workflows (requests for information, change orders, etc) and can help project managers track the cost implications of changes in contracts, budgets and other agreements.

Ari IsaacsI talked to ShapeDo co-founder Ari Isaacs about the company and its Software-as-a-Service application, which he said “has had a very high success rate” with contractors in the Israeli market. The company is now looking to expand overseas into markets including the UK, where – despite the recent growth in use of building information modelling (BIM) – he feels there is a lot of potential for the software’s use in dispute avoidance and resolution as well as for collaboration.

Spot the difference

“We create order in the drawings,” he said, demonstrating how a sequence of design drawings can be produced, with the differences between them prominently highlighted. These differences can be the focus of comment discussions that can be shared (as GIFs or PDFs) between designers during early stage design (work in progress), or, later in a project (during construction, say), can be discussed in RFIs, early warning notices, change orders, compensation events (Isaacs’s reference to NEC terminology underlines the company’s interests in the UK market).

ShapeDo ComparisonSuperficially, such ‘differencing’ is not new. Existing collaboration platforms (eg: Aconex, Asite, Viewpoint) already have ‘drawing overlay’ facilities (Ari also mentioned Bluebeam and Plangrid), but perhaps not to ShapeDo’s level of sophistication. Its comparison engine can review differences between drawings that are of different size, scale, scope, alignment or orientation – even import scanned images of drawings or other low-resolution views. The views of drawings also load very quickly, being created from initially low-detail ’tiles’ that incorporate more detail as users zoom into the detail (a la Google Maps) – ideal for viewing on mobile devices or where only low-bandwidth site connections are available.

Detailed differencingWhile viewing a design change, RFIs and other workflows can be quickly created. Isaacs said customer onboarding includes the creation of web forms and reports that replicate existing outputs (in Word or Excel, for example) – familiarity helping boost user adoption. New workflows can, he said, be created in five minutes instead of the 25 associated with manual creation of emailed forms and associated attachments, while future tracking and reporting via the application’s workflow dashboard is also quicker. On a typical project, 600 RFIs might be created, so the time-savings can quickly mount up (at 20 mins per RFI that works out at 200 man-hours, or around 25 days).

Dispute avoidance and resolution

ShapeDo DashboardWe discussed how the system can be used by either individual businesses or by project teams sharing information. Often, ShapeDo has first been used to help adversarially-oriented firms resolve a dispute. The sequence of production of design information – and any associated changes – can be quickly established, helping identify who did what and when, and what the impacts were on contracts and budgets, to provide evidence to support a claim or explain a delay. Once customers realise the power of such an audit trail, Isaacs said they often look to implement the system on future projects across teams and so encourage more timely identification of issues before they escalate into disputes (we debated the extent to which supply chain adoption of collaborative working and ‘expert clients’ would influence how the application is used).

Service provision

The ShapeDo SaaS product is normally licensed to a customer on a per-project basis, with no limit on the number of users or the amount of drawing uploads, etc. For a project in the £20m-£200m range, Isaacs said the annual fee would be £25,000 including initial implementation and creation of customer-specific forms, security provision, training and support. Enterprise deals can also be negotiated.

Hosting is provided via Microsoft Azure cloud facilities, and ShapeDo is expanding the locations where its servers are located. For sensitive projects, on-premise hosting can also be provided at extra cost, and the company also offers premium services to help customers engaged in litigation review the drawings and other documents involved.

I asked about support for BIM (in 2013 the company offered a service for sharing 3D objects); Isaacs said they had since (c. 2015) taken a strategic decision to focus on the 2D construction market: “For most project managers, their practical needs are focused on 2D information and supporting documentation.” The UK may be pushing forward with BIM (some momentum seems to have been lost since the passing of the government’s Level 2 deadline in April 2016, though NBS’s 2017 National BIM Report suggests progress continues), but most of UK projects are still reliant upon 2D drawings, especially on-site. “We will move forward with BIM when this becomes a market requirement,” Isaacs said.

My view

Early Warnings DashboardWhile our BIM conversation suggests that ShapeDo is not setting out to compete direct with vendors of ‘common data environments’ (CDEs), ShapeDo’s application bears comparison with other ‘project extranet’ platforms – most of which also have good process management tools. Its design change identification technologies and related notification processes seem particularly applicable, even complementary to, contract change solutions. Isaacs mentioned UK vendor CEMAR, formerly CMToolkit, which specialises in NEC3 contract event reporting; in a busy battlefield, other vendors include Sypro and MPS, the two [now expired] NEC-licensed content providers Viewpoint For Projects and Conject (now merged with Aconex), plus Asite, GroupBC/Business Collaborator and Oracle’s Primavera Unifier.

ShapeDo also faces something of a marketing dilemma. Should it position itself as a platform to help traditional contractors (or their claims consultants) retrospectively substantiate claims, or is it a platform that can help contractors demonstrate a more collaborative ongoing approach with their clients and suppliers to avoid claims in the first place? Or both? Most of ShapeDo’s customers to date have been contractors; if the platform was mandated from the outset by an informed owner/operator then it might be effective in preventing later nasty surprises – this might appeal to some contractors but dismay (more adversarial) others.

Almost as soon as I saw the drawing differencing capability, I asked if this was something that might be licensed to other technology providers. The drawing overlay functions in existing applications are fine when working with successive versions of existing drawings, but of little value when dealing with images that may have been uploaded from different sources, in different orientations, scales and resolutions. Vendors looking to improve the functionality of their viewing tools might be interested in incorporating ShapeDo’s core technology into their own platforms.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/06/shapedo-design-change-management/

Jun 07 2017

FieldLens acquired by WeWork

Mobile construction collaboration developer Fieldlens has been acquired by WeWork, the New York-based provider of shared office and co-working space.

New York, US-based mobile construction management application developer Fieldlens has been acquired (for an undisclosed amount) by one of its customers: WeWork, also New York-based and a provider of shared office and co-working space.

Fieldlens logoFounded by Doug Chambers (raising over $1 million in startup funding) and Matt Sena, Fieldlens launched the Beta service of its mobile construction collaboration service – once dubbed the “Facebook of Construction” – in late 2013. Then I was particularly interested in its shift from the industry norm of email-type communication processes to mobile-friendly short-form status updates and messaging feeds (Should construction dump email?). Fieldlens formally launched in March 2014, and two months later closed an US$8m funding round. The Fieldlens app is available on both Apple iOS and Android platforms; the platform is priced at US$15/user/month.

Founded in 2010, WeWork designs and builds spaces where individuals and businesses can share space and office services and collaborate. It has locations in 19 United States cities and 12 countries including Australia, Canada, India, China, Hong Kong, France, the UK, Israel, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands and Germany. In 2015, WeWork acquired BIM technology consultancy Case (read Wanda Lau’s piece for ARCHITECT), for an undisclosed amount.

Deal logic

In a blog post, WeWork chief product officer (and Case co-founder) David Fano explains the rationale behind the move, saying the company is opening 5 to 10 locations every month, becoming one of the world’s largest consumers of design and construction services, and recognising the importance of information in efficient building processes:

“WeWork is in a unique position as one of the only true end-to-end solutions that is involved in every phase of a building’s life cycle — from identifying, leasing, and designing to building and managing.

Our vision for the built environment is to develop a fully integrated solution where we source, design, build, and operate space for every one of our members.

With that in mind, … WeWork has agreed to acquire Fieldlens, one of the building industry’s leading project management applications. Fieldlens is six years into their mission of streamlining construction by empowering users with effective on-site communication.

WeWork is actually already one of Fieldlens’ biggest customers. As an early adopter, our product and construction teams have seen first-hand what connected front-line teams can accomplish and we could not be more excited about the future together.

With the Fieldlens team now part of our Product and Construction team at WeWork, we want to innovate on every aspect of our building process and break the silos within the industry to ensure clear communication and a free and easy exchange of information at every stage.

Fieldlens founder Chambers has also penned a blog post, and makes it clear that Fieldlens will retain its own identity:

“… we’ll be working together to create a new paradigm for the construction, management and operation of physical space. …

Construction, and the built environment as a whole, is a critical component to our economy and overall well-being. It is time for our industry to rise up and lead all of us forward, and together with WeWork we are going to do exactly that.

The Fieldlens application will continue to be offered as a stand-alone construction communication product and we will continue to iterate and innovate. As part of WeWork we’ll have more resources to continue to focus on our goal of making the work-lives of construction professionals more efficient.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/06/fieldlens-acquired-by-wework/

Jun 07 2017

June 2017 collaboration news

International developments in mobile and web collaboration technologies for the architecture, engineering and construction sector… from PetroBIM, BIMSync, BaseStone and Bridgit….

PetroBIM helps on heritage

Petrobim logoLaunched three years ago in Oviedo, northern Spain, PetroBIM is a digital tool focused on historical heritage conservation projects and master plans. Despite its name, it is nothing to do with the oil/gas sector; it takes its name from petrology (Wikipedia definition here): “the branch of geology that studies the origin, composition, distribution and structure of rocks”. It addresses the life cycle of a historical building’s management (graphic documentation, analysis, design, planning, control, intervention and maintenance) using a database linked to 3D models and a viewer specifically designed for this application. According to an email I received:

“… it is possible to convert traditional cultural heritage master plans and restoration projects in a unique and lively 4D model in which an information system is implemented, allowing users to walk, navigate and interact with the building, create virtual sections, update information, generate filters for graphical and numerical queries of as many elements as there are in the model, as well as to generate searches for information.”

I am hoping to get a more detailed briefing on PetroBIM shortly. In the meantime, most of the resources I have been able to find online about PetroBIM (like the YouTube video below) are in Spanish, but it clearly aims to provide a visualisation tool for architects, archaeologists, historians, restorers and others involved in heritage projects – with the base data about the structure and stonework presumably captured using laser-scanning and/or photogrammetry techniques. In English, there is a blog post about PetroBIM on VisualARQ’s website, which describes how the solution can be used to view models imported in .3dm, .dwg or .ifc. A similar platform is apparently also being developed, focused on landscape models.

Update (8 June 2017) – In the UK, the North West BIM Region is holding an event on BIM for Heritage in Manchester on Tuesday 4 July – Register here.

BIMSync by Catenda

bimsync logoOslo, Norway-based Catenda are Open BIM devotees who have developed a BIM Collaboration tool called BIMSync.

A spin-off from SINTEF Building and Infrastructure, where its employees where responsible for research on buildingSMART, building process and knowledge system development, Catenda was established in 2009 to “give the AEC-Industry a simpler life and better products by connecting knowledge, processes and people, through the use of technology.” It is involved with buildingSMART both nationally and internationally and takes an active part in the development of IFC, IFD, IDM and BCF standards.

Built on these same buildingSMART standards while also supporting COBie, BIMSync lets users share, visualise and collaborate on BIM models, issues, documents and drawings in a standard web browser, without plugins or other installations. A hosted online service it allows stakeholders to collaborate, with issue management and secure digital data management features. What particularly stands out also is the company’s commitment to APIs, making it easy to embed and access BIM data from other software tools. BIMSync APIs enable 2D and 3D visualisation, issue handling using the standard BCF API and access to all BIM data through an intuitive REST API.

Basestone updates

BasestoneLondon, UK-based application provider BaseStone is continuing to develop its web and (iOS-only) mobile product set, adding new reporting features designed to reduce the administrative burden by letting users generate bespoke reports in one click. New features include time-stamped photos on reports, options to include or exclude items in reports (including attachments, comments, callouts, photos and signatures), and options to select issues across multiple drawings in reports (read the BaseStone blog for more on this).

Bridgit embraces Android

Bridgit logoTalking about mobile operating systems, Viewpoint recently announced (post) that its Field View application is now available on iOS and Windows devices as well as the Android platform upon which, as PriorityOne, it was originally developed. Expanding beyond a single platform is also the name of the game for Ontario, Canada-based Bridgit, whose Bridgit Closeout software was – like BaseStone’s – previously only available on iOS devices and the web.

Bridgit Closeout is now available as an Android app, allowing main contractors to automatically track and communicate tasks with their entire team, including subcontractors. Android users who previously used Bridgit’s web application will now be able to create and view photos and photo markups, have real-time access to task lists, and send updates from anywhere. Co-founder Lauren Lake says:

Lauren Lake - Bridgit“Bridgit was created to fill the gaps in communication on site. Bridgit’s tracking process saves time and money by automatically updating construction teams about tasks and deficiencies. Using an Android device shouldn’t be a barrier to this process—and now it isn’t. We’re delivering the same experience across iOS and Android, so everyone receives the same information, and the entire site is on the same page.”

 

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/06/june-2017-collaboration-news/

Jun 06 2017

CIAT backs DesigningBuildings wiki

DesigningBuildingsAs a long-time Wikipedian, I have contributed often to the English Wikipedia’s coverage of architecture, engineering and construction subjects, and have also taken an active interest in the UK-based Designing Buildings Wiki (launched in late 2012; read my post). Since then, it has grown, and now hosts over 5,000 articles (including a guide to BIMpost), attracting some three million users a year.

As a wiki, it is – like Wikipedia – “open access”, meaning anyone in the industry can edit and improve the wiki, the BIM guide or other articles. There are articles, for example, on project extranets, common data environments (CDE), and BIM collaboration Format (BCF).

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) has just become the latest sponsor of Designing Buildings Wiki. A news release says the relationship will help bridge the gap between theory and practice, adding the practical knowledge of architectural technologists to the property, design and construction professionals already supporting the site. CIAT will be publishing key resources on Designing Buildings Wiki and will encourage its members to become contributors to the ever-growing resource.

Existing sponsors include the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Chartered Institute of Building, BRE, BSRIA, the Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and U and I Group PLC.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/06/ciat-backs-designingbuildings-wiki/

May 26 2017

Opentree providing CDE WIP integration

Opentree’s Cabinet solution helps firms manages BIM work-in-progress, and offers automated file naming and seamless upload to common data environments (CDEs) such as Viewpoint for Projects.

Opentree logoExhibitors at the Viewpoint 2017 customer summit event (see previous post) included consultants Waterstons and PCSG, Sempre Analytics (helping Viewpoint deliver better dashboards) and Teesside, UK-based Opentree, who told me about their Cabinet enterprise-level document management solution.

Cabinet logoEstablished in 1992 as tsaADVET Ltd and selling network-based CAD solutions from Intergraph, Bentley and Autodesk, the company later resold and supported the Falcon EDMS for CAD management. However, they realised that the EDMS product was not meeting all customers’ needs (c 2000), so they developed their own EDMS, CAB-i-NET (now Cabinet). This product, with a ‘look and feel’ that will be immediately familiar to Windows users, was adopted by key engineering customers including British Steel (now Tata Steel) and Westinghouse Rail Systems (now Siemens) and Cabinet has evolved to manage office documents as well as CAD drawings. In 2014, after a management buy-out led by current CEO Andrew Frank, the company rebranded as Opentree. In addition to Tata and Siemens, customers today include Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Alstom and Sellafield Ltd.

Cabinet BIMFrank told me that they support the in-house “work-in-progress” phase of BIM authoring, prior to designs being shared with the client’s wider project team. UK BIM expert Mervyn Richards worked with the firm to help ensure it supports the BS1192:2007 processes required at Level 2, with Cabinet helping compliance through automated file naming and seamless upload to the client’s common data environment (CDE), eg: Viewpoint for Projects.

They have been working extensively with Viewpoint to integrate their respective systems via APIs (a recurring theme at the Viewpoint summit). Cabinet can also support automatic upload to other CDEs including Asite, Aconex, Sitedesk, Trimble Connect and Autodesk BIM 360 Docs – though two-way integration is dependent on these other vendors’ active cooperation and having fully documented APIs (some of these relationships were still at an early stage, Frank said).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/05/opentree-providing-cde-wip-integration/

May 24 2017

Growing Viewpoint continues BIM push

Viewpoint Construction Software continues to grow its EMEA revenues, with BIM a strongpoint for customer adoption, says Steve Spark. 

Viewpoint logo 2016Ahead of the Viewpoint Construction Software UK user conference in London this week (24-25 May), I met up with Steve Spark, Viewpoint’s EMEA commercial director, to hear what the company planned to share with its customers and end-users.

Continued double-digit growth 

The Newcastle, UK-based EMEA operation continued to grow its SaaS collaboration and mobile revenues in 2016, up 24% on 2015, Spark said (at the conference, a slide showed full-year revenues at around £14m – c. $17.3m or €14.7m). The company’s Middle East market was “tough” and growth there had been “flat,” but its partnerships strategy in mainland Europe had delivered a boost of around 15%.

However, the company’s strong position in the UK has delivered the bulk of the company’s revenue growth, Spark said, with Viewpoint UK winning work from asset owner/operators, tier 1 contractors and also from consultants and other supply chain members. Looking at the UK’s top 20 contractors, he says Viewpoint is working with all but one of them.

Given that some clients may insist on other systems and that some contractors may use several SaaS providers, this is hardly conclusive evidence of market domination (customer logos displayed in vendor slide decks often include the same businesses), but Spark highlights enterprise deals, which are more conclusive. “Fifty per cent of the top 20 UK contractors have signed enterprise deals to use Viewpoint For Projects (VFP), while we also have enterprise deals with 15% of them for use of Viewpoint Field View.” (Field View was formerly the mobile application Priority1, acquired in December 2014).

The total number of VFP users as of April 2017 is now 262,000, up 29% from 203,470 in 2016 (active users were given as 43,181, up from 37,936 in 2016). The VFP platform now hosts over 711,000 documents, up 27%. Total number of projects was up 48% to 117,628.

Viewpoint VFP stats May 2017

Why adopt Viewpoint?

Viewpoint 2017 survey dataWe talked about reasons behind this growing adoption of the Viewpoint collaboration products, with Constructing Excellence’s key performance indicators (KPIs; 2016 report here) providing some context for customer research that Viewpoint had undertaken. This survey showed that 84% of Viewpoint rated the software as delivering a medium-high impact on return on investment, 95% rated it similarly for improvements in health and safety, in quality, and in reductions in errors and rework. “Sixty per cent of our users said they made cost savings of up to 20% at the design phase. Fifty-six per cent made cost savings of up to 20% at the construction phase.”

I asked if Viewpoint had seen any change in the market following Aconex’s March 2016 acquisition of the Anglo-German Conject business. “We understand that the Conject platform will be discontinued with many customers eventually being switched to the Aconex platform,” said Spark. “As a result, we have seen strong growth in enquiries from customers who are using this change as a reason to review their options. We have won new deals from customers who prefer our approach to collaboration to Aconex’s.”
(Read what Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper said about their product migration).

Product development

Viewpoint has continued to capitalise on its investments in adding building information modelling (BIM) functionality to its platform. Some of these date back to the early days of the UK BIM adoption programme or are updates on announcements made a year ago, though the latest step forward has been implementing support for IFC4. The VFP product roadmap includes addition of BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) capabilities (“We can already create and share BCF notifications; next step is to manage BCF responses”; BCF was discussed at Viewpoint’s 2016 summit too) and new tools to support asset owners’ operation and maintenance requirements.

As well as BIM and document control improvements, Spark said Viewpoint is also continuing to develop Field View with expanded support for forms, and growing project management capabilities, including integration with customer back-office systems including enterprise resource planning (ERP) – a strength of the US parent company. “We have been looking to strengthen our enterprise offering so that businesses can exploit their investment in their on-premise tools – such as Viewpoint’s Vista – by integrating these with our collaboration products in the cloud,” said Spark.

Team and Field

Larsen talks at 2017 VPCSJeremy Larsen (Viewpoint’s director of product development) told the conference about plans to make VFP more accessible from mobile platforms, with better support across the three main operating systems: Android (originally the sole platform for Field View), iOS and Windows. Repeating Spark’s integration point, Larsen also said further integration between VFP and Field View is on the roadmap.

Barry Frangipane talked about Field View. The product is now fully available on iOS, and Viewpoint is working towards full parity with Windows (the release is imminent). The dated and cumbersome user interface has been replaced; it is now faster to load, requires fewer clicks, and is more responsive, with customisable screens. Field View dashboards have also been improved. He also talked about “skinny sync” – optimising synchronisation between the web application and local devices so that users didn’t sync data they didn’t require, or no longer needed. Forms can now be printed direct from tablets too, and support for PDFs is improving, Frangipane said.

What’s next? Field View will be able to link to documents that are held in VFP. Field View will be available on smartphones in 2018 (it will be quicker to onboard new devices too), and there will be more APIs to give greater access to information.

Josh Wright talked about VFP product development. Multi-file upload has been added to the system, deploying new and more user-friendly drag-and-drop technologies (requiring less training), with an interface that includes progress bars so users are updated on upload progress. VFP Desktop provides “the ease of Dropbox with the power of VFP,” he said.

What’s coming next? VFP is moving to an HTML5 viewer (dropping any reliance on ActiveX plug-ins or Flash); the new Brava viewer will support view and mark-up in all major browsers, with comparisons available in Chrome. Dashboard developments will include slicker visualisations, customisable to personal and project level tasks. VFP Mobile will provide easy access to VFP on tablets (Android, iOS and Windows) for access to documents in the field. The BIM viewer has been strengthened to support IFC4 and improve COBie navigation and model performance. BS1192-2 numbering is also on the product roadmap for the second half of 2017.

Innovation and the future…. Larsen’s team is also looking beyond six-month spans seeking user guidance on what might be needed two-three years in the future, particularly on project communications. Matt Harris, SVP, Products, had earlier talked about “Viewpoint’s next generation project platform” – Larsen talked about a “state of the art platform”, utilising the Microsoft Azure platform (echoes of Bentley here), Xamarin, HTML5, and AngularJS. The aim is software that is intuitive, ease to use and flexible, supporting defined business processes, Larsen said.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/05/growing-viewpoint-continues-bim-push/

May 22 2017

eviFile – geo-located progressive assurance

Complementing BIM, mobile geospatial services such as IDS’s eviFile will help infrastructure providers securely track their assets and associated processes.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have had a number of conversations with Ed Williams, now client services director at the Leeds, UK-based IDS Group. When we first met, Ed was working on the concept of a mobile reporting tool that used familiar (and therefore user-friendly) Google geolocation technologies such as Google Maps and Street View to help built environment clients and their supply chains capture data about, report on and manage projects across dispersed locations.

Highway engineering case study

The concept was tested with UK contractor Balfour Beatty (eventually leading to a project case study published by COMIT: Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT in July 2015). BIM manager for highways and infrastructure Harry Parnell had wanted a solution to link photographic evidence of motorway project progress issues to designs authored using building information modelling (BIM). Previously, coordinating site photographs with their exact locations in 3D models was slow and laborious, requiring manual cutting and pasting of data, and importing and exporting between multiple applications. Parnell said:

Harry Parnell“We wanted a more seamless way to quickly and accurately capture up to 40 different metadata attributes relating to a photo, so that, as section engineers identified issues, the data could immediately then be reused for checking, approval and electronic, rather than in-person, sign-off processes.”

During 2013, Parnell and his Balfour Beatty colleagues began reviewing different mobile photo mapping and geolocation tools, eventually testing what is today the IDS solution on a motorway improvement project: the £208m M25 Section 5, J23-J27 scheme, northeast of London.

From marker posts and signs to gantry elements (pile, pile cap, leg, boom), over-bridges and culverts, around 1000 assets were each assigned a unique reference number, which was also captured in the 3D model. As work proceeded, issues – structural defects, missing signs, poor paint finishes – were photographed and their locations could be fine-tuned using Google’s Street View technology, incorporated in the browser-based system. Being written in HTML5, it also worked across multiple mobile operating systems and devices.

“GPS accuracy was +/- 5m, so associating photographs gave a clear visual confirmation of each asset’s exact location,” says Parnell. “Using the application saved hours every week. New issues were raised at evening coordination meetings, allocated to the relevant section staff, and once rectified could be checked and closed-out.”

In five months, over 50 engineers and inspectors managed over 900 quality tasks raised on-site using the system. Real-time reporting closed the gap and accelerated collaboration between site and office-based project staff. From a survey of users, Parnell calculated an average saving of three hours a week per person, saving approximately £250,000 against comparable projects.

The M25 Section 5 team delivered the project 26 weeks ahead of schedule and under budget, while using the application to work more efficiently and capture data once. Certainty regarding defect closure was vital. “Rectifying a problem after traffic management had been lifted would cost over £10,000, versus the average £690 if traffic management was still in place,” says Parnell.

Deploying a single data capture and reporting system across multiple projects means a contractor like Balfour Beatty can ensure high levels of data consistency and quality, and standardise cross-project reporting for group quality, health and safety and environmental purposes. Clients also get richer, more accurate, real-time data about their new assets. Importantly, the technology can also be used to manage existing assets. Williams adds:

“Being managed in a secure, cloud-based environment, the system is highly scalable. And by using unique IDs for numerous assets, it provides a convenient way for field workers to collect and share high quality, location-specific data in real-time with their colleagues.”

The product’s secure, time-, date-, location-stamped and tamper-proof format, now branded eviFile (reflecting its evidence-based approach), also provided reassurance to compliance teams, concerned about any potential dispute or claim.

eviFile – field data collection and reporting

In the two years since that Balfour Beatty case study, the product has been developed further. IDS is now marketing eviFile as an enterprise-level application that can be used to record and manage field assets, track inspection routes and provide tamper-proof evidence of events happening in the field. The system is accessible on smartphones, tablets and desktop devices, with all data securely managed by hosting partner AQL, and is designed as a ‘drop-in’ solution that can be easily integrated with an ‘ecosystem’ of existing applications and processes.

eviTrackComplementing the eviFile data capture technology, the platform also provides ‘eviTrack’: functionality that provides “a visual snail-trail of event activity and routes”. This can show, for example, the sequence of locations visited by an inspector, with the data captured at each location automatically time and date-stamped. The eviFile digital signing process guarantees that reports were collected at a particular time and in a particular place, with digital signatures captured using standardised UK cryptographic algorithms.

As well as the highways sector, Williams says the eviFile system is attracting interest from other highly regulated infrastructure providers, notably the rail sector – drawn by eviFile’s ability to provide what he describes as “progressive assurance“. Delivering new rail assets, or updating existing ones, can involve a sequence of ten or more activities, each of which is subject to a quality inspection and must be signed-off prior to the next one starting. Contractors can quickly accumulate large volumes of paperwork documenting these processes – Williams recalls a recent project generating some 26,000 pieces of paper, “and the number grows further once you add in the snagging loop on top of the progress monitoring.”

EviFile is licensed to Regular Users, who can then share an eviFile with partners, clients or contractors (‘collaborators’) to capture their comments but without enabling them to make any additional changes to the captured data. Data is stored in a Vault – which is available with two grades of security: enterprise and military strength. For 25 enterprise users, I understand pricing starts from around £30,000 per annum, though the cost per user obviously drops if customers need bigger implementations – a 250-user requirement would cost around £150,000, for example.

The new geospatial battleground

Geospatial data is becoming increasingly important. Implementation of BIM to support infrastructure projects was hampered until the industry started to develop classification systems, such as Uniclass 2015, that more adequately covered ‘linear’ civil engineering projects in the road, rail, power and water sectors, for instance.

As infrastructure providers seek to manage multi-project programmes of work or widely dispersed existing assets, often a map showing locations is the most obvious, and user-friendly, way to navigate to particular sites or places within sites. Steve Crompton, CTO of SaaS collaboration and CDE vendor GroupBC (Business Collaborator, proponents of ‘Semantic BIM‘ or connected data; post), powerfully demonstrated this at a BeginBIM17 event which I chaired at Turner and Townsend’s London office on 18 May (the company will also be exhibiting its “GeoConnect+” service at this week’s GeoBusiness event, on stand M15, in London, 23-24 May with a workshop about the service at 2.45pm on 24 May – Update [26 May 2017]: read this PCSG blog post about GeoConnect+).

Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper had geolocation services on his product roadmap when I interviewed him recently (post); last week I also wrote about the US’s Unearth (post) which is merging aerial imagery with project data, and recalled Finland’s Infrakit (April 2016 post) – also seemingly focused on geolocated civil engineering data and workflows.

[Disclosures: I provided consultancy work relating to the prototype technology and to compilation of the original Balfour Beatty case study. I am also a dissemination partner of COMIT, and have provided marketing consultancy services to GroupBC.]

2017 COMIT conference

 

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/05/evifile-geo-located-progress-assurance/

May 18 2017

Aconex: CEO Leigh Jasper interviewed (Pt 3)

Aconex logo 2014In the final section of this three-part Extranet Evolution interview with Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper (read part one; part two), the focus is digital transformation and long-term growth prospects.

Digitising construction

As a former McKinsey consultant, Jasper was pleased to talk about the McKinsey Global Institute’s ‘Digital Transformation’ reports showing how developed economies (like Australia, US, UK and western Europe) were pushing forward in digitising their construction industries. While the sectors were starting from a low base (in the US, MGI’s December 2015 report showed only agriculture and hunting was less digitised; a June 2016 MGI report showed that, in Europe, construction was bottom of the league), he said this meant there was lots of opportunities for technology providers such as Aconex to help the industry adopt new ways of collaborating.

McKinsey report cover“Construction is at the bottom in terms of spend on IT, which I see as an opportunity because at some point construction will start spending at the levels of other industries. The nature of the industry is that it’s quite conservative in terms of its adoption of technology, and the UK and Australia, with Germany in some respects, are well ahead of other markets. The [February 2017] McKinsey report shows all the countries that have been early adopters of our technology – collaboration or more general digitisation – have increased labour productivity in construction.”

Returning to the investor presentation and its growth forecasts, Jasper said:

Leigh JasperThere is no reason why we can’t grow at 20%-plus for a very long time given the scale of the market. And I reckon we are still only less than 1% of the impact we could have on the global construction market. With all the providers globally, the market is still less than 10% penetrated, and I reckon we are picking up less than 10% of the total processes we could manage over time. As the industry digitises more and more, every process will become digital over time – well, it will have digital as well as physical components. So there is still more impact we could have on the industry, and that’s what gives us confidence we can grow for a very long time.”

We discussed emerging industry standards in areas such as BIM and workflow, and how these have helped providers develop software. “We believe we can be a big part of that standardisation across the industry, and particularly being open with our APIs, we can become part of wider digitisation.”

However (and consistent with what he said when announcing the 2016 results), Aconex’s growth was unlikely to be delivered by another Conject-style competitor acquisition, Jasper said, forecasting “massive” opportunities for many construction software businesses as the industry digitises:

“We’ll do it organically. There might be some product bolt-ons – we’ll make some ‘build versus buy’ decisions and we have a range of discussions going on regarding potential bolt-ons. Nothing immediate, though.

“We don’t see any others in our space as competition – we are all helping in this drive towards digitisation. If we can take IT spend from 1% to 2-3% in a $10 trillion construction market, the potential is massive.

My analysis

While not the first SaaS construction collaboration provider to launch, Aconex has expanded out from its Australian roots to become the dominant pure-play provider in the global market (Autodesk and Bentley probably have similar global reach, but SaaS collaboration – Buzzsaw/BIM360 and ProjectWise respectively – are only parts of much bigger software portfolios, much of them based on on-premise installation and usage).

Recognising that SaaS provision quickly transcends national boundaries, and that the Australasian market alone would not satisfy their ambitions, Aconex established footholds in both developed and developing markets around the world. It also looked beyond building projects to embrace civil engineering and natural resource projects. While it suffered occasional setbacks due to regional conflicts (civil war in north Africa, for example) or economic downturns (eg: the global financial crisis, gas and oil price plunges), it seems this wide spread of activity has helped make Aconex more resilient compared to firms reliant on one region or one vertical market.

When Jasper talked about the Aconex technology stack “not being a mile wide but an inch deep”, I felt this might also now apply to their global reach. Its international expansion, particularly in the early days, was often based on creating small outposts, with energetic sales people looking for local early adopters to help grow a local footprint and reputation (not for the first time, someone at a competing SaaS firm last week described Aconex then as “backpackers”!). Aconex, particularly after the Conject acquisition, now has both wide international reach and sufficient depth of financial and human resources to build strong local operations in both developed markets and – probably more important for long-term growth – developing markets.

Aconex can also capitalise upon the technological sophistication of its customer base in the most developed markets such as the UK, Germany and other parts of western Europe, Singapore, Korea and Australasia and the US. As these push forward with BIM and other digital transformations (including – in due course – FM or asset management in the cloud), Aconex can make use of its customer and end-user networks to develop applications and functionality that can then support its customers’ construction and operations in emerging markets. Its ‘open’ philosophy may also help it grow as software partners market the integration opportunities with the Aconex platform.

Aconex shareprice all time to 17 May 2017The company has, understandably, attracted a lot of investor attention, being the first construction SaaS business to do an IPO. There was some uncertainty ahead of the on, off, on again flotation, but Aconex’s initial rise to ‘unicorn’ status in mid 2016 certainly boosted investor confidence in the sector. Partly as a result, several other ‘ConTech’ companies (eg: FinalcadPlangridProcore, think project!) are now well-funded and expanding their marketing and software R&D activities, adding scale and momentum to the industry’s digital transformation.

If early adopter customers start to show a conservative and often sceptical industry that they can improve productivity and deliver projects at higher margins and with greater certainty, then this may encourage other construction companies to upgrade their systems and undertake the necessary people and process transformations to make digital construction ‘business as usual’. Looking long term, Jasper may well see net construction IT spend more than double. The potential is, indeed, massive there.

And, while FM may be off the Aconex product road map for now, if digital transformation eventually extends to owners/operators managing asset information for operational purposes, then the growth potential (and, as operational spend is more consistent over time than construction spend, the resilience of revenues) could be even greater.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/05/aconex-ceo-leigh-jasper-interviewed-pt-3/

May 17 2017

Aconex: CEO Leigh Jasper interviewed (Pt 2)

Aconex logo 2014In the second part of this now three-part Extranet Evolution interview with Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper (read part one), we talk about building information modelling, FM, mobile and other product development ideas.

Collaborative BIM

conjectCDE logoConject’s merger with BIW was a prolonged process, with key developments in areas such as mobile technology and BIM delayed at a time when, particularly in the UK, rival vendors were investing heavily in research and development activities. As a result, Conject lagged behind SaaS collaboration competitors such as Viewpoint (formerly 4Projects), Aconex and Asite in adding mobile applications to its portfolio (buying France’s Wapp6 in January 2014), while the same rivals were also pushing ahead with support for BIM (Conject finally entered the BIM race in March 2015, some three years after 4Projects had already started two BIM R&D projects, and a full eight years after Asite BIM was launched).

Aconex Connected BIM was launched in October 2014, and is marketed as part of the core platform, not a module for which customers have to pay extra. Jasper explained this was part of a wider digital operating system strategy:

Connected BIM“As it’s part of the platform, in a sense everybody uses it, but obviously to varying degrees. Some companies will use it very heavily and put lots of models into the system. Others might use it at a more shallow level. But BIM is a critical part of what we do – it wasn’t going to be something that was optional. We are putting digital building blocks together enabling us to create a collaborative operating system for the construction industry, and BIM is part of that operating system, as is mobility, how we handle documentation, workflows, cost – all these interlink…. Everything needs to be able to link to everything else.”

Jasper said he has seen growing use of Aconex for BIM, bolstered by an approach embracing open BIM standards, such as COBie, IFC and BCF (Aconex’s website features a video about BIM Collaboration Format showing how its platform can be used to share model ‘viewpoints’ generated in Solibri Model Viewer, and to manage the underlying workflows). Involved with BuildingSmart, Aconex’s open philosophy also extends to open APIs:

The more open companies are on the market the better it will be for adoption of technology. Everything we build we put an API around it, and then our customers can look at what degree they want to integrate with internal systems or even other providers in the market.”

Aconex’s Australian domestic market is not as far advanced as the UK in BIM adoption, Jasper said, partly because the UK had benefitted from the collective incentive of a government mandate:

“Certainly there is a level of BIM adoption in Australia which compared to the US is much higher, but behind the UK and one or two European countries. In the US, BIM became really topical about three or four years ago and we need to get that back. One of the challenges in the US is that people only look at it from their point of view. BIM is one of those things that, the more that owners and contractors work together the better the results for the project team.”

BIM for FM?

We touched on asset information management (“That’s probably the next step for the industry,” Jasper said, “Owners need to be specifying early what they need and then moving towards full asset life cycle and the operations phase”). However, Aconex’s investor pitch currently stops at information handover; Jasper hadn’t detected any huge demand from customers for Aconex to develop an FM solution:

“We see FM as part of that entire story but the reality is that … in our development stack there is still a lot to do in the design and construction phase. In five years, we will have a SaaS FM product as part of the suite, but we are not actively building that at the moment. Conject had such a product, but whether that’s the tool we end up taking forward we are reviewing at the moment. It’s a bit separate to other parts of the business.”

Mobile

Aconex FieldBy contrast, the functionality of Conject’s mobile tools would be retained: “We are pulling it all into one platform. Any functionality that we don’t have in Aconex Field we are pulling into our solution,” Jasper said. The company’s product development approach is not based on trying to cover every possible requirement: “We are not one for being a mile wide but an inch deep. If we are going to add a function or a module, we want to make sure it’s really good.

Jasper summarised Aconex’s four functional priority areas as:

  • deepening the collaboration tools (developments include currently extending configuration to manage packages of work)
  • expanding field and mobility
  • extending BIM capabilities, and
  • Connected Cost (he talked about “making cost more collaborative”)

Aconex also wants to stay ahead of the game on security (in March 2017, Aconex announced it was seeking certification under the US Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, FedRAMP – something that will enable Aconex customers to win US federal government projects with advanced security compliance requirements; in the UK, it is already registered on the government’s digital marketplace, GCloud, and we briefly discussed PAS1192-5 – post). Jasper also talked about incorporating scheduling information (currently dominated by Oracle’s Primavera and MS Project) and geolocation services into the platform.

However, this isn’t all about adding functionality to attract new customers. Jasper said the business also needed to keep reminding long-standing customers and existing end-users that the once-familiar Aconex product set was constantly evolving and expanding.

(Coming soon: in the final part of this interview, Leigh Jasper talks about the growth opportunities if construction embraces digital transformation.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/05/aconex-leigh-jasper-interview-pt-2/

May 16 2017

Aconex: CEO Leigh Jasper interviewed (Pt 1)

Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper was in the UK recently, and talked to Extranet Evolution. This first instalment of a two three-part interview discusses outcomes of the Conject acquisition and the development of the Connected Cost application.

Aconex logo 2014The day after an Aconex investor presentation in Melbourne was a good time to get an update on the Australian construction collaboration Software-as-a-Service provider’s recent progress from CEO Leigh Jasper. Unusually, he hadn’t delivered part of the presentation himself.

That 4 May briefing was left to new CFO Paul Koppelman and COO Paul Perrott, who reiterated the Au$160-165m (c. £98-101m, US$122-126m or €113-117m) revenue forecast and the Au$15-18 EBITDA forecast given in January, along with expectations of underlying growth of 15-19%, and 20% revenue growth in the medium-long term. They also gave reassuring messages about sales momentum, reduced Brexit-related uncertainty in the UK, improved conditions in the US, and more stable oil prices. Aconex’s share price has rebounded to around Au$4.50 (it’s now recouped about half of that end-of-January plunge).

Aconex WokingMeanwhile, Leigh Jasper was visiting the UK. I met him in the former Conject offices in Woking (now with Aconex branding – the UK operation also has an office in central London, and the locations would eventually be rationalised he told me, though this won’t affect the development centre in Nottingham).

Conject integration

The office location (which, pre-Conject, had been BIW Technologies’ head office – and my place of work when I worked for the business) naturally prompted some questions about how integration of the Anglo-German business had progressed since Aconex bought it for A$96m (c. £51m) in March 2016.

Some one-off expenses associated with the Conject deal were noted in the investor presentation, but the merger had involved few redundancies, Jasper said: “maybe a dozen or less” out of 220 (I know few of the Woking-based admin and marketing staff remain, while at least one Middle East employee was let go). The rationale for the acquisition had not been about eliminating a competitor and then stripping out costs, but about growth synergies, improving Aconex’s European footprint, retaining a really strong team (“our sales leaders in the UK are all the Conject guys”), and integrating some of Conject’s sector-leading technologies into the Aconex platform.

Jasper felt the integration of Conject into Aconex had progressed smoothly because many of its people had already gone through a similar process and learned lessons from the previous merger (when Munich-based Conject acquired BIW in December 2010).

Conject customer reaction to the acquisition had been very positive, Jasper said. Customers are not being forced to switch to the Aconex platform; current projects managed on Conject (“which is very cost-effective to host and run”) will continue to be supported until they finish (even if this took 5-6 years). Some Conject customers (Mace was mentioned) have already started new projects on the Aconex platform, he said, and “maybe only one” customer had been lost.

Jasper said the deal had made Aconex a stronger proposition to customers that previously would not have considered either Conject or Aconex:

“In the UK market, we are selling in to new customers where Aconex wouldn’t have won them, but the strength of the product combined with the strength of the sales team means we now have a very strong combination. There was probably a bit of under-investment in the UK-based Conject products and having a stronger Aconex platform has helped.”

UK and European customers can now be confident they are dealing with a company with a strong regional presence, while the deal had also extended the technology capabilities, he said.

Connected Cost

Foremost among these was Conject’s Financial Control module, a mature construction project cost management application that, in its early days, had helped differentiate BIW from its UK rivals. Coupled with Aconex’s July 2015 acquisition of US-based vendor Worksite from ARES Project Management Ltd (which “brought us forward several years in being able to get Connected Cost to market”), Aconex now had a strong cost management team (Jasper singled out one-time Conject professional services director Nick Sansome; post) and a powerful cost tool. Aconex Connected Cost was Beta tested with some customers then made generally available in late 2016 ahead of an April 2017 marketing push. It enables Aconex to compete with US-based vendors whose systems have historically been stronger on cost control than on document collaboration. It was proving a strong differentiator, Jasper said.

Leigh Jasper“We are seeing really big interest, and a number of deals have already been done on the product. [American carmaker and energy storage company] Tesla is now a customer of ours and is one we wouldn’t have got without Connected Cost, so it’s helping us win more work, and it’s really important to our customers. Particularly in the US, cost is more important to them than collaboration, and I think our cost product is the best SaaS solution on the market, particularly when you compare it to some of the products built 10 or 15 years ago.”

(The second and third parts of this interview includes discussion of BIM, asset management and mobile technologies, and of growth prospects if construction embraces digital transformation.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2017/05/aconex-ceo-leigh-jasper-interviewed-pt-1/

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