AEC reliance on email remains high, Mail Manager research shows

Despite adoption of online collaboration platforms, continued parallel use of email can cause problems for projects if a dispute arises, says Mail Manager

Over two decades ago, the first Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platforms were launched, holding out the promises of a “paperless office”, “access anywhere anytime and on any device”, and “a single source of the truth”. In 2020, none of these have been completely delivered. For now, we often simply have less paper, access so long as the telecomms hold up and information is in the right format, and an ecosystem of multiple potential sources of truth.

In 2000, when I started working for BIW Technologies (later Conject, now subsumed into Oracle following completion of its acquisition of Aconex in 2018), the transition from traditional paper-based correspondence to email was well under way. Many architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) users were increasingly comfortable using electronic communication systems – particularly when these systems were largely dependent on hardware that was physically hosted in their offices or in a corporate data centre.

Entrusting communications to “the cloud” was another matter, however. As a result, even where centralised web-based systems are established to host construction documents, drawings, photographs and forms, many users will circumvent the systems and communicate via email. In February 2006, I wrote my first “email argument” post (followed by others in 2007 and in 2009). By this time, AEC SaaS vendors were building strong integrations between their collaboration platforms and email tools such as Microsoft Outlook. But, even today, over 20 years after the first extranet adoptions, the first instinct of many construction professionals is to use email as their communication platform for project-related correspondence. And many mobile solutions also push email notifications by default.

Mail Manager graphic

 

Mail Manager

Mail Manager logoIt is hardly surprising, therefore, that applications have been created to manage project-related emails. The appeal, for example, of Newforma to many AEC businesses was that it sat inside their firewall and had a plug-in to Microsoft Outlook that allowed emails to be quickly saved with their respective projects (July 2007 post). The same could be said for intranets and for other tools that were tightly integrated with Microsoft Office and/or its Sharepoint solution (for instance, Cadac Organice – October 2011 post). International construction consultancy Arup has also worked in this field, developing a tool called Mail Manager. Today around 70,000 people across some 2,000 companies deploy the UK-based solution.

Earlier this year (April 2020), Mail Manager published a report (news) highlighting the construction sector’s continued reliance on email (based on a survey of 450 users in AEC firms across the US [33%], UK [47%], APAC and South Africa). It also looked at what happens when a project goes wrong and firms need to retrieve information relating to their projects.

UK-BIM-Framework-guidance-2

It is sobering reading for those thinking that most interactions might be in their collaboration platform aka extranet or in a common data environment (CDE) system. However, Mail Manager might well form part of a CDE: the latest UK guidance on the ISO 19650-2 BIM process says: “the CDE is a combination of technical solutions and process workflows” (p.28). It continues:

“… many solutions exist to deal with different types of project information. There may, for example, be document management tools for design files, contract management tools that manage commercial information, email management tools for correspondences and mobile based tools for site quality data. Each solution may have multiple and different workflows ensuring that information is carefully planned, shared, stored, managed and retrieved and that it is timely, correct, complete, and consistent.” (emphasis added)

According to Mail Manager’s survey, email is still, despite the predictions of its downfall, the letter of today when it comes to projects. Indeed, 55% of respondents reveal over 80% of their project correspondence is via email, while a further 24% answered 71-80% of their project correspondence is via email. Additionally, 88% of respondents are concerned about project information not being readily available, and not being visible. That’s particularly worrying given 99% have had to retrieve emails from a past project.

Survey findings

  • The ability to retrieve information 
    • 1 in 5 (18%) respondents ‘need to reproduce information’ when chasing payments
    • 1 in 5 respondents say scope disagreements are the biggest problem they face
  • Where is your evidence of the things that you’ve agreed to on a project?
    • In a legal dispute, half of the respondents (48%) need to retrieve correspondence relating to scope/agreements on the project, and a further 23% need to retrieve contracts
    • The AEC industries are good at documenting information, but not retrieving it. 0% say their information is not documented
  • The day file of years gone by is not anymore. It all lies in email
    • Email is king. 50% of respondents say the majority of information relating to scope changes reside in email
  • Businesses are concerned about their ability to find project information
    • Only 1 in 10 respondents are confident and comfortable with finding project information
  • Retrieval of project information key
    • 99% of respondents have had to retrieve emails from a past project
    • 60% of respondents have had to retrieve emails regularly from a past project
  • Businesses are looking more at how to make them more efficient and productive
    • Despite the buzz around Digital Twins, BIM and cybersecurity, 1 in 5 respondents (19%) list streamlining processes as their key initiative, while 14% are focusing on cloud adoption

Online data capture

Issues about accessing the audit trail of a project in the event of a dispute were recently highlighted by claims consultant HKA (read 2 June 2020 Construction Enquirer article “Contractors face data danger fighting covid contract disputes“). With construction businesses starting to make staff redundant due to uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the consultant warned contractors to protect project data or risk vital information walking out the door with redundant staff. HKA director Lori Noeth said:

“Dealing with claims is a lot more difficult where project staff are no longer available, and their collective knowledge is lost. Information needs to be carefully collated now prior to the departure of key staff so their project knowledge is captured in records rather than just committed to memory.”

Loeth recommends documenting everything electronically and using indexing software to make searches easier. She said: “Contractors need to keep a tight hold on their project data to give themselves the best chance of success with future claims.”

Finalcad: “digitalisation has been patchy to date”

finalcad logo 2020Update (26 June 2020) – French SaaS technology firm FinalCAD undertook similar, but more international, research looking at construction work practices in France, Spain, Singapore and Japan. Its survey (report here) found email was the most common tool used for assigning work, for documenting safety issues or incidents, and for sharing information about those issues with colleagues. Purpose-developed software tools tended to be used less often by the survey’s 400 respondents. According to FinalCAD, this lack of digitalisation “means that essential tasks … are inefficient and inaccurate [and] is compounding the problem of low margins in the industry.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/aec-reliance-email-remains-high-mail-manager-research/

Bentley acquires NoteVault

Bentley Systems has acquired US-based NoteVault, a provider of voice-based field automation for construction management.

Bentley logo 2017Bentley Systems‘ latest acquisition (announced on 3 June 2020 – no value given) is NoteVault, a San Diego, California-based provider of voice-based field automation for construction management. According to Bentley:

“the acquisition expands Bentley’s SYNCHRO digital construction environment with industry-leading mobile field applications to track and manage labor, materials, and equipment.

“Together, these comprehensive offerings further extend the value of digital twins across construction management, enabling projects to combine immersive 4D models of the construction progress with detailed up-to-date reports on resource expenditures, enabling more effective management of cost, schedule, and risk, leading to better project outcomes.”

Notevault

NoteVault system integrationNoteVault was profiled in Extranet Evolution in October 2014. It reduces the need for hand-written notes often compiled from memory. Time and date-stamped daily reports (effectively, site diary entries) can be rapidly created by voice, text, email, app (iOS and Android) or Evernote, and securely stored in NoteVault. They could then be viewed online, issued as alerts or notifications, or published as PDF reports with searchable data. Integrations then enabled data to be shared with solutions including CMiC, Trimble’s Prolog, Viewpoint, Spectrum and Autodesk’s Constructware. PDFs could also be filed to Box or Sharepoint locations.

Today NoteVault is used widely by both large and small construction companies across the ENR Top 400 Contractors. It offers natural language automated speech-to-text, augmented with automated machine learning, and human transcription to ensure accuracy.

Because it has been engineered specifically for construction site mobile field reporting, NoteVault recognises construction-specific language for accurate transcription, and enables automated translation so non-native English speakers can submit daily reports more easily using their native language.

SYNCHRO integration

With NoteVault on their mobile devices, construction professionals can help synchronize status reporting effortlessly while saving time and money, reducing the risk of contractual disputes. Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s vice president, project delivery, says:

Dustin Parkman - Bentley“Digital twins continue to transform the way projects are delivered and operated. Inherent in every digital twin is a stream of continuously updated data, and for construction, automating the semantic interpretation of field reports can now be one of the richest sources of live project information. With the addition of NoteVault’s market-leading resource tracking capabilities, the SYNCHRO 4D construction environment delivers the most comprehensive construction digital twin solution available. We are excited to continue advancing the scope of construction digital twins.”

Peter Lasensky, CEO of NoteVault, says:
NoteVault logo

“Bentley’s vision for transforming construction through digital twins is the perfect vehicle to expand the reach and impact of our innovative voice-based field automation solutions. Updating 4D construction models through insights gleaned from our software for field-captured reporting fully extends the power of voice and positioning technologies together. Combining NoteVault and SYNCHRO is a natural next step in our overall mission, with Bentley, to drive greater efficiencies in construction.”


YII2020 image

Bentley’s YII2020 goes digital

Bentley Systems has announced (9 June 2020) that its annual technology conference, Year in Infrastructure, is going digital for 2020. The global COVID-19 pandemic has plainly meant the event was unsustainable in its traditional face-to-face format.

Originally set to be hosted in Vancouver, Canada, during the week starting Monday 12 October, it has now been moved online on 20-21 October. The awards programme (where I have been a judge in previous years) will now see finalist presentations online from 5 October through to 16 October. Awards winners’ presentations will be from 12.30pm EDT on Wednesday 21 October.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/bentley-acquires-notevault/

Envision renamed E7

Envision-E7Envision has rebranded as E7.

The Brisbane, Australia-based, mobile-first Software-as-a-Service construction management solution provider (first profiled in Extranet Evolution in May 2011, with an update – Envision: building construction transparency – in April 2019) says the old name was not perfect for all markets in which it operated. “As we secure more and more projects across the globe, we have decided to change from Envision to E7 to make our name more accessible and universal across borders and languages.”

An email from CEO Hugh Hofmeister explains:

“E7 is distilled from Envision (E and the seven letters that follow), in a deliberate design cue reflecting our decade-long tradition of supporting major resource, energy, and infrastructure projects. This change will apply to our organisation, Ennova Consulting Pty Ltd, and our software application, Envision. Our new company name in Australia is E7 Pty Ltd. … Our new logo is inspired by our focus on the capture and analysis of data from projects.”

Hofmeister says the rebrand will be rolled out to the company website and to its mobile applications in the coming weeks.

(For Londoners, E7 is also a postal district in east London, covering the Forest Gate district.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/06/envision-renamed-e7/

GoReport/RICS survey highlights data privacy concerns

A GoReport/RICS proptech survey found industry respondents widely recognise digitisation opportunities, but adoption speeds vary, with privacy and ethical use of data seen as the biggest challenge to wider adoption.

GoReport logo 2018A proptech survey carried out by Belfast-based mobile survey technology vendor GoReport has found that industry respondents widely recognise digitisation opportunities, but adoption speeds vary.

The survey (conducted in partnership with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and The Survey Association) gathered responses from 476 people, 95% of whom were based in the UK and Ireland, 75%  of whom were RICS members (65% of them being building surveyors). Just over two-thirds (68%) said they were users of proptech (quite widely “defined as all aspects of innovation and how this impacts the built environment… software, hardware, materials or manufacturing”)

Variable proptech adoption

The survey showed almost universal (98%) recognition of the digitisation opportunity, but adoption of proptech varied. Ranking themselves on a 10-point scale, 20%  were at 1 (no adoption); a further 36% ranked themselves from 2 to 5; 4% ranked said they had fully adopted proptech. Just over half (53% had a digital strategy) – about the same number (52%) as said they had a good understanding of proptech; 39% of organisations had not invested heavily in proptech or relevant training, but 48% felt they had the necessary skills and expertise to fully embrace proptech.

Lack of training/knowledge topped the list of challenges to adoption of proptech. However, content with traditional methods (39%) and fear of change (33%) both figured, alongside usual industry concerns about time and costs and about the return-on-investment and potential benefits.

PropTech barriers (source: GoReport)

Asked about the major challenges facing the sector and its increased reliance on data, privacy and ethical use of data was seen as the biggest challenge (45%), followed by data ownership issues (38%). Less challenging were silo-based data (33%) and issues with access to data (37%).

COVID-19 driving technology use

GoReport executive chairman, David Bell commented:

“Since the last survey in 2018, surveyors are seeing a greater impact of technology on their business and many are actively embracing the opportunity to drive efficiency, service improvements and to make more informed decisions.

“In the current climate, now more than ever we are witnessing the true value of technology and the benefits of digitisation as surveyors look to find smarter and more flexible ways of working. A continuation on this journey will enable the profession to be more resilient to deliver services to clients. The survey highlights the importance of increased information and training required for successful integration of technology into everyday working practices and the need to adopt a customer-centric flexible approach.”

For many people, the pandemic has compelled people to make greater use of technology in their private and work lives. The next chapter will be interesting to see how surveyors use digitisation to support the profession.

GoReport - Anthony Walker, CEO of GoReport (Nov 2018)GoReport CEO since 2018 (post), Anthony Walker, Technology Survey lead, RICS UK and Ireland Board member (right) said:

“Over the last two years the pace of technological change that is powering the digitisation of the built environment has continued to increase, requiring us to think strategically about how we deploy our expertise and resource. Surveyors need to be positioned centrally to add credibility to bridge between the technology sector and the surveying profession to ensure that technology is an enabler to augment their knowledge, skills, expertise and reflective thought. Technological is no longer an optional extra – without it surveyors will struggle to compete, be productive and add maximum client value.”

The report is available to download here, and, interestingly, GoReport has also provided an interactive Business Intelligence Dashboard.

Topscan logoUpdate (8 August 2020) – GoReport’s survey news release was issued in early May. Days earlier, on 30 April 2020, Anthony Walker had resigned as a director 18 months after joining  the Belfast, Northern Ireland-based firm. At the beginning of July, he joined the board of Bournemouth-based survey, CAD, BIM and and scanning company Topscan (news release). He will lead new project management, contract administration and fire safety services for the company.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/05/goreport-rics-highlights-data-privacy-concerns/

Coping with COVID-19 using Bentley ProjectWise 365

In April 2020, Bentley Systems announced it had opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service, including waiving subscription fees until 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extranet Evolution talked to Bentley and to a US customer about how ProjectWise 365 has helped keep projects going.

Bentley logo 2017ProjectWise 365 was announced in October 2018 at Bentley Systems’ Year In Infrastructure conference in London (read: Bentley ProjectWise365 extends Microsoft integration), extending the connectivity between Bentley’s collaborative workhorse ProjectWise and Microsoft’s 365 technology and office productivity tools. A year later, Bentley announced it would be targeting small-to-medium-sized businesses with this ProjectWise 365 offering (Bentley extends SaaS ProjectWise to SMEs).

Projectwise 365This pre-configured “instant-on, web-based” ProjectWise 365 solution has now been made generally available. It complements the enterprise-level ProjectWise Design Integration (DI) platform used — often on-premise — for work sharing by 74 of the ENR Top 100 Design Firms, said Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s VP, project delivery. With remote project working now widely enforced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such ProjectWise DI users said the platform helped “sustain their project productivity over the forced transition to work from home,” Parkman continued.

“Now, by broadly and immediately opening up access to our new simplified ProjectWise 365 cloud service, we’re extending ProjectWise advantages in collaboration and design review to infrastructure engineering project teams at every scale. By fully ‘digitally’ enabling every infrastructure professional, we hope to support their resilience in surmounting this crisis.”

A US-based user, Gregory J. Ellwanger, a project engineer for BLA, Inc. said:

“The present work-from-home conditions and coordination with multiple parties highlight how critical it is to our business and our role as prime consultant on projects, that our project teams always stay connected and productive. ProjectWise 365 cloud services enable us to rapidly deploy a common BIM collaboration environment that avoids the data silos, coordination delays, and the other limitations we’ve experienced while using network drives, file-sharing services, and email. ProjectWise 365 allows us to coordinate designs more quickly and reduce risk in contractual exchanges, regardless of the location of project participants, adding resilience to our design practice and increasing our ability to deliver high-quality projects on schedule.”

ProjectWise 365 uptake

Dustin Parkman - BentleyParkman told me ProjectWise 365, as a purely cloud-based solution hosted by Microsoft Azure, is good for small work groups, with none of the barriers that hamper enterprise IT deployments:

“It can start at the work group level or in small projects, where there may be just 10-15 people coordinating work, managing RFIs and other deliverables, and teams can get started in hours, not days. Our web services include review tools unique to ProjectWise 365, including markups on both 2D drawings or in models via our iTwin Designer view, on any device. And particularly on linear transportation projects, having geospatial context makes it easier to coordinate and review information.”

Since ProjectWise 365 became generally available, Parkman said there had been “incredible take-up” in just two weeks, with customers signing up across Bentley’s markets in southeast Asia, Australasia, Europe and north America, plus Latin America and India.

Coping with COVID-19 – Bentley perspective

Around 500 new organisations had signed up, predominantly mid-sized engineering companies, Parkman said. Many customers were replacing generic file-sharing services such as DropBox and SharePoint with the more secure ProjectWise 365 toolset. Some existing Bentley ProjectWise DI customers were also adopting the 365 solution for new projects, or because they wanted its BIM model coordination capabilities (Utah’s Department of Transport was mentioned).

Parkman said the COVID-19 impacts on construction clients and their projects had varied across the US, but many were focused on trying to minimise the impacts on the traditional Spring-Summer construction season, creating a massive appetite for remote working. There was also a strong focus on site-based health and safety:

“We want to do same work as before without being in physical contact. By integrating with the Microsoft Teams platform, ProjectWise 365 can help with design coordination, design sharing, markups and reviews, etc. We are doing more digitally, less manually.”

ProjectWise 365 - Design Review Screenshot

Coping with COVID-19 – a contractor view

I was also able to put some questions to Blaine Buenger, technology manager at US firm Foth about the impacts of COVID on its operations. Buenger gave a detailed insight into the realities of mobilising to support remote working:

Blaine Buenger (Foth)“Foth’s infrastructure team for the most part hasn’t skipped a beat during the pandemic. We are fortunate that infrastructure and IT leadership teams have designed and implemented a versatile and robust technology solution to support our geographically diverse workforce. Mobile CAD workstations, cloud technology, VPN and RDP solutions, mobile Riverbed WAN optimization, Microsoft Teams and Skype collaboration solutions, and various document management solutions all play key roles in keeping everyone securely connected to each other and to their work, all while staying efficient and productive.

“Our office workers have taken docking stations and monitors home to pair with their laptops and try their best to recreate their office environments at home.  Of course we still have to deal with a few challenges with home environments like kid’s schedules, home internet speeds, and supporting ergonomic home office setups, but we are doing our best to be flexible and keep the same level of support.

“Our field workers are basically business as usual, with the exception of new social distancing best practices.  Construction and geospatial activities for our infrastructure teams have seen little disruption in day-to-day work….

“Project delivery hasn’t been disrupted other than changing priorities from our clients.  Some clients are choosing to replace construction projects with design projects in order to prepare for a pending influx of federal funds.  Other clients are doing the opposite and ramping up construction while travel is down to work quicker and safer.  Aviation clients are taking advantage of historically low passenger air travel and choosing to divert projects to heavy traffic areas in their terminals.”

How did Bentley help Foth mitigate the impacts?

Foth logo“Bentley solutions have helped our successful transition to a primarily work from home environment. We owe a lot of that success to ProjectWise. Foth runs a hybrid on-premise and cloud ProjectWise setup.  The top three advantages that ProjectWise provides Foth in a distributed environment are:

      • Data integrity – all of our members are connected to the same project documents. We are not wasting our time uploading files to FTPs, emailing or transferring files, or operating at risk working in isolation on local drives.  All of these operations waste time and introduce risks of overwriting files and creating rework.
      • Efficient speed – a perfect combination of delta file transfer technology, ProjectWise’s ability to coexist and excel working with Riverbed WAN optimization, and most importantly – delivery of multiple sets of CAD standards efficiently by using ProjectWise managed workspaces, are the recipe for speed and successful project delivery.
      • Security – ProjectWise is kept secure using industry standard solutions such as Cisco AnyConnect VPN client and Microsoft Azure.”

And on what kinds of projects is ProjectWise 365 being used?

“Foth’s infrastructure team got its start using ProjectWise 365 services for construction activities on one of the largest site development projects in the U.S. – Foxconn’s new industrial facilities in SE Wisconsin.  We chose Forms as the first tool to setup and start using.  We are thankful we did, as it’s helped tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements.  Construction staff can collect data and fill out forms in real time on their iPads, then publish data to the ProjectWise cloud project, thus allowing project managers and clients access to review progress, monitor issues, and submit regulatory forms all while working remotely.  We have effectively eliminated the need for exchanging paper for several types of forms using ProjectWise 365 Forms services.”

Bentley’s collaborative portfolio

GroupBCFinally, following Bentley’s acquisition of SYNCHRO (Bentley goes 4D, buys SYNCHRO), Parkman said the ProjectWise range will be expanded to include more construction-related capability, and he also briefly mentioned the March 2020 acquisition of another UK vendor GroupBC (Bentley buys GroupBC):

“ProjectWise is a powerful tool for design engineering team information management; the GroupBC platform gives strong owner-focused programme management, and both are complemented by SYNCHRO’s contractor-oriented construction operations capabilities. We now powerfully support the whole planning to design to execution to owner to digital estate data capture cycle.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/05/coping-covid-19-bentley-projectwise-365/

Novade to expand smart field management

Singapore-based Novade, a developer of smart field management applications for the architecture, engineering and construction industry, recently completed a Series B capital investment round.

Novade logoNovade, a Singapore-based developer of smart field management applications for the architecture, engineering and construction industry, recently (15 April 2020) announced the completion of a Series B capital investment round (value not given).

Lead investors were SIG and Vulcan Capital, while Wavemaker Partners (who led Novade’s Series A round in late 2018 with Enterprise Singapore) also participated. Novade will use the latest funds to accelerate its global expansion and market penetration in Europe, China and Japan, as well as step up engagement with the leading global firms in the industry. A London office has recently been established, headed by Tejas Thomas, who has relocated from Singapore.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Dennis Branthonne and serial entrepreneur Eugene Low, Novade is headquartered in Singapore, and also has offices in Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, plus an office in Paris. In November 2019, I talked to the company’s Rob Zasadzki (ANZ country manager) about its software.
Novade modules

Novade functionality

Zasadzki described Novade as a mobile-first application (“Novade started on smartphones then went to the web, not vice versa“) aimed at field personnel managing critical processes. Quality controls, safety inspections, task coordination, production reports, workforce management and equipment maintenance are all digitised and automated on the Novade platform. Importantly, particularly in a sector increasingly embracing offsite construction, Zasadzki also described how Novade was being used to track component quality in factory-type environments, with data additionally captured through construction, handover and commissioning, and into operations, maintenance and repair.

Novade InsightsDepending on the tasks and on the mobile device (Novade apps are available for Apple iOS and Google Android; data is hosted in Microsoft Azure facilities), the toolset includes QR code recognition, near-field communication (NFC), image annotation, forms, digital markup (Novade is not a drawing revision management tool, Zasadzki stressed) and digital signatures. The core field modules — Quality, Safety, Logistics, Maintenance, Workforce, Activity — are also supported by strong geo-location services. Depending on the type of project, locations can be tracked in hierarchies (suburb, block, street, number, level, unit) or by chainage for linear civil engineering projects. Data was also being captured for use by project teams using 4D building information modelling (BIM) to support progress reporting, augmenting the data captured in project management tools and so-called common data environment (CDE) platforms. Field-captured data can also be summarised and reported upon via the Novade Insights business intelligence module.

In five years, the user base of Novade grew to over 50,000, working for 200 clients. The solution has been used extensively on residential developments for clients including Capita Land, Frasers, MQDC, and City Developments. Contractor customers include Eiffage, Bouygues, Obayashi and Gammon; civil engineering works have also been managed by customers including EDF and Spie, while the UK’s Wood Group Industrial Services (acquired by Germany’s Kaefer group in February 2020) has also been using Novade for industrial projects. Over 20m records have been captured using the Novade platform.

Technology, AI investment and COVID-19

With the new funding, Novade also plans to increase its investments in technology and AI capabilities. Leveraging the millions of records collected across sites, clients can optimise operations or identify potential issues ahead of time with machine learning algorithms. “The additional funds will support our mission to elevate onsite performance through technology,” said Branthonne. “In the current global context, improving quality, productivity and safety is more important than ever.”

With onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, managing health and safety on construction sites is paramount for employees, companies and governments. In March, Novade launched new functionalities that enable rigorous implementation of health monitoring procedures on sites. “We are working with our existing clients to help them maintain or restart operations when the situation improves and are absolutely committed to supporting our clients during these difficult times,” added Bruno Suard, general manager EMEA.

Business development director Pierre Megret expanded on use of Novade to manage COVID-19 precautions:

“We are able to centralise the monitoring and enforcement of health and safety procedures using our mobile application, making it a more contact-less process. Companies can also use the captured data to show they are constantly applying the latest measures on site. And this may well be a long-term requirement: even after the peak is passed, construction sites will need to maintain safe operating procedures for a long time to help avoid new infections.”

The competitive space

Novade enters an already crowded market populated initially by solutions developed by various ‘web-first’ construction collaboration technology vendors, and then by ‘mobile-first’ vendors. The first group includes Autodesk and its Construction Cloud solutions, Bentley ProjectWise and its March 2020 acquisition GroupBC, Oracle Aconex, thinkproject, Trimble Viewpoint and Procore. The mobile-first grouping of field applications is internationally diverse and includes Europe’s Dalux, LetsBuild and FinalCAD, US-based Raken and Buildtools, and at least three Australian players: Envision, HammerTech, and APE Mobile – recently acquired by Damstra*).

This space is constantly evolving, with occasional mergers and acquisitions rationalising the market, only for new start-ups to emerge and try to disrupt their more established competitors. The ‘web-first’ group has also shifted from being primarily design-focused to managing and monitoring construction processes. That said, particularly for larger projects and larger enterprises, BIM capabilities will be key, as will capabilities leveraging data insights both from single projects and across multiple projects and programmes. Some industry customers are already starting to adopt ‘whole life’ approaches to their assets, so tools which can help them instantly assess the performance and efficiency of their supply chains, as well as the performance of the assets themselves, will deliver greater value.

* Melbourne-based Damstra Technology has appointed Aconex’s former chairman, Simon Yencken to its board ahead of its mooted float on the Australian Securities Exchange later this year, reports The Australian. The company raised A$9 million in a private funding in late 2018 to accelerate growth, and is planning to expand into the key north American market.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/05/novade-expand-smart-field-management/

thinkproject acquires New Zealand’s RAMM Software

Munich, Germany-based Software-as-a-Service construction technology provider thinkproject has acquired 100% of Auckland, New Zealand-based RAMM Software. RAMM is an established SaaS player in the Australasian market for highway asset management and operations, and the deal (no value given) will help thinkproject expand its reach to infrastructure clients and into the APAC region.

RAMM Software

thinkproject RAMMFounded in 1991 and based in Auckland, New Zealand with an additional office in Sydney, Australia, RAMM Software is a leader in asset, work, and field management cloud software to local governments, national authorities, consultants, and contractors throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. A 40-strong business, RAMM says its open and flexible architecture allows the expansion from the road maintenance and operations industries into other asset types in the near future. RAMM serves aroster of APAC clients, including New Zealand’s state-owned highway owner, the NZ Transport Agency, every local government council in New Zealand and all of their road maintenance suppliers, over 120 local governments in Australia, and the Fiji Roads Authority.

Deal rationale

Through this acquisition, thinkproject furthers its international expansion, already servicing clients in over 50 countries around the world. RAMM Software adds to thinkproject’s growing presence in the APAC region, following the opening of its Hong Kong office in 2018. Strategically, it says this deal is the next step in realising its vision of being a global leader in construction intelligence, enabling better industry results.

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)thinkproject CEO Gareth Burton says:

“We are very excited to add RAMM’s asset management products to our platform of solutions for the built environment as this strengthens our ‘Design in our platform, Build in our platform, and Operate in our platform’ promise to clients. The addition of the 40 strong RAMM team will bring even more industry and platform knowledge to our teams.”

Graeme NormanRAMM Software’s general manager, Graeme Norman, will continue with the company in the role of thinkproject regional manager for Australia and New Zealand. He says:

“Being brought into the thinkproject fold is an exciting time for us, because it will allow the Australasian team to continue developing the RAMM solution suite while also being able to leverage thinkproject’s suite of integrated SaaS solutions to meet existing and new client needs”.

The deal is thinkproject’s first in Australasia and its first outside Europe. Previous acquisitions have predominantly been in the group’s core market in mainland Europe, though it did acquire the UK-based construction contract change management specialist CEMAR in May 2018 (post) – a solution with a growing user base in the APAC region.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/thinkproject-acquires-new-zealands-ramm-software/

Evercam : site imagery, AI and BIM

Ireland’s Evercam monitors construction sites via IP cameras and is integrating live imagery with BIM and using AI to track site activities.

Evercam logoDublin, Ireland-based company Evercam provides cameras for construction sites to provide regular feeds of images that can also be used to create time-lapse and project management video sequences.

Established in 2010 by Marco Herbst and Vinnie Quinn, the company looked at various potential applications of high resolution IP (internet protocol) cameras (which are more resilient as long-term solutions than digital SLRs or GoPro-type devices). In 2016, a commission to support a Dublin contract for a student accommodation project highlighted opportunities in the construction sector, and since 2017, the business has been solely focused on supporting construction projects. “Main contractors, in particular, are interested in using cameras to support communications and collaboration, and to avoid disputes,” says Herbst. “These are a perfect fit for what we have built.”

Evercam’s clients now include several of Ireland’s leading main contractors (John Paul, Bam Ireland and Sisk, for example). Its cameras are being used on Ireland’s biggest healthcare project, the National Children’s Hospital in Dublin. And the firm has also been commissioned by several of Ireland’s high-tech industry clients including Google, Facebook, AirBnB, LinkedIn and Oracle.

Marco Herbst - EvercamCustomers pay a fixed monthly fee per camera per calendar month (currently £350/mth), plus an installation charge. Cameras may be mounted on adjacent buildings, on other site structures (sometimes alongside installations installed to monitor noise, dust and vibration), and on tower cranes (“Imagery covering groundworks often delivers the most value for the least investment,” says Herbst, right). They may also be installed inside buildings to show, for example, the fit-out of large spaces inside pharmaceutical facilities. On the Royal London Hospital project, Evercam has seven camera feeds covering both external and internal views.

Integrations

Cameras securely transmit imagery via the internet to  a cloud-computing storage facility in Frankfurt, Germany. “Our hosting is predominantly used for storage, and to host the software application that sits over the top,” says Herbst.  “Authorised users can then access their projects online through our web interface, or we can also embed Evercam into third-party solutions.” Another Dublin-based construction technology firm, Zutec (posts), was among the early adopters incorporating an Evercam feed into their interface, but Herbst says integration involves little more than cutting-and-pasting some code into the HTML of the destination web page, mentioning Procore and Viewpoint as platforms where Evercam imagery was already being shared on an “ad hoc” basis.

Imagery can be used for marketing videos – showing “before and afters”: the progress of construction from empty site to finished building, to do weekly updates or comparisons, or to produce videos of particular operations (the Evercam website case studies include the controlled demolition by explosion of power station cooling towers, for instance). It can also be used by professionals for project management, to plan work or highlight issues on site, and to provide digital evidence of the sequence of events leading to problems that might cause disputes.

AI and BIM applications of Evercam

Evercam’s development team is applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to extend the uses of the camera imagery and software. Using the AI image recognition tools, managers can, for example, monitor vehicle movements in and out of a site. On one project, Herbst showed me how the software captured time- and date- stamped images showing the arrival and departure of all large vehicles at a UK hotel construction site, and then narrowed the search to show just the movements of concrete mixers. “We are also thinking about applying the AI to people movements. In the current coronavirus pandemic situation, we could potentially use tower crane imagery to check that site workers are maintaining social distancing, perhaps to  identify hot-spots where additional measures might be needed.”

Herbst also demonstrated how Evercam imagery could produce live and historic visual evidence to support building information modelling (BIM), enabling detailed comparison of what was designed and scheduled with what was delivered and when – effectively validating so-called 4D BIM programs. “We are typically taking outputs from Autodesk’s Navisworks or Bentley’s Synchro, adjusting the models’ viewpoint to ensure alignment with the camera view, and providing a real-time view showing how construction is progressing against what was scheduled.”

Growth

Evercam has grown to a 34-strong company and has started to expand internationally. A London-based team was established in 2018 to grow the firm’s UK footprint in 2018; new operations are being established in Singapore and in Australia; and Herbst is also looking at opportunities in the United States (“We already have a couple of US customers who want us to expand to support their projects in the States, but we will need to think about how we fund this expansion.”). Channel partners are a key aspect of the company’s delivery model – the company currently has a dozen firms across the UK and Ireland helping supply and install equipment.

Update (29 June 2020) – Evercam has its first client in Australia: CARAS, which is fitting out two offices, having worked with channel partner iDetect.

The Extranet Evolution view

Project collaboration platforms have long been used to share site progress photography in the same way as they have shared documents, drawings, spreadsheets and form-based process data. Incorporating live webcam views is also well-established (my one-time employer BIW Technologies worked with Camvista in the early 2000s to deliver a webcam module), but the cameras, connectivity and software have advanced rapidly, and – as Evercam demonstrates – is now pushing into new possibilities enabled by AI and ML.

The technology also complements other reality capture tools, including:

  • conventional digital still and video photography, perhaps extended using photogrammetry techniques (Bentley Systems has talked extensively about its context capture technologies in recent years)
  • laser-scanning and point-clouds
  • 360-degree photography (see 2017 Holobuilder post, and Panono: December 2018 post)
  • body-or helmet-mounted cameras (Buildots and OpenSpace: December 2019 post)
  • drone, aerial and satellite imagery (OnePlace—formerly UnEarth—for example: May 2017 )
  • machine controls (Infrakit: April 2016) and
  • a host of mobile smartphone and tablet-based image and data-capture applications

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/evercam-site-imagery-ai-bim/

Coronavirus construction impacts (and software offers) continue

With the UK coronavirus lockdown into its second month, construction software vendors are still trying to encourage new use of their applications.

SARS-CoV-2Since I first wrote about the impacts of the coronavirus shutdown on construction (Coronavirus, construction and software – 23 March 2020), there has been a constant stream of UK construction trade press coverage.  Thousands of office and site workers have been furloughed, and – amid sometimes ill-tempered debates about what constitutes “essential work” and about contractors’ enforcement of contractual obligations – the impacts in the UK have been been widely variable.

The UK is now some five weeks into its coronavirus lockdown. Constraints on “non-essential” construction work are being interpreted differently in different parts of the home countries: Scotland and Northern Ireland have fairly stringent restrictions (with the result that work on around 80% of housing sites has been suspended), but England and Wales is less restricted (last week, around 44% of private housing and 32% of social housing schemes were suspended – work on the North Greenwich residential sites that I can see from my office is currently suspended).

Meanwhile, some of the UK’s largest firms have lobbied hard to continue working and so mitigate the potential economic impacts of a prolonged lockdown. Some brick manufacturers and builders merchants have closed and then reopened; some contractors and house-builders have already resumed work on some sites (or are planning to do so soon) – but there are still concerns that safe operating procedures may not be universally observed.

Software sector impacts

Construction software businesses are, of course, heavily dependent upon continued planning, design and construction activity by their customers. Slowdowns and suspensions of project work will have knock-on impacts, and, in some cases, these may be quite rapid. Company software purchase or subscription decisions may be delayed until projects resume and circumstances are more certain and predictable.

There will be some interesting negotiations about the volume of use of some applications, particularly where they are licenced per user, for a specified pool of users, or for company users at a particular location (in the March/April 2020 issue of AEC Magazine, Martyn Day looks in detail at Autodesk’s switch from perpetual licenses to subscriptions for design authoring tools including AutoCAD and Revit: read The subscription yoke). Alternative licencing approaches, such as the per-project variants used by some Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platforms, may also prompt some discussions between vendors and customers where the schemes in question are on hold.

Vendor offers to meet coronavirus pandemic needs

Meanwhile, offers of training or free use of software applications during the pandemic have continued. A month ago, I outlined deals offered by Revizto, Autodesk, Graphisoft, WeBuild, Vectorworks and Procore (among others), and there have been more since. For example:

  • Projectwise 365Viewpoint is offering contractors in the UK and Ireland a complimentary six-month trial of its cloud-based construction project management solution Viewpoint Team (its entry point solution for small-to-medium contractors, subcontractors and housebuilders – not Viewpoint for Projects) during the pandemic.
  • Bentley Systems opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service (launched October 2018 – post – with an SME offering launched a year later), including waiving subscription fees through to 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home.

Visilean logoSome new services are also being developed to support projects working through the pandemic. A COMIT webinar last week, for instance, included a presentation from Visilean (March 2018 post); James Ellis described how its web and mobile applications are being used to help plan site-based activities so that they are not only lean but also comply with COVID-19 safe operating procedures. The company is also offering complimentary access to its suite of cloud-based construction management solutions for three months to all projects related to agencies supporting healthcare and infrastructure in the fight against the pandemic.

Asite focuses on building resilience

Asite - Building ResilienceLondon, UK-based SaaS collaboration vendor Asite has published a report, Building Resilience, which talks about the need to build greater resilience into the construction sector’s operating methods to mitigate the impacts of threats such as the COVID-19 outbreak. Nathan Doughty, Asite CEO, said: “Now more than ever, I believe our industry needs to come together and operate as the global industry it is to solve future challenges and build resilience.”

The Asite report says digital engineering and the establishment of strategic operating models are key to building resilience and safeguarding the industry in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. It also calls on the global industry to recognise regional interdependencies and to develop a strategy that is both regionally engaged and globally responsive (read more about the report in this BIM Plus story). Themes include BIM, Brexit, modular construction, climate change and smart cities.

(One small hiccup in the report, however, is its mention of BIM Level 3. “Level 3” was never formally defined, and the UK BIM levels were effectively discontinued in October 2019 following the launch of the ISO 19650-compliant UK BIM Framework by the Centre for Digital Built Britain, the UK BIM Alliance and BSI.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/coronavirus-construction-impacts-and-software-offers-continue/

RIB Software grew 57% in 2019

Revenues at Germany’s RIB Group grew 57% in 2019, and the company’s financial performance has also been detailed in a Reasoned Statement in response to Schneider Electric’s takeoever bid.

RIB software logoThe latest annual report and accounts from Stuttgart, Germany-based software provider RIB Group, for the year to 31 December 2019, shows revenue up over 57% on 2018 (post) to €214.6m (c. US$231.9m or £188.4m). The company also increased its profits: EBITDA was up 32% to €51.2m (c. US$55.2m or £44.9m).

According to RIB’s announcement:

“2019 was characterized by strong investments in personnel, technology expansions for MTWO and the acquisition of users for our MTWO/iTWO 4.0 platform as well as promising initiatives such as the MTWO “out of the box” solution, which can be used by clients within 48 hours. As a result, we were able to significantly increase the MTWO/iTWO 4.0 user base from 3,000 to 69,337, far exceeding our target of 30,000 users in 2019.”

As well as the MTWO/iTWO offerings (within which the Microsoft-supported MTWO is positioned as “the first vertical cloud platform for the construction industry“), RIB also provides web-based support for procurement processes (supply chain management and e-commerce, grouped as RIB’s xYTWO segment).

RIB 2019 metricsUntil 2019, RIB derived most of its revenues from Germany. Now it’s much less:

  • Germany: €73.8m (34.4%)
  • EMEA: €65.5m (30.5%)
  • North America: €41.0m (19.1%)
  • APAC: €34.3m (16.0%)

While Germany is still its most important single market, accounting for just over a third of income, revenues from the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa now account for around 30% of revenues, while the North American and APAC regions have grown rapidly, buoyed by the company’s programme of mergers and acquisitions. This programme has also seen the company grow its headcount from just over 1000 to almost 1600 during 2019.

During a busy 2019, among other deals, RIB invested in the UK AEC software reseller Cadline (April), acquired 60% of the Atlanta, USA-based building specification software vendor, BSD (June),  acquired 70% of South Africa’s CCS, a provider of cost estimation and project control software (July), and took a strategic 15% stake in India’s company, Winjit, an Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain developer (August). It then invested in another India-based software business, SoftTech, bought a German business intelligence specialist, Datapine, and acquired an Australian reseller, Redstack (November).

In 2019, RIB aimed to become a more global player by reducing its reliance on localised, on-premise software installations, In 2018, annual recurring revenues (SaaS/cloud and maintenance) grew 21% to €57.4m. In 2019, this figure was almost doubled: ARR for 2019 was up 94.5% to €112.6 million.

Schneider Electric deal commended to shareholders

In February 2020, French multinational Schneider Electric made a €1.4bn bid for RIB Software. RIB’s financial announcement was accompanied by a Reasoned Statement from the managing directors and the administrative board of RIB. In it, they recommend that RIB shareholders accept the offer, saying the offer price of €29.00 per RIB share is adequate and arguing that a strategic participation of Schneider Electric in RIB is in the best interests of RIB, RIB shareholders and other stakeholders.

Update (20 April 2020) – Two days before the deadline (midnight CEST, on 22 April) on for acceptance of the Schneider Electric offer, RIB has appealed to shareholders urging them to respond.

A condition of the offer’s acceptance is that it must reach a minimum acceptance threshold of 50% (plus one RIB share) of all RIB shares. The acceptance rate as of 17 April (14.00 hrs CEST) was only 32.47%.

RIB underlines that the €29 offer price offers a premium of over 40% over the closing price of  RIB shares one day before the announcement of the transaction. Since then, the SDAX and the TecDAX have lost 22.2% and 12.5% respectively, mainly due to the Coronavirus crisis. “The Managing Directors and the administrative board of RIB recommend that shareholders wishing to accept Schneider Electric’s offer do so without delay.”

Update (30 April 2020) – The minimum acceptance threshold was reached (at the deadline, 76.63% of shareholders had indicated acceptance). Schneider Electric expected to complete the transaction in the second quarter of 2020, subject to approval by competition authorities.

A quarterly trading update from RIB showed revenues in the first quarter of 2020 were up 39.8% to €65.6m, and operating EBITDA up 36.2% to €15.8m. Uncertainties caused by Covid-19 led RIB to “severely limit” its M&A activities an to focus on the successful expansion of its iMTWO segment. The company continued: “we plan to discontinue or sell the physical trading business in the segment xYTWO, which does not contribute to EBITDA.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/04/rib-grows-57-2019/

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