Plangrid: Slow digital adoption hampers productivity

Slow adoption of digital technology on the construction site continues to hamper the productivity of UK construction firms says a PlanGrid report, while another UK report suggests digital transformation is well advanced. The industry’s digital maturity needs to be more rigorously assessed.

A recent survey of UK construction professionals suggests productivity is being held back by the same challenges as 12 months ago, with slow adoption of onsite digital technology a key challenge. Sixty per cent of businesses say that a lack of trust between contractors and subcontractors often impacts their performance.

Conducted in partnership with Construction Manager magazine, the Autodesk report is based on an August 2019 online survey of 251 UK construction professionals, and follows a similar survey undertaken by PlanGrid (prior to its November 2018 US$875m acquisition by Autodesk) in May 2018 (read: Plangrid report highlights industry inertia).

Plangrid Digital Groundwork report coverAccording to Digital Groundwork: Closing the Productivity Gap, half of businesses say that dealing with mistakes remains the most unnecessary resource drain on the business. As in 2018, issues with information-sharing onsite are causing delays and wider operational challenges. Survey responses revealed three in ten firms (28%) are being hindered by a lack of accurate and timely information, with half (55%) of professionals pointing to inefficient processes across the business. Misinformation leads to businesses spending time and money fixing mistakes; half of the firms surveyed day that rework is the single biggest time-waster in the organisation, with errors alone costing the UK industry an estimated £22bn a year (according to the UK’s Get it Right Initiative; see also May 2019 post: PlanGrid tech targets Brexit delays).

Construction firms are still struggling to collaborate effectively, without a source of shared and reliable information; 60% of businesses say that a lack of trust between contractors and subcontractors often impacts their performance. All of this comes at a time when using labour productively has never been more important, as professionals highlight that a lack of skills (40%) and talent shortages (39%) are major barriers to their organisation.

These challenges reflect the slow adoption of digital technology by UK firms. The majority of construction businesses continue to use paper drawings and documentation, as only 13% use digital technology for three quarters of their projects or more. A fifth (19%) say all of their projects are entirely paper-based – a figure that has barely improved since 2018 (22%).

PlanGrid says there has been progress in adopting some technologies, such as file-sharing tools like Dropbox to access drawings (74%; the two graphics below show the survey results for 2018 (top) and 2019 (bottom), albeit from two different samples). However, the tools don’t appear to be making it into the hands of people onsite.

Plangrid productivity report graphic 2018

2018 survey results

Plangrid Digital Groundwork 2019 graphic

2019 survey results

A growing digital divide

Matt Keen, a construction industry strategist with Autodesk Construction Solutions, says:

“Twelve months ago, we saw that sharing key project information on paper was leading to delays, costly mistakes and even conflict at UK construction firms. Unfortunately, these issues continue to hamper productivity. Construction businesses are slow to adopt digital technology where the work is actually done, on live projects. At a time when talent is scarce it’s more important than ever to ensure time – and people – are used productively, not addressing issues or looking for project data.”

There are even signs of a growing digital divide between those construction firms who invest strategically in technology and those who buy technology on an ad hoc basis, if they do so at all. A quarter of businesses (26%) admit to having a complete absence of technology strategy, while most businesses (36%) simply buy tools on an impromptu basis. Meanwhile, only 50% of professionals say that improving digital skills will be a focus for the business over the next three years. Keen continues:

“For our customers, adopting technology across their business can improve productivity on every project – but it can also improve the long-term competitiveness of each UK construction firm. Businesses can deliver thorough, as-built digital handovers with ease, improve how they work with other stakeholders and even use data in their operations to improve profitability. The global construction industry is being transformed by technology. UK firms can reap the benefits, if they look beyond short-term challenges, address their productivity gaps and lay a digital groundwork for the future.”

Bricks, Mortar and Digital Transformation

Such surveys will confirm many industry insiders’ anecdotal views on technology adoption, and this latest PlanGrid report paints a somewhat gloomy view of the construction sector’s digital transformation.

How would you define digital transformationNot all surveys do this though. In August 2019, for example, I received a copy of Rochdale, UK-based IT services provider Zen‘s survey, Bricks, Mortar and Digital Transformation (read blog post). It polled 100 IT decision makers across the UK construction sector (“a spectrum of construction professionals from engineers to house builders and architects to sub-contractors” – again one might query how representative such a survey sample might be). It found four in five (83%) of construction companies had either completed a digital transformation project or had one currently underway, but identified a stark difference between the approaches of SMEs and larger companies, with the latter well ahead on their digital journey (94% vs 72%). It said “almost one in 10 (8%) SMEs are at risk of being left behind”. Two fifths (44%) of construction companies claimed to have completed their digital transformation (how ever that is defined – see right) while 87% believed it will be completed in under five years – as Zen point out, this suggests a short-sighted approach to digitalisation rather than seeing it as a constantly evolving part of business strategy.

The Zen research also polled its sample’s larger businesses about the technologies currently being deployed and those likely to be adopted in the next five years. Cloud computing figures in both the 2019 and 2024 lists, while AI and IoT are already in 2019’s top three, with blockchain not far behind (really?!) – findings which may suggest a certain disconnect between the “IT decision-makers” in larger companies (often career IT people rather than construction professionals) and those working on project sites.

Zen research - tech trends

The Extranet Evolution perspective

As previously argued in relation to the NBS Annual BIM Reports and its Technology Report (see Construction Technology Report 2019: the designers’ view), such surveys often stimulate more questions than they answer.

Small and/or unrepresentative samples can wildly skew results in strange directions, and they can rarely be seen as a definitive picture of the current state of an industry comprising 100s of thousands of businesses engaged across a wide range of architecture, engineering, construction and operational activities. Technology adoption also varies within different construction markets (housebuilding is often seen as the least technologically advanced) and at different levels of the supply chain (the Zen report highlights differences between larger firms and SMEs, for example). Attitudes to technology will vary depending upon the company, age, experience and role of the survey respondent; understanding of key terms can vary widely; and it can be difficult to distinguish between answers reflecting current realities and those relating to future aspirations or a desire not to be seen as ‘laggards’.

Moreover, one also has to consider the motivations of the construction technology survey sponsors. They are not engaged in academic research demanding rigorous approaches to sampling, etc; they are usually mainly concerned with achieving enough responses to generate some headlines and maybe to persuade current or prospective customers to invest more in the applications and services they provide (onsite mobile apps, for instance). Successful adoption of digital technologies is not just about the hard/software – it is overwhelmingly influenced by cultural factors: people and process issues are more important (the PlanGrid research rightly highlights trust factors).

More measured approaches are needed to understand the industry’s digital maturity. At the September 2019 National Digital Twin Day at the Institution of Civil Engineers, for example, Mott MacDonald presented findings from its Smart Infrastructure Index toolset presented in a report entitled Common Challenges, Shared Response (read more about the findings and their implications in this October 2019 Infrastructure Intelligence article: A workforce fit for the future?). Mott MacDonald said 70% of respondents believed digital skills gaps were poorly understood. Wider use of such tools to ascertain the digital competency of an organisation’s people and of the industry at large is needed – take the survey here.

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RIB continues M&A programme

Germany’s RIB Software has invested in another India-based software business, bought a German business intelligence specialist, and acquired an Australian reseller.

RIB software logoStuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software, provider of enterprise software for the building, construction and real estate industries, has made a flurry of recent announcements, including another investment in an India-based software business, the purchase of a German business intelligence specialist, and a new reseller acquisition in Australasia. RIB says it is on target to complete 14 M&A deals in 2019.

Indian AI investment

RIB has invested up to US$2m in a convertible loan agreement with SoftTech Engineers, an Indian publicly listed software company, with the right to convert into shares within the next 18 months. This investment comes just weeks after RIB Group’s investment to take a 15% stake in Indian IoT and AI specialist Winjit (post).

SoftTech logoSoftTech is a global leader for building permit automation software. Its AutodDCR product provides an automated building plan approval management system as a precursor to BIM, its products reduce the cost and time required by architects and government authorities in mapping building codes and delivering approvals for construction. Its proprietary suite of software solutions read 2D or 3D CAD drawings, as well as BIM files, and automatically map them onto government building regulations.

SoftTech has offices in the US (Virginia) and Finland (Helsinki), and over 550 employees in India (its HQ is in Pune). Apart from its core offerings, SoftTech also sells PWIMS (Public Works Information Management System) – an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application  for government-run municipal corporations, which also features as OPTICON for the private sector (ERP for general contractors and developers/project owners). SoftTech is currently working on “Rule Buddy” – an algorithmic engine for mapping building codes based on machine learning and deep learning approach (AI).

In the last five years, SoftTech has consistently achieved EBITDA margins exceeding 20% on double-digit compounded annual revenue growth. It plans to enhance its existing 20,000 user base through new products and rapid international expansion. At the same time, RIB gains superior competitive advantage by incorporating a unique product into its MTWO/iTWO portfolio globally.

Vijay Gupta, Chairman and CEO – SoftTech Engineers Limited: “Ever since the foundation of SoftTech, more than 20 years ago, we have been working on the transformation of AEC industry. With RIB, we are aligning ourselves with a larger organization that can help us achieve our strategic goal of international expansion and growing our user base. Our existing and next generation products are intelligent, cloud-based and collaborative and fit perfectly into RIB’s MTWO platform strategy.”

Tom Wolf, CEO – RIB Software SE: “The automation and digitalization of building permits represents a huge opportunity for the AEC industry to increase efficiency and speed of execution. With our iTWO technology, we look at the construction process holistically and we are proud to have found in SoftTech a cutting-edge innovator for transferring 2D or 3D CAD based drawings digitally into building approvals. SoftTech’s solutions are key building blocks in our MTWO platform strategy to offer innovate SaaS solutions to our clients.”

RIB buys datapine BI developer

Datapine laptop imageRIB Software has acquired 75.05% of Berlin, Germany-based datapine.  Founded in 2012, datapine is a successful and profitable business intelligence (BI) start-up serving over 200 clients and 5,000 users in 25 countries. By adding the datapine BI solution to the RIB MTWO Platform, RIB says its iTWO users can quickly integrate multiple systems of data for analysis purposes: “The target is that the user can digest all relevant information in one minute over the dashboard, which comes from a single source of truth database.” In 2019, RIB Group plans to establish a worldwide, leading business intelligence solution center for the building industry in Berlin.

Datapine logoJakob Rehermann, founder and management shareholder of datapine: “The focus of RIB on re-platforming the building industry vertical in using artificial intelligence (AI) fits perfectly into the datapine strategy and philosophy. The RIB investment in datapine marks a milestone for our leading international team of data scientists, data analysts, and IT experts in our young company history and confirms our strong market position, emphasizing our technology leadership in innovative BI solutions. The future focus on 100,000 RIB clients worldwide and on the building vertical which represents 10 trillion USD annual revenue opens up a once in a lifetime opportunity because the demand is now stemming a high growth phase in this industry vertical.”

Michael Sauer, executive board member of RIB Group: “We are excited to be ‘running together’ with the BI champions from datapine. Our global teams will build together in 2019 an advanced, intelligent, and intuitive iTWO Data Visualization creating interactive, easy to use, management boards. This will give customers the ability to build data-based business solutions to improve productivity. Everybody can become a data expert. Building together with datapine will increase RIB’s competence in Business Intelligence in the building vertical to the highest level and empower RIB clients with value added MTWO Platform and iTWO Technology.”

Australasian reseller deal

Following investments in software resellers in the UK (CadlineApril 2019 post – and CCS UKJuly 2019 post), India (CapricotAugust 2019 post), and the US (U.S. CADJune 2019 post) to grow the market for RIB’s MTWO software platform and other products in the growing RIB portfolio, RIB has announced the AU$2.764m (c. US$1.91m, £1.48m or €1.72m) purchase of Redstack to expand its position in the Australasian market.

Redstack logoHeadquartered in Adelaide, South Australia with another office in Melbourne, Redstack is a well-established reseller of Autodesk and other software to building, construction and manufacturing markets in Australia with over 21 years’ experience. MD Michael Lachs says: “There is a great many synergies between the two businesses, and it made a lot of sense to bring the two together.” The business will roll into RIB’s majority-owned A2K brand.

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Kreo freemium model grows user base

London-based Kreo has adopted a Freemium model to grow early adoption of its SaaS BIM software.

Kreo logoJust over a year since launching (post), London-based startup Kreo‘s cloud-based software platform supporting building information modelling (BIM) using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has started to grow a strong user base. One factor has been its adoption of a “freemium” model to access the software, with 100 new users starting to use the software in one month.

The company had a small stand at Digital Construction Week in October 2019. It has also been nominated for several construction innovation awards in 2019, including the NCE TechFest awards, the BIMToday building innovation awards, the London Construction Awards (part of London Build), and Germany’s Tech Start-Up.

Kreo ‘freemium’ model

Kreo View screengrabKreo has decided that ‘freemium’ is the way forward: making the Kreo platforms completely free for a limited number of projects. This allows professionals to test the technology without having to commit to any payment. Within a month it says it signed up over 100 new active users across Kreo Plan, Takeoff and Design. Kreo Design is attracting particular interest, with users drawn by its cost estimation, integration with Autodesk’s Revit, and architectural reporting features, the company says

Most users are UK-based (to be expected for a UK-based company) but the second highest geographical location registered was from the US (without any active promotion) – a contractor and a developer are apparently in discussions with Kreo, and the company is planning a US presence at Autodesk University 2020. In the meantime, it is also planning to exhibit at the Homes UK show, 27-28 November 2019, in London.

Update (17 December 2019) – Since going freemium, over 400 people have signed into Kreo. Magomed Galaev says the company gained two new customers since launching Kreo Takeoff in May. Kreo will be breaking down products into smaller, more immediate solutions to help customers get on board more quickly, and plans three new products in the first half of 2020, including a feasibility study tool, which it expects will turn cost estimation on its head (PBC article).

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thinkproject acquires German CDE specialist Conclude

Construction and engineering SaaS provider thinkproject has acquired fellow German CDE specialist Conclude, adding 5D BIM capability to the group’s portfolio.

thinkproject logoMunich-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology provider thinkproject has acquired 100% of fellow German common data environment (CDE) specialist Conclude GmbH (read announcement). No deal value has been disclosed.

Conclude logoBased in Wuppertal near Dusseldorf, Conclude has a strong asset-owner customer base, plus extensive expertise in project cost management . Thinkproject says the acquisition broadens its customer base, as well as offering additional capabilities to owner-operators and general contractors within the group’s product portfolio.

Conclude has specialised in SaaS applications and supporting services for major construction and engineering projects since 2002. It draws on expertise developed at Dortmund’s Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering. The Conclude platform currently has over 100,000 users working on over 2,000 projects, with a total capital value of more than €300 billion (c. £270bn or US$330bn) in 38 countries. Blue-chip customers include ABB, BMW, Continental, Mercedes, Roche, Siemens and UBS.

Conclude’s suite includes more than 25 application modules; e.g. tools for BIM, design and document management, common industry workflows and reporting functions, and importantly – cost management.

thinkproject Concludes deal

After succeeding founder Thomas Bachmaier in May 2019, thinkproject CEO Gareth Burton says:

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)“We continue to execute our strategic plan to become the leading Construction Intelligence platform for asset owners and general contractors. thinkproject has leading BIM capabilities for both design (3D) and project schedules and sequencing (4D). By acquiring Conclude, we enhance our cost management with a leading cost management solution, offering further 5D capability to the group product set, while deepening our relationships with major international asset owner-operators delivering some of the world’s most demanding engineering and construction projects.”

Conclude cost controlConclude was founded by Drees & Sommer, Marco Lehmbach and Peter Kaul to offer innovative and practical software tools for demanding construction projects. Conclude founder and managing director Lehmbach says:

“Our clients will benefit from the strong international presence and broad product portfolio of thinkproject, including BIM, contract management and mobile technologies. Indeed, this product portfolio complements very well our platform. The combined 5D solution will be even more attractive to our existing customers, and an even more compelling offer to new customers, particularly owner-operators looking to optimise whole life asset value.”

Kaul adds:

“We are delighted to become integrated within thinkproject. Conclude will benefit from the experience and structures of thinkproject’s international business. Our joining forces has created a strong an even stronger solution for digital transformation which will further support our customers both in Germany and worldwide.”

Thinkproject says the two companies share a strong belief in SaaS and the virtues of ‘open BIM’: creating and maintaining interoperable software solutions where the data is not hindered in proprietary formats – an important capability when owners will need to reuse information throughout the life cycles of their built assets.

Steffen Szeidl, member of the management board of funding partner Drees & Sommer SE, said:

“Conclude was our first start-up where we turned our joint business ideas into IT solutions. To grow further in international markets and appeal to new customer segments, we decided to sell our share. We are delighted to join thinkproject, Europe’s leading construction and engineering SaaS provider. We will, of course, continue to champion the use of Conclude in our projects over the coming years.”

Burton continues:

“Following on from the March 2019 acquisition of ceapoint GmbH and its DESITE 4D BIM toolset, the thinkproject group has now been additionally strengthened by Conclude’s ca. 40-strong specialist team in Wuppertal, which brings even more best practices experience and resources to our teams. As BIM adoption continues to grow around the globe, we believe our expanded suite of open, integrated SaaS solutions will be increasingly attractive to a growing number of international customers across the built environment lifecycle.”

The Extranet Evolution view

In a building information modelling (BIM) context, this deal adds 5D capability to (freshly rebranded – news release) thinkproject’s SaaS product portfolio, complementing the UK-developed CEMAR contract management functionality added in May 2018 (post), and will make it more competitive against platforms already offering 5D functionality. The deal will also help fulfill thinkproject’s 2019 ambitions to grow both organically and by acquisition (see think project! set to expand).

Most notably in a German context, these competitors include RIB Software (which has been busy building its international reach, with 2019 deals in India, South Africa, the US and the UK, while aiming to grow its SaaS user base ten-fold in 2019) but also the US’s Oracle Aconex (see Connected Cost – Aconex’s game-changer?), Autodesk (see Autodesk BIM360 embracing 5D) and Trimble Viewpoint (see What next for Trimble’s SaaS platforms?) and Viewpoint launches ViewpointOne strategy).

Drees & Sommer employed Ralf Händl who in January 2014 took over as CEO of the Anglo-German SaaS construction collaboration technology provider Conject (see Ralf Händl takes over at Conject), in March 2016 acquired by Aconex (see Aconex acquires Conject). The thinkproject deal marks further consolidation in the European SaaS CDE market just as BIM becomes increasingly important as the foundation for digitalisation of the sector. The apparent adoption of Conclude by owner-operators is a another plus point in a still cost-conscious industry where leading players are increasingly talking about Industry 4.0 and digital twins (see Bentley pushes ‘Digital Twin’ into AEC mainstream).

[* Disclosure: I have provided marketing consultancy services to thinkproject.]

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Bentley extends SaaS ProjectWise to SMEs

Bentley Systems has announced new capabilities in its ProjectWise collaboration platform, building on its integration with Microsoft 365, and attempting to reach potential users in small and mid-sized businesses. ProjectWise 365 is key to Bentley’s “project digital twin” approach.

Bentley logo 2017According to an August 2019 report from ARC Advisory Group (news release), Bentley Systems’ ProjectWise is the number one platform for collaborative BIM, having successfully leveraged its relationship with Microsoft in recent years. Ralph Rio, vice president, Enterprise Software, ARC Advisory Group says:

“Bentley has a strong relationship with Microsoft and applies the chief technologies that bring together engineering and office information for improved project delivery. This has borne fruit in the EDT/BIM market as evidenced by their leading position in the BIM collaborative software category.”

In the US, Engineering News Record‘s 2019 Top Design Firms report says 43 of the top 50 firms rely upon ProjectWise for work sharing and design integration, and more than half of the top 640 firms are ProjectWise users.

Noah Eckhouse - BentleyAt Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference 2019 in Singapore, the company’s Noah Eckhouse, senior vice president, project delivery, said: “users of ProjectWise … have made Bentley one of the largest ISV users of Azure“. He also announced Bentley’s intention to spread the net still further by targeting potential ProjectWise users in small and mid-sized companies. Building on the 2018 general availability of ProjectWise 365, new cloud services, leveraging Microsoft 365 technology and office productivity tools, extend the reach, affordability, and accessibility of BIM and infrastructure design data for organisations of all sizes, he said: “We are expanding our instant-on, web-based ProjectWise 365 cloud services.”

“Instant-on, web-based services”

This is the latest shift towards a SaaS model for a platform that was originally created as a customer-hosted, on-premise solution – now over 20 years in development (see this 2017 short history of ProjectWise). The importance of integration with Microsoft technologies has been a recurring theme in recent years too. In May 2006, Bentley released an entry-level collaboration tool based on Microsoft Office SharePoint technologies, looking to reach new users and teams, and in 2013 it began to embrace Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. Attempts to woo customers with a Software-as-a-Service offering included the 2014 launch of  a SaaS-based edition, ProjectWise Essentials, aimed at SMEs, and the 2015 acquisition of US SaaS provider, EADOC (later rebranded as ProjectWise Construction Management – Update [4 November 2019] now being discontinued in favour of Bentley Synchro Field). At the 2017 edition of YII, also in Singapore, Bentley talked up the ProjectWise CONNECT Edition and Windows Azure, and the effort continues two years later.

Nicole Stephano (VP of product marketing, project delivery) says 2014’s ProjectWise Essentials helped extend the reach into mid-sized firms, and this accelerated with the 2015 ProjectWise CONNECT edition (post). The 2018 launch of ProjectWise 365 widened the scope for SMEs: “To be successful we have to work with the tools they are comfortable in – and most are using Microsoft Office 365.” Sharepoint remains a critical platform, she said, echoing colleague Phil Christensen’s view that “Microsoft are masters at evolving their products,” with Sharepoint transformed by its transition to a cloud-based platform (I heard similar views at the September 2019 London launch of Sharepoint-based Atvero). Sharepoint is widely used internally, even in major ProjectWise user firms such as GHD, with growing numbers of companies moving to the 365 edition, and its extensive range of templates.

Projectwise 365Purpose-built for design teams, Bentley describes ProjectWise 365 is an innovative, 100% SaaS-based offering enabling teams involved in design and engineering, from practitioner and design leads to stakeholders, to readily store and find designs, accelerate content sharing and collaborative workflows, and manage feedback, for maximum team productivity. The new ProjectWise 365 cloud services will be generally available by the end of 2019.

Stephano says ProjectWise 365 will be available pre-configured to support smaller contracting and engineering organisations:

“They can easily connect, then evolve any of their previously paper-based processes by easily configuring online workflows. They won’t need implementation support, and will simply pay for what they consume. As a lot of owners and larger firms have standardised on ProjectWise, our new cloud services enables their suppliers to connect easily to those iterations. Success will be predicated on delivering an instant-on service, making it as easy as possible and configurable based on their needs.”

The ‘project digital twin’

ProjectWise is a fundamental part of Bentley’s Digital Twin strategy, which is broadly divided into two phases: the “project digital twin”, used during design and construction, and the “performance digital twin”, used in asset operation (Bentley’s efforts to reshape industry terminology and abbreviations clearly continue). The latter is closest to the UK digital twin definition in the CDBB’s 2018 Gemini Principles (see August 2019 post: Bentley pushes ‘Digital Twin’ into AEC mainstream), but  Christensen (SVP, iTwins) says there is no international consensus on what constitutes a digital twin. He said:

“We are currently mainly focused on the design phase, which is where the highest levels of interest are because design firms have been through the BIM evolution, and are pre-primed for digital twin working. ProjectWise is a key brand in our digital twin thinking. Users are creating and sharing data to support evolution of the project digital twin, making that twin accessible by everyone on the project team. However, engineering companies also want to promote digital twin thinking as, rather than just selling engineering hours, it helps them build longer-term engagements with asset owners.

“But owners are not yet as engaged in the BIM process or in digital twins, and this is an area where we need better client education. Owners are often not as digitally literate as the engineering firms, particularly when it comes to whole life value thinking.”

The prospect of connecting multiple digital twins – the Gemini Principles were created as foundations for a ‘national digital twin’ – is still “a long way off”, Christensen said. He predicted Singapore, and then perhaps the UK, might be among the first to securely connect asset data to gain social, economic and environmental insights to inform decision-making. There are also challenges in the extent to which countries and cities encourage and adopt open data approaches, he said (“Scandinavia appears to be way ahead in understanding social obligations relating to their built assets”), and in validating information from design into construction and into operation (one ray of possible comfort: Bentley has joined BuildingSMART International, talking about a generic IFC bridge to Bentley’s iModels – news release).

[Disclosure: I am attending the Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2019 conference as a guest of Bentley Systems, who have paid my travel, hotel and some meal expenses. I am also a juror in YII Awards.]

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“BIM is not big data”

‘Buzzword bingo’ may occasionally include ‘Big Data’ – alongside terms such as BIM, business intelligence, artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital twins. Growing use of such terms in the built environment suggests we are beginning to appreciate the value of data – or how data demonstrates value.

Common definitions of Big Data (such as the one in the English edition of Wikipedia, for example) make it clear that we are talking about enormous volumes of data – “data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage and process data within a tolerable elapsed time”. On 25 September 2019, at Bentley Systems’ digital academy in London, Constructing Excellence held a small conference on big data, and I helped to set the scene.

The ‘big picture

Humanity’s ability to create data is growing almost exponentially. Activities in meteorology, genomics, complex physics, biological and  environmental research, internet search, and finance and business informatics (to name just a few) are all spewing out huge volumes of data. In our daily personal and business lives, we are increasingly surrounded by devices that contribute to these volumes (mobile devices, software logs, digital cameras, microphones, RFID readers, wireless sensor networks and streaming instrumentation, among others). Population growth, wider literacy, associated use of mobile devices, and adoption of social media and the ‘Internet of things’ are accelerating the trend.

Big Data terminologyTen years ago (2009), we and our hardware and software created just under one zettabyte (that’s a billion billion megabytes) of data – by 2016, this figure had grown to 16.3ZB, and by 2025 it will be ten times as much: 163ZB. And a growing proportion of this data (around 80%) is also unstructured data – data that cannot be neatly defined in rows and columns or in databases – captured in images, video, audio, PDFs, point-clouds, emails, word-processed documents and the like. Such semi-structured and unstructured data requires more storage, is more difficult to manage and protect using legacy solutions, and is more complex to analyse.

BIM, the built environment, BI and Big Data

Core BIM processes, by contrast, tend to involve the creation and sharing of highly structured model data held in interrogable databases – and, at a project level, the data sets are usually well within the capabilities of commonly used tools. Yes, common data environments, CDEs, may also hold a wealth of associated unstructured data, but model authoring applications and the numerous workflows related to creating new built assets (or refurbishing existing ones) tend to be founded on structured data. As a result, we can generate a lot of business intelligence, BI, from all this information, holding it in data warehouses, and presenting it in reports and dashboards, but BI presents a tiny proportion of what might be contained in ‘Big Data‘.

Some AEC technology vendors might like you to think that their platforms will deliver ‘big data’ insights, but usually they are just crunching what is in their databases (a 2018 ‘construction dive’ from Oracle Aconex, for example, talks about Big Data, but the project insights come from BI tools within the Aconex construction management software).

  • BI uses descriptive statistics with data with high information density to measure things, detect trends etc.
  • By contrast, Big Data analytics uses inductive statistics to infer laws (regressions, nonlinear relationships, and causal effects) from large data sets to reveal relationships or dependencies and to perform predictions. Crucially, Big Data analytics is primarily (often c.90%) focused on un- and semi-structured data.

I used a water analogy to explain the difference. A data warehouse is like a store of bottled water. This water (data) has been filtered, disinfected, divided into neat portions and packaged for easy consumption – it is clean, refined and structured, and we have confidence in its quality. By contrast, a data lake is like a large body of water in a more natural state: water constantly streams in from different sources to fill the lake, and people can look at the surface, dip a toe in, dive in, or take samples.  That data lake holds a vast amount of water (and other things – from microscopic pollutants to plants, animals and inanimate objects); its water is not clean, refined or structured, and large volumes of it may need significant processing. Understanding the health and value of the data lake may also involve looking at its situation, and at its interdependencies with other systems, and re-appraising it periodically as it will be constantly changing.

Big Data analytics

Analysing big data is typically a multi-step process involving data- and text mining, data optimisation, natural language processing, searching, path/pattern analysis and statistical analysis. Often millions, even billions, of data points need to be processed, so analytics is often conducted on massively parallel software running across multiple servers (technologies include MapReduce, Hadoop and Apache Spark).

Human subject matter experts help identify what data might need to be ingested, how that data might need to be linked, and whether additional processing or data might also be needed. Artificial intelligence and machine learning  (post) are also exploited, as algorithms engage in anomaly detection, association rule learning, clustering, classification, regression and summarisation. The outcomes from typical big data analytics can be visualised through various dashboard ‘lenses’: groups / fractal maps, links and networks, geographical maps, and lists.

CDBB diagramThe information-intensive built environment industry has huge opportunities to exploit the data it collects, and recent UK industry debate about ‘digital twins’ and ‘national digital twins’ hints at what the future might hold. Owner-operators and their project teams often accumulate vast swathes of information, much of it in documents, and sometimes not always well-connected – disciplinary, organisational, contractual, and digital silos often need to be broken down to get the ‘big picture’ about how built projects are planned, designed, constructed and then operated and maintained.

Analysing such records across entire portfolios, and even establishing data connections to other portfolios, may yield further insights. Such insights might be even more valuable when decision-makers can also draw on data showing the social, economic and environmental impacts of interactions with the wider built environment, and then start making informed predictions about what new investments might deliver (this is the interconnected vision of the ‘national digital twin’ put forward by the Mark Enzer-led digital framework task group of the Centre for Digital Built Britain – post). In many instances, the analysis falls short of definitions of Big Data analytics; nonetheless, deploying BI can deliver powerful insights.

A case study: BAM Ireland and Autodesk Construct IQ

At the Constructing Excellence mini-conference, Michael Murphy of BAM Ireland illustrated how contractors might exploit the hitherto under-utilised data they collect while delivering their projects. He highlighted how silo mentalities hinder this process, and mentioned a research finding suggesting “95% of all data captured goes unused in the engineering and construction industries.” In its use of data, he said construction needs to shift from being:

  • reactive (responding to events that have already happened) …
  • … to become proactive (actively identifying risks by analysing an organisation’s processes), and …
  • … then predictive (analysing processes and the environment to identify potential future problems).

Murphy also cited a 2019 KPMG survey of 223 business leaders which forecast that data analytics and predictive capability would be the number one priority for tomorrow’s construction businesses (and he used the same ‘Digitise, integrate, predict‘ mantra promoted at Autodesk University London in June 2019 – post).

“What if every team member, across every discipline, could predict and act to prevent risk, every day?” Murphy asked. BAM worked with Autodesk to develop and apply its Construction IQ technology, which analysed data collected by its BIM 360 suite during delivery of projects. Like many other construction organisations, BAM was often engaged on multiple projects simultaneously, and was keen to digitise its information capture processes rather than rely on traditional paper-based data management methods (time-consuming to compile, with data rarely used to its full potential).

BAM Ireland risk dataWhile using the BIM 360 suite on a seven-project BIM to FM programme to deliver court buildings for Ireland’s Ministry of Justice, BAM began to exploit the thousands of pieces of data its teams were collecting. The initial project and programme dashboards were alarming, though: Murphy said 100s of high risk issues appeared to be outstanding on each project, suggesting BAM Ireland was a high risk contractor. However, further investigation revealed that many issues had been dealt with, but – and highlighting a training issue – the BIM 360 users involved had not closed these issues in the platform.

Once both BAM and subcontractor users got used to reporting and tracking issues through to closure, they were able to provide a more accurate view of their ongoing project risks. The analysis and reporting tools then became more useful in answering questions such as: What safety risks are trending on my project? Which projects are carrying more risk? What disciplines drive RFIs in my project? What are the root causes of RFIs in my projects?

Murphy said BAM Ireland achieved a 20% improvement in quality and safety on site with the added capacity to make better decisions supported by the solutions. Managers now have an easily accessible, cross-project dashboard that improves oversight across multiple complex projects. Data capture techniques improved – workflows were 95% digital – reducing paper usage to only mandatory, legal documents. And project staff now spends 25% more time focusing on tasks and risk items through the use of Construction IQ. Murphy finished his presentation with a quote from BAM Ireland’s head of digital construction, Paul Brennan:

“While other construction software solutions are simply focused on digitizing paper based workflows, BIM 360 is taking it a step further to truly harness the power of data. This is where our team sees the most value and where we can really start to have a positive impact on improving the challenges our industry is faced with.”

Murphy and BAM Ireland colleagues did a similar presentation at Autodesk University London in June 2019, talking about their focus on using data to promote pan-project change and look at the root causes of industry safety and quality issues (it also reminded me of an October 2018 AECOM presentation on Bentley ProjectWise and its Microsoft integration).  Digitised workflows combined with powerful data analytics can help firms gain insights into how their projects (and their project participants) can be made more efficient and predictable, and it seems we are now beginning to see the evidence. With UK industry also being urged to adopt whole-life value approaches, and for service providers to be assessed on their ability to add value, such data may also be a powerful factor in helping them prove their value.

[I am a long-time supporter of Constructing Excellence, and am a member of its Digital group. This post is a slightly edited version of a post written for the CE blog.]

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Trimble SiteVision AR solution launched

Trimble SiteVision is an augmented reality (AR) solution that enables users to visualise 2D and 3D data at 1:1 scale on virtually any project site with connectivity.

Trimble logoTrimble has launched SiteVision, an outdoor augmented reality (AR) solution that enables users to visualise 2D and 3D data on virtually any project site with mobile phone or internet connectivity for easier and more efficient planning, collaboration and reporting. Combining hardware and software in an integrated, lightweight handheld or pole-mounted solution, users can view 3D models and assets in a real-world environment at a 1:1 scale, from any angle or position.

The system combines hardware and software:

  • Hardware: The Trimble SiteVision Integrated Positioning System integrates the Trimble Catalyst DA1 antenna, electronic distance measurement (EDM) rangefinder and power management into a lightweight, handheld device (priced at US$3,250) that connects to a user-supplied Android mobile phone.
  • Software subscription: Available to single users on a monthly (US$250) or yearly (US$2,000) basis, the SiteVision software subscription combines Trimble’s high-accuracy positioning services and cloud-based processing technology to create a centimetre-accurate AR system. The system leverages Trimble cloud-based processing to manage and deliver data and design models.

Digital model visualisation

Trimble SiteVision enables users to visualise digital models from a wide range of data collection, design and constructible modelling tools in open industry-standard formats including IFC and LandXML. For civil projects, SiteVision accurately visualises data from Trimble’s Quantm, Business Center and Novapoint; design data from Civil 3D and Bentley OpenRoads; and GIS data from Esri ArcGIS software. SiteVision powers building information modelling (BIM) projects with open data from Trimble’s Constructible BIM solutions including SketchUp and Tekla, and BIM data from Autodesk Revit and AutoCAD software. For utility companies, PLS-CADD power line design, Distribution Design Studio (DDS) and other industry-specific design data is also supported.

Using Trimble Connect cloud-based hosting (October 2014 post), SiteVision can access models from all stages of the lifecycle of infrastructure and buildings—from initial concepts of roads or buildings through the operations and maintenance phase of the assets—to increase collaboration, enhance work accuracy and ultimately improve operations and utilisation. At this point, Trimble has not developed any specific integrations between SiteVision and other Trimble Viewpoint or e-Builder products (Trimble acquired Viewpoint in April 2018, two months after acquiring e-Builder).

SiteVision simplifies complex concepts by allowing users to blend digital content with real-world environments. For example, city planners can visualise a new building design in the exact spot it is to be erected, a work crew could identify the exact position of underground cables or pipes before digging, an electric utility can confirm placement of poles and lines with customers and crews, or a construction supervisor could assess the progress of heavy equipment by visualising actual work performed against the site plan. Mark Nichols, general manager at Trimble, says:

“It’s easier to understand complex ideas when we can see them in a real-world context. SiteVision improves our understanding of projects and worksites with a handheld device that is accessible to a wide range of users. Augmented reality is now ready for everyday use in a wide range of applications.”

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Buildiro launches in London

Buildiro, a new mobile application aimed at independent construction contractors while also helping builders merchants get online, is being launched in London.

Buildiro logoIn February 2019, I wrote about Buildiro, a start-up which was trial-launching a mobile application aimed at independent construction contractors while also helping builders merchants get online. A wider launch across London is now under way, with Apple and Android versions of the mobile app available from 30 September, and a launch event in London on 10 October 2019.

The proposition remains broadly the same. Buildiro is described as “the world’s first mobile app for materials procurement which solves the key challenge of knowing stock availability thereby eliminating wasted time spent driving to merchants to source items.” By resolving inventory issues, tradespeople become more productive and merchants build better customer relationships with live online stock availability.  Buildiro says thousands of customers have been able to source materials up to 30% faster following the first trial earlier this year. Founder Lukas Polach, right, says:

“Not only do tradespeople need to save time and money in their search for supplies, but in the hyper-competitive materials-supply trade, builders’ merchants need innovative ways to attract current and potential customers to their stores. Buildiro delivers just that. When merchants post their inventories to Buildiro, they are not only helping tradespeople source supplies faster, more cost-effectively and in a more environmentally-friendly way, they are also opening themselves up to new sales opportunities.”

Buildiro was trialled by merchants including Bradfords Building Supplies, JMD Building & DIY Supplies and Lakedale Power Tools.  Lee Church of JMD Building & DIY Supplies, a family-run supplier in Hailsham said:

“I’ve been in the industry 20 years, and Buildiro is something that I knew the industry needed. We won’t have people turning up wanting things and then being disappointed if we don’t have them. Because stock availability is already in the app, tradespeople know what we have and what they are coming in to collect.”

Tradespeople reviews have been positive with comments including:

  • “Buildiro is the best app to find all the details on required tools and best pricing”
  • “Definitely on to a winner with this app. As this app grows it will become a vital tool for trades of all kinds”
  • “Amazing app as I work in a lot of different places and it’s very handy to help me find everything I need.”


Buildiro’s merchant-focused features include:

  • Better data sharing – When a tradesperson searches for materials within the Buildiro app, the algorithm records the product, location and time, so that data can be shared with participating merchants. Merchants can then analyse customers’ buying habits and need for materials, and so better serve their customers in the future through more targeted stocking and marketing.
  • A click-and-collect payment option gives customers the ability to purchase over 500,000 products 24/7, even when the merchants’ trade counter is closed, helping merchants fulfill orders faster and more efficiently.
  • E-invoicing – Buildiro can be configured to generate a PDF sales receipt, which can be linked to any accounting software for ease of processing. This feature saves merchants’ time and helps their customers to seamlessly comply with the UK’s Making Tax Digital scheme.
  • Buildiro also runs an incentive programme for participating merchants. Every merchant that joins (free to join) will receive a waiver on the first 100 Buildiro sales they process. After this period, Buildiro will collect a small percentage of every sale to fund development of the app.

Buildiro will be available from the Google Play and Apple app stores from 30 September and is currently expanding its list of merchants.  On 10 October 2019, it is hosting a launch event at Impact Hub King’s Cross for tradespeople and merchants.

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Atvero: Office 365 SharePoint-based PIM

Many AEC firms use Microsoft SharePoint application internally. Now a cloud-based tool, it is the foundation of a new UK-developed solution, Atvero.

Atvero logoA new Microsoft SharePoint-based project information management (PIM) solution, Atvero, was launched at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London today (10 September 2019). Developed in just over a year by a small team of developers at London-based IT and consultancy services provider Nittygritty, Atvero is positioned as providing a cloud project delivery capability for design and construction professionals.

Paul Daynes of AtveroThe launch event was fronted by Paul Daynes, right, formerly at Newforma UK (post), and he differentiated Atvero from traditional on-premise database-driven information platforms and index-based platforms (such as Newforma). He said:

“We are very excited about the possibilities and opportunities for improvement that Atvero will provide to the industry. In a digital age, design and construction companies that have or are looking to migrate to cloud strategies, will benefit hugely from Atvero – increasing efficiency, improving quality and reducing risk in project delivery. Atvero is unique, it’s modern and presents a smarter way to manage project deliverables and communication, when compared with on-premise PIM solutions.”

At the launch, Microsoft consultant Andy Talbot talked about the depth of collaborative capabilities built into the Microsoft 365 platform – notably using OneDrive, Teams and SharePoint, but also bringing in wider Office tools, including Outlook and Yammer, and some 140 integrations with other vendors’ solutions. These capabilities deliver Team, Communication and Hub sites for intranets, and are today accessible across multiple devices. “SharePoint has a new lease of life,” he said (perhaps conscious that some people – like me – have had poor past experiences of the original manifestation of SharePoint).

Atvero – augmenting SharePoint

Atvero Sharepoint plusNittygritty’s operations director Liam Southwood was somewhat less positive about SharePoint (“… in terms of it’s document management capabilities, it doesn’t really offer much more than Dropbox”), underlining that Atvero was developed to add new areas of AEC-focused capability (right). He described how it integrated with Autodesk products such as Revit and AutoCAD, plus graphics tools from Adobe. It also has the potential to share information with other collaboration products (his slide showed links to AEC platforms including Autodesk’s BIM 360, Oracle Aconex, Trimble’s Viewpoint For Projects and GroupBC). Southwood said the platform could manage file naming (a la BS 1192:2007), and had powerful versioning and revision control. A project portal can also be created to share information with external partners, creating issue sheets and the like. An Outlook plugin in Atvero also allows tight email integration “to lighten that pain”. In a live demonstration, he showed how a Revit plugin for Atvero can “reconcile Revit revisions in compliance with BS 1192/ISO 19650”, support approval processes, create standard issue sheets, and issue model files in DWG, DWF and PDF formats.

Daynes outlined future plans including further enhancements to core functions, integration with Autodesk’s BIM360/Forge tools and markup using Bluebeam. 2020 aspirations include project accounting integrations, and support for ISO 19650 CDE information workflows. Integrations with other SaaS extranet/CDE platforms are possible, Southwood added, dependent on functional requirements and API access. The product is licensed at £16 per user per month, with initial consultancy costs of around £2,500, but negotiable depending on the size of the customer firm, Daynes said.

Customer adoption

London-based architectural firm Chapman Taylor has been using Atvero for some months and plans to roll out the platform more widely later this year (it has 455 staff in 17 offices around the world). Andy Hudson, a director at the firm, said the firm has been using Union Square (acquired by Deltek in July 2016) but is in the process of transitioning to a SharePoint-based platform (he also said the firm had painful experience of retrieving information previously shared via the Viewpoint For Projects system after the liquidation of Carillion). It had lots of Office 365 licenses and wanted to leverage its investment; originally, SharePoint couldn’t provide the document management requirements of the firm, but, over the past 18 months, Atvero has given the business those capabilities. All internal management of its UK projects will be via the SharePoint-based platform by the end of 2019, he said. Hudson also provided an Atvero endorsement:

“Atvero PIM provides Chapman Taylor with a modern and scaleable project information management solution that meets our business needs for the next decade and beyond. For Chapman Taylor to be competitive, win and deliver more successful projects, we need a platform that gives us flexibility, but also rigour in our project delivery processes. Atvero PIM offers us this capability.”

Liam SouthwoodDaynes said Atvero enabled firms to move from existing on-premise solutions – including 28Hands’ Mail Manager, Deltek PIM and Newforma – to a cloud-based Sharepoint platform. This can be hosted by Microsoft in region-specific locations, helping firms meet clients’ data sovereignty requirements.

Architecture-trained, Southwood, right, believes Microsoft, Autodesk and Adobe are the “holy trinity” of providers for the AEC sector, but also recognises that some firms may be using other vendors’ tools: Bentley products, ArchiCAD, Vectorworks, etc. When it came to interoperability between solutions, IFC wasn’t mentioned in the presentations, but Southwood said Atvero used Microsoft tools which were format-agnostic, so IFC models could be manually shared using the platform, and didn’t rule out his team developing more integrated IFC export capabilities if customers required them.

Extranet Evolution view

The SharePoint application connects multiple Microsoft products, and perceptions about it have changed since its transition from an on-premise product to being a cloud-based tool. Previous SharePoint-based AEC solutions (Organice’s Cadac, for example) were based on the on-premise system, but Atvero is looking to capitalise upon the reinvigorated product to provide, effectively, a cloud-based intranet for AEC design and construction firms.

This is not the only solution of its kind. Another developer, US-based Simplex Group, launched its VPO Cloud (‘virtual project office’) to customers wanting construction management software in the Microsoft Cloud in 2017 (read VPO: Microsoft 365-based project management); TonicDM (post) is also tightly integrated with the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem. Such tools will help organisations still working predominantly with traditional 2D drawings and other construction deliverables (and this remains the case, even in the UK – at the CDBB Digital Twin Day yesterday [9 September 2019] it was said that 62% of projects are still mainly designed in 2D), but the demands of BIM and creating a common data environment require additional capabilities. With the UK continuing to push forward with BIM and data-driven approaches, Atvero clearly has to integrate with CDE platforms and workflows.

The almost universal adoption of Microsoft Office products across the AEC market has made integration with Microsoft a common requirement for other AEC tools. Outlook plugins have been a long-standing feature of many SaaS collaboration platforms and CDEs, and some vendors have pushed the relationship still further. Since 2013 (post), Bentley Systems has been nurturing a strong relationship with Microsoft using Azure to support its “connected data environment” (among others, Germany’s RIB has a similar relationship – post), and in October 2018 Bentley announced general availability of its integration between ProjectWise 365 Services and Microsoft 365 (post).

Mention of Bentley also raises a question about Atvero’s focus on Autodesk’s design authoring tools as a basis for its platform. While this might be valid for architectural firms and others involved in conventional buildings and structures, Atvero is not catering for many potential customers who work primarily in civil engineering / infrastructure projects. Also, other design authoring platforms are favoured in some marketplaces (in central Europe, Asia, etc), while Autodesk’s new subscription model has antagonised some customers who have then been tempted by lookalike products such as BricsCAD from Bricsys (acquired by Hexagon in October 2018 – post).

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Deltek: integration key to digital transformation

The digital debate in the UK built environment has been moving beyond its recent obsession with building information modelling (BIM) and looking more widely at digital transformation and business “digitalisation”. Integration of back office, design and project management systems will be critical to the future success of many design firms, says Deltek.

Some four years after the launch of the UK BIM push in 2011, the Digital Built Britain report was published in February 2015 as industry moved closer to the mandated deadline for BIM adoption across all centrally-funded government projects in April 2016. Often, the assumption was that BIM was mainly about use of BIM authoring software or common data environment (CDE) platforms, but the BIM Task Group and its various regional and sectoral communities consistently urged businesses to regard BIM as a process not a technology. BIM was also seen as a way to help make construction more collaborative, productive and profitable, particularly if it was also integrated with other back-office business processes across suppliers, contracting and professional services firms supporting project delivery.

Productivity and profit

Deltek logoProductivity and profitability among many professional architecture and engineering services businesses remains a challenge, according to a July 2019 Service Performance Insight white paper produced for construction technology provider Deltek (whose product portfolio includes project information management solutions; it acquired Union Square in July 2016). Trends including employee attrition, smaller projects, lower billable utilisation and higher project overruns all had potential to negatively affect businesses. Investing in staff training, improved monitoring of reasons for attrition, selling services more effectively, making projects more profitable and delivering work on time (“on-time delivery is the leading driver of client satisfaction in professional services“) were all advocated.

However, technology also has a key role, SPI said, noting professional services firms are using information-based tools at a higher rate than ever before, with European firms ahead of their north American counterparts. Firms with high levels of information visibility operate much more efficiently and have higher employee satisfaction, as shown by attrition, than those organisations with lower levels of visibility.  They also show much greater project and overall profitability, SPI said, recommending greater investment in professional services automation (PSA) tools with their emphasis on project and resource management, time and expense capture, and collaboration:

“PSA is like many of the project management (PM) solutions used by AE [architecture/engineering] firms, but includes greater collaboration tools and the ability to capture time and costs to improve project profitability.  It has become a ‘must have’ solution for many AE firms as they work to increase billable utilisation and drive project-based work to meet its time constraints.”

SPI says European AE firms are behind their north American counterparts when it comes to service delivery and financials (US SaaS project management systems often included cost management functionality, but UK-based vendors’ collaboration platforms rarely did; BIW had an optional financial control module in the early 2000s but it remained an isolated UK example until its eventual parent Aconex launched Connected Cost in 2017; since 2016 Deltek has been able to integrate project information management alongside financials).

In order to become world-class, SPI says each firm must analyse their operational procedures and processes, and work to improve in all areas of their business in order to remain productive and profitable. The task won’t be easy, but with the right information backbone, increased visibility and automation will drive these organisations to their highest levels. SPI continues:

A sophisticated and integrated information infrastructure is paramount to success in AE firms.  Integrated [systems] provide AE firms with the necessary automation and visibility to perform at their highest level.  They enable greater collaboration among the different organisational units, which will make the firms more productive and profitable in the large, complex and exciting projects that help define the industry.”

Deltek product director Nick Nieder says:

“Deltek’s customers are mainly contractors and architecture/engineering businesses who are looking to integrate their systems, improve their managers’ operational oversight, and deliver better project outcomes to their customers. SPI has confirmed that digital transformation is critical for the continued future success of UK construction businesses.”

Integration the key

The UK government still wants industry to shorten delivery programmes, lower costs, reduce greenhouse emissions, and improve its export performance – little of which can be achieved simply be digitising existing processes. As a result, a wide range of parallel industry changes have also been demanded – notably in Mark Farmer’s 2016 Modernise or Die. He advocates BIM and wider digitalisation, alongside other remedies including higher investment in R&D, greater use of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) or pre-manufactured solutions, and adoption of whole-life value approaches to built asset delivery. (Digitalisation is using digital technologies to “change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities: the process of moving to a digital business,” to quote Gartner’s definition).

CDBB diagramDigital Built Britain was produced to map the next steps in the digital journey beyond the April 2016 target of “BIM Level 2” (see March 2015 post: For Level 3 BIM, read Digital Built Britain), and the task of digital transformation in the built environment has now been moved to the government-backed Cambridge University-based Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB), working in partnership with the UK BIM Alliance* and BSI. Their work and Farmer’s recommendations also reflect the direction of UK government departments and agencies. Bodies including the UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the National Infrastructure Commission are also seeking more holistic and joined-up approach to planning, delivering and operating the built environment, with ‘digital twins‘ replacing BIM as the hot industry buzzword (read my August 2019 post: Bentley pushes ‘Digital Twin’ into AEC mainstream) – a concept that, vitally, is all about connecting systems.

I will be talking about these themes at Deltek’s half-day conference in London’s Kings Place on 18 September 2019 – more details here.

* I am a UK BIM Alliance ambassador, and in July became an executive director and chair of the Alliance’s Technology Group.

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