Oct 22 2018

Bentley ProjectWise365 extends Microsoft integration

Bentley logo 2017At its 2018 Year in Infrastructure event in London last week, Bentley Systems announced the general availability of integration between ProjectWise 365 Services and Microsoft 365.

ProjectWise dashboard, powered by AzureProjectWise is Bentley’s ‘workhorse for work sharing’ used by 70% of Engineering News-Record’s Top 250 Design Firms in the design and engineering of all types of infrastructure assets. Now 20 years old (see this October 2018 short history of ProjectWise), the collaboration platform was originally a customer-hosted on-premise solution for document and drawing sharing, but in recent years it has been extended to the cloud, its workflow capabilities have also been extended, and – since 2013 – its connectivity to other solutions via Microsoft’s Azure cloud services has slowly grown. A year ago, Bentley was saying Projectwise had grown more in past two years than at any time, and announcing steps towards integration with Microsoft’s 365 suite of services.

In parallel, the range of ProjectWise capabilities was expanded. A March 2015 acquisition, EADOC was rebranded as ProjectWise Construction Management in 2017. Nicole Stephano (senior director of product marketing) says the product retains a strong user base which has helped Bentley better understand the project data needs of constructors. Two years later, in March 2017, Bentley acquired US-based SaaS vendor eBid Systems and added bid and tender process management, now branded as Bentley ProcureWare, to the suite of ProjectWise services.

Stephano estimated that 90% of ProjectWise implementations were still on-premise, reflecting the historical legacy of the product, but most new implementations were being delivered via Microsoft Azure Services. Update (24 October 2018): Bentley tells me that over 25% of its top 100 accounts have hosted implementations and the number of hosted users in these accounts has almost tripled in the last year.

ProjectWise Project Insights

The latest announcement builds on the October 2017 announcement, using learning from early adopters including Mott MacDonald and AECOM. One of the 2018 YII Award winners (announced last Thursday) was an AECOM submission focused on ProjectWise Project Insights, which exploits Microsoft Power BI, a toolset in the Microsoft 365 suite (see this ‘Advancement Insight’).

03_AI_AECOM Accelerates Digital Advancement with Near Real-time Insights (2)

Norris Spencer, AECOM’s highways information manager, said: “ProjectWise Project Insights is delivering a new perspective to leadership and project management as the dashboards provide unique views of information management practices and building information model health across the CDE” [Connected Data Environment – a Bentley term]. AECOM information manager Elizabeth Berna added: “Our project managers also use the dashboards to identify trends in project performance providing the client with new ways of assessing project health.”

Neil Lee, IT Director – Applications at Mott MacDonald, said: “The integration of ProjectWise and Microsoft Office 365 will be a significant enabler for our ongoing digital strategy for project delivery. Our evaluation of the integration capability against the typical demands of our project teams demonstrated that Bentley and Microsoft are fulfilling the vision of enabling more seamless and automated digital workflows for project teams to access project information residing in either Office 365 or ProjectWise. Our project teams will be enabled to drive improved project outcomes with more streamlined collaboration that enables faster and more informed decisions.”

Noah Eckhouse - BentleyThe Microsoft 365 integration is clearly seen as extending the reach of information stored in ProjectWise. “There’s a lot of information locked up on ProjectWise – we need to unlock it and make it more widely available across teams,” Noah Eckhouse, Bentley’s senior vice president of Project Delivery, told a building and construction press briefing. By using Microsoft 365 tools such as Azure Search, Microsoft Flow and Microsoft Teams – launched in November 2016, Stephano told me this is now one of Microsoft’s fastest growing applications – every level of an extended team can have assured and secure access to the correct and current project deliverables.

Connecting digital twins

Eckhouse said: “This integration with Microsoft 365 brings automated digital workflows to the extended project team and will help users replicate best practices across a team’s projects. And significantly, now ProjectWise users can add Bentley’s new Azure-based iTwin™ Services, taking advantage of automated digital workflows within ProjectWise to align and synchronize project digital twins for continuous and comprehensive status reviews.”

The launch of iTwin Services was another key YII2018 announcement (see news release). These services can be “transparently provisioned within Bentley’s Connected Data Environment (CDE) for ProjectWise … users,” enabling infrastructure asset owners to capture and synchronise data about physical conditions, including IoT inputs, while also comprehending the “digital DNA” captured in the project or asset’s engineering specifications. Bentley CEO Greg Bentley spoke about digital twins reflecting both an asset’s physical reality, and its “virtuality” (engineering data) using reality modelling, iModelHub (announced in 2017), CDE, and web-visibility technologies.

Further ‘Digital Twin’ announcements from Bentley included the acquisition of Stockholm-based city-scale reality modelling provider Agency9 (news), development with Siemens of PlantSight digital twin cloud services (news), and a strategic partnership with IT services giant Atos to provide digital twins to asset owner-operators (news). However, there appeared to be no connection with a recently announced Microsoft initiative. Microsoft announced its Azure Digital Twin IoT service on 24 September (read this news article), and Azure Digital Twins was to be publicly available for customers to begin building solutions from 15 October 2018 (Eckhouse said this wasn’t an initiative that Bentley was currently involved in).

[Disclosure: I attended the Bentley Year in Infrastructure conference as a guest of Bentley Systems, who paid my hotel expenses. I was also a juror in the YII Awards. Publication of this post was delayed due to a laptop failure while I was at the conference.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/10/projectwise365-extends-microsoft-integration/

Oct 12 2018

think project! expands in France

Thinkproject-logoMunich, Germany-based construction and engineering Software-as-a-Service provider think project!, has announced it is strengthening its operations in France to accelerate growth.

think project! acquired France’s Lascom AEC, a provider of PLM (project and plant lifecycle management) in September 2015, and it was rebranded to think project! France. in June 2017. Clients of the Paris Vélizy-based business include Alstom, Grand Paris, and Vinci.

The main business’s clients include Audi, Bayer, BMW, Bouygues, Eiffage, Heathrow Airport, Ikea, Lufthansa, Samsung, Société Générale, and Technip FMC, as well as Alstom and Vinci. It claims over 150,000 users in 50 countries.

think project! says it is “offering a hybrid strategy to drive portfolio convergence by progressively adding legacy Product & Project Lifecycle Management (PLM) capabilities to its modern cross-enterprise collaboration and information management solution”. This involves creating new jobs in France, and the firm is recruiting for roles in sales and marketing, and in consulting and technology.

Thomas Bachmaier, CEO of think project!, says:

Thomas Bachmaier“Further investing in the French-speaking markets is a major cornerstone in our international growth strategy. This move provides think project! with the opportunity to acquire new French and international customers, while adding a leading collaboration solution to the local product portfolio.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/10/think-project-expands-in-france/

Oct 10 2018

iBinder – building on simplicity?

iBinder logoSwedish construction, procurement and property management Software-as-a-Service provider iBinder makes a virtue of its product’s simplicity; “Building on Simplicity” is the company’s slogan.

iBinder is a company based in Örebro, Sweden, which has developed a simple-to-use project management system based on a ring-binder approach to construction information.

iBinder manual imageThe software, accessed via a standard web browser, mimics the look and feel of a ring-binder using index tabs to denote different sections of information (each sub-section can then be further sub-divided as necessary). A user with several projects is presented with a view of a bookshelf containing a binder for each project. Other users can be invited to open and use project binders, while iBinder also allows certain tabs (for example, contracts or budgets) to be locked, making those sections and their contents inaccessible to unauthorised users. Multiple virtual ‘bookshelves’ can apparently also be created for different types of binders.

iBinder launched in Sweden in about 2010, and its user base has been growing at 15-20% ever since, and it now claims to have over 200,000 users (though I suspect this is a historic total, not the number of currently active end-users), while the company also says customers double their use of the system year-on-year. “Its cost is based on the project’s budget, so you can have an unlimited number of users and uploaded files.”

Use of the system, which is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform, has expanded to customers in Norway and Denmark, while – interestingly – the company is now looking at franchising its platform to open up new markets, including the UK (it is exhibiting at a franchising show in London in April 2019 – see blog post).

Targeting SMEs?

iBinder appears to be something that may appeal to small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMEs), but I would be wary about how easily functionality designed to fit Swedish construction industry standards could be adapted to suite non-Scandinavian markets. Presumably, anyone taking on the role of Master Franchisees for the UK (or other markets) would need to develop some marketing materials to help promote the platform in their territories, to adapt the user interface so that it uses the right language and terminology, and develop some of the workflows so that they correspond to the processes most commonly applied in a particular market.

To me – and despite the ‘simplicity’ sloganeering – iBinder is a useful reminder that most SaaS products launched for construction use have tended to require some kind of direct sales effort. The solutions are generally not something that will be adopted just be finding a solution on the web and then following some software ‘wizards’ (I sometimes contrast the complexity of these AEC solutions with some accounting and timesheet solutions – eg Xero, Harvest – that are marketed to small businesses). Usually new customers and/or end-users need support to set up accounts and to then configure AEC applications to suit their business.

Prepared for BIM?

The company’s website also says the construction product is “Prepared for BIM (Building Information Model).” No further explanation is provided, but, again, the platform might need to be developed further to become a ‘Common Data Environment’ offering the functionality required by a (slowly) growing number of clients and their project teams.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/10/ibinder-building-on-simplicity/

Oct 01 2018

Plangrid report highlights industry inertia

Plangrid has expanded from north America into Europe, and is now aiming to improve construction productivity in the UK – its survey suggests the industry has a long way to go.

Plangrid logoIn June 2014, I wrote about a then recently-launched California startup called Plangrid. The San Francisco company offered a simple-to-use, mobile-oriented platform to manage simple collaboration and file-sharing in construction projects. I have continued to monitor Plangrid’s progress since then, noting, for example, its successful May 2015 Series A funding round which raised US$18m to help fuel its growth.

Plangrid UK

This growth has seen it expand overseas, and in October 2017 it exhibited at London’s Digital Construction Week, signalling what it described (see news release) as “a deeper commitment to the UK”. All the Plangrid personnel that I spoke to at DCW then were American, but the company said it was hiring UK-based personnel and planning to localise the core Plangrid system for the UK English market (plus Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish).

Around a year later, it now has UK staff manning its stands – the company exhibited at the Institution of Civil Engineers’ “Shaping a Digital World” event in London last week (I talked briefly with Rob Elvidge, MD of EMEA operations, among others), and will be taking a stand (No D5) at Digital Construction Week again next month (17-18 October 2018).

Plangrid says its “construction productivity” software has been used on over a million projects around the world [see comments], and claims to be “the first to provide contractors and owners in commercial, heavy civil and residential construction the tools they need to collaborate effectively and collect and manage project information throughout the project’s construction and operations lifespan,” (a claim that will almost certainly be disputed by several UK incumbents who developed the UK SaaS market from 2000 onwards, plus others – eg: GenieBelt, Basestone and FinalCAD in Europe, FieldLens and Raken in the US – that have exploited growing mobile device adoption). Its DCW blurb details some UK customers including AbraxysGlobal, Cleveland Clinic, Facebook, Jerram Falkus, Interserve, Kier, Lendlease, Mercury, Structure Tone and Voyage Care.

“Solving construction’s productivity puzzle”

The UK version of the Plangrid website features a research report produced in conjunction with the CIOB’s Construction Manager magazine, and describing productivity challenges in construction. Its findings, based on an online survey of 235 construction managers in May 2018, are a reminder that large parts of the UK construction industry are still struggling with basic information exchange challenges – just as they were 20 years ago. Timely sharing of accurate information and reliable version control are still problematic; collaborative team-working remains (despite the best efforts of Constructing Excellence and others) a dream for many projects – still riven by conflict and adversarial attitudes; Plangrid’s report says “The majority of construction firms still rely on paper to share drawings, plans and other key documentation with the project team“; and – aside from file-sharing applications – low levels of adoption of construction technology solutions such as BIM (used by just 13% of the sample – and a starkly lower figure than that suggested by the NBS’s 2018 BIM Report – post) and SaaS construction software (just 1% – really?!).

Plangrid productivity report graphic

Having worked in and written about this technology field since 1998, the report doesn’t tell me anything new, but it is a depressing reminder that despite widespread adoption of consumer technology by society at large, construction remains a laggard when it comes to using information technologies to support project working. Paper-based working apparently remains widespread, while working on outdated information and poor management of change creates conflict, waste and inefficiency (at least that’s the experience of the surveyed construction managers – all CIOB members? – the report’s methodology gives no further details about the sample). The Plangrid report obviously suggests “It’s time for construction firms to use digital tools to improve their performance and make the industry future-ready”, but, as suggested in an audience poll at the ICE last week, the challenge is not just technological – people and process issues are the real barriers that need to be overcome.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/10/plangrid-report-highlights-industry-inertia/

Sep 20 2018

A Viewpoint view: clients now the key

Whole-life thinking by owner-operator clients – and by their investors – will change how technology is adopted and applied, believes SaaS vendor Viewpoint’s head of strategic asset development, Mark Coates.

Viewpoint - a Trimble company“We are on the cusp of a major sea-change in client attitudes to how built assets are delivered,” believes Mark Coates, the UK-based head of strategic asset development at Newcastle-based SaaS construction collaboration technology provider Viewpoint (since July 2018 a Trimble subsidiary).

Coates is a former quantity surveyor with extensive family connections in construction around the world. Recruited by Viewpoint in late 2017 from Construct.pm (June 2017 post), he spends most of his time talking to asset owners and their advisors; he is therefore well placed to comment on shifts in technology adoption and asset-related thinking. Time, cost and quality still drive many contractors’ commercial decisions about what technologies to deploy on a project, he says, “but we can do so much better.” Viewpoint is looking to establish long-term value-adding relationships with customers, integrating its technologies with owner-operator clients’ in-house systems and with other providers’ solutions. Coates says:

Mark CoatesSophisticated clients are increasingly thinking about the ‘whole life’ of their built assets. They are now starting to see them as investment ‘products’, and so need to regularly re-evaluate them, to have a clearer view of how those ‘products’ perform – particularly if they might need to update them, dispose of them, or acquire new, better ones – right down to the performance of individual systems.”

He sees the early days of cloud-based project collaboration as mainly about creating an online filing cabinet for information about the design and construction process – “as such, businesses like Viewpoint were then mainly dealing with traditional contractors.” However, since around 2010, the UK building information modelling (BIM) adoption programme has expanded horizons (“notwithstanding common perceptions promoted by some American software providers that BIM was all about 3D modelling”), and the promotion of ‘Soft Landings’ approaches to facilities and asset management, has increased awareness of how data can be used and reused throughout the life-cycle of an asset.

BI and best whole life value

The UK government’s latest Industrial Strategy (November 2017 – available here) talked about manufacturing-led approaches to construction, and urged best whole life value approaches to procurement:

  • “five government departments to adopt a presumption in favour of offsite construction by 2019 across suitable capital programmes where this represents best value for money”
  • “work to ensure construction projects … are procured and built based on their whole life value, rather than just initial capital cost” (further endorsed by the Construction Leadership Council’s July 2018 Procuring for Value report which recommends, first, procuring on the basis of whole-life value and performance, and second, measuring and rewarding good asset and supplier performance).

“With this kind of thinking guiding client decisions, it’s about more than a transfer of data to CAFM [computer-aided facilities management] systems,” Coates says. “Now, a growing number of Viewpoint’s customers are asset owner-operators – increasingly dominant in procurement decisions – and they want lifecycle data they can use to manage their estates portfolios.

“Viewpoint’s Team platform is about helping clients ensure continuous performance improvement, it’s about business intelligence (BI). They don’t just want the specifications and 3D geometry of their HVAC units, for example, they also want performance information across their estate so that they can make accurate predictions about their service life, about how that might impact on overall asset costs and liabilities, and about the productivity of people working in a building.”

Launched in the US in 2017, and in the UK in May 2018, Viewpoint Team complements rather than replaces Viewpoint For Projects (VFP), the company’s flagship collaboration platform, Coates says (echoing Viewpoint chief product officer Matt Harris in May 2018). He believes Viewpoint’s long history and credibility in the market will help it improve performance within the industry:

“VFP was the primary workhorse for Tier One and Tier Two companies delivering construction projects. Viewpoint Team takes nothing away from VFP. It is a toolset for the whole team – it is able to surface data about supplier relationships so that the owner-operator, Tier One contractor, Tier Two, etc, can monitor supply chain relationships and protect or ‘future-proof’ their supply chain – identify those that are most resilient, most efficient, most critical to profitability.”

Coates believes Viewpoint’s long history and credibility in the market will help it improve performance within the industry, and says financial institutions are keen to talk about protecting their investments – their ‘products’ – through better use of data.

“Let’s look five years down the road: who is going to have the most influence? It will be those with the money that will insist on what systems need to be in place to manage their data, and to support due diligence by providing a complete ‘service history’ of their assets.”

Update (24 September 2018) – Coates expands on this theme, talking about insurers, in this BIM+ article.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/09/a-viewpoint-view-clients-the-key/

Sep 17 2018

GenieBelt expands into US AEC market

GenieBelt logoCopenhagen, Denmark based construction cloud technology vendor GenieBelt is expanding its global footprint and establishing an operation in the United States.

Rusty HamiltonGenieBelt has appointed Rusty Hamilton, – based in Indianapolis, Indiana – as country manager of its new US operation. Hamilton has worked within the construction industry for over 28 years, including several years as president of Catalyst USA, a distributor for Asta Powerproject in the US, an Oracle Gold Partner and a provider of training and implementation for Oracle Primavera Solutions.

Hamilton has worked on project management, estimating, document controls and work scheduling projects. His background includes consultancy, sales and business leadership.  GenieBelt CEO Ulrik Branner says:

Ulrik Branner - Geniebelt CEO“GenieBelt’s mission is to significantly improve our customers’ earnings, by providing them with full data ownership, transparency and real-time communication. We have seen customers from all around the world welcome this approach, but to change a $10 trillion industry takes dedicated, skilled and experienced visionaries. Rusty Hamilton is such a person. So combining the right person with an increasing interest from USA is an opportunity to seize, and it allows us to serve and grow our US customer base even better”.

Hamilton says:

“For a long time, I have been seeking a real change in approach in the construction technology space and I just didn’t find it until I saw Geniebelt. While construction scheduling is incredibly important we could never get everyone involved in the process to deliver a project via the plan. With Geniebelt that all changes and everyone plays their part in the overall plan while having an incredible communication tool to use during execution.

“I plan to make Geniebelt part of the tool kit for all construction work in the US. This type of communication tool will move construction forward at a new pace. I am excited to get started showing this product and this approach to my marketplace”.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/09/geniebelt-expands-into-us-aec-market/

Sep 14 2018

Vectorworks underlines its open BIM credentials

Design authoring tool specialist Vectorworks adheres to the Nemetschek-wide policy of ‘Open BIM’, and, in addition to its inbuilt webviewing and cloud services tools, offers some integration to third party ‘common data environments’, CDEs.

Nemetschek Group logo 2015Interoperability remains a major challenge for many construction IT users, with single vendor proprietary file and data formats vying with more open formats shared by multiple vendors. The Nemetschek group fits into the latter category and it has been a long-time proponent of ‘Open BIM’ since at least March 2012 – hardly surprising as the group’s product portfolio includes multiple design authoring applications. Allplan, DDS, Graphisoft, Maxon, Scia and Vectorworks are all established brands in the Nemetschek family, which has expanded in recent years with acquisitions including Bluebeam (October 2014), Solibri (December 2015), and dRofus (December 2016).

Allowing data to be shared across multiple applications is a frequent requirement in multi-disciplinary, multi-company project teams, avoiding the need to re-key information or to engage in sometimes unreliable export/import processes. When the first cloud-based construction collaboration platforms were launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the ability to support multiple file formats was vital, leading many of the SaaS vendors also to embrace BuildingSMART and the ‘open BIM’ movement, and to build out their platforms to support IFC and BCF-based functionalities.

While the primary focus within the Nemetschek group has been on design tools, the group and its subsidiaries have also dabbled with collaborative functionality, both in relation to BIM and to wider types of files and data. For example:

Checking in on Vectorworks

Vectorworks logoSeptember 2018 has seen the launch of the 2019 editions of Vectorworks products. Reflecting the suite’s primary focus on design, most of the latest enhancements are aimed at making designers more efficient, by improving 3D and BIM modeling, 2D documentation, and presentation workflows, and by improving usability and product performance, to increase overall productivity.  ‘Enhanced openBIM interoperability’ is also delivered in the 2019 Vectorworks releases.

Vectorworks WebViewI got an update on how the suite manages collaborative workflows from Vectorworks Architect product specialist Luc Lefebvre. We talked about Vectorworks Webview tool – a slick way for designers to share models with clients via a browser-based session (video) – then focused extensively on Vectorworks Cloud Services, which has been part of the company’s offering since at least 2012, but which has expanded over time to incorporate new technologies, to integrate with other cloud services (notably Google Drive and Dropbox – apparently used by some Vectorworks customers as a common data environment, CDE).

Vectorworks Nomad imageThe Cloud Services offerings include a desktop web portal accessed via a standard brower, a Vectorworks Nomad app that allows users to access, view, mark up, share, and sync Vectorworks files across iPhone, iPad, or Android devices, and the Vectorworks Remote App – which lets users connect their mobile devices to their Vectorworks desktop (they can use the app as a navigation palette, or as a remote control for presenting design options).

Lefebvre also highlighted how Vectorworks can link to other Nemetschek solutions, notably Solibri and Bluebeam Studio. The latter capability was released in March 2018 (news release) and provides an online real-time review, mark-up and approval process for digital construction drawings and 3D models. Marked-up PDFs can then be saved back to Vectorworks Cloud Services for easy storage and file management. In Vectorworks Architect, new options allow users to toggle off and on annotations, improve snapping, control background fills, and quickly resize and align multiple PDFs at the same time.

I asked Lefebvre about support for BCF but eventually determined there is currently no ‘live’ connection with BCF-based process workflows in Vectorworks – for example, no notifications to report when an issue has been resolved.  The workflow is file-based (direct import/export) or a BCF web-based service can be used to manage the transfer of data but it still requires an exchange of BCF data. I was referred to a helpful online tutorial on Managing BCF Data for IFC-Based Workflows.

In relation to IFC and collaboration, Lefebvre also talked about Vectorworks’ support for IFC4 and about IFC data mapping, where users can control and filter what objects and IFC data are exported; custom export options and the ability to specify data for sub-objects provide even more granular control.

The conversation confirmed that, in some areas (integration with Solibri and Bluebeam, for example), Vectorworks is being increasingly integrated with other Nemetschek products, with IFC, PDF and other open standards a powerful driver for greater interoperability. But it also seemed the subsidiary remains mainly focused on design (no harm in that, of course!). Consequently, wider team collaboration via web-based collaborative ‘common data environments’ is provided mainly by third party (ie: non-Nemetschek) solutions, ranging from generic cloud file-sharing tools like Dropbox and Google Drive to integrations with platforms such as Asite.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/09/vectorworks-underlines-its-open-bim-credentials/

Sep 10 2018

PCS: collaboration in central Europe

Living and working in the UK, it is easy to forget that different geographical architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) technology markets move at different paces, and that, even in an increasingly connected and globalised market, some solutions can remain quite localised. For example, the concept of cloud-based construction collaboration has been around for some 20 years in the UK and US, and similar products have developed in parallel in Australasia, Scandinavia, central Europe, India, southern Africa and southeast Asia. It has taken 10-15 years for market leaders to emerge, and for some merger and acquisition activity to start to consolidate markets, but there is still a wide continuum ranging from sophisticated markets adopting BIM and undergoing wider digital transformation, to other markets which have yet to relax their reliance upon paper-based communications.

Sometimes the time lag is due to the availability of a reliable telecommunications infrastructure with the capacity to connect all project team participants. Sometimes it is down to someone preparing to innovate and move away from ingrained industry practices reliant on email and spreadsheets. Sometimes it can relate to economic cycles and industry cultures – are markets at a crisis point, for example, where company survival demands innovation or a cultural change from how things have traditionally been done?

PCS

PCS LogoDemirhan SenelIn August 2018 I spoke to the founders of a relatively recent arrival in the AEC software market whose formative experiences were gained in the Middle East and CIS regions. Project Control System (PCS) was formally established in Malta in 2016, but the startup’s founders, Demirhan Senel (right) and Ondrej Piska, met some years earlier.

Ondrej PiskaBoth men have solid construction experience from projects across different regions including the EU, Turkey, Middle East, CIS and the Balkans. During their construction careers, they have used software collaboration tools including those provided by the major players in the industry – but felt they were all missing something and that they could develop something better.

Initial work focused on developing a PC-based construction management and control application, before they switched to developing a cloud-based toolset fit for use on mobile devices. The initial application was trialled by a Baku, Azerbaijan-based main contractor, and then with contractors in Dubai and Turkey, and, having established there is a growing demand for construction IT tools in these markets, PCS has been working to expand both its toolset and to broaden the company’s marketing reach.

The PCS project management platform comprises a series of modules covering key activities including: document and drawing control and document workflows, photo management, procurement, contracts, cost control, supervision of labour and of plant/machinery, and scheduling. The solution is targeted at main contractors and construction managers working on small and medium-range projects (typically from  €1m up to €150m, with programmes ranging from two months up to three years).

Pricing is competitive compared to more established solutions, Piska says, quoting between €500 and €700 per month for a €10m project, depending upon the range of modules selected by the customer, but with unlimited users and unlimited storage. The platform’s plant management module has already been extensively used by customers – one used it to supervise over 3,000 items, another managed more than 300 trucks, cranes and other equipment items.

PCS is setting up a head office in Vienna, Austria and plans a September 2018 relaunch from its new base. Piska – responsible for sales and marketing– feels that the location will also help the startup manage interest from new prospects in countries such as Germany, Italy and Hungary. CTO Senel, meanwhile, is responsible for application development and maintenance, with responsive mobile applications (iOS and Android) in the pipeline for early 2019.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/09/pcs-collaboration-in-central-europe/

Sep 06 2018

Spark exits Viewpoint UK

Former 4Projects, now Viewpoint, VP EMEA Steve Spark leaves Trimble’s UK construction collaboration Software-as-a-Service technology business, with a former Sage executive joining the Newcastle firm.

Steve SparkViewpoint EMEA commercial director Steve Spark is leaving the now-Trimble-owned construction collaboration Software-as-a-Service technology company to become CRO at a haulage and logistics software company based in his native north-east of England.

Spark joined 4Projects (as it then was) in December 2005, and has been a key member of the management team over the last decade, working with CEO Richard Vertigan to help grow the UK-based business and to negotiate its acquisition by US construction ERP specialist Viewpoint in February 2013. After Vertigan stepped back from the business in September 2013, Spark became interim MD, helping the business through a number of key transitions including expansion of the business’s sales and development teams, relocation from its Sunderland base to new offices in central Newcastle, and rebranding of the core solution from 4Projects to (eventually) Viewpoint For Projects. When I talked through the 4Projects changes with him and Viewpoint VP Matt Harris, they were planning to grow the 4Projects product footprint across the EMEA region, and to add new Viewpoint products, including mobile solutions.

In April 2014 Viewpoint received a US$230m investment from Bain Capital, and started to spread its wings. Alun Baker joined 4Projects as its new MD, as the business continued its profitable growth, buoyed by increased UK owner/operator adoption of its services to support building information modelling (BIM). And before the end of the year, Baker and Spark – as commercial director for EMEA and global SVP Sales – were briefing on the company’s acquisition of MCS and its Priority1 mobile data capture and reporting solution, later rebranded as Field View.

Viewpoint - a Trimble companyThe following summer (July 2015), Viewpoint announced a new CEO, Manolis Kotzabasakis. He instigated some changes, creating a functional, rather than regional, reporting structure across the Viewpoint group, as a result of which Baker left the UK business in 2016, with Spark now leading the UK operation, taking responsibility for collaboration and Field View sales in the US and in Australasia, and continuing to capitalise upon the UK adoption of BIM. And he has remained in this role through this year’s US$1.2bn acquisition of Viewpoint by Trimble (announced in April 2018).

“A fantastic business in a fantastic industry”

Always passionate and enthusiastic about the construction industry and about the SaaS collaboration sector in particular, Spark assures me his decision to leave Viewpoint has nothing to do with the Trimble deal (which completed in July 2018 – news release).

“Viewpoint is a fantastic business in a fantastic industry. It has been an outstanding journey with 4Projects and then Viewpoint, and I have learnt so much.  We have developed an amazing team and customer base – passionate people that want to help the AEC sector improve and help deliver better projects and assets.

“I will miss construction tech, and leave feeling the job is half done. While adoption of collaborative solutions is far greater than it was back in 2005 – and that’s great to see – it’s still only really the beginning. Over the next ten years or so, I expect  we will see a move toward true ‘integrated data’  flows connecting the AEC tech stack and supply chain in ways that we have only dreamed of to this point.”

Spark leaves Viewpoint on 7 September and will be succeeded by former Sage executive Steve Attwell.  Spark says: “He is a fellow north easterner, with a fantastic wealth of experience that I think will help take Viewpoint to the next level.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/09/spark-exits-viewpoint-uk/

Sep 03 2018

Open BIM with IFCWebServer

A German research project, IFCWebServer.org, is attracting users interested in using the IFC format as a basis for open BIM collaboration.

In March 2009, I wrote about the University of Eindhoven-based open-source BIMserver.org project, then still at a relatively early stage of development. Since then, as international BIM initiatives have developed, the concept of web-based model servers has become more widespread, and I was recently contacted by Ali Ismail, a scientific researcher at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, who, since 2011 has been developing a free-to-use BIM model server and viewing platform supporting the IFC format: IFCWebServer.org.

Ali Ismail“Unlike BIMserver, which is basically built for developers, IFCWebServer is initially targeting end users who would like to work with IFC models without hassle,” Ismail says.

While some of the design authoring software vendors would encourage teams to collaborate by everyone using just their proprietary model formats, IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) helps solve the problem of data interoperability when data needs to be shared between different software applications (and versions). While proprietary applications may import and export IFC models, their support for the format is not always reliable – hence the development of model serving tools supporting IFC.

IFCWebServer screengrabIFCWebServer provides a free model hosting platform and a browser-based BIM viewing tool (BIMviewer.com) built using Web GL technology. Once uploaded and processed server-side by the core platform, IFC models can be viewed, shared, validated, searched, filtered and interrogated to produce custom reports. “Moreover, semantic information inside IFC models (object properties) can be modified or extended with extra user-defined information inside the online BIM viewer,” says Ismail. “I have sometimes called it a ‘BIM annotator’ instead.”

Users can create a free account and upload their own models. Alternatively, there is also a demo account with access to a large collection of IFC test models.

Advanced users and developers can write extensions and scripts to undertake more detailed tasks including conversion of IFC to COBie (example) or checking LOD (level of definition) specifications or model quality. Unlike BIMserver, IFCWebServer is not yet written completely on open-source code, but open source extensions are available via Github.

Ismail is hoping to develop a large community of users and developers focused on IFC model support, and is keen to talk to other researchers and construction software developers. His interests also extend to the use of graph databases and linked data concepts  for solving complex problems like model topology analysis and comparison of information models. He will be talking about “advanced analysis and information management of BIM models based on IFC standard using graph databases” at the 12th European Conference on Product & Process Modelling conference (https://www.ecppm2018.org) in Copenhagen on 12-14th September 2018.

(Note: I recently attended a guest lecture by Prof Jakob Beetz of the University Aachen at Imperial College’s Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation in London, where he talked about managing heterogeneous information using Big Open BIM and linked data. The CSEI is hosting an industry showcase day on 7 September 2018 – more details here.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2018/09/open-bim-with-ifcwebserver/

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