Script & Go relaunches in the UK with housebuilder focus

Rennes, France-based Script & Go is looking to establish itself in the UK with a new focus on the house-building sector, capitalising upon its strong experience in this sector in France.

Script&Go logo 2018Based in Rennes in north-west France, Script & Go, previously best known in the UK for its Site Diary application (Script&Go’s Site Diary revamped – May 2019), has developed a new product for the UK construction market. It is looking to capitalise upon its customer experience with French housebuilders. Its latest offer is a Software-as-a-Service defects management platform to manage the reporting and rectification of issues during the initial handover to new residents in the post-construction warranty period.

Site Diary product owner Khaldon Evans told Extranet Evolution that Script & Go had been developing new products to support its largely France-based customers. They include contracting giants Vinci and Bouygues, automotive manufacturer Renault, aerospace manufacturer Dassault, rail operator SNCF and infrastructure provider Suez. Its solutions support a wide range of assets, from conventional buildings and infrastructure to aircraft and railway assets.

Since its UK launch in 2017, UK customers for Site Diary have included contractors Costain, Alun Griffiths and ISG, but Evans said Site Diary had struggled to expand more widely. Similar to Checkd’s ‘excuses’ experience in Scandinavia (post), he said “Expansion has been slow for two reasons: either the managers don’t want to pay for the app, or managers want to pay but field workers don’t want to use it. We have never lost any deals yet due to any competitors – at least, prospects didn’t tell us that.”

The company has recently taken strategic decisions to drop the UK Site Diary corporate branding, instead use its Script & Go name, and focus on its core French strengths.

Script & Go housing focus

Script&Go checklistOne profitable market has been products for French home-builders. Evans said that in some parts of northern France its platform is being used by 80% of home-builders. The French business initially grew through collaboration with a local house-builder. Adoption of its technologies then gradually extended to other house-builders in the region. As in the UK, few French house-builders operate nationally, instead specialising in particular house types that suit their local regions. Script & Go developed a platform to manage the final stages of construction, where house-builders need to capture and remedy defects with their subcontractors

Home warranty management

The 60-strong company recently (May 2021) launched a new Site Warranty product for the UK (see also this blog post), and is looking to get some early traction in the UK and then build out its market. Using its application on a mobile device, users capture defects. They can combine text entry, photographs, associated markups, documents and drawings, plus links – where necessary – to any related defects, and location information on building floorplans. These are then notified to the relevant subcontractor for rectification while providing residents with process visibility. The platform also provides reporting functions to house-builders helping them manage progress and identify persistent quality issues across their supplier base.

Script&Go Site warranty product

Script & Go is also migrating its technologies to an integrated platform to help support more deployment options – key to the roll-out of its warranty product. Currently, Evans said, its ‘back-office’ platform (offering unlimited storage and use across an enterprise) is available for a one-off perpetual licence fee of £490. Individual field users are then enabled for a one-off fee of £300. In September 2021, the company will launch a subscription-based system priced at £20 per month per user. The Site Warranty application is to be offered at a standard £30 per residence to cover the period of a typical two-year warranty period.

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Checking in with Checkd

Now a subsidiary of a VC-backed Swedish ERP business, Checkd enjoyed its best ever year in 2020, and is looking to continue its 50% year-on-year growth.

Checkd logoSince first featuring in Extranet Evolution in January 2015 (Checkd mobile checked out), the Norwegian mobile-first and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) construction application provider Checkd has, despite BIM advances, continued to capitalise on the use of visual and PDF-based information for site-based project reporting and collaboration.

Checkd now VC-backed

Tom-Erik von Krogh Martinsen, founder and CEO at Checkd.By 2018, the Oslo-based company was looking to expand beyond its then 90-strong corporate customer base in Norway and was considering marketing in the UK and Germany. However, founder Tom-Erik von Krogh-Martinsen, right, told EE that expansion into Sweden – a construction market twice the size of Norway’s – proved a vital stepping stone. By early 2021, it had more than doubled its customer-base, having, in December 2020, been acquired by Next One Technologies, a Swedish provider of cloud-based ERP solutions for small- to medium-sized construction businesses (news release).

Gunilla Åberg, CEO at Next One, said:

“We’re pleased to merge with Checkd, They have grown quickly in Norway and we see great possibilities to grow together both within the Nordics and in Europe. Our joint solution should be the natural choice for European construction and maintenance companies that want a professional, modern, industry-specific business and project system.”

Martinsen had launched Checkd in 2013, after developing a ‘proof of concept’ mobile reporting tool for a Norwegian construction trade body, and, without seeking additional investment or venture capital backing, the now 15-strong company’s initial growth was a bit slow. With parent Next One Technologies supported by Nordic software investor Monterro, “now we are not building stone by stone – we have more money to scale faster,” Martinsen told EE.

COVID-19 removes excuses

Checkd floorplanAs in many other countries’ construction markets, Martinsen said Scandinavia is dominated by SME contractors and subcontractors. They are also, in his view, often resistant to change, with a culture of making excuses to avoid adopting new technologies. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had helped “remove their excuses”. It has convinced construction businesses about the need to digitise, he  said. Companies were holding more digital meetings, and could not do field or site inspections in groups. Instead, they were using Checkd to capture problems and issue notifications, which could then be discussed online (the Checkd task-handling workflow is identify, notify, fix, check, close).

And it’s not just about marking things up on a PDF. Martinsen says: “Importantly, our users can use any drawing or picture to pin the tasks/observations: Google Map for roofers, facade pictures for EWS1 [external wall survey] inspections, even a sketch.” (And, in light of ongoing post-Grenfell cladding concerns, he is keen to talk to potential UK partners interested in capturing EWS inspection outputs.)

In 2020, Checkd achieved annual recurring revenues of around €1 million, after 50% year-on-year growth, Martinsen said. The customer base now includes some prominent names (SWECO, for example), and its application is also being used in the UK by FK Group, a building envelope specialist in northwest England.

Despite continued BIM advances, he says 95% of Scandinavian construction projects still use 2D documentation for inspection purposes. However, anticipating increased demand for BIM integration, Checkd has also been working with another Norwegian business, Oslo’s Catenda (June 2017 post), to create a module using its BIMSync API (application programming interface), though it has only been used on a few pilot projects so far.

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FARO acquires Holobuilder

California-based Holobuilder, a pioneer in AEC 360-degree photogrammetry, has been acquired by FARO Technologies in a US$34 million deal.

HoloBuilder LogoFARO Technologies has invested $US34 million to acquire HoloBuilder, the San Francisco, US-based 360-degree reality capture technology developer. The Florida, US-based corporation known for its 3D measurement, imaging, and realisation solutions for architecture, engineering and construction, says: “HoloBuilder brings to FARO its leading photogrammetry-based 3D platform, which delivers hardware agnostic image capture, registration and viewing to the fast-growing Digital Twin market.” (7 June 2021 news)

Holobuilder: the back story

Holobuilder provides contractors with a solution to efficiently capture and virtually manage construction progress using off-the-shelf 360° cameras. It has strong connections with Germany; soon after its 2014 launch, it raised US$665,000 in seed funding from High-Tech Gruenderfonds. It then raised a further US$2.25m in an investment round in early 2017, backed by VC Brick & Mortar Ventures and Tandem Capital.

First featured in Extranet Evolution in March 2017, Holobuilder soon had some 3,000 construction projects on its platform and its customers included 40% of the top 100 general contractors in the US (Holobuilder launches 360 Construction Documentation Solution). In 2018, it began to expand in Europe (post) and added an Artificial Intelligence solution, “SiteAI”, to automate progress control (HoloBuilder launches SiteAI progress control). This application calculated progress reports from capturing weekly 360° progress photos, helping contractors to detect discrepancies and accelerating progress payment processes.

HoloBuilder JobWalk PlannerIn April 2019, Holobuilder added a “JobWalk Planner” feature enabling off-site stakeholders to pre-plan construction documentation sequences for their teams. By facilitating team management and planning of job walks, it meant more perfectly executed site documentation with less room for error or forgotten site images.

After establishing an EU hosting base, Holobuilder received investments from German energy business E.ON, a Berlin-based construction technology investor, Foundamental (an investor in early 2019 too), and NRW.BANK, the promotional bank of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia (August 2019 post). The company’s R&D facility was located in the high-tech cluster of Aachen in Germany, and was where HoloBuilder’s SiteAI solution was developed.

Digital Twin hype

At the time of that investment, EE questioned the company’s use of the term ‘Digital Twin’. The Gemini Principles developed by the UK’s Centre for Digital Built Britain talk about: “A realistic digital representation of something physical. What distinguishes a digital twin from any other digital model is its connection to the physical twin”. (Update – 8 June 2021 – The UK BIM Alliance* has just published a positioning statement on Digital Twins; this reiterates that static BIM deliverables are augmented by “the addition of dynamic ‘right-time’ data“). However, Holobuilder and its new owners continue to stress their own view of the Digital Twin opportunity.

FARO says the deal means that HoloBuilder’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform will add fast and easy reality-capture photo documentation and added remote access capability to its 3D point cloud-based laser scanning. FARO it says it will create “the industry’s first end-to-end Digital Twin solution“—all without leaving the FARO ecosystem. The combined solution will provide comprehensive scanning and image management capabilities for the Digital Twin market including robotic assembly 3D simulation, construction management, facilities operations and management, and incident pre-planning.

Holobuilder deal views

Michael Burger, FARO president and CEO, says:

FARO logo“The high-value that digitalization brings to the AEC and Operations & Maintenance industries creates significant market opportunity for FARO. The addition of HoloBuilder to our offering accelerates the reality of a true end-to-end Digital Twin solution and advances our strategic objective of increased recurring revenue through market share gains in this large and growing segment.”

HoloBuilder president and founder Mostafa Akbari-Hochberg says:

“HoloBuilder and FARO together furthers our vision of digitizing the physical world to enable process automation and workflow optimization. The powerful combination of high accuracy laser scanning with real-time 360° photo capture and collaboration will empower both companies’ customer bases with a comprehensive Digital Twin solution.”

As of 30 April 2021, HoloBuilder had US$4.0 million in annual recurring revenue with a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 75% since 2019. It is one of several ambitious players in the photogrammetry field – in July 2020, Israeli startup Buildots raised £12m to fund its own expansion (post).

[* Disclosure: I am a member of the executive team of the UK BIM Alliance.]

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Corecon upgrades project team portal

US-based Corecon Technologies has continued upgrading its cloud-based construction estimating, project management and job cost software suite.

Corecon logoCalifornia, US-based construction software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider Corecon Technologies has completely rebuilt its TeamLink Portal for use with its cloud-based construction estimating, project management and job cost software suite. For Corecon subscribers, the portal connects internal and external project team members by providing secure, real-time access to project information. Corecon says this 2021 release is part of Corecon’s phased platform change to Angular.

President Norman Wendl says:

“With this latest update, we are rounding the corner on completing major upgrades to Corecon that give subscribers even more functionality to win bids, manage projects and collaborate more closely with the project team. A distinctive offering for Corecon subscribers, our TeamLink Portal now makes it easier than ever before to streamline project management, harness important information and create lasting relationships that lead to future work for all project stakeholders.”

The updated portal improves the user interface (UI), and simplifies navigation for external team members not familiar with the software. Corecon says it other enhancements help deliver reliable information more efficiently across the project team, including:

  • a new Allowance feature for client selections
  • ability to view Daily Logs when permission is granted by the portal administrator
  • ability for subcontractors to create pending subcontractor invoices

Corecon graphicTeamLink Portal supports all browsers. Once an internal or external team member logs in to the solution, navigation and access to all phases of the project is quick, easy and secure. Team members can access, respond to and store project information. And the portal delivers value after project completion. All documentation through the life of the project is stored on the portal, so the building owner can download final project documentation such as product manuals and as-built drawings.

Corecon’s cloud-based construction software provides business development, estimating, document control, contract administration, job cost control, scheduling and collaboration functionality, as well as integrations with popular generic business accounting systems including Intuit QuickBooks, Sage 50, SAP Business One or Xero.

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Nemetschek invests in Sablono

The Nemetschek Group has participated in a series A financing round of the fast-growing German contech startup Sablono, while also expanding its own SaaS operations.

Sablono logoBerlin, Germany-based Sablono, described by Nemetschek as a “market leader in digital lean technology for construction enterprises”, raised €5.3 million, and plans to accelerate its international growth (read news release). The company has for some years marketed itself outside Germany including in the UK, where it has exhibited at trade shows and presented at events (see The future of project controls, November 2018).*

Thomas Bachmaier was lead investor in the round. Bachmaier was the founder and, until May 2019 (post), the CEO of Munich-based SaaS vendor thinkproject. (In April 2021 – post –  thinkproject appointed former Nemetschek executive Patrik Heider as its latest CEO, succeeding Gareth Burton). Update: Bachmaier told EE: “It‘s a pure venture investment from my side and Nemetschek – not a strategic investment of Nemetschek. Sablono is 100% independent.”

Matt Wheelis, VP Industry Strategy Build & Construct Division at the Nemetschek Group, and Bachmaier will join Sablono’s advisory board.

Sablono investment perspectives:

Sablono graphicWheelis said:

“I am extremely excited to join Sablono’s Advisory Board and provide the company with my construction industry expertise and international network. We will support Sablono to enter the next phase of growth and execute on its vision of becoming a leading platform for real-time project controls across time, quality and costs”

Dr. Axel Kaufmann, Heider’s successor as CFOO and spokesman of the executive board of the Nemetschek group, said

“Our investment in this young and innovative high-growth company fits perfectly with our strategic goal of shaping the future AEC market and driving innovation. With this step we will enrich our vast experience in this industry with new ideas and approaches, leading to an even higher customer value.”

Lukas Olbrich, CEO of Sablono, said:

“Having Nemetschek continue to back the business and add experienced leadership to Sablono’s board creates a powerful combination of entrepreneurial and international spirit. We really look forward to the next phase of Sablono and reaching the next level with this team.”

[* Sablono is a participant in Glimpse of the Future this Thursday, 10 June 2021.]

Sablono in the UK

Update (11 June 2021) – Olbrich told EE that Sablono has established a solid position in the UK.

Lukas Olbrich - Sablono CEO“We started out in Germany in 2013, brought our first solution to market in 2014, had the first major project in Dubai in 2015 and started marketing Sablono on the back of that in October 2015 in the UK. Since then, our home event has always been the Digital Construction Week and we are attending it every year. We have grown our business in the UK and won major UK construction companies like Lendlease, Ballymore, Bouygues UK, McLaren Construction. The UK is our core market for Sablono and with the new investment, we are doubling down on this market, opening our office and hiring key business personnel in the UK.”

Nemetschek building SaaS strength

Nemetschek GroupThe Nemetschek AEC software group includes Allplan, Vectorworks, Graphisoft, SCIA, Maxon, Bluebeam (a 2014 deal), Solibri (2015) and dRofus (2016 post), and is a strong advocate of open BIM.

Despite the industry impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group achieved its 2020 financial targets, growing overall  revenues 7% to €596.9 million (c. £512m or US$706m), with an EBITDA of €172.3 million (c £148m or US$210m). Within these numbers, Nemetschek’s recurring revenues from subscription and Software-as-a-Service increased by 19.9% to €359 million – over 60% of total revenues – and it plans to expand its SaaS growth. Conversion to a cloud-centric subscription model of its global, but highly US-focused Build division brand Bluebeam will start in the second half of 2021.

Nemetschek graphicIn April 2021, Nemetschek Group reported a strong start to 2021 with revenue growth in the double-digit percentage range and an over-proportional increase in the operating result (EBITDA). The main growth driver was recurring revenues from software service contracts and rental models; revenues from subscription and SaaS alone grew by 44% to €8.3 million.

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NBS Summit: accelerating digital transformation

April 2021’s NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit focused on the Construction Playbook, the climate emergency, building safety and the role of digital technologies across all three.

NBS logoFollowing its successful online Construction Leaders’ Summit in October 2020, Newcastle, UK-based technology and information services provider NBS (now owned by Byggfakta) held a follow-up event, again over two days, on 21-22 April 2021.

As before, it attracted some top-notch speakers, including UK construction minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Simon Rawlinson of Arcadis and the UK Construction Leadership Council, and his CLC colleague Ann Bentley of Rider Levett Bucknall. Over 2000 people registered to join the event, which covered the accelerating digital transformation of construction, including new UK Government guidance, the pandemic, the climate emergency and building safety regulation. And since the event, further detail has emerged regarding the proposed ‘Golden Thread’ element of building safety regulation.

Construction Playbook

Trevelyan highlighted key developments since the previous Summit, including the December 2020 publication of the government’s Construction Playbook – it “resets the relationship between construction and government,” she said – as well as highlighting the urgent need to respond to climate change challenges (the UK is hosting the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2021). Energy efficiency and accelerating commercialisation of low carbon approaches were recurring themes. Post-Grenfell, she also touched on building safety in high-rise buildings and the establishment of a national regulator for building products, and echoed the Playbook‘s endorsement of the UK BIM Framework at the heart of efficient project delivery.

Who will use the playbookAcknowledging the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Rawlinson noted previous industry calls to “Never Waste a Good Crisis” (the title of the 2009 Wolstenholme Report). He expanded on Trevelyan’s  keynote, highlighting the Playbook‘s core themes: accelerating industry innovation, improving certainty of outcome, defining and driving value more effectively, and making better use of data and insight. The Playbook is set to be used by several of the UK construction industry’s biggest government and infrastructure customers.

Ann Bentley said government policy changes are aligned to how money is to be spent on construction, with increased focus on value for money, and on transformational change. Indicating the importance of the Playbook, she described it as “Perhaps the most significant construction document I’ve seen in my career“. As one of the leader’s of the CLC’s value workstream, including the Construction Innovation Hub‘s Value Toolkit, Bentley said the UK government’s value-based approach is also being taken up by private sector clients.

Digital acceleration

After a presentation by Crawford Wright from the UK Department for Education, this first group of speakers responded to questions, with digital transformation a key strand. Bentley said the COVID-19 lockdown had really helped industry workers utilise and appreciate digital tools; Rawlinson was optimistic about “industry data democratisation” enabled by cloud-based technologies for businesses large and small, and said aspects of the Playbook such as data transparency are desirable and easy to adopt by non-gov clients.

How deployment of technology could help deliver better buildings more efficiently was then described in the next session which included a presentation from Bryden Wood’s Jaimie Johnson, leader of the CIH’s Platform for Design for Manufacture and Assembly programme (“the Playbook provides more impetus and momentum to the platform programme, … the start for ‘harmonisation, digitisation and rationalisation’”). And Matt Hallissey of modular housing provider TopHat talked about opportunities for mass customisation to meet local authority planning needs as well as home-buyers’ requirements.

The climate emergency, and building safety

The Summit’s second day (which was partially sub-divided into two streams for NBS’s primary targets, one for designers and specifiers, and one for manufacturers)  focused more on the climate emergency and building safety. Gary Clark, chair of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group opened the day talking about ‘Building Sustainably’; sustainability in design is now also being encouraged in the RIBA Awards where judging criteria demand information about energy in use, embodied carbon and water use (read more).

Golden Thread initiativeOnce the event split, the specifiers stream heard from housing association L&Q speakers Johnny Furlong and Kirsty Villiers, and from Rebecca Thompson, an advisor to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. They talked about their ongoing work to flesh out the detail of the post-Grenfell Hackitt Report recommendations concerning the ‘Golden Thread’. Their aim was to pilot production of a standardised digital Golden Thread of building safety information for higher risk residential buildings. And an information management platform group is looking at how technology can support the process (I believe Nottingham, UK-based technology vendor ActivePlan is involved).

The ‘Golden Thread’ defined

Summit attendees effectively got a preview of emerging UK safety guidance. Since the summit, MHCLG and the BIM4HAs group has produced a formal definition, comprising five key criteria, backed by a nine-point annex.

According to a 28 May 2021 BIMplus article, the ‘Golden Thread’ covers the information, documents and information management processes used to support building safety (relating to both the building itself and people in and around it). The guidance highlights that “information could be held in a common data environment, but that there is no requirement for such,” with information held in a “structured way”, and will “likely align with the rules around open source data – so that information can be handed over in the future and still be accessed”.

The summit for specifiers continued with an overview, of the NBS Chorus specification platform (NBS Building, Landscape, and Create, are set to retire on 30 June 2021) and NBS Source (now combining NBS’s Product Selector, National BIM Library and NBS Plus), delivered by Stephen Hamil. He referred back to earlier presentations, stressing the key role of specification (apparently the Playbook mentions specification 38 times), while suggesting digital tools and standard processes are allowing better collaboration, more coordinated information and heightened transparency on audit trails. Carlos Muriel of Atkins then talked about digital design of internal spaces, and Alastair Kell described BDP’s adoption of BIM.

In the day’s final Q&A, the need for an industry culture change was discussed, and Hamil echoed the opportunity outlined earlier by Rawlinson: “We need to get away from decisions made in emails and telephone calls to decisions captured in shared spaces and platforms“.

Presentations and videos from the NBS summit are available via the NBS CLS webpage. NBS has also been promoting follow-up webinars reprising content from the summit – see events. And the 2021 NBS digital survey was also launched at the conference.

[* Disclosure: As a paid consultant, I supported NBS efforts to promote and to share content from the NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit. #CLS2021]

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thinkproject appoints new CEO

thinkproject logoGerman SaaS construction technology vendor has appointed former Nemetschek executive Patrik Heider as its CEO and further strengthened its board.

Former Nemetschek executive Patrik Heider has been appointed as the new CEO of Munich, Germany-based construction collaboration SaaS technology provider thinkproject

Patrik HeiderHeider, right, has held roles at PwC and the Hoffman manufacturing group, and spent five years (2014-2019) as spokesman of the executive board and CFO/COO at the Nemetschek construction software group, and 16 months as CEO of riskmethods (a supply chain risk management software vendor based in Munich). Under Heider’s tenure at Nemetschek, say thinkproject, “the company experienced impressive organic revenue growth and executed multiple group and brand level acquisitions – expanding the presence of the group from its core in building design and construction into building management.”

Heider replaces Gareth Burton who was succeeded thinkproject founder Thomas Bachmaier as CEO in May 2019 (post), having previously been the CIO of UK contractor Laing O’Rourke and, from January 2018, a non-executive director and member of thinkproject’s board of directors.


In late 2020, Swedish international investment group EQT took a majority stake in the German business (read: EQT takes majority stake in thinkproject). Florian Funk, a partner at EQT and member of thinkproject’s board says:

“Patrik is an inspiring leader with deep industry knowledge and a strong business acumen. He was a natural choice and an excellent successor for Gareth. He will continue the strategic focus on driving sustainable growth and further increasing the market position. I’m delighted to welcome Patrik to the company as he will play a key role in establishing Thinkproject as the leader in construction intelligence.

Heider says:

“I’m excited yet humbled to take on the responsibility of leading Thinkproject forward into the next phase. Digitalisation of the AECO industry is still at the beginning and there are a lot of opportunities as well as challenges ahead, both for us and the industry. I’m looking forward taking these challenges on with the talented employees, our customers and partners to help construct a better world.”

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)Burton, right, told Extranet Evolution that he had agreed with EQT that now would be the right time for a transition.

“Life is like that in private equity – the soccer coach analogy is a good one: high passion, high intensity, but it can be over very quickly. Last year was exceptional … and I feel I am leaving on a high. …. The FY20 results were well ahead of budget [thinkproject achieved 40% revenue growth in 2020] and the business is in a great shape this FY.”

Further ex-Nemetschek representation on thinkproject board

Malou AamundSean FlahertyMeanwhile, Malou Aamund, left, is the new chair of thinkproject’s board of directors. Aamund is the managing director for Google Denmark, and has previously held international leadership positions at Microsoft and IBM in Europe, EMEA and the Americas. She is a board member for several companies and also chair of the Board of Ecoinnovation.

Sean Flaherty, right, also joins the board. Flaherty is an AECO industry veteran with over 30 years of experience in creating design software and working in BIM. He has held various leadership positions including spells as CTO then as CEO of Vectorworks; later, he was on the board at Nemetschek Group as CSO and chair of several of its brand companies.

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Openbuilt spreads its “wings of transformation”

OpenBuilt sees major IT players including IBM and Red Hat combining to develop a connectivity and automation platform for the built environment industry.

OpenBuilt logoOpenBuilt is positioned as “a connectivity and automation platform that enables businesses to work faster and more accurately with their existing software“.

It has been launched by a group of businesses including global IT giant IBM, open source software leader Red Hat, international construction materials supplier Cemex and Oslo, Norway-based construction product data specialist Cobuilder. The OpenBuilt website says it “combines industry expertise and big tech credentials with the agility of a startup.” It is “building trusted data pipelines and low code development tools that will enable anyone to automate their business processes without complex software integration”:

“Through integration of previously siloed systems, enabling standardisation of data and providing tools to automate processes the OpenBuilt platform will bring the connectivity needed to unlock latent innovation – from industry 4.0 to the circular economy – that is required to meet the industry’s productivity gap.”

CDE … ecosystem … environment …?

OpenBuilt was launched yesterday (14 April 2021) and immediately  sparked considerable debate on social media about exactly what it is.

“IBM has just entered the CDE market,” tweeted BIMlauncher’s John Egan (who has history in this platform field with his 2016 Jenca Cloud; post). Edify’s Martin McDonell tweeted that IBM and Red Hat “seem to be making a big play as a CDE”. Cobuilder’s Antony Brophy insisted it wasn’t a CDE but a “connected ecoysystem”. BuroHappold’s Alain Waha felt it was “certainly more Common Data Ecosystem than any other system proposed so far by CDE vendors.” His colleague Shaun Farrell felt it was “more a component in the ecosystem … reliant on platforms being connectable.”

Some were more sceptical. One observer described OpenBuilt as “a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ lash-up grouping of reputable but less well-known names, which is trying to belatedly get a slice of what promises to be big action.” Also underlining it’s not a CDE, IBM’s Paul Surin was quick to defend the platform saying it was “not trying to muscle on the market”, adding “OpenBuilt is an independent company owned and led by a consortium of industry partners”.

BSI’s Dan Rossiter was “intrigued”: “The CDE process is about portability and QC, this appears to be more about retaining the syntactic and semantic relations as information is exchanged.”

CoBuilt standingAccording to OpenBuilt’s website, it’s not too late to get involved and help to build an automated exchange platform that works for the industry. The project is still at an early research stage, but its principles include “trusted data” and being “truly interoperable”, with the capability to “manage complex technical product data.”

“Take the edge off opaqueness … break down the deep silos and fragmentation …”

Mark FarmerAs part of the launch, one of the UK’s major champions of the need for change, Mark Farmer (author of the 2016 UK construction industry report “Modernise or Die), was interviewed for an IBM blog post. He said:

“Cloud platforms that enable people to collaborate in an open-source manner, such as OpenBuilt, could take the edge off the culture of opaqueness by enabling people to build interconnected ecosystems. It could build more trust in how we do construction and commercially contract.”

And in Designing Buildings, Farmer said:

“In pursuing the broad goal of construction industry transformation, there is a critical need to break down the deep silos and fragmentation that exists in how we organise and operate design, manufacture, construction and operation processes.

“This is equally true in the emerging digitalisation challenge. To create more strategic and scalable intelligent workflows, we need data and software to be part of a fully connected ecosystem. The concept of digital platforms is nothing new, but if construction is ever going to realise the full potential of some of the technology solutions that are now proliferating, and if those solutions are ever going to be given the chance to scale to maturity, then there is a need for market leadership in creating a unifying platform that can host these solutions and enables interoperability.

“What IBM and partners are offering through OpenBuilt is the opportunity to act as a digital integrator at an international and industry wide level, gluing together what is becoming an increasingly fragmented digital marketplace for construction technology solutions. This is an important step forward which has great potential to make our industry more efficient”.

OpenBuilt product development

According to Designing Buildings, OpenBuilt’s collaborative product development will initially focus on three areas:

  1. Establishing OpenBuilt using Red Hat OpenShift running on IBM Cloud to enable cconstruction companies to adopt a hybrid cloud approach and connect their supply chain. To maintain consistent technical language, OpenBuilt will use Cobuilder’s data templates to structure all data in a way that allows for machine-readability and interoperability with existing and future systems.
  2. Integration of independent software vendors to make an array of software and services accessible. IBM solutions and Salesforce open APIs will be integrated into the platform during the development to enable users to build functionality into their intelligent workflows.
  3. OpenBuilt ArchitectureDevelopment of new applications including a solution that will enable organisations to search, filter and sort building product technical data. Cobuilder’s data dictionary solution Define will be among the fundamental technologies enabling the use of a common language within the initial OpenBuilt flagship applications.

Echoes of the boom?

Reading about OpenBuilt and watching the social media conversations was reminiscent of similar conversations more than 20 years ago during the boom. That wider digital explosion sparked some major changes, but construction proved somewhat resistant to any significant digital transformation. During 2000, various major industry companies set out to create new construction trading platforms (eg: Mercadium, AECVenture, Arrideo, EU-supply, B2Build, etc – plus Asite, see update below), but competing construction materials giants or major contractors rarely wanted to work with each other. Sellers were concerned about aggregated spending driving down profit margins; buyers didn’t want their purchasing habits potentially visible to competitors; and the costs and technical challenges involved in channelling high volumes of data through centralised online marketplaces were beyond the budgets and technical competencies of largely traditional and highly cost-conscious construction businesses.

Only time will tell if OpenBuilt succeeds in its efforts to persuade partners to join its research and product development activities. Now that the initial partners have broken cover, will OpenBuilt attract a critical mass of other partners? (A couple of Paul Surin’s tweets mentioned a handful of UK independent software vendors including 3D Repo, SpecifiedBy and Asite – are they targets or already involved?) Or will it – like the era e-commerce platforms – spawn some competing platform players? IBM is certainly a big name backer, but there are other major generic IT players – Oracle, Microsoft, etc – who might also see the current, highly fragmented built environment industry as a potentially lucrative market.

OpenBuilt – “basically rebuilding Asite”

Asite logoUpdate (2.30pm BST, 15 April 2021)Extranet Evolution talked to Nathan Doughty, CEO of London-based Asite since January 2020 (read Nathan Doughty’s new Asite era), about OpenBuilt. He said he had been contacted by OpenBuilt to participate in late 2020 but had only had occasional contacts as they moved toward launch; there had been no concrete involvement by Asite so far. Following yesterday’s launch and reading more about OpenBuilt’s ambitions, he felt OpenBuilt was “basically rebuilding Asite”, recalling the early history of his firm.

As mentioned above, Asite was one of several ventures heavily backed by industry heavyweights looking to corner part of the construction B2B e-commerce marketplace in 2000-2001. In June 2001, Asite’s backers included British Land, Stanhope, Mace, Laing O’Rourke; technology partners included Microsoft, Compaq, Commerce One, BIW Technologies and Bidcom. However, after the bubble burst, Asite retrenched and refocused (with Doughty heavily involved then as CTO).

In-house, it began to build a web-based integration platform in the “cloud” on open source technology (Asite Exchange): an open and interoperable platform for system-to-system exchange of structured data. Doughty says:

Nathan Doughty“Since 2003 we’ve connected 100s of disparate systems for our construction clients, including pretty much every major ERP, document management system, and CAD/BIM package. We’ve been powering a decent portion of the UK construction B2B purchasing transactions using structured product catalogue data on our open platform for years and years. Asite Exchange powers our ‘CDE’, our supply chain (procurement and product data) and asset management functionality and the Asite ecosystem.”

He says Asite would be pleased to engage with OpenBuilt – or any similar venture:

“There’s obviously no rule saying there should only be one Asite. On the contrary, there should be as many as needed in the market – all underpinned by open-standards-based data interchange. So, of course, we’re happy to partner and lend our experience as this new project takes shape.  The same goes for other players in our market. The endgame for me is open systems connecting up to serve the needs of the built environment.  The more the merrier.”

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Bentley collaborates with Nvidia

Bentley Systems is developing applications using Nvidia’s Omniverse platform for photorealistic, real-time visualisation and simulation of digital twins of massive-scale industrial and civil infrastructure projects.

Bentley logo 2017Visualisation and simulation are increasingly important in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector, but the costs and manpower needed to develop really sophisticated and powerful capabilities demand that AEC incumbents work with more generic hardware and software experts. This week, Bentley Systems has announced (12 April 2021) that it is developing applications using Nvidia‘s Omniverse platform for photorealistic, real-time visualisation and simulation of digital twins of massive-scale industrial and civil infrastructure projects.

Jacobs Waterworks TeamBentley Systems says it has extended its iTwin platform to integrate with Nvidia’s Omniverse platform. Bentley iTwin is an open-source, scalable cloud platform that enables the creation, visualisation and analysis of digital twins of infrastructure assets. The Omniverse platform (see this May 2020 AEC Magazine feature for detailed background) allows teams to stream data from multiple applications and to interact in real-time on the combined high-fidelity result.

So, instead of exchanging and collaborating upon massive files, architects, engineers and other designers can work simultaneously in their chosen applications, with any changes instantly appear in co-collaborators’ applications. Pixar’s USD (Universal Scene Description – an open framework for exchanging 3D computer graphics data) makes this possible.

Bentley/Nvidia collaboration

Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley said:

“Visualization and simulation underpin many of the use cases for infrastructure digital twins. The collaboration of Bentley iTwin and NVIDIA Omniverse is delivering real-time, immersive 3D/4D experiences that will enable true-to-reality, physics-based simulation of even the largest and most complex infrastructure assets. GPU-computing is transforming the world of engineering and construction and promises to unleash the potential of AI for simulation and advanced analytics in infrastructure digital twins.”

Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA

“Modern infrastructure are magnificent feats of engineering. NVIDIA and Bentley share a vision of physically based digital twins – so accurate and realistically simulated that they will revolutionize everything from infrastructure design to operations. NVIDIA Omniverse was built precisely to realize this vision – to create shared virtual worlds that are simulated with physical and photo realism. We are delighted Bentley is developing applications for infrastructure digital twins on NVIDIA Omniverse.”

… but collaboration costs

Application plug-ins are needed to connect to the Omniverse server platform. In the AEC software world, Omniverse Connectors are currently available for Autodesk Revit, Rhino, SketchUp, Archicad, blender, 3ds max, CityEngine, and Unreal Engine (see also: 8 March 2021 post, 3D Repo develops Unreal Engine-based 3D platform). Omniverse can also support point clouds – useful insofar as Bentley has invested heavily in  ContextCapture and related laser and photogrammetry data capture and visualisation tools.

However, collaboration comes at a huge cost that probably puts it out of the reach of all but the largest global firms. For, say, 25-strong workgroups, Nvidia Omniverse Enterprise prices start at US$1,800 per user per annum, plus $25,000 for the platform’s core, the Omniverse Nucleus Server. Larger implementations could run to $250,000 if they want Nucleus Server to service the needs of 500 people or more.

However, the Omniverse platform and some basic functionality is apparently available at no cost for individuals to try out. And Nvidia RTX Virtual Workstation (vWS) software, also part of the platform, lets users run graphics-intensive 3D applications on low-powered devices, including standard office laptops that don’t have powerful graphics processing units (GPUs).

In other news…

Update (15 April 2020) – Bentley Systems has announced it has acquired Montreal, Canada-based INRO Software, a developer of multimodal transportation planning, traffic simulation, and mobility visualisation software.

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thinkproject acquires UK-based Formworks

thinkproject completes its second major UK acquisition to grow its mobile construction field data capture capabilities.

thinkproject logoMunich, Germany-based construction collaboration SaaS technology provider thinkproject recently announced (6 April 2021) its acquisition (for an undisclosed amount) of the London-based software developer, Digital Field Solutions, creator of the mobile application Formworks.

The deal comes nearly three years after thinkproject acquired Gloucester-based contract change management specialist CEMAR (May 2018 post) and six months after Swedish international investment group EQT took a majority stake in the German business (EQT takes majority stake in thinkproject).

Formworks ‘low-code’ environment

Formworks logoDigital Field Solutions was established in London in 2005. Formworks is a self-service application builder and workflow solution that enables rapid process automation. Users can configure customised mobile and web forms that can be linked to multiple data sources, including SQL environments, CRM, ERP and third-party software solutions.

Formworks websiteIn the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector, access to complex logic, calculations and validation can be critical. New data may need to be captured and validated in environments where there is often limited or no internet connectivity, or where security measures make it difficult to use technology to capture and collect the data needed. Formworks can quickly solve data collection challenges by providing users with a low-code environment in which they can build their own custom applications to capture, validate and share complex field data.

Formworks uses powerful browser-based technology to digitise dynamic forms and workflows through a simple interface. All regularly used business forms can be made available to all stakeholders involved in construction projects across multiple devices and platforms.

Deal perspectives

Michael Bischoff, CTO of Thinkproject, says:

Michael Bischoff, thinkproject CTO“Since its launch, Formworks has won numerous awards and is used by clients in construction, financial services, real estate, utilities, training, social care, maintenance and manufacturing. We are delighted to welcome the Digital Field Solutions team to Thinkproject and look forward to continuing to enhance and develop Formworks for both existing and new customers with a specific focus on the AECO lifecycle. We see significant potential for customers to combine dynamic forms creation and data integration to Thinkprojects application portfolio to drive their digitisation efforts.”

Tim Howard, co-founder of Digital Field Solutions, says:

“We are very proud to be part of Thinkproject’s expansion strategy. Formworks is an excellent extension of Thinkproject’s construction intelligence solutions to solve data collection and validation challenges for construction teams across the three phases of design, build and operate. … Becoming part of a large, successful software group will enable us to accelerate the development of Formworks to meet the rapidly evolving needs of all our clients and provide us with the platform to extend our reach into new territories and sectors across Europe.”

thinkproject growth

Now over 20 years old, thinkproject continues to grow, achieving revenue growth of approximately 40% in 2020, despite the difficult market conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (see thinkproject news), and now has almost 500 employees worldwide in 18 offices in 11 countries,

Karolin BeckFollowing the EQT investment,the management team has been expanded, with chief marketing officer Karolin Beck (ex Sauce Labs and Microsoft, right) the first woman to join the company’s executive team, and CTO Michael Bischoff (ex eFront and Sage) leading development of thinkproject’s construction intelligence platform. The business’s new board is chaired by Patrik Heider, who has been joined by ex-Siemens executive Janina Kugel and CCO of IFS AB Michael Ouissi, as well as private equity executives Florian Funk, Morgan Seigler and Stefan Dandl.

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