Bentley growing its construction collaboration toolset

Bentley Systems’ collaboration portfolio continues to grow, with NoteVault integrated into the SYNCHRO Field mobile app, new ProjectWise Insights, much “iTwin-enabling”, an entirely new SYNCHRO Cost application coming soon, and GroupBC being positioned as a capital project management platform for owners.

Bentley logo 2017Bentley Systems‘ Year In Infrastructure provides an annual opportunity to hear about updates to the company’s existing products and about new acquisitions and new products. While this year’s whole event was online, 2020 was little different in its content, with talk of new integrations between well-established and more recently acquired products, of rationalisation of the growing product portfolio, and of impending new product offerings. The group has also extended its “Bentley has your back” campaign, helping teams better manage during the COVID-19 pandemic (see May 2020 post: Coping with COVID-19 using Bentley ProjectWise 365).

Construction management – from 4D to 5D

Once mainly renowned for its architecture and engineering design authoring applications, the Bentley focus is now even increasingly oriented towards supporting construction activities.

Synchro logoNoteVault logoThis trend became evident following Bentley’s June 2018 acquisition of the UK’s SYNCHRO Systems (post) when Bentley started to integrate SYNCHRO with its ProjectWise ‘CDE’ and formed a construction group to try and take a larger slice of the construction technology space (October 2018: Synchro buy a key step in building Bentley’s construction capabilities). More recently, in June 2020, Bentley also acquired NoteVault, a US-based provider of voice-based field automation for construction management (post), aiming to expand “Bentley’s SYNCHRO digital construction environment with industry-leading mobile field applications to track and manage labor, materials, and equipment.”

Dustin Parkman - BentleyDuring Year In Infrastructure 2020, Dustin Parkman, right, Bentley’s vice president, project delivery, announced an extensive integration between NoteVault and existing site-based data capture capabilities. A mobile application, SYNCHRO Field, that initially required manual data entry into forms, now offers voice-to-text transcription functionality alongside access to 4D models in the field. Over time, Parkman said voice-activated data entry would be augmented by functions that were entirely voice-controlled solutions, potentially simplifying and speeding up user interactions.

Parkman said Bentley had also significantly expanded SYNCHRO capabilities spanning 4D construction modeling and sequencing, document controls, cost management, and field management:

“We have added new capabilities and iTwin enabled SYNCHRO to view 4D models and fully detailed schedule simulations with animation and sequencing using only a web browser. Now, any project stakeholder can readily view project information without requiring special software or equipment.
This new functionality enables project stakeholders to instantly collaborate online simply by clicking on a link, with the ability to provide real-time comments back to the project manager. The ability to view a 4D model and a fully detailed schedule via a simple web browser is unmatched in the market.”

Synchro CostParkman’s presentation also made a brief mentions of cost and contract management. A new product, SYNCHRO Cost, is set to be launched towards the end of 2020, aligning bid management processes to other construction management workflows, streamlined sourcing with automated bid solicitation and analysis, while also reduced risk and enabling better compliance with proactive contract management.

ProjectWise 365: Project Insights

Project Insights

Now in continuous development for over 20 years, Bentley’s project collaboration workhorse, ProjectWise has been improved by addition of new business intelligence reporting capabilities. Through its strategic relationship with Microsoft – the Azure cloud platform is used to host ProjectWise 365 – Bentley has incorporated  PowerBI analytics and reporting functionality, and has been expanding this to support wider data needs. As well as summary views of data about design activities or about individual projects, Parkman said users can now aggregate data across entire portfolios, monitor trends and access predictive analytics. As well as comparisons across projects, users can also interrogate data about particular types of projects – water, rail or highways, for example.

“ProjectWise Insights now provides the ability to customize dashboards with a web-based editor or to build custom dashboards from scratch. Every project team can now afford a dashboard, and not just for the largest projects. Project managers can quickly understand if a project is on track. Having access to real-time reporting is helping project teams achieve efficiency improvements of 30%.”

A new task-based interface provides each ProjectWise user with unique insights to their tasks, issues, and objectives helping them to keep projects on time and within budget. Real-time 2D and 3D design review capabilities are built in, making it easy to collaborate in review sessions remotely from almost any location.

Capital project delivery: GroupBC

YII2020 was also an opportunity to catch up with how Bentley has been integrating its March 2020 acquisition of UK-based GroupBC (post). The core Business Collaborator system is now being described as as ‘capital project information management’ platform that can be used as a common data environment by owner-operators to manage asset delivery programmes – complementing ProjectWise (engineering working in progress) and SYNCHRO (construction work).

GroupBC Highways England“Since the acquisition of GroupBC earlier this year, our focus has been on iTwin enabling Business Collaborator and integrating it with ProjectWise,” Parkman said, citing use of this federated common data environment on projects including HS2 and an implementation for Highways England. The GroupBC product portolio included BC Connect (now rebranded as BC Sync to avoid confusion with other Bentley ‘Connected’ solutions) – a toolset designed to streamline the often intensely manual and time-consuming selection and transfer of data between different CDE instances. A new product – Business Collaborator Projects (or BC Projects) – is also being developed for small and mid-sized projects and comes pre-configured to support ISO 19650 information management processes, building on GroupBC’s familiarity with implementing platforms compliant with the emerging suite of international standards.

Parkman said the latest release of Business Collaborator introduces a new self-serve portal that allows end-users to intuitively navigate disparate sources of project and project controls information through asset-based and geospatial interfaces.

“End users can understand in a natural, intuitive context the information they have (and don’t have) and answer questions about their asset or asset portfolio quickly and accurately through a user interface that requires no knowledge of or access to the source systems.”

This is leveraging the GroupBC GeoConnect+ functionality originally developed in the UK with government mapping agency Ordnance Survey and consultant PCSG (now part of Bentley – post) for use internationally, working with other partners providing mapping and other geospatial services (Bentley partner Microsoft, for example, has its own Azure Maps geospatial APIs).

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Lessons from the NBS summit – BIM: the client is key

The NBS Construction Leaders Summit suggested that new impetus is needed to drive digital adoption forward, with clients identified as key agents to push industry change.

NBS logoRecently (14 October 2020), I supported the second day of the NBS Construction Leadership Summit (post).* This online event was organised by the Newcastle, UK-based provider of specification information and related services, and gathered over 2,000 registrations. Prior commitments prevented me joining Day One (addressed by UK government minister, Nadhim Zahawi, building safety advocate Dame Judith Hackitt and Constructing Excellence co-chair Mark Farmer, among others). However, by all accounts, Day Two was equally interesting (all presentations were recorded and are now available via the NBS CLS2020 webpage)

In the Day Two opening #CLS2020 plenary session, attendees heard from speakers including Paul Morrell, the UK Government’s first chief construction adviser, and from architect, academic and former Autodesk vice-president Phil Bernstein. Morrell and Bernstein both spoke at a London conference in September 2010 where Morrell said the UK intended to set a mandate for use of BIM (AEC Magazine), and Morrell did much to drive initial UK adoption towards the mandate’s April 2016 deadline, work continued by his successor as chief construction advisor Peter Hansford.  As such it was interesting to hear both Morrell and Bernstein’s observations on the industry’s digital journey over the past decade.

The BIM and digital journey

Integrate you bastards!Morrell was perhaps hampered by a technical glitch that meant he could deliver his usual rapid-fire ‘stream of consciousness’ slide deck (many of which, though, are unchanged from the presentations he was giving 7-8 years ago). While the COVID-19 pandemic had altered some aspects of day-to-day working, Morrell said many of the fundamental blockers remain: ‘silo’-based working, for example. In pushing digital working, he had wanted to make it impossible not to be more digital, while admitting “Data is a jolt for everybody“. This makes it particularly challenging when the client/owner-operator needs to reuse that data: “If it’s not digital, it’s lost“. He talked about the need for bold and audacious goals (citing Kennedy and rockets to the moon), but when it comes to construction change: “Above all it’s about leadership – who is going to make this happen?

Morrell’s conference comments about the UK’s BIM progress were subsequently reported by Building magazine (BIM uptake stalling, former construction tsar warns). He said:

“We do need government to stay engaged, … using its buying power and facilitating conversations …. It’s faced up well to COVID. Let’s see it face up to this much bigger longer-term challenge.”

Phil BernsteinBernstein, right, described the industry’s journey from paper-based drawing to CAD to BIM (“digitally provocative, behaviourally interesting”) to a fourth mode, which he called “Integrated Digital Delivery“. The current reality of BIM, in his view, was characterised by “representational dispersion” with each stage of information only loosely connected, resulting in “lots of little BIMs“. He then talked briefly about digital twins – always contentious given the transatlantic differences that exist between US views and those in the UK influenced by the CDBB’s 2018 Gemini Principles (August 2019 EE post) – before musing on how architects might contribute to a more socially just society. “The pandemic has raised a lot of questions about health, safety and welfare for architects,” he said, while one lesson from the Grenfell fire disaster (echoing Morrell’s view about ‘lost’ data) was that “the line from design through to operation and use is not well understood“.

In the ensuring panel discussion, Morrell and Bernstein argued passionately about the need for construction clients and other industry leaders to be more demanding when it came to digital working. Morrell said the industry really needs to change the way it sells. “If clients want whole-life value, does construction actually sell a whole-life service?” “I used to think the problem was technological, but I increasingly think it’s cultural,” Bernstein said, adding “A lot of the desire for disruption has to come from the folks demanding the work.”

How do we make that change? Morrell repeated his views about leadership “We need to create an unstoppable demand for new ways of working…. What is the journey?” Bernstein said: “We need to shame people into doing the right thing.”

  • For AECTechTV (post), I recorded a piece about the #CLS2020 event, including an interview with NBS’s Richard Waterhouse about his highlights of the two days:

Modernising construction

The conference then divided into two streams; I followed the specifier/designer stream, which focused heavily on modern methods of construction (MMC) and housing, starting with a good overview from Willmott Dixon’s Tim Carey. He showed that UK Government interest in modernising the industry is nothing new – long before the Latham Report, Egan, or Mark Farmer’s “Modernise or Die”, the government established “The standardisation and new methods of construction committee” … in 1919!

Scarcity of labour, changing regulations and incentives, and industrialisation have created the perfect storm for construction, Carey said. Modular schemes in Croydon and Wembley have demonstrated the art of the possible; “It is also vital to quantitatively measure the outcomes of MMC adoption – but this is rarely done”. MMC can deliver better health and safety performance, fewer interfaces (through effective design for manufacture and assembly, DfMA), faster on-site assembly, and lower carbon intensity – but there are downsides too, Carey warned, citing immature supply chains in a industry still largely reliant upon traditional construction methodologies.

Carey was followed by Jade Lewis of the Sustainable Energy Association who was blunt about the policy pressures facing the UK residential sector. On top of climate change and NetZero targets, post-Grenfell compliance issues, the Future Homes Standard, and fuel poverty, “the UK has some of the worst housing stock in Europe.” She talked about the Transforming Construction programme and the shift towards ‘Smart Construction’, but also highlighted the public costs of poor housing: “Homes have a critical impact on our health and wellbeing, and cost the NHS £2.5bn per year.

Construction Innovation Hub logoGill Kelleher from the Construction Innovation Hub spoke about ‘Delivering quality in a digital design world’, highlighting the core themes of the hub’s work Value, Manufacturing, Assurance and Digital. Underlining points made earlier by Tim Carey, she said “Platform Construction systems can reduce cost, delivery time and lifetime carbon emissions.” She talked about the development of a “Digital Framework” underpinned by the next phase of BIM standards, and said an “Assurance Framework will provide confidence that products, materials and sub-assemblies meet performance and safety criteria.”

14 October 2020, incidentally, was also World Standards Day, and this session included an overview of the NBS platforms from Stephen Hamil (innovation director and head of BIM at NBS), underlining the connections between standards, classifications and specifications, so that designers and specifiers can work effectively with both standard requirements and manufacturers’ product information. He showed how the NBS Chorus system (September 2020 post) can be used to manage submittal reports, capture knowledge, and stay current on standards.

The Extranet Evolution view

This was a construction ‘summit’ that lived up to its name, providing some provocative presentations from industry movers and shakers. The ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were a recurring theme, and there was a strong sense of two primary effects. First, it has driven a step change in adoption of digital technologies to mitigate restrictions on travel, on office-based working, and on working in close proximity on construction sites. Second, it has provided a new focus for collaboration and for digital adoption to help industry overcome the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic.

The latest Construction Products Association economic forecast suggest UK construction output will fall 14% in 2020; its forecast of a 13% rise in 2021 is heavily dependent upon how the UK deals with a potential second national lockdown and a ‘No Deal’ Brexit: “Either would lead to a second dip in the UK economy and construction output.could be affected by new lockdowns over the winter and by Brexit issues.”

NBS Richard WaterhouseWith such uncertainty about the short-to-medium term, perhaps the focus should be on the bigger, long-term picture. NBS chief strategy officer Richard Waterhouse, right, told AECTechTV that the focus on building safety wasn’t just relevant to the UK – it is relevant to the whole world, citing both Grenfell and a more recent fire in South Korea. This is not a short-lived design or construction issue; having assurance that all aspects of the built environment around us has been safely built, operated and maintained should be a fundamental right to every citizen.

This will require not just a whole-life view of individual assets, but also a holistic, whole-life view of multiple connected assets. The national digital twin may be decades away, but BIM and wider digital transformation are vital foundations to its achievement. Perhaps a new digital mandate is needed to change the industry currently known as construction so that it is more conscious of its obligations to create and maintain a safer and more sustainable built environment in perpetuity.

[* Disclosure: As a paid consultant, I supported NBS efforts to promote and to share content from the NBS Construction Leadership Summit, working alongside Su Butcher – read her blog about the event – and others.]

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Visio Impulse: computer vision for construction

London-based Visio Impulse is applying computer vision techniques to help clients and project teams rapidly get insights from site imagery.

Visio Impulse logoIncorporated by Farhad Bazyari in London in June 2017 and launched in February 2018, Visio Impulse applies computer vision techniques to monitor construction and engineering projects. A graduate of Sheffield University, Bazyari completed a PhD in computer science in 2014. He has since been developing applications which can apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to imagery captured via laser-scanning and photogrammetry to assess the accuracy of works and for 3D progress monitoring.

The currently 7-strong company offers services in four main areas:

  • Maintenance – identify maintenance issues early and remotely
  • Project progress – update project plans and designs automatically as site conditions develop, ensure contractual obligations and timeframes are met, monitor costs and quantities and ensure quality standards and accuracy
  • As-built verification – automatically compare as-built drawings and on-site works to ensure accurate hand-over documents, reduce surveying costs and avoid future issues
  • Information retrieval – find the right information at the right time for improved project management processes

Petrochemical plant pilot project

Farhad BazyariThe technology was piloted on a major US petrochemical plant that was being constructed by Bechtel. The plant covered an area measuring 3km by 2km and during the two-year project, it was regularly surveyed by weekly aerial drone flights. As well as monitoring progress, Bazyari, right, said the imagery could also be used to validate whether what had been constructed corresponded to what had been designed. Where necessary, the site operator could then authorise any necessary rework and updates to the engineering documentation.

The project also involved some retrospective work, where Visio Impulse was used to check scans of early groundworks and then produce accurate as-built drawings. “These are vital for an operational petrochemical plant,” Bazyari said. “The operator needs full and accurate records, so that it can respond quickly if there is an accident or malfunction at the plant. The complex has an operational service life of 50 years.”

The project highlighted several issues of accuracy in the as-built drawings allowing the client to identify and remedy potentially critical documentation inconsistencies with the contractor. This should avoid potential accidents and interruptions in the future.

Visio Impulse – construction progress validation

While the technology has been proven on a sprawling and complex project, Bazyari says the techniques can just as easily be applied to more compact and conventional schemes such as building construction and infrastructure engineering projects. “Visual validation and verification of work on construction sites is not yet routine in construction,” he says. “But in recent years we have seen growing user of laser scanners and webcams – from ground-level surveys, from drones, and from crane-mounted cameras – to capture progress.”

Once images have been captured and imported, unsupervised Machine Learning automatically generates thousands of labels for faster and improved analysis. The platform’s information retrieval functionality then uses natural language processing to help construction and maintenance teams search for required information among large numbers of documents. By using natural and specific questions, finding the right answer is easier and less time=consuming.

The visualisations created by Visio Impulse can also be used as a ‘time machine’ to help project teams check the sequencing of construction and installation activities. And with BIM increasingly widely deployed, the platform also allows designers to superimpose design models over site captured imagery.

The business is looking to partner with other businesses offering complementary services – for example, drone companies looking to offer advanced computer vision capabilities, and project managers looking to provide new analysis and insight techniques to their owner-operator clients.

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Bentley Systems acquires PCSG

Bentley Systems’ Year In Infrastructure 2020 has started with news of an acquisition: PCSG, the UK-based consultancy chaired by former UK BIM Task Group head Mark Bew, has been bought by Bentley Systems.

Bentley logo 2017The Cohesive Companies, a digital integrator investment of the Acceleration Fund of Bentley Systems has acquired UK-based Professional Construction Strategies Group (PCSG) for an undisclosed amount.

PCSG logoFounded in 2000 by Katherine Bew, chaired by Mark Bew (who headed the UK Government-appointed BIM Task Group during the early 2010s), and headquartered in Croydon, PCSG has developed world-leading methodologies, talent, and experience in advising built-environment owners on going digital, and advancing BIM, GIS and infrastructure digital twins. As part of The Cohesive Companies, Bentley says the organization can dramatically grow its advisory scope (already at over 50 professionals), both in global scale and to reach all infrastructure sectors.

The Cohesive Companies

Bentley Acquisition FundBentley Acceleration Fund was founded in early 2020 to invest in new and incremental participants in open ecosystems to advance infrastructure digital twins. Headed by Santanu Das, it has backed several initiatives including: Virtuosity, The Cohesive Companies, CitiLabs, two UK businesses: Synchro (acquired in June 2018 – post) and GroupBC (acquired by Bentley in early 2020 – post), NoteVault (post), and most recently Norway’s offshire technology business FutureOn (Bentley news release).

Cohesive Companies logoBentley Acceleration Fund launched The Cohesive Companies, a wholly owned subsidiary, anchored by the acquisition of Atlanta-based Cohesive Solutions, in July 2020 (news release). The venture included the services team from Bentley’s AssetWise business and the offerings of Bentley, Cohesive, and IBM’s Maximo to support the digital transformation of infrastructure owner-operators.

Cohesive Solutions was the largest North American reseller of IBM’s Maximo enterprise asset management (EAM) software. With a successful track record of delivering integrated EAM solutions for owner-operators in utilities, energy, and facilities sectors, Cohesive Solutions’ domain expertise and consulting capabilities are being extended to advance EAM to infrastructure digital twins.

As digital integrators for infrastructure asset performance, The Cohesive Companies’ focus is on the convergence, through digital twin cloud services, of digital engineering models (ET), with IT and OT, for infrastructure and facilities assets. In July, Noah Eckhouse, SVP Bentley Systems, and CEO, The Cohesive Companies, said:

Noah Eckhouse - Bentley“Infrastructure asset owners know their success in going digital is based on both technology as well as experienced and dedicated resources for change management. I’m excited to fully meet the opportunity for asset performance digital twins with Bentley Acceleration Fund’s substantial commitment to this digital integrator venture. Building on Cohesive Solutions’ 25-year history while launching Cohesive Asset Performance with a large team of seasoned Bentley AssetWise consultants, The Cohesive Companies have hit the ground running, ready to drive change and deliver positive outcomes!”

PCSG deal

The deal has been announced at the start of Bentley Systems’ annual Year in Infrastructure event. In the news release, Greg Bentley, Bentley Systems’ CEO, right, said

“Mark Bew’s visionary thinking about the potential of BIM advancement through digital twins has spearheaded the UK’s world leadership in digital ambitions for infrastructure, and has also inspired us at Bentley Systems. We recognize that owner-operators need advisory services to guide their transformations to digital workflows – and that all of us in their ecosystem benefit from expert consultancy services propagating best practices in digital twin adoption.

“Accordingly, we’re determined to catalyze the market development of digital integrators through our Cohesive portfolio developments. As so many sector-leading infrastructure owners have strongly endorsed the PCSG team and their results, the opportunity for Cohesive to join forces with Mark and Katherine Bew to globalize their work is fortuitous.”

Eckhouse said:

“We are pleased to welcome Mark and Katherine and the entire PCSG team into The Cohesive Companies. Our sole mission as an autonomous digital integrator consultancy is to support owner-operators and their supply chains in going digital, contributing to great outcomes for our clients independent of their investment choices among technology vendors. From iTwins to Maximo, from cloud to mobile, this leverages our uniquely cohesive digital twin expertise, beyond resourceful technology implementation, in change management, business process redesign, and – now expanded through PCSG’s leading advisory services – strategy consulting.”

Mark Bew MBE, chairman of PCSG, right, said:

Mark Bew“Katherine and I are delighted to be joining The Cohesive Companies. Deepening what we can offer to existing clients, while at the same time broadening our scope through this comprehensively global organization, is a very exciting opportunity for us, our clients and our partners.

“Our vision is one of infinitely smarter futures where a digitally engineered built environment supports the delivery of infinitely better social, environmental and financial outcomes. I particularly want to thank our world-class PCSG team and our farsighted clients for enabling and embracing this tremendous opportunity to accelerate the realization of this vision.”

The Extranet Evolution view

Update (4pm BST) – It has plainly been a busy year for Bentley Systems. Like just about every other business, it has had to adapt to the new realities of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. It expanded the availability of ProjectWise 365 to smaller businesses (announced at YII 2019 – post), and earlier this year it temporarily waived subscription fees so that infrastructure project participants working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic could continue to connect (post).

Simultaneously, it has been planning to become a publicly listed company, successfully floating on NASDAQ last month (post – CEO Greg Bentley was unable to comment further on financial issues due to reporting constraints following that IPO). Seemingly part of a financial and corporate reorganisation ahead of that flotation, the group has restructured to manage its acquisitions and investments through the Bentley Acceleration Fund.

And Bentley has also appointed some board-level heavy-hitters (news release). Nicholas Cumins, formerly general manager of SAP Marketing Cloud, succeeds the now-retired Bhupinder Singh as chief product officer. After two decades at Autodesk, Katriona Lord-Levins is now Bentley’s chief success officer. And another Autodesk veteran, Chris Bradshaw, after 26 years (1991-2017) with Bentley’s major competitor including a spell as chief marketing officer, has joined Bentley in the same role.

2020 has already seen a series of significant acquisitions, including that of the UK-based GroupBC in March. This latest deal will potentially strengthen Bentley’s UK base and also existing connections between PCSG and GroupBC which date back to Mark Bew’s leading roles with GroupBC customer organisations. Bew was business systems director with UK contractor Costain in the early 2000s, for example; Costain’s collaboration platform iCOSnet was built on Business Collaborator, and has helped the company win work with clients including Highways England. After GroupBC’s management successfully concluded a management buy-out from Unit4 in November 2014 (post), PCSG was one of the company’s strategic partners, helping develop – with Ordnance Survey – an innovative GIS-based platform called GeoConnect+. This was showcased at GroupBC’s 2017 user conference (post), at which Mark Bew’s long-standing PCSG colleague Adrian Burgess also presented.

Update (1 December 2020): Cohesive acquires UK’s SRO

Bentley’ Cohesive Companies has announced the acquisition of Manchester, UK-based SRO Solutions , a provider of IBM’s Maximo to marine and industrial infrastructure providers. Noah Eckhouse, CEO of The Cohesive Companies said:

“Our goal, as an autonomous digital integrator consultancy, is to support global owner-operators and their assets literally everywhere in going digital. Incorporating SRO’s comprehensive product and service offerings, and their uniquely deep experience in maintaining safety and regulatory compliance in challenging and low/no-bandwidth environments, will help our emerging digital twin offerings to reach the full extent of maritime and industrial assets.”

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Prin-D: a CDE for CDM

Prin-D targets firms acting as Principal Designer under the UK’s Construction Design and Management (CDM) health and safety regulations.

Via a blog post by Imanuel Steele on the IET website (Tackling record-keeping challenges in the construction industry with technology), I learned about Prin-D, a Manchester, UK-based startup established in 2017 that has developed a ‘CDM2015 digital compliance platform’.

Prin-D: a CDE for CDM

It is described as “a client-led Common Data Environment (CDE) which assures compliance with Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations throughout an asset lifecycle.” The solution enables the management of health and safety documentation as a built asset progresses through the design, construction, occupation, and refurbishment phases of its lifecycle.

The UK’s Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations were updated in 2015 to introduce the role of the Principal Designer as a new CDM duty-holder.  The Principal Designer is legally appointed to manage health and safety risks and compliance with the CDM regulations. And new responsibilities may follow – the current post-Grenfell “Building a Safer Future” (BSF) review may lead to changes, some potentially relating to “The Golden Thread of Building Information”.

“A technology built for the role of Principal Designer”

Steele, formerly a project manager at Mace Group, identified that 40% of architectural practices are not offering Principal Designer CDM services. In his view, this was partly due to a lack of understanding about the role, but also the absence of tools or standard methodologies to support the role. He argues:

“What is needed is a technology built for the role of Principal Designer.  This system should provide a template for any competent designer to provide the role of Principal Designer on their projects through guided processes.  An extremely useful feature would be to give project members the information they need and prompt them to provide information in the correct format.  This tool would then act as a single location where documents can be stored, viewed, signed off, and recovered by anyone who needs them.”

Prin-D graphicThe Prin-D platform was developed to meet this need, guiding everyone in a project team to the documents and information they need to perform their role under CDM while storing the information securely and with permission access. “The platform has the ability to verify document versions, individual competencies, and signatures many years after a project is completed through the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), better known as Blockchain.”

An Extranet Evolution view

This is not the first solution to tackle such a requirement. Back in the early 2000s, BIW Technologies (later Conject and now part of Aconex)* developed functionality to manage progressive production of the project health and safety file and all its constituent parts. Previously, compilation of this resource tended to be assembled retrospectively as a laborious, paper-intensive end-of-project chore. However, by enabling relevant documents to be electronically ‘tagged’ as elements of the file as they were shared during design and construction, much of the finished file (now a digital deliverable) would be ready as completion and handover approached. While they may not offer a block-chain enabled audit facility, most of the UK-active project extranet/CDE vendors (eg: Asite, GroupBC, Viewpoint, etc) today offer a similar functionality.

Extranet Evolution has also covered various other vendors also working on health and safety-related point solutions:

  • In 2011, for example, UK-based Darley PCM launched a CDM health and safety documentation service; the company has since rebranded as HASpod, and in 2017 it launched hasTalk, a health and safety training toolset.
  • In 2014, EE talked to HandS HQ, a London-based startup that aimed to streamline subcontractors’ completion of risk assessment/method statement (RAMS) documentation.
  • London-based CreateMaster‘s O&M platform also manages Health & Safety Files (October 2016).
  • Finland-based Congrid entered the UK market with a mobile quality and safety measurement app in May 2019.
  • EE has also covered overseas vendors offering health and safety functionality, including Australia’s WiseWorking (August 2018), HammerTech (April 2019), and SafetyCulture (July 2019), and Singapore’s Novade (May 2020).

(* Disclosure: Paul Wilkinson worked for BIW Technologies from 2000 to 2009.)

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Plan early with Plannerly

The California-based Plannerly SaaS platform provides a ‘virtual BIM expert’ to help teams create and deliver leaner, smarter BIM processes and outcomes.

Plannerly-The-BIM-Management-Platform-LogoWhile based in California, BIM management SaaS software provider Plannerly has some strong UK connections, having been started by some of the ex-Graphisoft people who founded Vico Software in Woking, Surrey in the late-2000s (2007 post). Vico was acquired by US giant Trimble in November 2012, as Trimble expanded its software portfolio to cover more of the design-build-operate cycle coverage of its portfolio. Trimble created a ‘Trimble Buildings’ offering, contrasting its ‘open BIM’ approach with the proprietary offerings of competing solutions from Autodesk, Bentley and others (post).

LOD Planner

Clive Jordan - PlannerlyExtranet Evolution talked to Plannerly co-founder Clive Jordan about his latest business, which was previously known as LOD Planner.

In a BIM context, LOD stands variously for ‘level of detail’ or ‘level of development’. In 2013, the American Institute of Architects published a ‘Level of Development’ framework, with levels defined on a progressive scale. This ranges from LOD 100, symbolic representation of model elements (the ‘concept’ stage in UK parlance), through to LOD 500, field-verified representations of model elements (‘as built’). However, ‘LOD Planner’ was, Jordan said, not particularly helpful branding; it was jargon focused on a problem – defining levels of development – not on delivering a successful business outcome.

With co-founder David Porter, and with inputs from former Vico colleague Olli Seppänen (now an advisor to the business, and an academic in Finland), Jordan considered other brand-names. Some of these incorporated ‘BIM’, but – again – they felt they might lack longevity, particularly if BIM simply became digital business-as-usual. They identified that their core strengths were in managing content and supporting workflows as teams develop live projects. “However, it all starts with having  a plan, ideally as early as possible,” Jordan said, “so we decided to brand the business Plannerly – ‘plan early’.” The newly branded platform was launched in November 2019 (news release).

Plannerly modules

Plannerly Project DashboardPlannerly (dashboard right) essentially comprises five modules that support its ‘sweetspot’: BIM implementation in compliance with ISO 19650, its various national supporting annexes and guidance, and other international standards, classification systems, object libraries, etc. The interface is currently provided in 20 different languages (a single project might have users spread across multiple countries, but each user can tailor the interface to their local needs). Users can also import their own templates of the various elements, building a powerful resource for efficient planning and collaboration aligned with users’ corporate needs. “We try to make it super easy to start, with easy drag-and-drop tools to help people assemble their plans, schedules and other deliverables.”

“A guiding  principle is that every piece of information has a customer, and someone tasked with putting that information in place,” Jordan continues. “Plannerly provides a lean, smart tool to manage those information transactions and workflows.

  • Plannerly Verify ModulePlan simplifies the development of BIM execution plans and contracts.
  • Scope provides a visual and collaborative framework to define geometry, documentation and information requirements.
  • Schedule enables teams to collaboratively build a timeline for their BIM process delivery.
  • Track deploys a ‘lean’ approach to project management using Kanban boards to monitor progress on key tasks.
  • Verify (right) simplifies BIM compliance, connecting models and the client’s asset and information requirements.

Users can start with a single module and then add others as they need them. Plannerly’s pricing is flexible – users can get started with a single project (from US$39 per calendar month), however the most popular option are its Company plans with BIM 360 add-on and the customer’s logo and colours.


Customers include architects and contractors but also airport operators, universities, and retail chains. “We are attracting owner-operators who appreciate BIM, and who have a long-term interest in information management,” Jordan says. “Our platform can also be integrated with common data environment solutions deployed on their projects. We are taking an extremely neutral position and have no ambition to become a CDE provider. Plannerly can, for example, share information to and from Autodesk’s BIM 360.” (Discussions are under way with other CDE providers.) Similarly, Plannerly is not competing with model checking and validation applications such as Solibri, but looking to integrate with various tools.

Jordan sums up: “Plannerly is both a tool and a process. We provide that virtual BIM expert who can look over your shoulder and keep you on track“.

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AECTechTV reaches milestone

AECTech TV, the video contech news magazine launched by “Extranet Evolution” and “AEC Business” on 4 September 2020, now has over 100 YouTube subscribers.

AECTechTV 102 subscribersThey are modest milestones and it’s very early days, but AECTech TV, the video contech news magazine announced in late August (Covering the contech space: AECTech.TV) and launched on 4 September 2020 (AEC Tech TV goes live), has reached almost 1000 views. Its first 200 minutes of programming has already prompted over 100 YouTube subscribers.

I co-produce and co-present the weekly news show with Helsinki, Finland-based friend and fellow blogger and construction digital evangelist Aarni Heiskanen. And in a busy digital space where podcasts and other digital offerings are mushrooming rapidly, it seems our niche focus has begun to secure a small but growing online following.

AECTechTV: Five episodes and counting …

Five episodes have been produced to date, each between 30 and 45 minutes, and we have been testing different formats. After experimenting with some in-depth news stories (both self-produced and developed with contributor partners), we then tried being a bit more ‘newsy’. Presenting some quick-fire digests of topical news and event updates seems to be working (both for us and for viewers). Our latest shows have each had around 10 items. Some are short pieces about forthcoming events; some review recent product launches, or other news about digital construction. Some expand on material Aarni and I have produced for our respective blogs; others are entirely bespoke for AECTech TV. Content has included:

Coming soon: AECTechTV content and season sponsorship options

AECTechTV is far from perfectly polished. We are producing this during a global pandemic, with all the constraints this imposes on both us as producers and presenters, and on our contributors. We are learning about the limitations of some hardware, software, file-sharing platforms and social media (while also continuing to work on our respective ‘day job’ projects). And we are also looking at ways to fund the project. Aarni obtained funding for the production of the initial four episodes, but we are now considering various sponsorship and paid-for production package options to help fund the continued costs.

Of course, the show would not be possible without the ideas, the time spared for interviews, and the additional content shared by our guest contributors, so we plan to produce a mix of editorially-curated and sponsored items. The editorial items will reflect our view of what’s newsworthy; we will talk to the people and organisations concerned and present their views as part of our own analyses. We are also in selective discussions with potential partners about sponsored co-produced packages that might be included in AECTechTV.

If you would like to be featured in AECTechTV or are interested in a sponsored co-produced item, please email

AECTechTV – Episode 3

AECTechTV – Episode 4

AECTechTV – Episode 5

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The NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit

In a busy month for events, NBS’s October 2020 Construction Leaders’ Summit has a stellar roster of keynote and supporting speakers.

NBS logoNBS is one of the UK’s leading construction information services businesses, capturing information from construction product manufacturers for use by designers and specifiers, and also managing the Uniclass classification system. It has also monitored the expanding use of building information modelling (BIM) through an annual survey (2018 post; the 10th edition of the survey was completed earlier this year), has surveyed AEC technology adoption trends, including those for ‘extranets’ or ‘CDEs’ (Feb 2019 post), and is pushing to put its data and cloud-based tools at the heart of digital transformation (2 Sep 2020NBS Chorus, Uniclass and CDEs).

Construction Leaders’ Summit

On 13 and 14 October 2020, NBS is hosting a Construction Leaders’ Summit – and this is perhaps a conference that (in contrast to some others) genuinely justifies the use of the word ‘Summit’. It has a stellar roster of keynote and supporting speakers, including a UK government minister, a former chief construction advisor, major figures involved in the modernisation and digitisation of the construction industry, and an eminent architect who once led Autodesk’s BIM developments:

  • Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry, will talk about construction and political change, and how it will influence future policy.
  • Dame Judith Hackitt will cover the Draft Building Safety Bill, the upcoming regulatory changes, including the much discussed ‘Golden Thread of building information’, and discuss the impact they will have on the industry.
  • A decade ago, Paul Morrell was appointed the UK Government’s first Chief Construction Adviser with a brief to champion a more coordinated approach to affordable, sustainable construction (Nov 2009: An open letter to the new Chief Construction Adviser), and he did much to kickstart the UK BIM revolution from 2011 onwards
  • Mark FarmerMark Farmer, right, conducted the 2016 Farmer Review, an independent government review of the UK’s construction labour model entitled ‘Modernise or Die’. Also a co-chair of Constructing Excellence, in 2019 he was appointed as the government’s champion for Modern Methods of Construction in house-building.
  • Architect Phil Bernstein is also a technologist and educator. Formerly Vice President at Autodesk, he set the company’s future vision and strategy for BIM technology.

Countering pandemic and recession

NBS says:

“The double-whammy of a pandemic and a recession has made 2020 one of the most challenging and disrupted years in living memory. But the bright spot, in an otherwise battered economy, is construction, which forms a major part of the UK government’s “Build Back Better” campaign. In July, Britain’s construction industry grew at its fastest rate in almost five years, as business picked up after the coronavirus-related shutdown. However, existing challenges persist as the sector re-establishes itself, stymying progress, particularly digital adoption, or lack of. While COVID-19 has quickened the pace of technological uptake and integration in a host of industries, UK construction still lags behind the curve. A move to digital transformation, driven by legislation and a new focus on safety, will become key priorities in a post-pandemic world if the industry wants to keep up pace with the changed business landscape.”

For those looking for discipline-specific sessions, the second day will be split into two streams, one for specifiers and the other for manufacturers – but both looking at the future of the industry.

NBS Richard WaterhouseRichard Waterhouse, NBS’s chief strategy officer says:

“There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has quickened the pace of digital adoption. Currently, the construction industry lags behind the technological curve and large pockets of the sector are playing catch-up. While there are many players taking full advantage of the benefits of digital, there’s still some way to go. We wanted to curate an event which brings together the latest thinking and brightest and best minds to look at the construction ecosystem and the opportunities technology offers to build a better world.”

Taking place on the mornings (9.00 am to 1.00 pm BST) of 13 and 14 OCtober), the Construction Leaders’ Summit is online and free to attend. To register and for more details – click here.

Construction Leaders' Summit

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Making data standards more discoverable

Finding the right information in the right format at the right time heightens the need for data standards, says a recent report from the UK’s RED Foundation.

With the explosion in creation of data and the resulting challenges this poses for finding the right information in the right format at the right time, two recent UK reports have highlighted the need to improve discoverability.

The first was the CKTG’s metadata standard for discoverable construction knowledge, published in August 2020 (see Standardising discoverable construction knowledge). The latest is a report from the UK-based Real Estate Data Foundation, which explores the role of standards in the flow of data across real estate, and explores some of the standards available in the UK today, including a good many that are also internationally used.

RED Foundation

RED Foundation logoThe RED Foundation is an initiative set up to ensure the real estate sector benefits from an increased use of data, avoids some of the risks that this presents and is better placed to serve society. It looks to connect people, projects and initiatives around the topic of data in the built environment, and to raise the sector’s engagement with the ethical challenges that the use of data can present. Another foundation project is looking at compiling a directory of UK public data relating to real estate.

The foundation is supported by supported by the British Property Federation, Geovation, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institute of Residential Property Management, RICS, the Property Ombudsman, the University College of Estate Management and the UK PropTech Association. (In August 2020, the IET published a report on data – read: Engineers seek ‘Good data for the public good’.)

The report, The role of standards in enabling a data driven UK real estate market (downloadable here), was funded by the UCEM Harold Samuel Research Prize and produced by Dan Hughes of Alpha Property Insight.

The role of data standards

The report argues that in an increasingly digital and data-driven world, how the built environment adapts will be key for its success. The sector is seeing exponential growth in the data that is available, and greater emphasis on outcomes and on lifecycle views of decisions. The paper helps set the scene for a sector-wide discussion on what is available, what is needed and what people may need to do.

Hughes undertook a high-level review of what standards (interpreted in the broadest sense of the word) are available in the UK and which have an influence over creation, management or use of data. The report provides a visualisation of the many well-established standards, but highlights that they often tend to be focused on either a specific stage of the building lifecycle or job function. It argues: “As data is increasingly needed to inform decisions beyond the building stage or job function within which it was created, standards will need to facilitate data increasingly being used by an ever-wider variety of people.”

RED Foundation report data standards visualisation

The report also identified that awareness of all the standards available in the market was not high beyond the sector to which they were originally applied. This means that adoption and wider use of data is limited., and also leads to some overlapping or similar standards being created in isolation.

Headline findings

RED Foundation data standards report coverBeyond the flow of data, there are other challenges that the sector faces such as the discoverability of the standards available, and clarity about who is responsible for what. The report wonders how do we make sure that the flow of data works when the application of standards for collecting, managing and using data is often by very different parties.

The six key headlines from the report are summarised:

  1. Real estate has a well-established and robust set of standards about the creation, management and use of data.
  2. This often leads to an increased quality of data available in the sector.
  3. To truly realise the benefits of data in the future, data must be able to flow freely across the whole
    sector beyond the existing silos; standards have a key role to play in this.
  4. Existing standards need to be more valued and more easily discoverable to ensure wider adoption and to avoid reinventing wheels.
  5. The value and cost of standards and data needs to be recognised fairly, especially when the value might be recognised by a different party other than the one incurring the cost.
  6. It will become increasingly complex for a professional of the future to be able to have clarity or take responsibility for the data that they use and the standards that influence this data.

Next steps

The report recommends future steps in four areas:

  • Improve discoverability – industry and standard setting bodies should work together to improve the discoverability of standards relating to the creation, management and use of data. This should cover all aspects of the real estate sector.
  • Increase connectivity – standard setting bodies should explore ways of improving the connections between standards. For example, this might include a small number of agreed elements or items that are common to all standards moving forward.
  • Understand value – industry bodies and standard setting bodies should carry out a campaign to raise awareness of the value of standards across the real estate sector. This should include highlighting the cost of maintaining standards and governance.
  • The role of people – the whole real estate sector must come together to clarify the role of people in the use of standards. As the volume and variety of data used increases, who is responsible for ensuring that standards are applied correctly must be considered.

As well as the report, the RED Foundation has also published a spreadsheet of the data assembled during the report’s preparation (download here).

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Former ‘Facebook for Construction’, FieldLens closing

FieldLens, the New York City-based mobile construction management technology provider, acquired by WeWork in June 2017, is set to shut down.

Fieldlens logoFieldLens, the New York City-based mobile construction management technology provider once dubbed the “Facebook of Construction” is said to be closing down. The business largely disappeared after being acquired by WeWork in June 2017 (FieldLens acquired by WeWork), and Yves Frinault of San Francisco-based rival FieldWire has talked about FieldLens’ closure on social media, saying:
Fieldwire logo

“I am pretty bummed about Fieldlens’ closure. It often takes multiple companies to change an industry and in our quest to improve the lives of craftspeople in the field, they were definitely a worthy competitor.”

Meanwhile, the FieldWire blog also invites former FieldLens users to explore its products (Why Fieldwire is the Best Fieldlens Alternative).

FieldLens backstory

FieldLensFieldLens was founded by Doug Chambers and Matt Sena in 2011 and launched the Beta service of its mobile construction collaboration service – once dubbed the “Facebook of Construction” – in late 2013. It was one of a handful of vendors who looked to change from the industry norm of email-type communication processes to mobile-friendly short-form status updates and messaging feeds (Should construction dump email?). Fieldlens formally launched in March 2014, and two months later closed an US$8m funding round.

When it was acquired by WeWork, the property business was looking for a toolset that it could deploy to support its stream of new office fit-outs. WeWork was then opening 5 to 10 locations every month. It was becoming one of the world’s largest consumers of design and construction services, and recognised the importance of information in efficient building processes. Chambers said FieldLens would also be offered as “a stand-alone construction communication product”. But it was no longer marketed as overtly as before, and began to fall from view.

WeWork logoWeWork downsize and sell-off

Since 2017, WeWork – once a £47 billion unicorn – has faced some major challenges. It filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in August 2019, then cut its valuation down to as low as $10 billion. It removed the flamboyant Adam Neumann as CEO, and then delayed the IPO indefinitely while also planning to layoff up to 6,000 employees – about 30% to 50% of its workforce (Forbes). Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and 100s of once-busy WeWork co-working spaces became ghost towns, barely occupied by the startups and SMEs that were once its lucrative lifeblood.

As well as cutting staff, it appears the business has also been offloading some of its proptech and other acquisitions, sometimes at huge discounts to their purchase prices. MeetUp was sold to a venture capital firm, and (according to the Real Estate Daily Beat) the “Selling spree of failed acquisitions continues: Managed by Q, Flatiron School, Unomy, Spacemob, Fieldlens, and Welkio –the list goes on and on“. However, without the energy and commitment of its founders, starved of marketing, and with many property project sites idle, it seems keeping the FieldLens business alive has proved impossible.

(Thanks to Asite CEO Nathan Doughty for the tip-off; the Asite NYC office was 11 blocks from FieldLens’ office.)

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