Mark Bew steps down as Cohesive CEO

Bentley logo 2017Former UK BIM Task Group head Mark Bew, also co-founder of the PCSG consultancy business acquired by Bentley Systems in 2020, has stepped down as CEO of Bentley’s Cohesive group.

The opening day of Bentley Systems Year In Infrastructure 2023 event in Singapore has seen several new senior executive appointments. Inevitably that also means some familiar names have moved.

Almost exactly three years after announcing the acquisition of PCSG, the UK-based consultancy chaired by former UK BIM Task Group head Mark Bew (19 October 2020 EE post), Bentley Systems has revealed that Bew has moved into an advisory role. PCSG initially became part of Bentley’s Cohesive Companies group – later rebranded simply as Cohesive. This focuses on digital systems integration services including delivery of the IBM’s Maximo solution, and specifically targets the owner-operator market segment. In late 2021, Bew took over from Noah Eckhouse as CEO of Cohesive (23 November 2021 EE post).

Ellam is new CEO

Bew has now been been succeeded by Colin Ellam, right, as CEO of the Manchester-based business. Most recently, Ellam served as global head of nuclear at Capgemini. He previously led the Capital Projects business for Accenture in the UK, providing consulting and technology services for the infrastructure sector, including transport, utilities and power. Ellam has worked across many geographies including Asia Pacific, Middle East, Europe, and Africa and lived and has worked in the United States for three years. Bew is taking on an advisory role, having grown Cohesive into a global organisation of more than 700 colleagues in 15 countries.

Mark BewUnder Bew’s leadership, in August 2022, Cohesive acquired MaximoCon, a Brazil-based consultancy specialising in technical services for IBM Maximo, IBM’s enterprise asset management solution. Founded in 2015, MaximoCon had worked with Cohesive on various global Maximo systems integration projects and was a long-time partner. At the time Bew, left, said: “Adding MaximoCon to our global team will further expand the already deep expertise we have in Maximo and drive more efficient delivery for our clients and help us gain access to the South American market.” In November 2022, Cohesive acquired another international Maximo consultancy, the 200-strong Vetasi business (press release).

Also in 2022, Bew recruited David Philp, formerly director of digital consulting, strategy and innovation at Aecom Europe, as Cohesive Group’s chief value officer (BIM+ article), helping clients to create value-driven impact across their built assets’ lifecycles. Philp re-joined former UK BIM Task Group colleagues including Jon Kerbey (Cohesive managing director EMEA).

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Revizto unplugged

At an in-person London event, UK-based collaboration technology Revizto gave insights on efficiently implementing technologies.

Today, Extranet Evolution is at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, attending a briefing to learn more about Revizto, an integrated collaboration platform for architecture, engineering and construction.

Revizto marketingAccording to a nearby banner stand, Revizto provides a “single source of communication for all disciplines, all stakeholders, from any location and any device”. The ‘Revizto unplugged’ event aims to give a global view of the UK-based company’s technology delivery, with contributions from Australasia, Europe and the Americas. It has included some good pointers for effective implementation of new technologies.

Revizto and ROI

The first presentation came from Australasia, from Jason Howden, talking about achieving a return on investment (ROI) from Revizto, bridging the gap between designers, constructors and owner-operators. Howden’s background includes working in New Zealand for a design firm, Warren & Mahoney, learning from working on site next to contractors, and working on projects small and large. Revizto is being deployed on anything from small residential projects (where the risk to homeowners are high, and personal costs cut deep), to large commercial schemes (where it is important to manage the budget and programme – “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”).

Revizto ROIFrom a business perspective, he said “Business leaders want innovation, but don’t want innovation … Small errors in design can be very expensive in construction … when it goes wrong, you want protection – and documentation is king when it becomes legal”. In terms of ROI benefits, Revizto helped reduce his firm’s insurance premiums, and – in terms of manpower savings – it also reduced reliance on manual document processes while enriching people’s working lives.

His firm piloted Revizto on a pilot BIM project, looking to adopt clean thinking untainted by existing processes. They kept it simple and focused on objectives that were meaningful to the company’s leadership, and Howden showed the ROI from implementing the technology, lowering the baseline costs. “Did it work – yes. Was it easy – no.”

US site use of Revizto

Shaun Hester talked about implementation of Revizto on-site in the US. From personal experiences (in Wisconsin, among other places), he highlighted the importance of working with operational champions on site, setting user expectations on areas that were important to the site team, training on areas that were immediately valuable, and then retraining when needed. And adoption was driven on site – “go to where the work is being done” in the field, he said, “and be repetitive and diligent”. The key to adoption is proper setup along with specific onboarding concepts, making the user experience easy, with as few clicks as possible. “Success can be as simple as using the model the understand the upcoming work being installed. Don’t make it complicated. … Be patient … Set expectations and start small“.

Revizto and infrastructure

Emphasising that Revizto can be used extensively on civil engineering projects as well as buildings, New Zealand-based English ex-pat Chris Mawson (APAC customer service director) explained Revizto is being used on a lot of infrastructure megaprojects across every state in Australia, as well as road, rail and ports projects in New Zealand ($100s of billions-worth). Examples include: the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, Queensland (420 users); SSTOM – a railway project in Sydney (1100 users in just six months); the Goal Coast Light Rail project in Queensland (592 users, with 78,000 drawings); Melbourne’s level crossing removal project* (719 users); and, in New Zealand, O Mahurangi Penlink (265 users). Mawson talked in some detail about KiwiRail where Revizto was being used on 55 projects, with 570 users, accessing 75,000 drawings, and then about customer’s McConnell Dowell use of the platform.

The event finished with some workshop sessions designed to get industry feedback on Revizto’s future product roadmap which envisages two major releases per annum. It was interesting to hear the practical needs of industry articulated, plus some discussion of the favourite buzzword of the moment: AI.

[* Projects from the Melbourne level crossings programme featured in the Bentley Systems Year in Infrastructure and Going Digital Awards in 2022 and among the 2023 finalists. EE will be at the YII event in Singapore on 10-12 October 2023.]

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Skrap it or TeekIt

Skrap logoThanks to mobile apps such as Buildiro, Skrap and now TeekIt, London streets are increasingly busy with deliveries of equipment and materials to construction sites, large and small. 

In late 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ExtranetEvolution wrote about Skrap, a northwest London-based startup that was aiming to transform waste skip and construction equipment hire services across the construction sector (September 2020 – Skrap: automating construction hire).

The business, originally founded in 2017, had just raised £1.2m in seed funding and aimed to enable SME builders to order any construction hire service at the click of a button on their mobile devices. It was being trialled with 100s of suppliers across London, Manchester and Birmingham, and had ambitions to automate entire construction hire supply chains across major cities globally over the coming years.

I spotted an exhibition stand for the business at a trade show, but otherwise hadn’t heard much about it since 2020 (though I did remember it after I had hired a waste skip for a domestic project I was doing earlier this summer). However, judging from its website, it is still going strong, focused on three main areas: waste management, bulky materials, and equipment hire, and now expanding into Leeds, Liverpool and Bristol. Homepage tickers say over 49,000 skips have been delivered, and over 200,000 tonnes of waste have been diverted from landfill.

Now TeekIt

In October 2022, I heard about another London-based player offering a construction material delivery service. Accessed its mobile apps, Teekit is connecting deliveries – from  trusted and reliable stores that offer a variety of building and construction products – to tradespeople in as little as 30 minutes. Its website is about as basic as you could get, but it is arguably even more locally focused. TeekIt says it works “with local DIY shops as well as big-chain stores across London to provide … a huge range of products at competitive prices… from smaller items such as bolts and screws to larger equipment like boilers.”

It has a fleet of TeekIt drivers, known as the teek it Transporters, waiting to get the products to the customer, with smaller items guaranteed delivery within the hour, whilst delivery times for larger items may range between two hours and two working days.

Buildiro logoAnd while another London-based e-commerce venture, Buildiro (January 2020 post – offering “cheap building materials and tools from over 100 merchants in the UK”), is also still going strong, you won’t be able to Snaffle it (May 2019 post) – Coulsdon, Surrey-based Snaffle appears to have snuffed it.

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Building interoperability into local planning

UK Government is aiming to make open, standardised data drive an improved local plans system. Legislation will ensure data is delivered in consistent formats, and make some data publicly available and reusable.

In June, I attended a Manchester conference, Digital First (previously Digitech) – the Crown Commercial Service’s annual technology showcase. My presence at the event was mainly in relation to the work of the GIIG (formerly, the Government & Industry Interoperability Group).* I was part of a panel discussion on how interoperability might help to improve the delivery of built or managed assets supporting UK public services.

The event also had some other interesting sessions. In particular, Matthew Wood-Hill (head of planning software at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, DLUHC) explained how the department is intending to modernise England’s planning system, making use of digital and data to support the co-creation of future local plans. He mentioned “approved software”, talked about the growing departmental and local authority need for data ownership, and suggested there was some “nervousness around SaaS products”. (I spoke briefly to Wood-Hill after his session about the work of the GIIG and in particular its Delivering Valuable Data: An Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologiespost – about which he was already well informed, welcoming its open standards focus. And planning is, of course, often the precursor to more detailed work to design and construct built assets and other infrastructure.)

Making best use of digital technologies in planning

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill: consultationWe now have a clearer idea of how DLUHC might be pushing its digital approach forward.  On 25 July 2023, a consultation document was published seeking views on proposals to implement parts of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which relate to plan-making (see also this BIMplus article). To make plans simpler, faster to prepare and more accessible, it emphasises making best use of digital technology.

The consultation document also highlights a key shift away from paper-based deliverables: “plans will wherever possible make the best use of modern technology and be produced digitally, rather than as ‘analogue’ (PDF or paper) documents by default.” It also stresses standardising on open data approaches. It summarises the opportunity:

Digital transformation could mean plans are presented as interactive maps rather than static documents to show how an area could develop and change over time. Making standardised planning and environmental data openly available and accessible would make it easier to prepare planning applications and give communities the information they need to provide feedback on proposals for their area. … New digital tools and better use and availability of standardised data in the plan-making process can also be used to improve the way that plans are prepared. This should make it faster to produce a plan whilst making it easier for communities to get involved.

Chapter 3 of the consultation document (Digital Plans) fleshes out the proposals in more detail. The ambition is for “a digital planning system that is underpinned by standardised and open planning data”. Legislation in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will allow UK Government to prescribe a common format based on standardised data across plan-making. “Legislating for data standards and publication will help to ensure that open, standardised data can drive an improved local plans system.”

Approved data standards

The Bill has specific clauses relating to “approved data standards” (described – clause 79 – as “written standards, containing technical specifications or other requirements in relation to the data, or in relation to providing or processing the data, as may be published by the Secretary of State from time to time”). It also talks of “approved planning data software” (clause 82).

The importance of capturing information in open, standardised ways as a basis for long-term reuse is a key part of the consultation document’s digital vision. When important data can be collected in a more standardised way, it can “be processed more easily, analysed more effectively, and reused to build more sophisticated digital tools now and in the future.” This fits well with the GIIG’s insistence that interoperability is a key to ensuring other key principles: longevity of information and data ownership and control.

The DLUHC consultation is open until 18 October 2023.

* Formerly funded by the Department for Business & Trade, the GIIG is looking to continue its work as an interoperability-focused service of nima (previously the UK BIM Alliance – post). The GIIG’s outputs including the Code of Practice are currently available via the UK BIM Framework website: 

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Yeme Tech’s CDP aims to improve urban planning

UK tech startup Yeme Tech partners with Esri to improve urban planning to create happier, healthier cities. It is the latest in a long line of community engagement or consultation platforms.

Yeme Tech logoPioneering Yorkshire-based tech startup Yeme Tech has a strapline about ‘humanizing data’. It aims to improve urban planning for towns and cities by helping planners respond better to local needs for community facilities, spaces and events.

Yeme Tech

Amir Hussain (right) with Stuart Bonthrone, CEO of Esri UKBased in Bradford, Yeme Tech is a subsidiary of Yeme Architects. It has created a sophisticated Community Data Platform (CDP) to help planners and developers instantly identify social infrastructure, facilities, and community spaces which are missing from British neighbourhoods. The company’s founder, Amir Hussain (on right in photo, with Esri UK CEO Stuart Bonthrone), is deputy chair of Housing Regeneration and Place at West Yorkshire Combined Authority. He wants to empower councils and developers to identify facilities and events which residents actually need and will visit.

Esri UK partnership

Yeme Tech now plans to take this approach global after signing a partnership deal with Esri UK, part of Esri Inc, the world’s largest provider of geographic information system (GIS) software. Esri’s UK customers include HS2, Sustrans, Sport England, National Trust, the Environment Agency, Ordnance Survey, Greater London Authority and more than 200 local authorities in England and Wales.

The Yeme Tech Community Data Platform

Yeme Tech CDP screenshotCDP aims to help planners and developers cultivate and manage long-term relationships with the people who have the largest stake in the success of a neighbourhood: local residents. It measures community resources – such as schools, shops, green space, libraries and cultural assets – and also local stakeholders, local events and the activities of local groups. This gives a far more holistic view of the social as well as economic health of communities. It cross-references this data with demographic information to better judge whether local needs are being satisfied and, crucially, whether there are any gaps in provision.

With social value now a key business consideration, the platform’s ESG Social Reporting Index helps developers, investors and others to target and evidence social uplift around their assets or development sites. Hussain says:

Yeme Tech screenshot“It can be very complex and time-consuming to regenerate our towns and cities to adapt to meet the current and future needs and wants of their citizens. What our Community Data Platform does is provide granular local detail in real-time to strip away the complexity and enable planners and developers to work with local communities to deliver successful urban planning which provides the facilities and social infrastructure that people need and want.”

The system has been tested in London, supporting the Bromley-by-Bow Centre. This is the UK’s first integrated health centre incorporating community support, business support, housing support, an art gallery, and an events venue. As well as medical interventions, its doctors are able to prescribe activities, including art courses, access to community care, and an allotment. The approach is now being delivered nationally in a series of Innovation Projects by Well North Enterprises.

The EE perspective

There has been a long history of technology platforms working with local communities or enabling different types of citizen engagement. Global projects such as OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia feature lots of content by local contributors. And there have been variants that have aimed to share information about buildings and other infrastructure – OpenBuildings (June, July 2011 posts), for example (it also spawned the more long-lasting, a Pinterest-style architectural and interior design scrapbook service – 2012 post). Immersive virtual reality (VR) tech has been used to help communicate new building designs in Denmark (2012 – post). And I wrote about ‘telling stories about places’ in relation to the London startup City-Insights in 2015 (post).

However – and predating all of these – I particularly recall YouCanPlan, a consultative platform developed by Michael Kohn’s Slider Studio that was used for local consultation purposes. West Midlands-based Rob Annable of Axis Design Architects used the platform for a planning exercise in the Lozells district of Birmingham in 2009 (see his blog post; also the video below). It was also presented at various Be2camp ‘unconferences’ I was then co-promoting.

Slider Studio (a former client) also developed the StickyWorld ‘democratic design’ consultative platform. This enabled the virtual equivalent of a design critique (aka a ‘charrette’), client or contractor meeting, or a project review with consultants (read this 2010 Polis blog post; also this 2017 interview with Kohn). It morphed into, which closed about a year ago (29 May 2022), though Kohn continues to work in the field at

Delivering social value

Yeme Tech’s offering is timely, however. With UK government and industry increasingly talking about delivering better whole life value, and with a government-backed Value Toolkit to guide industry efforts, any tools that can help ascertain community needs and measure outcomes will be helpful, particularly in the early planning stages of projects when different scenarios and designs might need to be evaluated.  And today (31 May 2023) at the COMIT annual conference, I talked to Alison Watson of ClassOfYourOwn about Yeme Tech as a platform that might also be used to help schools get involved with local improvement projects.

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Autodesk launches Forma

Autodesk Forma is positioned as a cloud-based platform that will unify workflows for those that design, build and operate the built environment, but could those users also end up ‘caged’?

autodesk logoEarlier this month (see its 8 May 2023 news release) and ahead of Digital Construction Week in London, Autodesk unveiled the first set of capabilities of Autodesk Forma. In Autodesk’s words, this is “an industry cloud that will unify workflows across the teams that design, build and operate the built environment”.

The Forma backstory

Forma was initially announced at Autodesk University in New Orleans in September 2022, alongside two other industry clouds. Autodesk Forma is “the industry cloud for AEC” (architecture, engineering and construction). Autodesk Flow is the industry cloud for M&E (mechanical and electrical). And Autodesk Fusion is the industry cloud for D&M (design and manufacture). Underpinning the three clouds is Autodesk Platform Services, a set of cross-industry APIs and services formerly known as Forge.

In an AU keynote, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explained that the company’s cloud ‘platforms’ aim to connect the tools, data, processing and workflows for every phase of Autodesk’s customers’ projects. They would take Autodesk from providing point solutions like Revit, to supporting the full lifecycle, from concept to operation. This will not happen immediately. Building and moving to the new platforms will take three to five years, with a progressive, phased release of new features and capabilities.

Autodesk Construction CloudIn AEC Magazine, Martyn Day discussed Forma in magisterial detail after the AU announcement (see his 5 October 2023 article, Autodesk Forma: one platform to rule them all?). Looking back to 2016, Day said Autodesk’s vision has long been to shift AEC data to the cloud. In late 2019, for example, several of the company’s AEC offerings branded as Autodesk Construction Cloud (see my January 2020 EE post: Autodesk converges its Construction Cloud). And the ACC later expanded (November 2020: Autodesk Construction Cloud is reshaped). Forma is the culmination of this data-centric work, looking to break down data silos, both between professional disciplines and between Autodesk’s own applications.

Forma announcement

According to Autodesk, Forma’s initial capabilities target the early-stage planning and design process. Automations and AI-powered insights, simplify exploration of design concepts, offload repetitive tasks, and help evaluate environmental qualities surrounding a building site, giving architects time to focus on creative solutions. Following this first step, new features and capabilities will be added to Forma on a continual basis. Amy Bunszel, Autodesk’s Executive Vice President of AEC Design Solutions, says:

“Forma gives architecture professionals the agility to work iteratively rather than sequentially between planning and detailed design, supercharging what they can accomplish. From rapidly evaluating a large set of factors–from sun and wind to noise and operational energy– to offloading computational tasks to the cloud and connecting with Revit, Forma unlocks great value for our customers.”

Autodesk FormaForma will help users to rapidly evaluate dozens of design options and improve upon the desired qualities of a design. Productivity gains can be realised from quick project setup. Users can unlock advanced capabilities without requiring deep technical expertise. And data can be used to tell a convincing story about the design vision to secure buy-in and bring stakeholders along.

With Forma, Autodesk says it now offers a full end-to-end solution for building design–from early-stage planning through to design in Revit with its ecosystem of connected products including Autodesk Construction Cloud.

Towards ‘BIM 3.0’

Extranet Evolution joined an online press conference about the launch of Forma and heard from Nicolas Mangon, VP of Autodesk’s AEC Industry Strategy, and Carl Christensen, VP of Unified Design (formerly at SpaceMaker – Forma’s initial offering leverages Spacemaker’s AI engine).

Mangon talked about an evolution from CAD to ‘BIM 1.0’ (offline) to ‘BIM 2.0’ (cloud connected) and, now, to ‘BIM 3.0’ – “an outcome-based approach”. Designers need to define the outcomes they want and then use AI to help them achieve them, he said, before outlining how Forma would help granular data flow seamlessly through project phases, stakeholders and asset types.

Christensen talked about Forma’s use for managing conceptual design, supported by automations, analyses and ‘interoperability’. The definition of interoperability wasn’t easy to follow – talk of adapting ‘hybrid workflows”, and synchronisation between Forma and Revit enabling fluid connectivity downstream. While Forma was being launched globally on 8 May, the initial target markets were the US and selected European markets including the UK. The platform will be available free to existing users of Autodesk’s AEC collection; for others, it will cost $1250 but there is a free 30-day trial offer.

After project completion, will asset owner-operators be able to export asset-related data to their own operational systems and use it independently of Forma?

Mangon described how Forma is based on a data repository, aggregated data from apps, Revit and other tools. Forma has two principles, he said: one is around sustainability, the other around openness. The aim is to enable ‘plug and play’ connectivity to third party cloud and SaaS developers (no names yet), and to “be open and responsive and build outwards with customers”.

The Extranet Evolution view

Interoperability Code of Practice - coverI am a little sceptical about the Forma vision and how far it will support interoperability – or at least my own understanding of interoperability. The recently launched Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies, which I helped draft (see previous post) defines interoperability as “the ability of two or more systems to exchange information securely and to use the information that has been exchanged, ensuring that information is independent of the technologies used to deliver it” (my emphasis).

However, Forma appears to impose reliance upon an Autodesk technology stack, an Autodesk data repository, and a proprietary cloud. Touching upon the ‘Open letter to Autodesk’ movement (read previous EE posts), AEC Magazine‘s Martyn Day summed it up: “Forma is a cage, but a multi-platform, multi-device gilded cage“, adding:

“Autodesk needs to prove that their openness talk is not ‘openwash’ and that connectors give good file output in both directions. Connectors need to be two way and there needs to be a clear way to get your data out should you want to leave.”

Cloud services concerns

We have seen expanding adherence to open standards that have underpinned adoption of tools built for the internet, worldwide web, telecommunications and mobile devices over recent decades. The net effect of such standards has often been to make information flow more seamlessly between technologies, devices and users. However, there has recently also been concern about the increased reliance we have upon the leading cloud services providers to which we connect – firms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google, for example.

In the UK, Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority have begun to scrutinise the cloud services market. This follows concerns raised by two UK Government departments (DCMS and BEIS) in July 2021 about open choices. On 5 April 2023, Ofcom highlighted, among other things, service providers’ technical restrictions on interoperability which prevent some services working effectively with services from other providers (read news release). Some customers had become concerned about their ability to switch and use multiple providers. As a result, Ofcom has proposed to refer the cloud infrastructure market to the CMA to carry out a market investigation. Such moves might helpfully alert Autodesk that any constraints on portability of services and data could be seen, in the UK at least, as hampering how the market works for customers – particularly for major asset owner-operators and their supply chains – and for the wider public good.

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Interoperability code of practice for AECO technologies launched

A new interoperability code of practice for technologies, developed in the UK by the GIIG, has been launched.

Delivering Valuable Data: An Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies in the Built and Managed Environment - coverAs previewed in EE (13 April 2023), “Delivering Valuable Data: An Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies in the Built and Managed Environment” was launched at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster on 17 April 2023. Around 100 people attended the in-person event (see also this 18 April BIMPlus article).

The Code (downloadable here) is one of several outputs from a group formerly known as the Government & Industry Interoperability Group, which was funded by the what is now the Department of Business & Trade (DBT), formerly BEIS. Since the publication of the BIM Interoperability Expert Group’s report in March 2020, the GIIG has developed various practical initiatives. These aim to achieve greater sharing of better data as a foundation to help industry clients deliver better whole-life outcomes.

DBT view

Fergus Harradence, deputy director, infrastructure, construction & rail at the DBT, was the first main speaker at the Code’s launch. After highlighting the need to invest in further embedding digital practices, and citing the TIP Roadmap to 2030 guidance, he positioned the Code as a key enabler of information flows across the industry to ultimately support achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals:

“Government is calling for the sector to deliver better whole-life outcomes. To do this, we need data and information to inform better decisions throughout the lifecycle of our assets. The code of practice is tackling these challenges, setting some core principles and providing supporting technical recommendations to software providers and to the wider industry.”

The Information Management Platform (IMP) foundations

Fiona Moore, the GIIG’s technical lead, then took to the stage. After a brief look back to the 2020 BIEG report (see previous post), she focused on the capabilities that need to be embedded in many client organisations to help them support their existing and future asset portfolios. Key to this is the Information Management Platform (IMP).

The IMP is an evolution of the AIM CDE (asset information management common data environment), a concept discussed in some UK public sector project circles from about 2018. This was subsequently expanded to incorporate emerging industry thinking in relation to the ISO 19650 suite of standards and the UK BIM Framework. It has also incorporated learning from development of new whole-life information approaches within some ground-breaking UK government teams – notably the Environment Agency’s flood and coastal project team. (As part of the GIIG, I helped write a case study on the EA’s development of its IMP, and contributed to an IMP guidance document – both are available here).

The IMP is not a single technology but a modular set of technologies that delivers a capability to support asset owner-operator’s through-life information needs. It enables data-centric processes involved in specifying, procuring, planning, designing, constructing, handing-over, assuring the related data, then operating and maintaining assets and the related data through to the assets’ end-of life. As such, the IMP concept helps to set some foundations for the GIIG’s emerging thinking on what client organisations, their supply chains and their technology providers should do to improve interoperability. The GIIG’s published Glossary defines this as:

“The ability of two or more systems to exchange information securely and to use the information that has been exchanged, ensuring that information is independent of the technologies used to deliver it.”

Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies

As chair of the GIIG’s code of practice working group, I talked to the ICE audience about the perennial need for better interoperability. I gave some context to the challenge, identifying many of the policy statements and guidance documents that were taken into consideration.

Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies - context

From this background, the group was able to distil – in addition to interoperability – some key underpinning principles that should guide industry practice when it comes to contractual exchanges of information:

  • longevity – enabling long-term findability, access, reuse and exploitation, and continued value, of information
  • security – maintaining security, confidentiality and privacy protections, while allowing sharing of non-sensitive information for the public good
  • information value – enhancing the value of information created, managed and shared by technology-using professionals
  • information ownership – ensuring enduring ownership and control by asset owner-operators of valuable data about the assets they own, and
  • competition – promoting fair competition between technology providers (and indirectly among supply chain users of technologies)

Across the six principles, around 20 sets of associated technical requirements are defined. In many cases, these specify existing open standards and current good practices employed by industry practitioners. The requirements incorporate AECO industry guidance including the ISO 19650 suite of standards and the UK BIM Framework. They also refer to relevant generic technology guidance – for example, from the Central Digital and Data Office’s Technology Code of Practice.

Consultation and next steps

The draft code of practice was shared in a public consultation process over four weeks in January and February 2023. The GIIG received 117 written comments from across the supply chain; 94% of respondents agreed with the key need and the principles. There was strong support for the technical requirements.

This first edition of the code is a foundation document to be developed beyond the industry launch. Next steps include expanding awareness; providing mechanisms for sign-up to, and support for, the Code, including by procurers; establishing self-sustaining industry ‘stewardship’ of the Code  (to capture experience and industry feedback on adoption, including for procurement, to develop a possible ‘bronze, silver, gold’ assessment system; to develop version 1.1, and to explore potential international dimensions).

I will be talking about the code of practice at Digital Construction Week at London’s ExCEL on Wednesday 17 May 2023 (at 2:30pm BST as part of the Information Management Exchange programme) and there will be other GIIG-related presentations too; an online event about the code may also be organised in the near future,

Mandate interoperability through procurement

Terry Stocks, head of property at Faithful & Gould delivered the final presentation at the ICE. A veteran of the BIM adoption drive, he represented the private sector and supply chain members at the launch. He noted that “Buying data once and using it lots of times has been an Information Management ‘mantra’ for some time,” and offered a thought. “Perhaps it should be – ‘Buying Data Once’ and using it lots of times on the systems we choose“.

There was a lively Q&A session to conclude the formal part of the launch, and it was reiterated more than once that procurement can be a powerful lever to encourage interoperable approaches. If clients insist contractually on their supply chains supplying interoperable information, suppliers will, in turn, insist that the technologies they buy and use can deliver that interoperable information.

[Post delayed due to a COVID-19 infection contracted soon after the launch.]

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Delivering Valuable Data: an interoperability code of practice

An interoperability code of practice for technologies in the built and managed environment is set to be launched on Monday 17 April in London.

Poor interoperability of information has been a perennial problem for professionals in architecture, engineering, construction and asset operation and maintenance for decades. When I wrote my book, “Construction Collaboration Technologies: An Extranet Evolution”, in 2005, I looked forward to a rosy collaborative future encompassing BIM, real-time collaboration, mobile technologies, and rich integration with back-office and others systems. There has been a lot of progress on the first three, but, sadly, much less on how information can be exchanged between systems.

Impacts of poor interoperability

At the time, I noted a 2004 report by the US National Institute of Standards and Technologies which estimated that poor interoperability cost US businesses a massive $15.8bn a year – then between one and two per cent of the construction industry’s annual turnover. Extrapolating that figure to the UK, I calculated that poor integration was likely to be costing UK businesses between £0.8bn and £1.6bn per annum. The International Alliance for Interoperability (now buildingSMART International) was busy developing Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), and there was talk of vendor-neutral data standards, but my 2005 optimism was gradually eroded.

In an Extranet Evolution post in October 2007, for example, I noted a survey saying “interoperability costs add 3.1% to a typical project budget”. In 2008, I wrote about Autodesk and Bentley plans to improve interoperability between their proprietary design formats (Bentley and Autodesk target interoperability). But in 2009 US practitioners were suggesting efforts to improve interoperability were “falling apart” (USACE contract requirements expose BIM interoperability shortcomings). And UK efforts through the Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers (NCCTP) to create a data exchange standard between SaaS collaboration platforms largely failed (July 2009 post: Collaboration vendors unveil (old) plans for deeper interoperability).

Fast forward 10 years and the picture was no rosier. I talked frequently to industry practitioners who were frustrated that the technologies they used often prevented reliable exchanges of information with their clients or other collaborators. I mused about ‘connected data environments‘ in January 2020, then talked to John Egan at BIMLauncher about data exchange standards to connect the various applications, platforms or technology ecosystems (Open CDEs and BIMLauncher). The issue of poor interoperability also featured prominently in 2020’s ‘Autodesk Open Letter’ conversations (see Design firms demand change at Autodesk, and More designer unrest about Autodesk).

BIEG coverAddressing poor interoperability

However, change was afoot. Starting to address some of the challenges hampering effective information management in the UK AECO sector, a BIM Interoperability Expert Group (BIEG) had been established. It gathered evidence and produced a March 2020 report that identified some practical enablers of interoperability. This report – and the ensuring evolution of the BIEG to become the Government & Industry Interoperability Group (the GIIG, of which I was a member) – successfully stimulated considerable discussion of interoperability at the Digital Construction Week (DCW) trade show in London in November 2021 (post) and at DCW in May 2022.

The GIIG works with the public and private sectors to improve their ability to exchange and use information, ensuring that the information is independent of the technologies used to deliver it (a definition captured in the November 2021 GIIG Glossary – available here).

In 2022, the group conducted a survey into the impacts of poor interoperability. As well as extensive experiences of added time and cost and reduced quality of information due to poor interoperability, the survey received anecdotal feedback:

  • One organisation reported an increase in staff turnover: frustration over the amount of time spent manipulating files was cited in exit interviews.
  • Another highlighted duplication of work, estimating it had spent around £1.24 million over seven years on repeat surveys and reproducing information.
  • A third organisation had been commissioned simply to transfer information from one proprietary platform to another. As the respondent said: “There should be no need for us to do this.”

Delivering Valuable Data: an interoperability code of practice

Working with cross-industry stakeholders, the GIIG appointed a 16-strong working group, which I chaired, and which was tasked with drawing up a code of practice to establish and promote good interoperability in the technologies used in planning, design, construction and asset management. This code may be used to demonstrate whether technology products support interoperability.

In the Construction Playbook and the TIP Roadmap to 2030, the UK Government is calling for the sector to deliver better whole-life outcomes. To do this, we need to work more effectively, to  share information between supply chain partners and deliver it to asset owners in forms they can use throughout the life cycle of their assets. Increasingly, clients are seeking to manage their information independent of the technology used to create it, but this is currently challenging to deliver. The Code of Practice is tackling these challenges, setting some core principles and providing supporting technical recommendations to software developers and to the wider industry.

  • “Delivering Valuable Data” is being launched on Monday 17 April 2023 at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London. Come along to learn about the Code of Practice, how it can support procurement to improve data delivery, and opportunities for its future development. Join policymakers, public and private asset owners, technology providers and industry supply chain professionals to learn about the benefits the code will deliver and how you can participate in its future. Sign up for free launch (and a networking lunch) here.

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Asite acquires 3D Repo

Asite has made its first major acquisition under CEO Nathan Doughty, buying one of the UK’s most innovative independent construction software developers, 3D Repo.

Independent LAsite logoondon, UK-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology developer Asite has announced (5 April 2023) the acquisition of 3D Repo, also London-based, and a pioneer in cloud-based BIM collaboration software. Asite says the deal (no value disclosed) “brings together two innovative companies with complementary technologies and expertise, with the aim of driving digitisation in construction to new heights”.

3D-Repo-Logo-BlueThe 3D Repo acquisition strengthens Asite’s position in the digital engineering market, providing customers with advanced tools to manage the entire construction lifecycle. Asite’s platform includes solutions for project management, supply chain management, and data management for assets. The addition of 3D Repo’s innovative technology will enhance and strengthen these capabilities further.

Jozef Dobos and Nathan DoughtyAsite CEO Nathan Doughty (above right) talked to Extranet Evolution in June 2020 about the company’s interest in acquisitions (Nathan Doughty’s new Asite era), after succeeding Tony Ryan as CEO. He envisaged buying businesses to help Asite grow into regions and build its market share. On the 3D Repo acquisition he said:

“We are delighted to welcome 3D Repo to the Asite family. The acquisition of 3D Repo is a strategic move that aligns with our commitment to provide cutting-edge solutions for the construction industry. Their innovative technology, combined with our existing solutions, will enable us to offer customers even more powerful and effective digital engineering tools. We are excited about the opportunities that this acquisition will bring.”

3D Repo’s R&D-led back story

3D Repo has been an increasingly prominent player in the UK BIM space. In 2015 it had started developing an open-source BIM platform to enable better collaboration on construction projects (post). As part of his doctorate at University College London, 3D Repo founder and CEO, Jozef Doboš (above left) had also worked on ‘version control’ software. In 2017, the company launched an open source web-based tendering software extension, BID4Free (post). It then updated the core product to offer enhanced support for large 3D models typical of infrastructure projects, as well as integrated VR functionality (post).

3D Repo has continued to push ‘Open BIM’ research boundaries. It collaborated with industry partners including Buro Happold and Speckle Works on a £1M Innovate UK-funded project, “AEC Delta Mobility” (read April 2019 post: AEC Delta Mobility: open source ‘differencing’). This looked, first, to help manufacturers engage in the early design stages and increase pre-manufactured value of built assets, and, second, aimed to increase construction project productivity by over 15%. Also in 2019, it partnered with Leeds-based eviFile to offer a combined mobile digital evidence and BIM solution (eviFile and 3DRepo combine mobile and BIM). In early 2021, it launched a new model-sharing platform, 3D Send (post), speeding up secure sharing of BIM outputs. And it partnered with Epic Games to use its Unreal Engine to create a data delivery platform that allows users to share massive 3D engineering models online (3D Repo develops Unreal Engine-based 3D platform).

Asite deal view

Its suite of cloud-based visualisation, safety and data validation tools was clearly attractive to Asite. Following the company’s acquisition by Asite, Doboš said:

“Asite shares our vision for the future of digital engineering. We are excited to join forces and bring our expertise in cloud-based collaboration and BIM to Asite’s platform. Together, we will provide a holistic information management platform that will provide customers with even more advanced solutions for managing their construction projects and help drive digitisation in construction to the next level.”

The acquisition represents a further consolidation in the UK construction collaboration space, and gives Asite new capabilities as it continues to compete with former UK competitors that are now US-owned, as well as international rivals such as Autodesk and thinkproject. One by one over the past 10 years, US-based businesses have been snapping up Asite’s rivals. 4Projects became part of Viewpoint (2013) and is now Trimble-owned (2018); BIW/Conject was acquired by Aconex (2016), which in turn was acquired by Oracle (2018); and Business Collaborator was acquired by Bentley Systems (2020). Asite remains the most prominent independent UK provider in the sector.

Update (13 April 2023: 4pm) – 3D Repo has just launched V5.2 of its platform, with “new enhancements that will further help streamline workflows and improve collaboration, including issue properties in custom tickets, improved graphics performance, interoperability features and more”.

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Sypro expands in the SaaS contract change management space

Part of Hull, UK-based 55 Group, contract change management tech provider Sypro has expanded its offering and teamed up with Trimble Viewpoint. 

Sypro expand contract range

At the recent UK Construction Week 2022 in Birmingham, I had a brief catch-up with Simon Hunt, CEO of Hull, UK-based Sypro. His company was established some 15 years ago, around the same time as several of the leading UK  document collaboration providers (including Asite and Aconex, plus BIW and 4Projects as they were then known, and Sword-CTSpace) were also developing SaaS contract process management toolsets. Sypro Management developed a “state of the art project management system designed by NEC experts to assist a project team in managing key processes like Compensation Events, Early Warning processes and the projected final account” (December 2010 post).

The Sypro back story

BIW (long since absorbed into Conject, then Aconex and now Oracle) had been the first of the construction collaboration vendors to develop a NEC-based solution that could be delivered through its core platform. Its pre-configured contract packs were initially launched in 2005 but its NEC3 Contract Management support was continuously improved through application on projects for over 50 clients. In December 2010, BIW was appointed one of NEC’s two preferred licence content partners. The other was 4Projects (now known as Trimble Viewpoint), which launched its NEC Manager that same month.

Sypro logoHowever, official NEC endorsement was not a requirement for delivery of NEC3 supporting solutions. Firms such as Sypro and CMToolkit (later CEMAR, acquired by ThinkProject in May 2018) also thrived as NEC adoption grew in the UK and other markets influenced by UK contractual practices. Sypro made inroads into the health market by virtue of its focused support for NEC Procure21+ processes, and also won support from other public sector clients, particularly in the north of England (July 2011 post).

In March 2012 (post), Sypro launched a partnership with BIW and 4Projects document collaboration competitor Business Collaborator. The ‘fit’ was straightforward: BC had no contract administration module, while Sypro was a stand-alone NEC3 management tool. It opened an office in Hong Kong in October 2013 (post), and in 2016 (post) added a compliance and asset management tool to its product portfolio.

Recent history

Alongside Hunt at Sypro are two long-standing colleagues, Sypro technical lead and NEC expert Stuart Kings and accountant and serial entrepreneur Gerard Toplass. The latter’s ventures have included an educational furniture manufacturer, the Pagabo construction frameworks provider, Loop (formerly Social Profit Calculator, a social value measurement business), and a digital training platform, Tequ. Pagabo, Sypro, Loop and Tequ are all part of The 55 Group, housed since January 2022 (BusinessLive) in a former bank headquarters in central Hull, with investment from private equity firm Maven Capital Partners.

Sypro’s latest product update (Sypro blog post) provides a universal tool that can standardise digital management processes, not just the NEC contracts managed by the platform’s 5,000 existing users. As a large section of industry uses alternative forms of contract, the latest update to Sypro’s Contract Manager takes a bespoke approach to each contract type and how it is managed. Kings said:

“Two of the biggest problems the construction industry faces are a reticence to digitise and the legacy of oppositional rather collaborative approaches to contracts. The industry has also been slow to share data more widely, but it’s this data sharing that has allowed this new functionality to ensure a bespoke approach across any type of contract a user may need.”

Sypro twist of history

And in a slight historical twist, Sypro has teamed up with a former competitor, collaboration technology provider Trimble Viewpoint. At the latter’s EMEA summit in London on 22 October 2022, it announced a software partnership with Sypro (reminiscent of the latter’s 2012 tie-up with Business Collaborator). Ross McLaren, client relationship manager at Trimble Viewpoint, said:

“Through working in tandem with Sypro, we will be able to take that next step and offer all the benefits of our two market-leading solutions working closer together, making the Contract Management process for our customers seamless and easy to use.”

MPS is now Digital Beehive

DigIn monitoring companies previously covered in EE, I noticed some news about MPS (Management Process Systems), who predated Sypro as another of the UK pioneers in construction contract change management (see March 2008 post). In September 2021, the company was the subject of a management buy-out – its key figures are now MD Nick Ives, development director Michael Cowley and sales and marketing director Christian Hubbard – and it is now based in Leeds (one of its major customers is Yorkshire Water).

The company rebranded in April 2022, becoming Digital Beehive. It launched a new website in August 2022, though the core product retains the CCM name.

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