May 23 2018

ProjectCentre founder joins Total Synergy

Australia-based construction project management software developer Total Synergy has recruited ProjectCentre founder Paul Hemmings to lead its product development.

Total Synergy logoNorth Sydney, Australia-based AEC project management software developer Total Synergy has recruited Paul Hemmings to lead its product development.

Hemmings founded ProjectCentre (acquired by Germany’s RIB in 2012, and rebranded as iTWOcx in 2013) in 1997, and stayed with RIB as a global director in its global R&D team for some years.  RIB’s iTWOcx combined RIB’s iTWO 5D enterprise platform and a new iteration of ProjectCentre to offer tools covering pre-contract and design through to construction cost control (ie: enterprise resource planning – ERP – capabilities) and progress reporting.

When I met Total Synergy founder and CEO Scott Osborne in November 2017, he described the transition of a one-time on-premise toolset into a SaaS-based platform offering practice management tools for architects and engineers. The then 27-strong business had accumulated some 10,000 users in Australasia, but was expanding internationally, establishing a London office, and planning a US office in 2018. The company says it has acquired new 95 customers in the past seven months.

Hemmings says:

Total-Synergy-Paul-Hemmings“Total Synergy has been a leader in the practice management and project accounting space since 1999. The new cloud product — Synergy — launched last year to the global market, has the best potential I’ve seen for SME built environment design businesses to collaborate securely on projects with shared, multi-party access.

“The advantages of this kind of project collaboration software are that it’s affordable for small businesses, it’s not limited to the life of a project, and it is symbiotic with project accounting, essential for successful project delivery and business profitability.”

Synergy Enterprise

Hemmings is designing the final stages of the Synergy Enterprise product, the third and most feature-rich level of the Synergy cloud application. He continues:

“We’re currently engaged in developing advanced forecasting and resource planning and we’ve just released the document register and transmittals features. Our project portals module is now available where project teams can use in-app chats and document sharing, as well as being able to invite third parties — external consultants, contractors, JV partners, clients — to join the project conversation and shared documents.

“The future product roadmap is designed to enable SME [one to 500 staff] architecture, engineering and construction design related businesses to manage complete project delivery, increase effectiveness and efficiency, and to collaborate wherever and whenever they need to. It’s a big vision.”


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May 22 2018

ThinkBIM, 13 June 2018, Leeds

From common data environments to satellites, the next ThinkBIM conference in Leeds is a great opportunity to learn about BIM and other data initiatives.

thinkBIMI have been a long-time supporter of the ThinkBIM initiative run by Leeds Beckett University and other partners.* Almost since the start of the UK BIM programme in 2011, Leeds has hosted a series of regular evening and half-day events offering construction industry people an opportunity to learn about building information modelling and related processes and technologies outside “the London bubble”. And to make things even better, the events are very reasonably priced, and are currently hosted in excellent facilities (at lawyers Squire Patton Boggs) in Leeds City Centre – about five minutes walk from Leeds railway station.

The next half-day conference is on the afternoon of 13 June 2018 and will cover BIM and Open Data from Land, Sea and Space, connecting BIM to wider data initiatives from open data to satellite surveys. As well as the usual workshops to explore subjects in more detail, there will be three speakers:

  • Karen Alford , BIM/GSL Programme Executive at the Environment Agency. As an asset owner, the agency has spent time documenting and structuring standards, data and document requirements.  Karen will be returning to give delegates an insight into the their digital journey and next steps.
  • GeoconnectTrevor Mossop, Technical Services Manager, JT Mackley & Co. Ltd. Trevor will be presenting on their businesses experience in Connecting Data and looking at how BIM on coastal and flood defence projects can be linked to Geographical Information Systems via their GroupBC ‘common data environment’ to provide easily accessible asset information (almost exactly a year ago, GroupBC hosted a seminar at the GeoBusiness event describing Thames Water’s of its GeoConnect+ platform – I’ve added a video link at the bottom of this post).
  • Sakthy Selvakumaran , PhD Researcher at University of Cambridge and Engineer at CBS Eng Consultants . Sakthy is a Chartered Engineer who was​ listed ​in Forbes 2016 Top 30 under 30 in Europe list​ and has worked across different roles, continents and cultures as an engineer​. Sakthy will be presenting her research on “Can satellites really detect millimetre-scale movements from space?”

For more details and to register for the event (£80 per delegate or FREE for Yorkshire & Humber Constructing Excellence Club members), click here.

(*Disclosure: I provided some paid communications support to the university in the early years; I am on the ThinkBIM steering group)

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May 14 2018

Detailed planning with Aphex Planner

London-based startup Aphex has launched a cloud-based production planning application that will appeal to anyone frustrated by continued reliance on paper, sticky notes and spreadsheets for detailed weekly planning.

Aphex logoSome two years in development, newly launched (see news release)* Aphex Planner aims to help the often multi-disciplinary, multi-company groupings involved in trying to expedite detailed on-site construction activities.

Production planning

In an industry notorious for its low productivity and high levels of waste, it is no surprise that ‘lean’ approaches to construction have been repeatedly advocated. And to support lean construction approaches, various decision-making processes and supporting technologies have been devised – notably the Last Planner System (LPS) developed by the founders of the Lean Construction Institute, Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell in the 1990s.

While project management scheduling tools like Primavera P6 and MS Project are widely used for creating overall master programmes and showing the different phases of activities, the LPS focuses within those phases. Rather than being done by planners, such detailed production planning is therefore undertaken by the construction professionals who will directly manage work execution; these ‘last planners’ are the frontline supervisors who are dependent on one another for release of work. LPS-style working involves them  working collaboratively to develop weekly schedules of tasks required to hit milestones, while identifying dependencies and constraints that might affect those schedules. And any breakdowns in the process are used as opportunities to learn and to prevent reoccurrence.

US-based Strategic Project Solutions (SPS), DPR Construction and Ghafari were among the first firms to develop software to support LPS (ProjectFlow, OurPlan and vPlanner, respectively), but most production planning still tends to be undertaken using paper-based processes and Microsoft Excel. In a related field, in the early 2000s, researchers at Loughborough University developed the Analytical Design Planning Technique (ADePT; read November 2009 post) which BIW Technologies [my then employer] attempted to turn into a web-based software product (PlanWeaver) before eventually shelving development. I recently wrote about another LPS-inspired product, Visilean (March 2018 post: Visualising lean BIM: VisiLean), and almost simultaneously was contacted by the London-based developer of a new cloud-based planner product, Aphex Planner.

Aphex founders

Carlos Adams (Aphex)Aphex was established in 2015 by a pair of recent graduates, Carlos Adams (right) and Carlos Carvalho. Adams told me the two had first met at college in Farnborough aged 16, and both went on to study in the built environment faculty at the University of the West of England, whilst also nursing entrepreneurial ambitions. Upon leaving UWE in 2013 both joined the graduate schemes of large companies (UK Power Networks and Costain, respectively), but were disappointed at the lack of sophistication in the software tools deployed in delivering major projects – particularly when they compared technologies with friends working in other industry sectors (“our tools could have come from anytime in the last 40 years – whereas they had the latest tools, intuitive to use, more engaging, with great user interfaces”).

The duo looked at their spreadsheet tools and the industry’s preoccupation with cost and time, and then teamed up in late 2016 with civil engineer Damian Bucke who wanted to develop a better short-term planning tool. They formed Aphex, recruited an ex-Goldman Sachs VP and developer, Elliott Williams, in early 2017, raised some initial seed funding and, with a prototype of the Aphex Planner product to demonstrate, found some further investors in Australia. They also found a consultant who shared their love of well-designed software – Adams said:

“we wanted to develop a B2B product that users would find slicker than they were used to – to be really user-centric, not just for efficiency, but to make users feel empowered by the tool. Being empowered by good design is one of the core principles of Aphex.”

Along the way, the Aphex team has also established some potentially powerful technology partnerships, with IBM (for weather data, now integrated into Aphex Planner) and with Oracle (clarifying that Aphex Planner is a different proposition to the US giant’s Primavera toolset).

Aphex Planner

Bucke demonstrated Aphex Planner to me at Aphex’s Shoreditch base. After logging in to the browser-based software, the user is presented with a dashboard view. “Anyone regularly involved with short-term planning, will be used to looking one week back, one week forward, and then to weeks beyond that.” The application can provide different timespan views, and, by colour-coding activities for different users, allows users to quickly identify their responsibilities. For managers responsible for multiple sites, aggregated dashboards are offered from which the user can drill down to specific projects.

Planner screenshot - sequence user“Aphex Planner has been designed to be as collaborative, open and transparent as possible,” explained Bucke. The site level dashboard provides data on activities, their start and finish dates, and their locations, and then, if any other activities are scheduled in the same date ranges and in the same locations (the same buildings, zones, floors, etc – displayed in PDFs of drawings), these are identified as clashes.

Like the shared wallchart and stickynotes in a traditional LPS process, Aphex Planner can then be used to agree sequences of work to resolve the clashes, and these sequences can be printed out to guide daily tasks. Inbuilt notifications help keep users abreast of any changes relating to their company’s activities; users can also annotate activities with photographs and comments.

As tasks are recorded as complete, the dashboard provides graphs showing activity and project progress; where tasks are delayed, the reasons behind the delays can also be recorded, helping teams identify common root causes and trends. Bucke said the incorporation of weather data would allow for automatic warnings relating to activities that might be compromised by adverse weather.

Bucke has been working on detailed planning within the Crossrail Project in London. He described how teams had been sharing plans each separately logging in to a single installation of the standard Microsoft Project platform. Plans were time-consuming to produce, with some issues only shared once a plan has been saved. “With Aphex Planner, multiple users can log-in simultaneously and identify issues as they are flagged almost in real time.”

Aphex Planner has just been soft-launched and is being trialled on Crossrail and on a High Speed 2 project. The company offers free month-long trials, after which users can switch to paid plans starting from £35 per user per month.

[* Disclosure: Ltd has provided PR consultancy services to Aphex.]


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May 14 2018

NBS BIM Report covers CDEs

NBS’s latest UK BIM survey suggests Viewpoint’s CDE is the widely used, but is the picture distorted by reliance on architects’ responses and under-representation of civil engineering?

Almost since the beginning of the UK’s BIM implementation programme in 2011, NBS‘s annual BIM Survey has shed some light on attitudes to and adoption of building information modelling processes and technologies. Now in its eighth edition, the National BIM Report 2018 (downloadable here) has, for the first time, asked respondents about their adoption of ‘common data environment’, CDE, platforms.

CDE adoption

In line with data presented in the rest of the document, it is clear that BIM is not yet business-as-usual for the majority of respondents. A core part of PAS 1192-2, the report says, is about sharing data within a CDE, and asking about CDE usage helps us to see how many, and how often, organisations practice collaborative BIM (as opposed to non-collaborative or ‘lonely’ BIM).

Among the survey’s 808 respondents, CDE usage varies from around a fifth (21%) who share information in0s a CDE “for all projects”, 23% who use a CDE “for most projects”, and, at the other end of the spectrum, 28% who never share information in a CDE.

NBS 2018 Report: CDE sharing

An NBS follow-up question asked respondents to list the CDEs they use. This invited free text responses, and some people cited more than one platform, so the percentages do not sum to 100; the survey suggests Viewpoint For Projects is the most widely used CDE ahead of Aconex/Conject (these businesses merged in March 2016) and Asite. Generic file-sharing applications, including Dropbox (neck-and-neck with Autodesk’s BIM360 range), Microsoft’s Sharepoint and Google Drive also featured in the most commonly cited answers – although NBS noted many respondents said they used these general tools for “projects of a less complex nature”. I understand from NBS that some other solutions (eg: GroupBC’s CDE) did not feature in the report’s final list as they got less than five mentions.

NBS 2018-CDEs used

How representative is this survey?

BIM adoption over time (NBS, 2018)In one part of the report (p.19), NBS usefully shows how awareness and adoption of BIM has changed since 2011. This is valuable trend data as NBS has largely deployed the same methodology to collect its data each year, so the composition of its (self-selecting) sample will be broadly the same each time. BIM advocates will be encouraged that adoption apparently continues to increase.

However, the 2018 report (collated from data gathered in the first quarter of 2018) cannot be viewed as a representative snapshot of the whole of the UK construction industry. For a start, the sample is not representative of all parts of the sector. According to the report (p.36), the largest group among the 808 respondents was architects (31%), while other professions represented included architectural technologists, clients, contractors, civil, structural and service engineers, surveyors, and landscape architects.

The dominance of architects in the NBS’s sample is not surprising. As “the knowledge management business of the RIBA”, the NBS provides knowledge, specialist software and services to a customer base with a high proportion of designers. This customer base will also tend to be employed in the design and construction of conventional buildings rather than in infrastructure (highways, rail, utilities, etc) – a factor which, I strongly suspect, contributed to the few mentions of Bentley ProjectWise as a CDE (last week, Bentley highlighted ProjectWise’s use by 43 of the ENR top 50 design forms, mostly for infrastructure related work), while GroupBC’s customer base also features some major civil engineering contractors and utility clients. And despite NBS also providing a range of services for manufacturers, there was no mention of this important industry segment among the BIM survey’s respondents – though manufacturers’ importance as a source of BIM objects is highlighted.


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May 11 2018

Viewpoint views on Trimble’s acquisition

“Viewpoint has found its final home as part of one of the largest providers of construction software in the world. There is no better home for us, our products and our customer base,” says Viewpoint’s Matt Harris.

Viewpoint logo 2016Viewpoint Construction Software‘s chief product officer Matt Harris talked to me on Tuesday (8 May 2018) about what Trimble’s US$1.2bn acquisition of the business might mean for Viewpoint’s people, applications and customers, and about the relationships to be developed with other parts of Trimble’s technologies portfolio.

Matt HarrisWhat will be the impact of the acquisition on Viewpoint? – “The deal has still to be completed, of course, but in general, when Trimble acquire a business, they usually let them run very autonomously. That said, they have some solutions that are highly complementary to Viewpoint. e-Builder [acquired by Trimble in February 2018] , for example, is widely used by many US capital project owners, particularly in the education and healthcare sectors. So we have an opportunity to integrate data from the Viewpoint systems that are heavily used by US contractors with the e-Builder tools used by owners, with the potential to provide end-to-end project transparency between contractor and owner.

“Viewpoint’s ERP platform is the ‘system of record’ on many projects, capturing data about equipment and resource utilisation and helping accurately control and forecast job costs, so there is potential to integrate with some of Trimble’s telematics solutions in that space too.”

How will be the acquisition affect Viewpoint’s collaboration applications? – “So far as Viewpoint’s collaboration platforms are concerned, we are also excited about Trimble Connect – an information bus that connects things together; documents or data in Viewpoint For Projects (VFP) could potentially be made available in other Trimble products (and we will be making announcements in the UK shortly about our new Viewpoint Team solution).*

“Given the breadth of Trimble’s construction software portfolio, there will surely be other
interesting integration points between estimating products, field mobility products, and
Trimble’s BIM solutions, and we look forward to engaging fully with the Trimble
organisation to explore these game-changing opportunities.”

Will Viewpoint be rebranded? – “As I said, Trimble tends to let its acquisitions continue to work quite autonomously. It generally maintains its software application products under the names that made them successful in the first place, but with the addition of the Trimble name. e-Builder, for instance, is already badged as ‘A Trimble Company’. I expect it will be the same for Viewpoint

Will the acquisition be disruptive to Viewpoint’s staff and its customers and end-users? – “Trimble’s acquisition means that Viewpoint has found its final home – and this has to be a major benefit to our people and our customers. We are now part of an industry-leading company – one of, if not the, the largest providers of construction software in the world. There is no better home for us, our products and our customer base.

“I am super-excited about the opportunities to integrate with other Trimble products like Tekla. I see a significant amount of opportunity in working with the Tekla people in steelwork and precast concrete structures, and we have some strong ideas for integration with their Vertical Building division.

OpenBIM“But this doesn’t mean we are isolated from other major software vendors. Trimble has been a strong supporter of Open BIM, and, as the industry digitises still further, it will be important that we address interoperability with the products of some of the other major providers.”

(* Viewpoint’s UK user conference is at the RIBA in London on 23-24 May 2018. I will be chairing a panel discussion about digitisation of construction on the first day.)


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May 09 2018

Bentley building on ProjectWise penetration

Bentley’s ProjectWise collaboration platform is proving a catalyst for strong growth in emerging markets such as China and Africa, the company claimed today (9 May 2018).

In a corporate update call with journalists, Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley gave an overview of the company’s recent performance, supported by CFO David Hollister and chief product officer Bhupinder Singh. Such calls have been reinstituted following a hiatus after the company announced in July 2015 that it was considering an IPO. For the avoidance of doubt, Greg Bentley said the company was “not currently working on or waiting for an IPO”. In the meantime, around a third of the company staff had the option of dealing in the company’s shares on NASDAQ’s Private Market, and, partly as a result of such dealings, ‘co-venture’ partner Siemens has accumulated a 9% share in the company’s voting stock, Bentley said.

Bentley Systems ARR growthThe US-based but increasingly international provider of software for infrastructure project delivery and operation said it was on track to surpass an annual revenue runrate of US$700 million during 2018. A growing proportion of its revenues continues to derive from subscription income, and the company successfully limits ‘churn’, retaining around 98% of its subscribers, Greg Bentley said.

Projectwise logoProduct performance highlights included annual revenue runrate growth of approximately 20% or more for brands including ProjectWise. As outlined in October 2017, this ‘workhorse for work sharing’ is past the tipping point in its transition from on-premise to being cloud-based (today Greg Bentley said it was now “increasingly a hybrid cloud service”), and the update call highlighted ProjectWise’s use by 43 of the ENR top 50 design forms (and 325 of the top 640). And there remains a substantial scope for adoption of Bentley’s AssetWise among the world’s leading infrastructure owners, the company said.

Geographical highlights included 20% annual revenue runrate growth in China (repeatedly stressed as a key Bentley market, evidenced by both software adoption – “it’s industrialising BIM” – and by entrants to, and winners of, the company’s annual Year In Infrastructure Awards) and in Africa. In questions, CFO David Hollister attributed the company’s success in these two regions to ProjectWise, describing it as a “door-opener” and a “catalyst” for growth.

With the company consistently profitable, it was able to fund acquisitions from cashflow, Greg Bentley said, highlighting recent deals (news release) to acquire Delft, Netherlands-based geotechnical software provider, Plaxis, and SoilVision, a soil engineering software provider based in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference will be in London again in October 2018,* returning to Singapore in 2019 as it continues to cultivate China and the rest of the Asian market.

(Disclosure: I have received travel, accommodation and meals from Bentley Systems to attend successive YII conferences, and have been invited to the October 2018 edition.)

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May 08 2018

Talking lean and mobile (for free!)

I have been known to moan about the high cost of some construction conferences (usually the so-called construction summits or leadership events). However, later this month (May 2018) in London, there are two great (and free!) opportunities to learn more about themes explored recently on this blog, including BIM, lean construction and mobile.

Digitising construction management

Visilean logoOn Wednesday 23 May, at Siemens’ Crystal Building in London’s Docklands area, the software development startup VisiLean (read my March 2018 post Visualising lean BIM: VisiLean) is hosting a half-day conference focused on digitising construction management. Salford University alumnus now Visilean CEO Bhargav Dave will open the afternoon’s proceedings, which are intended to share the experiences of industry practitioners and experts leading major digitisation projects in the construction industry. Other speakers include:

  • Tiina Talvitie, digital director at Lehto Group, Finland – “Developing a digitalisation strategy for a construction organisation”
  • Derek Drysdale, chairman of the UK’s Lean Construction Institute – “Developing a successful lean implementation strategy across a major organisation”
  • Professor Rafael Sacks, of Technion University, Israel – “Construction management at the nexus of Lean and BIM”

View the event registration page for more details of the event.

Digital Construction: Lighting the way

Over the two following days, 24-25 May, the Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT (COMIT) annual conference, entitled Digital Construction: Lighting the way, is being held at the Hallam Conference Centre in central London.

As usual, COMIT has assembled a good range of speakers from all walks of the construction and technology sectors; it aims to create an event that is relevant and instructive but also enjoyable and even inspirational. Subjects range from space construction at NASA to the work of a cyborg ethnographer, and, thanks to an anonymous benefactor, it is now free to attend! With places in short supply, registration is vital: more details here.

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Apr 27 2018

ShapeDo targets dispute resolution

ShapeDo’s visual comparison technology is proving particularly popular in dispute resolution, says CEO Ari Isaacs.

ShapeDo logoIn June 2017, I wrote about Israeli-based startup ShapeDo and its software that helps identify and manage design changes. ShapeDo’s software detects differences between drawings. It can be used constructively to help manage associated workflows (change orders, etc) and track the cost implications of changes in contracts and budgets (ShapeDo is now positioning itself as a project controls tool – it exhibited at the November 2017 Project Controls Expo in London), but founder Ari Isaacs tells me their fastest growing market is in the area of dispute resolution.

Construction disputes - lengthConstruction remains notoriously litigious. For example, a UK construction survey undertaken by NBS in 2013 showed that, from a sample of over 1,000 clients, contractors and consultants, 30% had been involved in one or more contract entering into dispute in the previous 12 months. Half of the disputes had a value over £250,000; 13% had a value in excess of £5 million; 70% of disputes occurred during the construction process, the remainder happening after practical completion, with 17% of disputes resulting in work being stopped or suspended. Disputes most commonly arose between the client and main contractor (81%) with the assessment of delay and extension of time and contract variations cited as the primary causes of contention. And such disputes can be time-consuming to conclude, with 2016 data showing disputes in north America taking almost 50% longer to resolve than cases in the UK.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Coincidentally, the same day that I met ShapeDo’s Isaacs in London (10 April), the UK’s Serious Fraud Office announced it had achieved a significant upgrade in its document analysis capabilities using artificial intelligence. The SFO’s technology (from Open Text) can process more than half a million documents a day, scanning documents 2,000 times faster than a human lawyer. According to the SFO’s news release, its AI document review system can recognise patterns, group information by subject, organise timelines, and remove duplicates, helping the SFO to work smarter, faster and more effectively.

Similarly, ShapeDo’s change detection system can also dramatically accelerate the work of those involved in construction disputes: “A dispute is a change not effectively communicated,” Isaacs said. He continued:

Ari Isaacs“Typically, a dispute comes down to the question: what went wrong with the project? Resolving this question often involves expert witnesses reviewing all the drawing changes, which is incredibly manual, labour intensive and expensive. ShapeDo’s ‘track changes’capability can reduce the time spent on each drawing up to tenfold, enabling far faster and better analysis. In addition, Shapedo helps index and schedule drawings to eliminate duplicates (which immediately saves a lot of time and associated costs) and provides a speedier alternative to the manual review of 1000’s of paper drawings.

“Our software is essentially used in three phases. First, it is used in the discovery phase, building a narrative of what happened. Second, we can then analyse the changes to see what was amended and how that affected the programme and budget. And, third, we are used in evidence-building, assembling a timeline of how changes have impacted project scope, schedule and budget.”

ShapeDo marketing collateral includes three brief case studies:

  • In a delayed maritime project with major changes, the contractor’s legal team connected drawing instructions to program delays with ShapeDo. A six months, £17M delay was proven and resolved in weeks.
  • In an oil & gas dispute revolving technical isometric changes, ShapeDo eliminated 96% of drawings disclosed as duplicates, and was estimated to increase expert review efficiency fourfold on the remaining drawings.
  • Approaching final accounts on a medical build with significant quantum change, a contractor’s team reviewed 1,500 drawing updates in 2 days and submitted £480k.

We discussed alternatives to claims, disputes and court cases – new models of construction procurement, pain/gain sharing, collaborative contracts, etc, as well as the use of collaboration software platforms – but Isaacs notes many projects still adopt more traditional contracts, and often do not consistently use centralised platforms. And with ShapeDo’s technology helping expert witnesses review drawings faster, the business’s work in dispute resolution could grow yet further.

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Apr 26 2018

What next for Trimble’s SaaS platforms?

Will Trimble’s US$1.2bn acquisition of Viewpoint be managed as a ‘gradual convergence’ or a ‘rapid managed migration’?

Trimble to acquire ViewpointTwo days after Trimble’s announcement of its US$1.2bn acquisition of Viewpoint, I attended a Viewpoint UK ‘roadshow’ event in London yesterday (25 April 2018). The presenters carefully avoided saying too much about the deal, but in talking to a couple of delegates the conversation immediately focused on what the acquisition might mean for Viewpoint’s people and technologies. Each time a SaaS construction collaboration vendor has acquired a rival platform, customers and end-users immediately begin to wonder how the enlarged business will manage the previously competing systems. Strategies have varied from what might be described as ‘gradual convergence’ over 4-5 years to ‘rapid managed migration’ within two years.

Gradual convergence

BIW-to-conjectFor example, after Germany’s Conject brought UK-based BIW Technologies in December 2010, for example, there were few redundancies and the two SaaS platforms continued to co-exist for some time (and the BIW branding survived until 2012), while Conject’s German business continued to support some on-premise technologies. Eventually, a new platform combining the best of the two SaaS systems began to emerge to support new demands for functionality to support building information modelling (BIM) processes in March 2015.

Rapid managed migration

Contrast Conject’s measured, almost leisurely, approach to that of Aconex. After it acquired Conject in March 2016, there were a few redundancies as sales and administration overheads were rationalised, and Aconex quickly began to talk to existing Conject customers and started to integrated some of Conject’s sector-leading technologies into the Aconex platform. In May 2017, Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper told me customers had not been forced to switch to the Aconex platform; existing projects continued to be managed on Conject’s system, but new projects were started on the Aconex platform.

Aconex’s Connected Cost platform was also said to be a compelling proposition to former BIW/Conject customers who had valued the mature Financial Control functionality, and Conject’s UK BIM experience was also valuable. But there was no huge demand from customers for Aconex to develop an FM solution (one of Conject’s strengths in Germany), Jasper said, so Aconex remained more focused on supporting design and construction processes. By the time Oracle made its bid to acquire Aconex in December 2017, the Conject name had almost disappeared and the rationalisation was largely complete.

What next for Viewpoint for Projects?

In 2018, Trimble has invested $1.7bn to, first, acquire e-Builder (a US SaaS construction management business strongly favoured by US owners) and, second, to acquire Viewpoint (offering ERP, financial and accounting systems used heavily by US contractors, the former 4Projects SaaS platform, acquired in 2013, that historically tended to be targeted at UK constructors, and the former Priority1 mobile platform, acquired in December 2014). These are added to a Trimble collaboration portfolio that already includes the former Meridian systems (notably Prolog), SketchUp, GTeam (relaunched as Trimble Connect in October 2014) and the mobile ProjectSight application – though when the latter was launched in December 2014 it was clear some convergence of the software portfolio had already occured. Other related solutions include Tekla Structures and Tekla BIMsight, the Vico 5D platform, the Manhattan Atrium FM application, and the Sefaira sustainability analysis web toolset (acquired in February 2016).

In short, Trimble has been assembling a portfolio that extends beyond a focus on design and construction to also embrace owner/operator requirements, and which also includes substantial support for (open) BIM. Tekla and Vico provide powerful BIM authoring and management capabilities; both e-Builder and Viewpoint have invested in supporting BIM in their cloud environments; and Viewpoint’s UK business has benefited from detailed involvement in the UK’s government-led BIM adoption programme – widely regarded as an exemplar to other countries.

Viewpoint for Projects user growthAnd while we might expect there to be some rationalisation of overheads, the bigger challenge will be assimilating the two recent acquisitions, which both bring substantial customer and user bases (at yesterday’s London event, Viewpoint said it now had over 315,000 current active users of Viewpoint for Projects on almost 160,000 projects; e-Builder has supported over 200,000 projects), with the Trimble Connect applications. There will be scope for economies of scale in rationalising hosting and other infrastructure provision, and also – as Aconex did following its Conject acquisition – to identify and invest further in the highly valued functionalities of the different SaaS and mobile systems. By developing the ‘best of breed’ capabilities that will retain customer and end-user loyalty, Trimble might encourage them to migrate to enhanced new solutions.

(Some industry watchers fear a far more negative scenario in which the US giant eventually cans the UK-developed system in favour of its US solution(s) – one told me: “In essence it is a client grab. A very expensive one“.)

e-Builder - a Trimble companyOnce the Viewpoint transaction is completed (anticipated in Q3 of 2018), I expect there will be some rebranding to bring the new solutions into Trimble’s universe (a conversation yesterday contrasted the approach of Trimble – and firms like Autodesk and Bentley – with that of Nemetschek which acts more like a holding company for brands including Allplan, Vectorworks, Graphisoft, SCIA, Maxon, Bluebeam, Solibri and dRofus); e-Builder is already branded as “A Trimble Company”.


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Apr 25 2018

The next big AEC SaaS acquisition?

After Trimble’s US$1.2bn bid to acquire Viewpoint, which SaaS construction collaboration business might be the next to be acquired?

Last summer, a year after Aconex had bought Conject and before Oracle had announced its bid to acquire Aconex, I was invited to speak privately to several groups of technology investors about the global SaaS construction collaboration market. A recurring question was “What will be the next big international deal?

One scenario I suggested was a push by strong US players to grow their presence in other technologically sophisticated construction markets, particularly Europe. I even suggested Trimble might buy Viewpoint, while I also said that Procore would be likely to expand into Europe (having already established itself in Australia), either organically or via a strategic acquisition. Naturally, this prompted the question: “Who might be acquired?” I came up with half a dozen (in no particular order)….

Think Project!

Thinkproject-logoOf the currently independent vendors, Munich, Germany-based Think Project! has the strongest position in central Europe – the business often described itself as the most successful pure-SaaS provider (differentiating itself from Conject who retained some on-premise solutions in its German operations) – and has seen consistent double-digit growth in recent years. In 2016, it grew revenues to almost €30m (c. £25.6m or US$31.6m), up around 17% (May 2017 post), and was expanding beyond its central European market (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland), establishing operations in France and Spain, while also investing in its BIM capabilities.


Procore logoThe afore-mentioned Procore could also be an acquisition target. As I’ve previously described (in May 2017 post, Procore opens Australia office), Procore has attracted considerable investments since the early 2000s, and in 2016 was said to be worth over US$1bn, with a user base of 1.5 million, and over 2,500 clients across 92 countries (though I suspect deep penetration is limited to a handful of countries); revenues in 2016 were forecast to be around US$55m. While still lagging Aconex at that point, in revenue terms the 700-strong business appeared to be narrowly ahead of US-based e-Builder and some distance ahead of the then European market leaders, Conject, Think Project! and Viewpoint’s EMEA operation.


RIB software logoIf Viewpoint’s combination of ERP and collaboration proved an attractive proposition to Trimble, Germany’s RIB Software is similar in its complexion, with the Stuttgart-based business acquiring Australia’s ProjectCentre in 2012 and Denmark’s Docia in 2014. The business has described itself as “the world’s leading provider of 5D BIM Big Data technology for the construction industry,” and generated revenues of €97.9m (c. £89m or US$115m) in 2016, returning a pre-tax profit of €33m. However, the group’s Software-as-a-Service revenues comprise a relatively modest proportion of total revenues: €12.5m (c. £11.4m or US$14.7m) in 2016. (I notice that last week, 20 April 2018, RIB and Microsoft announced a joint project, MTWO, to develop “the world’s #1 vertical cloud for the construction & real estate industries” – echoing the partnership that Bentley Systems has also been developing with Microsoft; see my October 2017 post, ProjectWise suite expands.)


Asite logo 2012UK-based Asite might also be a target. The business took a strategic decision in the early 2000s to base its software development activities in India, and so benefits from a low cost base, but it consistently lagged behind its main UK-based rivals BIW Technologies (later Conject), 4Projects (later Viewpoint), and – for some years – GroupBC. However, it weathered its early loss-making years and finally reported a profit for the year ending December 2009, and has continued to make steady progress.  In the year ending 30 June 2016, Asite revenues reached £6.047m (c. $US7.47m or €6.93m) and the company declared an operating profit for the period of £0.993m. However, Asite remains heavily reliant on the highly competitive UK market which still accounts for 78% of its revenues.


GroupBCAnother UK-based vendor, GroupBC is also currently mainly UK-focused. During the 2000s, when it was known as Business Collaborator, its financial performance put it consistently ahead of Asite, but it then endured a number of ownership changes which hampered its growth and technological development of its software. Bought out by its management in November 2014, the business has been re-energised; in the year to 30 November 2016, it generated revenues of £3.795m (c. US$4.9m or €4.33), and increased profitability (EBITDA) from £0.445m to £0.797m (c. US$1.029m or €0.908m) – a 77% year-on-year increase (July 2017 post) – and is now looking to develop strategic partnerships to help it expand internationally (January 2018 post).

Bricsys 24/7

Bricsys logoA sister company of Belgium-based Bricsys might also be of interest. It is a profitable, privately held company providing a cloud-based information management platform known at various times as VistaVondle and – until rebranded in October 2018 – Chapoo. The SaaS collaboration platform is now branded as Bricsys 24/7 but is still delivered via a separate company, and the company claims it is the number one product in use in the Benelux region of western Europe. However, its development team shares many of the same developers involved with Bricsys’s core CAD and BIM design authoring products, so, if an acquirer is only interested in the cloud collaboration platform, it may be a less straightforward proposition.

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