Dec 16 2016

SaaS collaboration and cyber-security

December 2016’s ThinkBIM in Leeds provided an occasionally frightening view of just how vulnerable the built environment might be to cyber attack. It also highlighted how SaaS collaboration platforms might also help teams apply more rigorous security processes.

PAS1192pt5 - coverIn May 2015, PAS1192-5 – “Specification for security-minded building information modelling, digital built environments and smart asset management” – became the latest addition to the suite of UK documents focused on building information modelling (BIM). Other documents – notably PAS1192-2 – cover the adoption and use of a ‘common data environment’ (CDE), and this has been a key area for construction collaboration technology vendors, but they will also need to help their customers and project teams address some of their security requirements.

In Leeds, Turner & Townsend’s Nathan Jones gave us the benefit of a non-construction person’s view of the security document (Jones was recruited into the construction industry after working in the armed forces specialising in military grade IT and security-related technologies). From his presentation and roundtable contributions, it was clear that he felt existing construction industry IT practices lag behind most other industry sectors in respect of security (“Often IT security is a bit backward in construction”).

From paper to data

This is, of course, hardly surprising. In the early careers of many people still working in the sector, we mostly exchanged design and construction information by paper. But now, in the early years of the 21st century, we are mainly sharing ‘electronic paper’ – emails instead of letters, Word documents instead of typed reports, PDFs or native files instead of drawings, etc. And we are (or should be) vigilant about security: guarding against software viruses, ‘phishing’ and hacking, and against the theft or loss of our devices, while also continuing to track, store and protect our communications and intellectual property. (And not always successfully: Jones described how details of the internal layout of a Royal Palace were recently freely distributed to potential tenderers via an unprotected email attachment.)

However, the next stages in the digital transformation of the built environment sector are set to make information management more challenging from a security point of view.

Built Asset Security Management

As firms begin to share and to combine or ‘federate’ data-rich 3D, 4D (time) and 5D (cost) models in CDEs, project teams will need to heighten their cyber-security regimes, Jones said.

A shared 3D model may expose intellectual property to competitors. Moreover, a walk-through visualisation of a new building might expose sensitive information about the building’s design – key structural components, locations of key building services, placement of CCTV or other security equipment, for example. Shared 4D models might reveal periods when assets might be susceptible to sabotage or sites could be vulnerable to theft, while a 5D model could reveal commercially sensitive pricing information to competitors.

Published by the British Standards Institute and the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), PAS1192-5 is intended to help teams identify and guard against risks including:

  • hostile reconnaissance
  • malicious acts
  • loss or disclosure of intellectual property
  • loss or disclosure of commercially sensitive information, and
  • release of personally identifiable information.

ThinkBIM December 2016And our already abbreviation-heavy glossary of BIM terms now includes BASM – built asset security management – as a new discipline. Jones repeatedly stressed the need to build security considerations into project delivery from the earliest stages. Early engagement with a BAS manager will help a project team and the asset owner develop a strong built asset security strategy (BASS) and management plan (BASMP), he said.

Such measures will become more important in an increasingly connected world of not just ‘smart buildings’ but ‘Smart Cities’. We will need to protect information created during delivery of a new built asset, and – just as importantly, and depending on the asset’s sensitivity – protect some or all of the data created by the people and systems in and around that asset, and in any connected or surrounding assets or infrastructure.

At the people level, precautions might include procedures limiting information access to those with defined roles (I was encouraged that Jones identified that some Software-as-a-Service collaboration or CDE platforms do this well: restricting access to certain files, models or data only to people with defined responsibilities), supported by systems of passes, logins, keys or other forms of authentication.

And talking to the SaaS vendor about their systems’ logical security measures won’t be enough. For any sensitive project, teams will need to know where the data is hosted and by who, how it is physically protected, what back-up regimes are applied, etc. (In the early 2000s, I wrote white papers outlining the physical, personal and logical precautions taken to safeguard data and applications by BIW Technologies – later Conject, now Aconex – and devoted a whole chapter of my book to data hosting. I was also reminded of this when I heard Microsoft describing construction and operation of their Azure cloud hosting facilities at Bentley’s November 2016 conference in London – post.)

BASM – it’s about people

As with other aspects of BIM, this is certainly not just about data centres and technology, but people and process. Awareness raising and training will be important: working practices learned in the days of paper or “spray and pray” email will need to be amended, and data vulnerabilities addressed. Often the weak link will not be the software or hardware, but the people that use them (users noting passwords on Post-It notes next to their computers, for example), and, as risks can never be entirely eliminated, Jones also advised that organisations need to plan from the outset how they will respond to security breaches.

In one of the roundtable sessions, former Manchester City Council head of estates John Lorimer asked Jones if this heightened focus on security might counteract recent years’ efforts to get companies and people to share information more readily. “Security should not stop collaboration, so long as it is controlled and people are aware,” Jones replied, “BIM is actually helping to trigger some security-minded conversations much earlier. We may soon be segmenting our construction supply chains according to those who are security-aware, and those who aren’t.” I expect this will also apply to SaaS vendors – how well they satisfy security-related requirements may determine whether or not their services are supplied in relation to sensitive projects.

Update (6pm) – Coincidentally, I just opened an e-newlettter from Steve Cooper, UK general manager of Aconex (formerly the Conject business) which says (after various product updates): “we are making significant investments to enhance our security capabilities to match or exceed Government demands.”

[Disclosure: This is a slightly expanded version of a post first published on the ThinkBIM blog, delivered as part of consultancy support for Leeds Beckett University.]

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Dec 15 2016

South Africa lagging in AEC SaaS use?

CS&IT coverI have written occasional pieces for South Africa’s Construction Software & IT: A Journal for Digital Construction Solutions (post), which is edited by Vaughan Harris (also associated with the Cape Town-based BIM Institute). He has forwarded a link to some survey results relating to technology and building information modelling (BIM) adoption in the region.

The article – SA BIM Survey reveals local industry as technology laggard – suggests South Africa’s construction industry is struggling to reap the full benefits of design software, data and analytics, 3D scanning, mobile solutions and automation, while the sector’s current economic difficulties do not encourage investment in upgrading systems so cash-strapped businesses continue to use their existing software. It appears this may also affecting investment in BIM and cloud-based collaboration, though the latter is also reliant on having reliable internet connectivity.

The journal ran its first South African BIM survey, and as the survey was conducted online (with respondents primarily recruited through email invitations in a BIM newsletter, a Zoho campaign, and links in social media) the results are not representative of the industry at large, but offer a glimpse of how some of the the more digitally engaged organisations in South Africa are using technology in construction and in the built environment.

As well as some clues on favoured design authoring tools, I learned that 55% of respondents said they used cloud-based document management systems such as Asite (the UK-based provider who opened a South African office two years ago), and two Johannesburg-based operations: Docwize and Key360 (provided by project manager SSG Consulting). There was no mention of Docia (since 2014 a RIB-owned solution, which opened a South Africa office in 2012), Aconex (which also has a Johannesburg office) or India’s Wrench (adopted by South Africa’s Murray & Roberts), though this may, of course, be due to the survey sampling methodology.

The survey also showed some smaller firms were still using cloud-based storage tools like Dropbox and Google Drive (despite the latter not being as secure and BIM – or AEC – specific). Sixteen percent of respondents said use of cloud-based document management systems is hampered due to poor internet connectivity.

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Nov 15 2016

SaaS for AEC subcontractors and SMEs

While some SaaS vendors focus on the needs of main/general contractors and owners, eSub aims to provide an easy-to-use mobile project management solution specifically for subcontractors, while TidyBuild supports SME business needs.

For some years, the construction collaboration technology sector largely focused on web-based platforms to support whole project delivery, creating a single central repository for the principal participants to share documents, drawings, photos and workflows. The introduction of smartphone and tablet technologies during the late 2000s began to change the picture as software developers began to create mobile apps to manage discrete processes (eg: ‘snagging’) out in the field. We have also seen mobile-first applications developed to support smaller scale projects (eg: Denmark’s GenieBelt, in the US Corecon from California and Jobsite Unite from Iowa, and Australia’s SmallBuilders). With the vast majority of construction projects still undertaken by SMEs, it is not surprising that start-ups are looking at the business needs of subcontractors and smaller market players.


esub-logoIn the US, San Diego, California’s recognised competitors were focused on the needs of general contractors and owners, and set out to provide an easy-to-use mobile project management solution tailored specifically for subcontractors (or as Benny Baltrotsky, eSub’s strategy director, termed them to me: self-performing contractors). Reminding me a little of Rapport3 (see previous post) and its multi-faceted support for business processes and integration with third party tools (especially accounting packages), eSub provides a familiar set of capabilities:

  • Centralised project management, including document management
  • Time card managementmult
  • Corporate management
  • Resource management
  • A field works mobile app (eSub also has a partnership with Plangrid – read October 2016 news release)
  • Scheduling
  • Accounting integration (eg: with Sage and Viewpoint ERP, among others; the company is involved with the Construction Open Standards Association, COSA, an organisation dedicated to making construction software more interoperable – helping its integration capabilities.)

The SaaS application was apparently launched just before the global financial crisis, but its timely focus on mobile devices ultimately proved attractive to customers looking to switch from a reliance on email and paper-based communications, particularly in a subcontractor sector in which many employees are not office-based. Unfortunately, no details on pricing are given on the website


Tidy BuildAlso targeting this sector is New Zealand’s Tidy International. Founded in 2009 by CEO Kevin Mann, its offering is a cloud-based building and construction management solution for job and project control from quote-to-invoice, and (like Corecon – April 2015 post) provides integration with the cloud-based accounting platform Xero.

Tidy’s TidyWork project and job management system “for service providers, architects, engineers, workshops and creatives,” was launched in 2011, followed by TidyStock, a stock and inventory management system that enables efficient use and tracking of resources (the integration with Xero ensures all materials are invoiced effectively – Tidy says the application is used by food manufacturers, sporting and warehousing business, among others), and TidyBuild.

There is a 14 day free trial offer and each of the systems is available at different levels of implementation from ‘Essentials’, through ‘Turbo’, ‘Jet’ and ‘Rocket’ plus an ‘Enterprise’ offering. TidyBuild, for example, starts at US$49/month for 1 manager user and two additional users, with a neat slider quote interface showing a 200 user system would be US$2029/month on the ‘Essentials’ configuration. The ‘Enterprise’ offering of the same product, with four manager users, starts from US$551/month.

As well as Xero and depending upon which configuration level is selected, integration options include Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Project, Capsule for CRM, and DropBox for file storage (in my view, not a perfect solution compared to the sophisticated document control alternatives available in the market for project-based construction collaboration, but probably more than adequate for most AEC SME’s internal needs).

TidyBuild case studies include a New Zealand-based contractor, Adan Larsen, and a Manchester, UK-based surveying practice, BPM Group (as well as its New Zealand base, TidyBuild has an Australia-based reseller, and a London, UK office):

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Nov 14 2016

Trimble enhances cloud and mobile tech

Trimble expands its mixed reality, mobile and cloud collaboration capabilities.

Among the subjects I discussed with Bentley executives at the recent 2016 Year In Infrastructure conference in London was an announcement regarding an alliance with GIS technology provider TopCon – and whether this changed Bentley’s relationship with fellow US technology giant, Trimble, announced in 2014 (post).

Bentley’s Aidan Mercer and Bob Mankowski told me the Trimble deal had not been an exclusive one, and that they still enjoyed a cordial relationship with Trimble (during the rest of a GIS-focused interview, we talked about ‘location intelligence,’ and they also underlined Bentley’s commitment to open geospatial standards – geo-coordination was a dimension earlier highlighted by Bentley CEO Greg Bentley).

Trimble SketchUp Viewer for Microsoft HoloLens

Trimble logoTrimble has also been holding a user conference, its bi-annual Trimble Dimension event held in Las Vegas last week, and there were some similarities with events at Bentley YII2016. While Bentley was talking about deepening its relationship with Microsoft and demonstrating Microsoft HoloLens, Trimble has launched Trimble SketchUp Viewer for Microsoft HoloLens. SketchUp, acquired by Trimble in April 2012, can now be used in combination with Microsoft’s mixed-reality platform to visualise design and construction processes, say Trimble (news release). It first started discussing this technology in May 2015.

ProjectSight update

TProjectSight logorimble Dimension also saw the launch of a new edition of the company’s project controls solution, ProjectSight. This product was launched in December 2014 as a low-cost, iOS-only mobile application – targeting users that did not need more sophisticated tools such as Trimble’s Prolog tools or Trimble Connect (launched in October 2014, following the acquisition of GTeam). According to Trimble’s news release, the application has been re-architected to address growing challenges facing construction teams to save time and reduce rework due to lack of interoperability between point solutions. Segment manager Marcel Broekmaat said:

“The unfortunate fallout from the recent explosion of mobile apps for construction has been the creation of data silos. Today, many contractors are reporting that disparate workflows and communication gaps between teams are creating huge inefficiencies and costly rework; and project managers no longer feel like they have control over projects. With ProjectSight, we are breaking down those data silos by providing a centralized workflow that is easy for all field teams to access, update and share critical project data.”

Accessible via the web or an iPad app, Trimble ProjectSight provides design-centric workflows to keep teams in sync; access to centralised data provides teams with up-to-date information to and from the field. Trimble says key features include:

  • Advanced markup for both 2D and 3D design files – making it easy to update, reference and access while in the field.
  • A new collaboration method similar to text messaging – Team Conversation keeps a digital record of these interactions to maintain an audit trail of decisions made throughout the project.
  • BIM workflow enhancements – Integration with the Trimble Connect collaboration platform (itself also upgraded with new scalable data processing capabilities in the cloud to reduce time to delivery of actionable information) to let authorised users access and share detailed BIM files without the requirement of specialized model viewing applications.
  • Offline capabilities


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Nov 14 2016

Bentley and Siemens agree strategic alliance

Bentley alliance with Siemens re-emphasises the importance of the cloud and a “connected data environment”.

Bentley-advancing infrastructureThe recent Bentley Year in Infrastructure conference in London passed with hardly a mention of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) first mooted in July 2015 – on 2 November, for the second year running, CEO Greg Bentley dampened IPO speculation, briefly citing continued market uncertainty. Of course, this didn’t stop journalists and other industry watchers talking about it privately (not least because Aconex’s IPO, and the subsequent share price climb, appears to have heightened investor interest in the AEC tech sector), with some talk about what had happened to technology giant Siemens – prominent at Bentley’s YII in 2013 and also seen by some as a potential acquirer.

siemens-logoIt now appears that a joint announcement with Siemens had been planned, but this was postponed to coincide with Siemens annual press conference on 10 November – at which Siemens and Bentley announced a strategic alliance agreement, aiming to “accelerate digitalization to advance infrastructure project delivery and asset performance in complementary business areas.”

The two companies will initially invest at least €50m (c US$54m or £43m) in developing joint solutions to enlarge their respective offerings for infrastructure and industry, while – echoing a recurring YII2016 theme (post) – leveraging “new cloud services for a connected data environment to converge respective digital engineering models from both companies”. Siemens has also acquired approximately €70m million of secondary shares of Bentley’s common stock, under a company programme that will continue until such time as Bentley Systems’ stock is publicly traded.

The news release says the new investment will involve virtually all Siemens divisions, “accumulating intelligence from Siemens solutions throughout Bentley’s complementary applications for design modeling, analytical modeling, construction modeling and asset performance modeling.” The release continues:

Siemens and Bentley Systems have identified opportunities to work together in Energy Management, Power Generation, Building Technology and Mobility where each company can leverage their respective technology and industry expertise to bring new business value to the market. For example, Bentley’s applications for the 3D modeling and structural analysis of industrial and infrastructure assets complement Siemens’ solutions and unparalleled domain expertise in electrification and automation. Siemens and Bentley Systems will each provide software from the other to deliver complete solutions from either company to the benefit of their respective customers in order to improve their project and asset performance through simulation and virtual commissioning. Development work will benefit from and extend Siemens’ and Bentley Systems’ established commitments to openness and interoperability.


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Nov 13 2016

Rapport3: SaaS practice management

Surrey, UK-based Cubic Interactive markets its Rapport3 SaaS platform to professional AEC practices – could it connect to collaboration platforms too?

rapport3Nine years ago, I briefly encountered Cubic Interactive at the 2007 Construction Computing Show (post), but they were mainly focused on on-premise intranet-type solutions, and competing with Union Square (now part of the Deltek group – post) in the field of practice management (not my main area of interest: project collaboration). However, I recently received a call from Charles de Voil (recently at Newforma, before that at Graitec) telling me about Cubic’s Rapport3 platform. Consultant de Voil told me:

Rapport3 is a hosted practice management solution, providing a range of functionality across many elements of the AEC business:

  • project financials delivering live financial information to key stakeholders
  • integration with external systems such as Newforma and Open Asset eliminating the requirements for data duplication
  • resource management for project directors maximising staff utilisation
  • contact management and business development available from the desktop or any mobile device,
  • HR managements for managing and maintaining staff information….

The now 18-strong company (based in Surbiton, Surrey, with other offices in Harrogate, Ireland and Canada) was founded in 2001 by three employees (two of them engineers) at architectural practice Broadway Malyan, and set out to free designers from the hassles of managing the financial, business development and HR aspects of their businesses, and regards itself as a pioneer in Software-as-a-Service provision. Its customers include several well-known architectural and engineering practices across the UK and Ireland (eg: Stride Treglown [case study], Silcock Dawson, Jestico + Wiles, AWW).

The solution is hosted in the UK by Rackspace, and is licensed via an annual subscription contract, with pricing based upon the number of users and the selection of modules implemented. Email management capabilities are provided in Rapport3 via Gekko: other third party system integrations include Sage, Access Dimension and Twinfield (all accounting), OpenAsset (photo management), and Newforma (project information management), with synchronisations eliminating the need for data rnoentry and ensuring consistency of information.

This leads me to wonder what, if any, other integrations might be useful to Rapport3 users. The integration with Newforma suggests there is some Rapport3 customer demand for some kind of project information management or collaboration capabilities. Of the current leading UK-based SaaS collaboration players, Asite, Business Collaborator and Viewpoint For Projects have long talked about their application programming interfaces (APIs), potentially opening up routes for Rapport3 customers to connect with project-centric platforms and, in particular, BIM ‘Common Data Environment’ (CDE) systems.

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Nov 12 2016

Ordot dump closure showcases Bentley EADOC

Bentley eadoc - logoCalifornia, USA-based EADOC was acquired by Bentley Systems in March 2016, and the process of assimilating this cloud-based construction management application into the Bentley suite of products began. I talked to EADOC founder Eric Law soon after the acquisition and again at Bentley’s 2015 Year in Infrastructure conference in London and also heard about the platform’s use on a Californian sewerage project (post). Roll forward a further year to the 2016 edition of the Bentley conference and EADOC was showcased in a BE Inspired Innovation in Construction award entry, concerning a US$42.6m project to close a dump site at Ordot on the Pacific island of Guam (while it did not win this category, the project was announced as the winner of a special award for advancing construction management).

The project was managed by GHD Inc, and construction manager/principal Paul Baron and staff engineer Steve Carbullido, described the 28-month project and the challenges overcome using EADOC.

ordotThe dump dated back to the 1940s and the island’s occupation by the Japanese during the Second World War. After the island was liberated by US forces, the dump, originally in a small valley near the village of Ordot, continued to be used by the island’s authorities, and by the start of the 21st century had grown into a substantial mound. With the dump no longer able to accept new waste and creating environmental problems (polluting local water courses through leachate and releasing methane to the atmosphere), in 2004 it was decided to close the dump.

This process was prolonged by legal disputes, and ultimately the client for the dump closure was a US Court Official Receiver, working with the Government of Guam, the US Department of Justice and the US Environmental Protection Agency, plus the Guam Solid Waste Authority, which would operate the facility for 10 years beyond the completion of the dump closure works. Other stakeholders included the local mayor and residents, Guam EPA, the State Historic Preservation Officer and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Baron explained the EADOC system helped share information across all these stakeholders (located across 10 time zones, ranging across the US from Washington on the east coast to California in the west, to Hawaii, Guam and locations in Asia), as well as the project supply chain. “No bad publicity” was a key requirement, he said – the EADOC portal helped the team communicate effectively despite the large volumes of project documentation involved.

The works involved creation of a cover system to prevent further water ingress and protect the dump from erosion. Leachate management, stormwater collection and landfill gas extraction systems were also provided, as well as a stream channel relocation and addition of a sanitary sewer system. The leachate collection system has three storage tanks with a total capacity of 65,000 gallons, while the stormwater management system incorporated four ponds as well as emergency spillways. These are vital as Guam is in a tropical storm zone – during the project, six major storms hit the island, with peak rainfalls of over 12in (30cm) and winds in excess of 110mph.

Evaluating claims

Using EADOC, Carbullido said the team was able to provide automated numbering, centralise design and submittal processes, and reduce the average time taken to process requests for information (RFIs) from an industry norm of 10-14 days down to six days. Correction Required Notices (CRNs), Design Clarification Memos (DCMs) and daily reports were all managed using the system. During the project, the contractor filed multiple claims due to bad weather totalling 200 days; these were evaluated using information captured in the EADOC system. As well as the written daily reports, EADOC had also been capturing data from other systems: from weather station logs, site video monitors (taking 1000s of images/day) and aerial drone photography. In the face of this evidence, the time extension was adjusted to 107 work days. EADOC was also used to manage the time impacts of encounters with unexploded ordinances dating from the dump’s wartime use.

eadoc-presentation-imageThe GHD team estimated that the EADOC system saved over 400 hours through more efficient management of submittals and RFIs alone, and reckoned it also saved another 400 man hours relating to faster location of information and other process efficiencies. Feedback from the owner, contractor, designer, subconsultants and other team members indicated they also benefitted from the system; claimed benefits included a saving of over 100,000 sheets of paper.

I was interested to see that the EADOC interface still hadn’t been redesigned to look like other Bentley applications, but, amid a Bentley campaign of convergence, I understand EADOC will shortly be rebranded as ProjectWise CM.

[Disclosure: I was a juror at the Bentley Year in Infrastructure Be Inspired Awards; Bentley paid my hotel and subsistence expenses to attend the conference.]

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Nov 01 2016

Bentley announces its ‘Totex’ AssetWise solution

At Bentley Systems’ 2016 Year in Infrastructure conference in London this week, the company has announced the availability of its whole-life data solution, AssetWise CONNECT Edition, complementing the ProjectWise CONNECT Edition launched a year ago (post). Connected data is a recurring theme.

A connected data environment

Bentley-advancing infrastructureGreg Bentley said the CONNECT Editions of AssetWise and ProjectWise provide and share a “connected data environment” (as distinct from a ‘common data environment’), helping users capture the BIM potential of digital engineering models created during CAPEX, for continuous benefits throughout the OPEX lifecycle. Microsoft’s Azure cloud was repeatedly referenced as part of the enabling technology.

AssetWise CONNECT Edition’s asset lifecycle information management services support capabilities previously offered separately through several Bentley products including eB, Exor and Amulet, and the company says these are already utilised by 25 of the 50 largest Bentley Infrastructure 500 Top Owners (in a building and construction press briefing yesterday, Bentley’s Harry Vitelli talked about a growing number of owner/operators now hosting their own data, or getting Bentley to host it for them).

The connected data environment is made possible by technologies shared between design, construction, and operations work: intrinsic 3D geocoordination; engineering precision; self-describing data; information mobility; and work process automation. Accordingly, Bentley says information maintained through AssetWise CONNECT Edition inherently understands and can act upon its:

  • geospatial context (navigating to asset data via conventional maps, for example)
  • reality context (at the conference today, Alan Kiraly and colleagues showed how asset data could be navigated to intuitively using imagery from reality capture tools – a big theme at last year’s event)
  • kiraly-dashboardsnetwork and linear context
  • digital engineering model context
  • change integrity context
  • reliability context
  • enterprise IT context, and
  • lifecycle context.

AssetWise CONNECT Edition helps owner-operators manage their infrastructure assets for engineering integrity, compliance, and performance modeling, through new subscription offerings, sized based on the scope of assets covered:

  • Asset Lifecycle Information Management: providing structured control of asset information and managed change throughout the asset lifecycle
  • Asset Reliability: reducing risk associated with asset failure through proactive inspection and maintenance programs and smarter decisions for improved asset reliability, integrity, and performance
  • Operational Analytics: automating better operational decisions with data mining, aggregation, and calculation tools for right-time predictions and actions; and
  • Enterprise Interoperability: facilitating the interoperation of multiple data sources for visibility of mission-critical asset information.

Commercial aspects of ProjectWise CONNECT Edition

Bentley says ProjectWise is already used by 44 of the 50 largest, and by 355 of the 641 ENR Top Design Firms globally. Since its launch in the late 1990s, it has been used in over 100 countries, to deliver over one million projects, to automate over a million business processes per month, and accumulate over ten billion audit trail records. For a long time, it was primarily a customer-hosted document collaboration solution, but in recent years, facing competition from pure SaaS vendors such as Aconex, Viewpoint, etc, as well as rival software house platforms such as Autodesk’s Buzzsaw and more recently BIM 360 Docs – it has gradually extended to encompass BIM and more SaaS-type implementations: ProjectWise Essentials was launched in November 2014, for example.

ProjectWise CONNECT Edition, introduced in 2015, uses Azure cloud services to extend its BIM-enabling capabilities beyond organisations and users of on-premise servers. To date in 2016, Azure-provisioned ProjectWise and AssetWise services have achieved availability service levels above 99.8 percent, according to Bentley.

CONNECT Edition servers are, Bentley says, “unlimited,” with no licensing charges for those Azure-provisioned, deployed on-premises, or in any hybrid combination.

ProjectWise services are instead charged for the value generated through their “consumption,” based on actual usage determined after every calendar quarter. Each unique user is charged for a Passport which “universally” entitles access to, and usage of, connected environment data, including through “apps” for issue resolution, submittal and/or transmittal of deliverables, dashboard visibility, and more. Users may also be charged in a quarter for Visas to the extent of their actual usage of additional functionality. Accordingly, ProjectWise user organizations no longer bear fixed costs and charges are aligned with realized BIM outcomes.

At the conference, Bentley introduced new ProjectWise CONNECT Edition cloud services for organisations seeking to institutionalise BIM advancements, purposefully propagating best practices in “going digital” through shared resources:

  • Automation Center for standardizing repeatable workflows and deliverables
  • Components Center to share catalogs and to accumulate intelligence across design, fabrication, asset registry, and reliability experience; and
  • Optioneering Center for leveraging parallel computing resources, including for cross-discipline design and analytical scenarios and insights

Microsoft integration

A recurring theme to today’s technology presentations has been not only growing use of Microsoft Azure to connect users, but also increased integration with various Microsoft tools. At the office level, these include Office365, OneDrive and SharePoint (some readers may recall Bentley had a Sharepoint integration, StartPoint, ten years ago), but the Bentley-Microsoft relationship also extends to more specialist platforms such as Microsoft’s Power BI anayltics platform and to the HoloLens VR platform (launched only 18 months ago but already a staple part of construction events including last week’s Digital Construction Week as well as Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure).

Update (2 November 2016) – The Microsoft push continued today, with a presentation about the growing network of Azure data centres (now with centres in the UK and Germany, for example) and repeated references to connections with Office365 and other Microsoft products. Online today, I also noticed a news item about a forthcoming new Office365 collaborative chat-based application: Microsoft Teams:

[Disclosure: I was a juror at the Bentley Year in Infrastructure Be Inspired Awards; Bentley paid my hotel and subsistence expenses to attend the conference.]

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Nov 01 2016

Newforma: collaboration more important than ever

Collaboration is now more critical than ever as British firms look to other global markets to understand how best to adapt post-Bexit, says Newforma.

Newforma logo 2015I talked to Newforma co-founder Jim Forester when he was in London recently. With the UK political establishment still in turmoil after the EU Referendum result, and the construction industry concerned about possible Brexit impacts on already chronic UK construction skills shortages, part of Forester’s message is that collaboration is now more critical than ever as British firms look to other global markets to understand how best to adapt.

Also vice president of business development, Forester is one of six co-founders of Newforma who started the company with CEO Ian Howell in 2003 to provide the North American AEC sector with project information management (PIM) tools to facilitate collaboration on projects. The company’s initial focus was on managing internal project collaboration, and it was (c. 2006) initially dismissive of web-based ‘extranet’ applications (Forester said this was based on experiences of people dumping lots of content into project folders – “Buzzsaw was the classic example” – a different experience to users of systems based on relational databases). However, as I have reported in recent 2016 posts (Newforma now playing cloud catch-up? and Newforma gets connected), Forester feels its culture of listening carefully to the changing needs of its design customers caused it to consciously embrace the cloud alongside its in-house file indexing and management server solutions in a “hybrid” scenario (“we can’t force those who don’t want to go to the cloud – there will probably be a few hold-outs for the foreseeable future”), helping firms with offices in different cities, even countries to quickly share project information.

Hybrid project information management

Jim ForesterForester regards Newforma as having a different approach to other software firms, including what were once regarded as ‘project extranet’ providers. The company’s core offering is built around a powerful indexing engine and search tools, not on provision of a document management platform (UK document control requirements were met via a Newforma configuration, we learned in October 2012), while Newforma has also applied a subscription-based software licensing model from the outset. However, like the ‘extranet’ products, its early adopters tended to be professional architectural and engineering practices (“the design space”) and, much later, contractors – ie: the organisations typically involved in a design-build project – though Forester says the level of Newforma awareness among owners/operators (eg: hospitals and universities) is now growing, particularly where they are applying IPD (integrated project delivery) approaches.

Mobile, connected, standards-based

A key requirement in his view is the need to move data quickly to support project team collaboration. He says the growing Newforma mobile footprint has helped, while the company’s Cloud Services Connector strategy also helps businesses to rapidly connect to other platforms (eg: Dropbox) that project team members might also be deploying.

A further strand of Newforma’s approach to speeding data flow is support for open data formats. He and Howells were both heavily involved with the early days of the International Alliance for Interoperability (today buildingSMART International) – “it’s in our DNA” – and, while he admitted that Newforma didn’t yet meet the UK requirements of a ‘Common Data Environment’ (CDE) supporting BIM processes (“we’re waiting for that time when our customers start asking for this stuff”), he talked enthusiastically about opportunities created by BCF (BIM Collaboration Format) and wider related developments such as Smart Cities strategies and the industry’s adoption of lean planning (Newforma goes Lean, October 2015).

Newforma stresses cross-stakeholder collaboration

A short time after I interviewed Jim Forester, at London’s Digital Construction Week, Newforma discussed the findings of the latest annual survey they’d undertaken based on in-depth interviews with 100 UK-based professionals working for organisations with over 20 employees in the AEC sector (news release). Given the on-premise, single organisation nature of many Newforma deployments, the survey results particularly highlighted internal collaboration issues.

For example, less than one in ten (8%) AEC professionals feel that levels of cross-stakeholder collaboration is highly effective within their organisation; 95% of respondents said that changes could be made within their organisation to be more effective collaboration on today’s projects. Client projects are being heavily impacted, with projects overrunning their deadlines or going over budget, and AEC firms affected too – afflicted by increased staff turnover, lost clients, or repeat business opportunities missed.

And while the results did indicate strong industry investment in new digital tools over the past 12 months (partly as a result of the UK BIM drive), the majority (85%) of respondents experienced challenges – notably a lack of digital skills within the workforce, reported by 44% of respondents. Additionally, 34% said that a lack of digital training offered by the company hampered the integration process.

Firms are struggling to collaborate effectively thanks to the explosion of information across projects, says Newforma. AEC professionals are spending an average of four hours per week dealing with administrative tasks, such as finding emails and searching for project files, with one in ten spending more than five hours doing this each week. Paul Daynes, regional director, UK and Northern Europe at Newforma (who participated in my Forester interview), pointed to the power of indexing content for discovery (a key part of Newforma’s offering), saying:

“While the AEC industry appears to have mastered the art of capturing all the information it was struggling with this time last year, sifting through it to find the information needed is still taking up a significant proportion of time. As AEC firms express trepidation about the period ahead thanks to Brexit, they should ensure their time is spent on strategic activities that benefit the business.”

… Firms simply cannot afford to waste any more time because, as this research reveals, this lack of collaboration is harming businesses’ project and client retention. Efficiency-boosting project information management tools that integrate seamlessly across all existing systems can simplify the information discovery process, and in turn ensure the collaboration of project stakeholders.”


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Oct 31 2016

Conject UK grew 12% in 2015

ConjectFollowing the parent group’s March 2016 acquisition by Aconex, I overlooked the July 2016 publication of Conject UK‘s financial results for the year ending 31 December 2015. These show the Woking, Surrey-based business grew revenues by 12% from 2014‘s £5.696m to £6.385m (c US$9.48m or €8.71m at 2015 rates), and also increased profitability, returning a pre-tax profit of £102,275 (Note: I have updated the UK revenues chart published last Monday in my post about Viewpoint’s results).

The directors’ report by UK MD Steve Cooper returns to its FY2014 theme of pricing pressures (post), but says the business was still able to grow its customer base, partly due to customers valuing its quality of service and security provisions:

Steve CooperIn addition to new successes in enterprise and programme appointments, the UK team enjoyed a greater level of success around individual project deals than in previous years. Whilst in general competitor activities have depressed average pricing for project appointments in a number of niche markets, we secured an increase in new appointments, at good price levels, with teams who placed extra value on service quality.

… Across the company’s markets, the organisation continued to grow its client base, and secured new enterprise and programme engagements with organisations such as Barratt Developments, Manchester Airports Group, ISG, Investment Corporation of Dubai, Gleeds USA, Changi Airport Group, Lend Lease and Interserve.

In addition, a number of appointments were achieved from customers with high information security demands on the back of a 12-month internal investment cycle focused on achieving considerably higher capabilities in this area across the company’s platforms and support services.”

The Conject UK business accounted for around a third of total Conject group revenues in 2015 (€24.5m). Its order book grew 5% to £13.35m at the year end, while headcount grew from 52 to 56, though I understand that since the acquisition some employees (in marketing and other support roles) have left the business. In July 2016, it changed its name to Aconex Services Ltd.

In recent years, Conject has tended to publish its UK results in the autumn, but presumably now it is an Aconex company it needed to complete its reporting earlier so that its numbers could be correctly summarised in the parent company’s reporting processes. Its financial year end has, subsequently, been adjusted to match the parent’s year-end of 30 June.

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