Heathrow CDE built on GroupBC and Autodesk technologies

A seven-year framework agreement to deliver London Heathrow Airport Limited’s chosen Common Data Environment (CDE) solution combines technologies from Autodesk and GroupBC.

Excitech logoUK-based Excitech construction technology and services provider recently announced that it had been awarded a seven-year framework agreement to lead a consortium to deliver Heathrow Airport Limited’s chosen Common Data Environment (CDE) solution. Interestingly, it combines technologies from two firms who otherwise both compete in the CDE sector. The platform will combine Autodesk’s BIM 360 visualisation and design tools integrated and underpinned with management and governance from GroupBC’s Enterprise CDE.

Excitech is Autodesk’s largest Platinum Partner in the UK. It provides software, consultancy, training and support, and a range of IT, document management and facilities management solutions.

According to the company, the CDE will be at the heart of Heathrow’s Information Management strategy. It will be its primary common information repository and allow controlled sharing of information with suppliers and across Heathrow departments. It will provide information and asset management in line with emerging industry standards, ensuring the efficient whole-life management of Heathrow’s critical assets.

Dave HughesMarket-leading technologies

David Hughes, Excitech’s managing director, right, said: “Having worked on the Terminal 5 construction project we are excited to be involved in this latest strategic project at Heathrow. The Autodesk and GroupBC technologies being deployed are market-leading and will enable Heathrow to trust the data they hold and have the confidence to make decisions based on ‘one version of the truth”.

The project is already underway and is expected to be complete by December 2020.

Jo Ellman Brown, PMO Director at Heathrow said: “We are aiming to be the first airport operator in the world who can leverage value from our digital assets, allowing our people to work in a safe environment, design and plan in a collaborative way, and operate a fully integrated asset system. With a long-established relationship with Excitech, we’re delighted they were the successful bidder on this project. We anticipate that the solution they have proposed will significantly improve the management of our critical assets.”

As well as enabling Heathrow to have accurate and up to date information readily available in the CDE, the new solution will result in fewer surveys and reduced costs as a result of earlier and greater collaboration across all parties. In addition, maintenance costs will reduce through better, earlier clash detection and more accurate maintenance information being readily available.

GroupBC

GroupBCReading, UK-based GroupBC has been developing document and information management solutions for construction related projects and asset owners since 1998, and in recent years has been pushing the boundaries of technology, linking project and asset data with external datasets in order to provide rich and valuable insights which enable more timely and better decision making. Customers include Balfour Beatty, Costain, Nationwide Building Society, Sainsbury’s and Thames Water (post).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/excitech-cde-built-groupbc-autodesk-technologies/

AI, Machine Learning, construction and bots

Construction is waking up to the opportunities posed by artificial intelligence and machine learning to mine rich data and deliver powerful business insights and predictions.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and data analytics have been mentioned sporadically in Extranet Evolution since 2013, when I looked at software tools used by India’s Transbit Technologies to automate some construction document control processes. There was then a gap of about three years before the next EE mention of AI, in September 2016 (France’s Finalcad was using AI for object recognition) and one more in 2017 (Unearth using AI for site surveys). The frequency of mentions has since accelerated, with six EE articles touching on AI in 2018. EE covered:

  • ShapeDo’s visual comparison technology (April 2018)
  • Salesforce’s growing technology stack (June 2018)
  • Concord Project Technologies’ T-Con advanced work packaging platform (July 2018)
  • Kreo’s efforts to revolutionise BIM with AI (August 2018)
  • Bricsys’s incorporation of AI into its design and collaboration tools (October 2018), and
  • HoloBuilder adding “SiteAI”, to automate  progress control (December 2018).

UK government policy on AI and construction

In the UK, AI is set to become increasingly important and prominent in the UK architecture, engineering and construction market.

AI sector dealThe tone for this development was set in February 2015 when the UK government’s Digital Built Britain post-Level 2 BIM strategy was first unveiled (post), talking extensively about open data and big data. And over the past four years, successive government and industry reports have increasingly sought to move the industry debate beyond its (over-)obsession with BIM and embrace wider digital thinking. In November 2017, “AI and Big Data” was one of four Grand Challenge areas in the Government’s Industrial Strategy, with AI and both construction highlighted as subjects of forthcoming sector deals. The AI sector deal was published in April 2018 (link) and the Construction Sector Deal followed in July 2018 (link). In the meantime, the National Infrastructure Commission published its Data for the Public Good report in November 2017 (link) setting out a roadmap towards a ‘national digital twin’ for the UK’s national infrastructure enabled by secure sharing of high quality, standardised data (incidentally, Neil Thompson wrote a fascinating article [£] about connecting data for Building magazine recently).

Joined-up thinking across Whitehall departments and agencies, and across industry and academia, is evident in recent announcements about these areas. In November 2018, for example, the Cambridge Centre for Digital Built Britain published the Gemini Principles intended to underpin the UK’s digital twin strategy (link). And there have been two moves this month:

  • nPlan - logoOn 5 February 2019, UK Research and Innovation announced £18m funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for research, development and innovation projects to support the construction industry. The use of AI to predict and plan construction projects and avoid possible delays was one idea to win funding. The project, by nPlan, Kier and the University of Cambridge, will use AI and algorithms to better predict, plan and schedule construction projects (nPlan featured in this Building magazine article [£] last month). Another project will look at integrating voice-activated AI and augmented reality in the assembly of components to speed up construction and increase productivity.
  • On 21 February, the government announced it would investing in growing the UK’s skills in the AI sector, creating a nationwide programme of industry-funded AI Masters courses coupled with work-based placements, and funding research at 16 AI centres for doctoral training.

Botmore looking for partners and pilot projects

BotmoreAgainst this backdrop, both established technology businesses and startups are targetting AI opportunities in UK construction, and looking to increase R&D work in these fields.

In addition to those already mentioned, Extranet Evolution recently spoke to Aydin Ozcekic, CEO of Botmore Technology.

Bringing together AI and machine learning experts at Istanbul Technical University with counterparts in the UK, Ozcekic said Botmore is developing a ‘digital assistant’ capable of analysing data from existing applications (he mentioned Oracle’s Primavera, Autodesk’s BIM 360, and Tekla BIMsight as examples) and then helping engineers make informed predictions (Ozcekic has written about deploying AI in construction, and about data sources in construction, and spoke at Digital Construction Week in London in October 2018).

ConBot is a prototype application helping teams combine conventional project data, sensor-derived data (the ‘internet of things’) and interactive chatbot technologies, using natural language processing techniques. Ozcekic is interested in talking to potential technology partners, and also to construction businesses that might want to pilot test the technologies on construction projects.

Update (17 April 2019)Interesting US-oriented article on the rise of AI and other technologies in construction and real estate.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/ai-machine-learning-construction/

Aphex advances short-term planning app

Almost a year since soft-launching its SaaS and mobile Planner application, London-based Aphex has continued to develop the platform, winning new customers on major infrastructure projects.

Aphex logoNine months after launching its collaborative short-term planning application Planner (see May 2018 post), London, UK-based Aphex has taken its Software-as-a-Service and mobile platform to a new level. With some new funding in the pipeline, it is also set to expand its marketing and take the solution beyond the UK and Europe.

Carlos Adams (Aphex)CEO and co-founder Carlos Adams said 2018 had been good for Aphex (“we are on a ton of projects, including some in Europe, and major schemes such as Tideway, CrossRail, HS2 and Hinkley Point”). The application’s development has also continued:

“We’ve been working closely with our users to introduce a load of new features: Baseline Snapshots, Milestones, Resource Management, Quants, Smart Status and Corporate Dashboards to name a few. We’ve also made improvements to reporting outputs and how Planner communicates with Master schedules.”

Lean, short-term planning through the collaborative production and real-time sharing of look-ahead programmes remains Aphex’s focus, and there are also new features which make the application more attractive to corporate users.

SmartStatus

Aphex status-plannerOne of the new elements is a ‘snapshots’ feature which allows users to compare latest iterations of programmes and project progress against previous baselines. Project milestones have been enhanced, as has support for ‘resources’ – whether these are construction plant and equipment or personnel. The interface, reporting outputs and updated site plans can also be ‘white-labelled’ with the logo of the company concerned.

The key Gantt chart depiction of project programmes has also been enriched. Activities, resources and materials can be associated with a bar, and their current status (including percentage complete or ahead/on/behind schedule) can be displayed in the browser view or via the mobile application. Productivity indicators also extend to metrics for use of associated raw materials (bricks, concrete, etc).

The application makes extensive user of red-amber-green reporting to make it easy for users to focus on areas of concern – useful when typical project schedules may incorporate over 500 separate activities. And the application updates data in real-time (watching a live project with multiple uses, I saw bars move and colours change as activity or resource statuses were updated). This eliminates waiting for revised programmes to be uploaded or synchronised (though Aphex, of course, retains the ability to import from and/or export to master scheduling tools such as Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project).

Aphex interface upgrade

Aphex dashboard-plannerAdams has always placed a high priority on the user interface and user experience. Planner’s overall ‘look and feel’ is cleaner and faster – the dashboard view still provides an at-a-glance bar-chart view of the user’s core project, incorporating weather feeds for the immediate near-term future. Key information can also be filtered to provide different views. For example, users can drill into the performance of particular subcontractors, review particular tasks, or focus on certain locations within a site. (“Being able to quickly review unresolved clashes is a huge time-saver.”) This is often an areas where clashes (between different trades, for example) might be identified, so Planner enables the team to agree which site activities take priority and then automatically produce a logical revised programme sequence, complete with activity dependencies, so that the subcontractor resources can be reallocated accordingly.

Aphex sequence plannerAdams draws on his own past experience of working on infrastructure projects. “Every week we would review concurrent activities on site, and spend 2-3 hours producing Powerpoint presentations showing how we proposed to move people and plant around the site.” By providing interactive site plans, Planner lets teams quickly review and update forthcoming programmes, complete with detailed call-outs and an automatically generated legend.

Sometimes these are developed at meetings using interactive whiteboards, Adams said, with the outputs produced and shared in 2-3 minutes – rather than hours – and updated frequently. Subcontractors can immediately see the latest programme in Aphex Planner, or by sharing a PDF (still widely demanded across project teams). “This also means big health and safety benefits,” Adams says. “The right plant, materials and personnel are allocated to the right place at the right time.”

Pan-project reporting

Where Aphex Planner is used across multiple projects, corporate users can also aggregate data to produce summary dashboards – useful for providing an overview of project statuses. Data can also be exported into business intelligence solutions such as Microsoft’s PowerBI.

While still focused on lean processes, the Aphex business itself also remains lean, marketing has been low-key to date with referrals being the main driver or the company’s success (though Adams did present at Phil Shatz’s Project Controls event – see 28 November 2018 live blog).* However, new funding is in the pipeline and Adams is planning to expand Aphex’s reach into new geographies and begin work on their procurement and commercial focussed tools.

[* Shatz will be running a ‘Glimpse of the Future’ event focused on BIM in London on 5 March 2019: details.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/aphex-advances-short-term-planning-app/

think project! set to expand

Munich, Germany-based think project! group grew revenues 20% in 2018 and regards itself as Europe’s market leader in the SaaS construction collaboration market.

Thinkproject-logoThomas Bachmaier, founder and CEO of Munich, Germany-based SaaS construction technology provider think project!, believes the business is set to grow even more strongly. Speaking during the first day of the group’s internal kick-off conference in Munich on 23 January 2019, when the company shared its vision, mission and strategy with around 230 of its now almost-300 employees, he said the company was now set for growth, both organically and by acquisition.

Thomas BachmaierIn an exclusive on-the-record briefing during the conference,* Bachmaier said the change had started in early 2017 when private equity investor TA Associates took a strategic stake in the business. It was looking, in Bachmaier’s words, to “unlock the potential” and “to take it to a new level”. He said TA had helped the company benchmark itself against other businesses in the sector and in TA’s portfolio, and had also helped identify when the timing might be right for the group to grow a UK presence.

(For context, TA had previously invested in the US software vendor Viewpoint in 2012, who acquired the UK’s 4Projects in February 2013. This investment was short-lived – being bought out by Bain Capital in April 2014.)

TA’s investment in think project! instigated some changes among the non-executive team. It brought in SaaS veteran Peter Prestele in November 2017 and Laing O’Rourke CIO Gareth Burton in February 2018, for example. Among the executive team, Ralf Grüßhaber joined as managing director and the group’s new chief financial officer in October 2017. With Bachmaier, he helped lead conference sessions alongside other recent appointments including chief sales officer Anton Hofmeier and chief product officer Frank Felten.

“Digitisation in the industry is both a big opportunity for us and at the same time a big challenge. Customers know more exactly what they want from a project point of view but as we move to enterprise solutions, new people come wanting to make new decisions. This event is about making the company ready to meet those new requirements – and benefit from it”

Think project! revenue growth

The think project! group grew revenue by over 20% during the financial year ending 31 December 2018 (news release). Revenue for think project!, both in Germany and internationally, grew across all target segments (public and private asset owners, general contractors and project managers). This has stimulated an expansion of staff in development, sales and customer services, resulting in an overall 15% increase to approximately 300 people across the entire group. The year’s saw numerous wins of strong customers including Bayer AG, Siemens RE, CG Group AG (release), DEKA, Gerchgroup AG, Arkema, and Femern Link Contractors.

It is now arguably the biggest Europe-based vendor, particularly following recent merger/ acquisition activity among other providers. The aggregation of BIW, Conject and Aconex finally became part of the US giant Oracle in March 2018, while the former 4Projects/Viewpoint business became part of the US-based Trimble group the following month (April 2018).

Ben Walker2018 also saw think project! group complete a major UK acquisition. It bought the Gloucester-based SaaS contract change management software developer CEMAR (post; CEMAR’s Ben Walker speaking at the conference, right), and it, too, enjoyed a successful year of growth. The conference also heard updates from various specialist and regional businesses. The group’s Eplass and PlanConnect product businesses, the former LASCOM business in France (post), and the former ProjectCentre business in Spain (post) all reported strong growth.

International ambitions

While retaining a strong presence across its traditional central European stronghold, Bachmaier says think project! is now looking to gradually expand. The Group will initially be using CEMAR as a springboard to grow think project! adoption in the UK, in the Asia-Pacific market, and potentially South Africa, where CEMAR has been building on adoption of NEC contracts in those territories. CEMAR might also expand into Europe to exploit FIDIC opportunities, he said, and think project! would also be offered in the UK and in France (as announced in October 2018).

“We will also launch a new user interface (UI/UX) with Version 10 of think project!, as well as further accelerate our investment in mobile solutions and BIM.”

[* Disclosure: I attended the think project! kick off event at the company’s invitation and under a non-disclosure agreement (briefly relaxed for my conversation with Thomas Bachmaier). Think project! paid my hotel and travel expenses and a speaker’s fee for participation in a discussion forum at the conference.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/tthink-project-set-to-expand/

Construction Technology Report 2019: the designers’ view

A recently published ‘Construction Technology Report’ from Newcastle-based NBS presents a view of digital adoption, but is flawed by its narrow focus on building design businesses.

In May 2018, the 2018 (8th) annual BIM survey from NBS presented some data on adoption of common data environment (CDE) platforms by UK-based construction businesses. The data suggested a wide continuum: from 21% of firms using a CDE for all projects, to 28% not using any CDE at all.

Survey responses suggested that Viewpoint’s platform (now part of Trimble’s portfolio) was the most widely used, but I had reservations about how representative the sample was. It over-represented architects (hardly surprising, perhaps, given NBS’s RIBA Enterprises history), and swayed towards building design. This mean those working on the UK’s civil engineering infrastructure (highways, rail, utilities, etc) were under-represented. I felt it potentially downplayed the adoption of tools such as Bentley ProjectWise and GroupBC’s CDE, and overplayed the adoption of generic file-sharing applications such as DropBox, Microsoft’s Sharepoint and Google Drive.

Construction Technology Report 2019

NBS Construction Technology Report 2019For the first time, NBS has undertaken a separate survey looking at the technologies. Recently published, the NBS Construction Technology Report 2019 (available here) is based on quantitative research undertaken in late 2018 to which over 500 people contributed. Little further information about the sample is given though a question (p.13) about internal collaboration is broken down into just two groups: architectural practices and multi-disciplinary practices. Unfortunately, this suggests the survey did not extend to, say, non-architecture design firms, contractors, specialist subcontractors, project managers, manufacturers, clients, etc. Again, NBS results therefore reflect the views of a relatively narrow and building-focused segment of the construction industry.

The sample appears largely positive about the benefits of ‘digitisation’, recognising that a failure to adopt digital technologies could put companies out of business, and accepting that construction lags other sectors in its digital technology adoption (p.11). Clear majorities believed that both internal and external collaboration had changed as a result of technology adoption. Design activities still involve considerable work with documents and spreadsheets (lots of paper on the desk shown on the report’s cover!), referencing standards and specification writing; 2D design (72%)  was still slightly more common than 3D work (67%), but use of ‘project extranets’ or CDEs was only part of the work of 45% of respondents.

The NBS survey then dives deeper into the data for each of these design activities. Perhaps not surprisingly, its sample are prominent users of NBS for specification writing, and the NBS National BIM Library is the most widely used BIM object library (60%), ahead of BIMobject (37%) and BIMstore (36%; post).

NBS Technology Report 2019 graphsThe findings regarding extranets and CDEs were presented in two bar charts. The ‘extranet’ solutions were essentially generic file-sharing platforms: Dropbox (62%), Microsoft’s OneDrive (27%) and Sharepoint (26%), and Google Drive (22%) were all a long way ahead of Huddle and Documentum.

A skewed view of CDE adoption

The most frequently selected construction-specific CDEs came from Viewpoint/4Projects (41%), Autodesk’s 360 range (23%), Asite (22%), Aconex/Conject (18%), and Bentley Projectwise (8%). The high figure for Autodesk may well reflect the popularity of Autodesk design tools among this building-led sample – 69% were users of Autodesk CAD and modelling applications (an industry source told Extranet Evolution: “whilst [360] may be licensed, is it used in anger?”). Similarly, the low figure for Bentley Projectwise follows naturally from the under-representation of infrastructure design in the NBS’s sample.

Next was Deltek/Union Square at 7%. This perhaps further confirms the design-led nature of the sample, as Union Square, acquired by Deltek in 2016, grew largely through adoption by SME design firms of its locally-hosted practice management platform, Workspace, and only gradually extended to ‘extranet’ type functionality as a response to a minority of contractor customers. (A competitor commented: “An internal information management system with drawing register/issuing capabilities doesn’t really constitute a CDE.”)

The NBS’s CDE barchart is completed by Procore (5%) Clearbox’s BIMxtra (3%), GroupBC (2%) and Causeway LiveLink (1%). Heavily backed by investors, US-based Procore has only recently started to market itself in the UK; Clearbox is strongly associated with the UK Tier 1 contractor Kier (post); while GroupBC is another solution extensively used on civil engineering infrastructure projects, and is often ‘white labelled’ by its customers – who include the UK’s biggest contractor Balfour Beatty, fellow Tier 1 players Costain and BAM, retailer Sainbury’s, and Thames Water, among others (see October 2017 post).

Update (9 April 2019) – In a 5 April 2019 blog post by Stephen Hamil, NBS has announced partnerships with some of the companies offering CDEs: “We want to develop a stronger link between the well-structured content within the specification and the tasks that are required by other members of the project team in particular, so they can be tracked in the CDE. … We’re delighted to have announced partnerships with Asite, Autodesk BIM 360, Newforma and Viewpoint.

It’s now about ‘digitalisation’

‘Digitisation’ is the process of converting information into a digital format, and many of the design firm activities described in the NBS Construction Technology Report are clearly in transition from analog practices to being digitally enabled. In his punchy and readable introduction, Stephen Hamil looks to a future where the ‘BIM conversation’ has moved on from a focus solely on the 3D model to “a rich cloud platform of connected technology from multiple providers.” NBS also includes some interesting practice profiles looking at the technology stacks being developed by some design firms. NBS technology offerings such as its cloud-based specification product Chorus (launched in August 2018) are strongly promoted in the document (which ultimately has to be seen for what it is: marketing collateral targeted at NBS’s architecture-led design market).

Digital Built Britain diagramPedantically, perhaps we should be talking more about ‘digitalisation‘: “the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities – the process of moving to a digital business” (to use Gartner’s definition). I have been speaking to audiences recently* about how businesses need to do more than just adopt new technologies – they need to take on the challenge posed in “Digital Built Britain” in February 2015 and start thinking about new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking, new business models.

Mark Farmer, author of the October 2016 industry report “Modernise or Die”, spoke at the Irish Embassy in London earlier this week, and was clear about the need for construction businesses to change. If they didn’t, he warned, they could find themselves replaced or bypassed (“be substituted or disintermediated“) by more digitally adept and more integrated organisations. Design businesses like those targeted by NBS will not be immune from these changes – the ongoing shift towards more manufacturing-led approaches to construction will require them to rethink their key business relationships and their supporting processes and information practices.

[* For example, I have been talking at designer-oriented events organised by Specifi; the next of these will be in Leeds on 19 March 2019, followed by Birmingham on 2 April and Nottingham on 30 April.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/nbs-construction-technology-report-designers-view/

Rethinking construction contracts – blockchain, video?

Could new digital technologies such as blockchain or even video contracts take some of the administrative complexity and friction out of construction project delivery?

Construction has long been a highly contractual and often adversarial and litigious industry. Its resistance to change (along with its learned friends in the legal profession) has perpetuated the reliance upon numerous detailed agreements and related risk-management products such as insurances.

However, there has been some progress – at least in the UK (and in other markets that apply UK-type approaches). More collaborative forms of contract (PPC2000, the NEC suite, the JCT/CE Collaborative Contract) have been developed to foster more amicable working relationships. Progressive models of procurement (for example, the Cabinet Office has urged trials of two-stage open book, cost-led procurement, and integrated project insurance), gain/pain-sharing arrangements, and single project bank accounts address commonly experienced pain-points. And these may be supported by information and workflow-sharing platforms (extranets or common data environments, CDEs – contract change management was something of a battleground among the extranet vendors a decade ago) that seek to improve process visibility and transparency. More contract-focused solutions such as think project!’s CEMAR, Sypro or MPS’s CCM might also be used to manage contract changes.

The future may yet require more radical approaches to how businesses interface with each other. Currently, a myriad of one-to-one contracts create numerous interfaces, adding complexity and friction to flows of information and remuneration.

Blockchain?

Multi-party alliance-type contracts may help reduce these issues, while also fostering a more inclusive approach to delivering clients’ projects (advocating ‘integrators’ rather than ‘contractors’, the ICE-led Project 13 is a key initiative here), while emerging technologies such as blockchain are being proposed as a basis for ‘smart contracts’.

IBM Blockchain slideMuch-hyped, blockchain was elegantly de-mystified by IBM’s Tim Rook at the recent second Salesforce construction conference (24 January 2019; view Salesforce white paper here).* Rook talked about the potential to authenticate industry transactions from end to end (while admitting construction was still maybe 5-10 years from achieving any kind of token value exchange between parties to those transactions). IBM has helped launch numerous blockchain systems – all enshrining the core principles of consensus, provenance, immutability, finality and shared view. Given construction’s continuing poor levels of productivity, he suggested digital technologies such as blockchain could save time, remove cost (by reducing overheads, disputes and waste), reduce risk, and increase trust – a rare commodity in an often-adversarial industry.

Video-based contracts?

Perhaps less new technologies that we use daily might also resolve potential disputes – particularly for small-scale modernisation, refurbishment or repair works? A Finnish start-up is advocating something novel….

SessioTomas Westerholm, CEO and founder of Helsinki, Finland-based Sessio Software has developed an alternative approach to formulating and monitoring agreements to deliver construction works using video. He believes video-contracts might According to this Finnish news report, Westerholm believes video contracts can help resolve the misunderstandings and missed deadlines that are often an unavoidable part of renovation works.

Sessio video contract imageIt is a simple idea. Using the Sessio app, users record a local video or a video call where they describe the specifics of the works. The captured audio and video can then be augmented by still photographs upon which the user can draw – and the material is then quickly merged into a ‘video contract’. The process takes little time (certainly far less than drafting a traditional contract and associated schedules) and also enables parties to a contract to discuss and agree the renovation works without having to physically be where the works will take place. “And as the works progress, there are always additional details that need to be agreed on,” says Westerholm.

Usually such details are discussed verbally, since writing everything down would take too long. But things often don’t work out exactly as discussed or the works end up taking longer than expected. Westerholm believes a video contract, created with Sessio’s app, changes this as it works as a record of the agreement. Westerholm hopes that this will help bring about a transformation of behavioural patterns, as a recording will encourage renovation companies to be precise with what they promise and deliver.

Sessio is at the early stages of its journey, having a few part-time employees, and an early stage app updated in November 2019. But Westerholm – an architect by training – believes that once construction site supervisors have a chance to try the app, they will quickly see its benefits and start using it at their sites. The report highlights the immediate time and cost savings to construction businesses from eliminating the need to drive to the location to discuss the works.

“We all carry portable devices that are always connected and have highly sophisticated tech. This allows for entirely new kinds of services, and I’m sure there’s still massive untapped potential for new ideas.”

If blockchain sounds too complex and video doesn’t appeal, why not just adopt a simpler approach to contracts? For example, UK contract evangelist Sarah Fox advocates 500-word contracts to build trust and avoid disputes….

(* Read about Salesforce’s first construction council conference here; Salesforce is a client of pwcom.co.uk Ltd.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/rethinking-construction-contracts-blockchain-video/

TenderSpace rebrands: enter Copronet

Copronet logoTenderSpace rebrands as Copronet, the latest UK attempt to build a construction industry business platform.

It’s taken a couple of years, but the Dorset, UK-based construction business platform TenderSpace has finally changed its name, rebranding as Copronet.

Soft-launched in early 2016, TenderSpace provided tools to connecting construction businesses at different stages of projects. Tools included work, team and product finders, a profile builder, a finance checker, a cost analysis tool, a quick quote tool and a project hub. Two years ago founder and CEO David Stapleton told me that, despite the name, the business was “rather more than e-tendering – it’s a name that we could perhaps improve upon in due course.” Copronet (no relation to CoProNet.Wales, the Co-production Network for Wales) was launched this week on 4 February 2019: I imagine the name was devised to suggest ‘construction professional network’).

The platform claims it will give the construction industry a new way to connect, collaborate and grow. It is aimed at everyone in construction – trades, contractors, project managers, clients, architects, specialists, building firms and enterprise-level businesses. Copronet seeks to help members build private networks through which they can identify and connect with relevant professionals from across the industry, and find work. The site lists over 150,000 projects. Its suite of built-in tools enables users to access project management, time tracking, credit rating reports, and other tools. It offers a no or low cost platform (its Pro Plan is £7/user/month) from which to do business, run projects and showcase work.

David Stapleton Stapleton said:

“A big part of this was making sure Copronet was accessible to everyone. We believe everyone should have access to the best technology without having to worry about the cost, so there will always be a free plan for Copronet. And our pricing for other plans will always be affordable.”

Copronet: the Extranet Evolution perspective

Copronet is not the first platform to attempt to build either a UK construction version of LinkedIn or a marketplace to connect different parts of project delivery chain. At the height of the dot.com boom at the turn of the century, several (ultimately shortlived) industry portals were launched (for example: AECVenture, Arrideo and Mercadium) but none gained any great traction and they soon dissolved.

TCNTen years later, I got excited about the social media boom, urging construction to get social, and March 2010 saw the launch of tCn (‘The Construction Network’).* This venture soon faltered, partially undermined by the ongoing recession in the UK industry and gradual professional adoption of mainstream social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Digital adoption and willingness to use social networks has since advanced, so Copronet may fare better (though I am uneasy about the name: a web search  shows ‘copro’ can relate to dung or faeces, as in ‘coprophagous’).

There have been more successful efforts to create AEC networks in other parts of the world. In the US, for example, BuildingConnected was founded in 2012, helps clients and general contractors to find and hire qualified contractors for their projects. Claiming to be the world’s largest and most active digital network of construction professionals (although almost exclusively US-based), the portal was acquired by Autodesk in December 2018.  Other vendors also offer bid management (e-tendering) tools, both generic and industry-specific, but it is an area that often remains somewhat parochial. Procurement regimes vary greatly internationally, and are often closely scrutinised by lawyers and national regulators, so such portals often end up being nation-specific.

(* Disclosure: I briefly provided some paid consultancy to tCn.)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/tenderspace-rebrands-enter-copronet/

International BIM education

Efforts to extend use of building information modelling are in progress around the world. Vaughan Harris targets a BIM e-book at Africa, while France’s HEXABIM pushes webinars.

Various governments are endorsing the use of BIM with their respective industries then seeking to develop the necessary skills, processes, standards and technologies. January 2019 has also seen publication of the first two parts of a new international standard, ISO 19650, founded on British standard BS 1192 and publicly available specification PAS 1192-2 (see BIMplus news). This week I also got news of two efforts to expand knowledge and understanding of BIM.

BIM in South Africa

BIM It's your moveVaughan Harris of the BIM Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, has been evangelising about construction digitisation for some years, and has written a free e-book entitled “BIM: It’s Your Move!” (downloadable here).

For those on other continents who think that industry fragmentation, skills shortages, low margins, silo mentalities and under-investment in IT are peculiar to their particular markets, Harris says this is common to many African markets too. The book is a personal collection of articles, interviews and essays, with one of the most interesting summarising a survey of African construction business leaders.

The survey found strong industry recognition of the need to improve workflow efficiency and document management, but only 55% of respondents sought information on BIM, “while 35% had never heard of it”. Harris says the African continent lags far behind the first world, robbing African asset owners of the opportunities to capitalise on digital construction opportunities, and preventing construction professionals from increasing their own profits through digitisation. Apparently, Ethiopia is the only African country adopting BIM through its government ministries.

Harris has drawn heavily upon the UK experience in raising awareness and then developing the necessary processes, structures and skills to use the supporting technologies, including common data environments (CDEs). He underlines that BIM has impacts beyond the design and construction processes, helping owners and others make better use of their built assets and associated data.

There are also pages of advice about how individuals and organisations might move forward with BIM – informed by Harris’s knowledge of African construction businesses and industry attitudes and behaviours. For example, he is critical of the role of in-house IT departments:

“In a continent of volatile internet connectivity and spotty IT literacy, IT departments regularly wield too much power over the control and management of work processes. This disproportionately affects the bigger construction companies in South Africa. It results in slow technological innovations in our local industry where processes such as BIM lag terribly.”

Harris is clearly passionate about the need for African construction to digitise, but also pragmatic about how individuals, businesses and industry organisations need to change. Particularly for those in Africa looking for localised information and advice – his Institute launched its NAVBIM platform in November 2018 (post) – this is a good read.

HEXABIM and biminar

Hexabim logoIn France, HEXABIM has been providing an online resource about BIM for some years (with content in both French and English). An independent digital platform specialising in BIM and digital transition, it claims a professional network of over 8000 members, and had some two million page views in 2018.

Biminar screencapHEXABIM’s Mohamed Khettab is now extending the offering with a new service called biminar. This has been created “to meet the growing and urgent global demand for high-quality online BIM education and knowledge-sharing.” Essentially, it offers a platform for content providers (BIM technology providers and services businesses, for example) to record webinars for online delivery.

Conventional face-to-face events can be expensive and time-consuming to attend, so webinars have emerged as a popular way for publishers and event organisers to engage with audiences, with interactive chat or Q&A tools to respond to particular information needs. The biminar service also suggests webinar content might also be converted to form an e-book or article(s) – further extending the reach of a provider’s material.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/02/international-bim-education/

GenieBelt and Aproplan merge to form LetsBuild

Consolidation in the European SaaS/mobile construction software market as complementary solutions from GenieBelt and Aproplan combine, forming LetsBuild.

LetsBuild logoBelgium-based construction software developer Aproplan and Denmark’s GenieBelt are to merge, creating a new business, LetsBuild, providing a “build phase end-to-end digital platform”.

According to the joint news release, the (no cash) merger responds “to a rising need to deliver an all-in-one solution, supporting on-site planning, progress communication, snagging, drawings and checklists.”

Both businesses were formed  to replace use of pen and paper for managing on-site construction processes. GenieBelt focused on on-site planning and progress communication giving customers a real-time schedule and progress reporting; Aproplan chose to tackle on-site follow-up communication by digitising snagging, drawings and checklists. Both companies experienced demand for functionality that the other company provided.

Thomas Goubau and Klaus NyengaardAproplan CEO Thomas Goubau (left in photo) and GenieBelt CEO Klaus Nyengaard had met regularly to discuss developments in the construction technology sector and how to increase efficiency and minimise rework, miscommunication and errors. Both were committed to ‘simple-to-use’ products, and in October 2018 concluded that the best way to realise this was to unite the companies, create a broader product and cover more needs in the market. Nyengaard said:

“Our customers tell us that switching between tools to manage processes is a pain on a busy site, and makes data collection cumbersome. Their dream is to have one simple-to-use solution where they can keep track of planning and progress, access all documents and support processes such as snagging and quality checking. That is exactly what we will provide with LetsBuild.”

Goubau, set to be CCO in LetsBuild, said:

“We could have decided to just cooperate and integrate features from each other. But since our products complement each other extremely well and our companies have shared values, we felt this was an unmissable opportunity.”

The two companies’ products are currently used on around 50,000 projects in more than 35 countries (a reduction on early GenieBelt claims). The two have offices in Copenhagen, Brussels, London, Paris and Lodz; LetsBuild will have joint head offices in Brussels and Copenhagen, and a total combined headcount of 122 people.

GenieBelt back story

GenieBelt logoCopenhagen-based GenieBelt was founded in 2013, promoting a simple-to-start-and-use, mobile-first philosophy as an antidote to the feature-bloat of some other (PC-oriented, pre-smartphone) systems on the market. It was also focused more on the needs of the small and medium-sized businesses (the vast majority of the construction industry in just about every country), and was priced attractively for that market, with a 2014 “free forever” offering to get users to trial the system (as a result, it attracted lots of early users, allowing it to claim its use on 8000 projects in over 100 countries two years later).

It recruited former Woobius founder Bob Leung to lead its user experience work (February 2014), and tested real-time communication approaches familiar to many users of social media applications. It raised €700k in funding in 2015, and a further €2m in September 2016. At that time Nyengaard said the European sector needed a break-through workflow management solution that had the potential to challenge the status quo, and head off competition from the likes of the USA’s Plangrid (now active in Europe, and recently acquired for US$875m by Autodesk).

Aproplan back story

Aproplan was established in Belgium in 2012 but spread its European operations into the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, marketing itself as “the construction software that lets you keep track of your progress and collaborate with your team.” In January 2017 AproPlan CEO Thomas Goubau told me about their focus on creating open and transparent communication via a simple interface. Their concentration on ‘workflow in the field’ aimed to support asset owners and managers and their professional teams engaged in repetitive data-recording tasks (“What, where and when”): snagging, health and safety, security and environmental inspections, for example. The company’s asset strategy was “Mobile and API first,” and he mentioned Geniebelt as one of a batch of complementary tools. At that time, AproPlan had 48,000 users in 3,500 different customer organisations.

Analysis

The construction mobile application market is growing and is increasingly competitive. There are numerous small players seeking to offer point solutions to resolve particular information or scheduling bottlenecks in site-based activities – often addressing particular issues or processes employed in a particular country, in a particular vertical industry sector, or a particular type of project. Such players, many of them startups, can struggle to achieve a critical mass and widespread adoption, as sales and marketing in a highly fragmented industry sector with many 1000s of potential SME subcontractor customers is challenging.

At the same time we have seen recent consolidation among some of the major international players, plus expansion into Europe by US firms. These businesses often have deeper marketing budgets, a wider product portfolio, and higher brand awareness.

Against such competition, when two businesses identify that they offer complementary solutions, and can help each other expand into their respective territories, while also pooling sales and marketing, software development and administrative overheads, the logic for a merger is clear. The combined LetsBuild offering may also tick more boxes for prospective customers wanting an expanded set of construction site-related functionalities.

The main gap in the current offering, though, is support for building information modelling-related processes. The Autodesk/Plangrid deal potentially brings BIM and construction closer together – something that Trimble/Viewpoint’s Field View was also aiming to achieve, and where Bentley Systems also has ambitions – but I suspect that the people and companies LetsBuild is targetting have yet to start their BIM journeys. While BIM remains a distant prospect and customers’ day-to-day reality is more about replacing paper-based processes, then LetsBuild will find some ready takers. Perhaps, like Plangrid, it will one day be acquired by a BIM-enabling business looking to connect to construction processes, or maybe it will become part of an ‘ecosystem’ of point solution providers from which customers can select and integrate their favoured applications.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/01/geniebelt-and-aproplan-merge-to-form-letsbuild/

Autodesk buys BuildingConnected

Autodesk’s December 2018 acquisition of the BuildingConnected bid management platform for US $275m embeds Autodesk in the US pre-construction sector.

BuildingConnected LogoOn 20 December 2018, just over a month after announcing it was acquiring US-based SaaS construction management developer Plangrid, Autodesk announced it was also acquiring another US company: BuildingConnected, for US$275m. This San Francisco-based company specialises in pre-construction processes including bid management and risk analysis, and Autodesk believes its network of over 700,000 construction professionals presents an opportunity to create a robust digital marketplace for construction goods and services.

BuildingConnect WorldFounded in 2012, BuildingConnected helps real estate owners and general contractors find and hire qualified contractors for their projects, and claims to be the largest and most active digital network of construction professionals, though the vast majority of its users are based in the United States. Customers include Turner Construction, McCarthy, Mortenson, StructureTone, Skanska, Clark Construction, Ryan Companies and AECOM.

BuildingConnected CEO and co-founder Dustin DeVan said:

“Bid management is a critical step in preconstruction, since bidding is the genesis of construction projects. Our game-changing suite of preconstruction tools are saving customers time and money. We’ve helped thousands of owners, general contractors and subcontractors streamline their businesses and communicate better. Together with Autodesk, we can expand the platform’s capabilities and scale globally.”

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost said:

autodesk logo“We are investing in digitizing and automating construction workflows. Autodesk’s goal is to connect construction processes across design, build and operations. BuildingConnected has proven to customers the tremendous value in moving from traditional rolodexes, whiteboards, emails and spreadsheets to an easy-to-use digital bidding platform. BuildingConnected, along with Autodesk BIM 360, Revit, AutoCAD, and our acquisitions of PlanGrid and Assemble Systems, gives us a comprehensive construction offering and go-to-market capabilities. We look forward to integrating our recent acquisitions and making construction Autodesk’s next billion-dollar business.”

Jim Lynch, Vice President and General Manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions said:

“This acquisition provides an opportunity for Autodesk and BuildingConnected to connect every business in the construction industry, becoming the definitive source of information throughout the sector. Our tools empower all stakeholders with greater visibility and better information to make immediate decisions. We’re excited about creating a robust digital marketplace for the global construction industry, helping to boost productivity, while lowering cost and risk.”

In addition to its BC Pro bid-management platform, BuildingConnected offers TradeTapp, a subcontractor risk analysis platform, and Bid Board Pro, a platform that helps subcontractors manage bids.

The Extranet Evolution view

The deal will strengthen Autodesk’s position as a service provider in the north American contracting and subcontracting market, but – if it intends to do so – extending this capability to new markets will be challenging. Different countries have different approaches to procurement, and the process of bidding – or tendering – for contracts is generally quite complex, sometimes highly regulated, and has proved slow to change.

In the UK construction industry, for example, e-tendering has been offered by various vendors since the early 2000s. I was at SaaS collaboration vendor BIW Technologies (today part of Oracle Aconex) when it launched a tendering option, and UK rivals, including 4Projects (today part of Trimble’s Viewpoint business), Asite and now-defunct BuildOnline, were soon doing the same. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published guidance on the area and, in 2007, jumped into the marketplace too, with RICSeTendering.com, and there were other stand-alone tendering solutions too, but use of online e-tendering tools long remained a minority pursuit – most tenders were still sent and returned by post or email.

In Australia, e-tendering was also something developed by Aconex (initially through its Bidcontender service) and by regional competitors such as EstimateOne (July 2014 post).

Bentley logo 2017And BuildingConnected is not the only player in the US market. In October 2017, Bentley Systems announced it was acquiring eBid Systems, developer of the ProcureWare solution. Bentley claimed eBid Systems provided procurement solutions to “hundreds” of organisations, collectively managing over 270,000 vendor accounts.

Scaling BuildingConnected to become a global platform for bid management will involve extensive internationalisation of the solution to suit different legal, financial and industry prequalification and procurement regimes, as well as multiple language support. So far as the core solution is concerned, this Autodesk deal looks likely only to have an impact in the US, at least in the short-to-medium term.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2019/01/autodesk-buys-buildingconnected/

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