Procore IPO in for prolonged coronavirus lockdown?

US construction collaboration SaaS technology provider Procore planned to offer its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in the near future, but its plans could be undermined by the coronavirus pandemic.

Procore logoOn 28 February 2020, California, US-based construction collaboration SaaS technology provider Procore filed registration documents with the US Securities and Exchange Commission relating to a proposed initial public (IPO) offering of its common stock (news release). The company said the number of shares to be offered and the price range for the proposed offering had not yet been determined. It intended to list its common stock on The New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “PCOR.” The IPO could value the company, according to Bloomberg News, at US$4 billion.

The IPO filing gives a lot of background about Procore’s finances. In 2019, revenues were US$289.2 million, up from US$186.4 million in 2018 and US$112.3 million in 2017; the company recorded net losses for all three years: US$55.5 million in 2017; US$56.7 million in 2018; and US$83.1 million in 2019. At the end of 2019, Procore had around 1.3 million users. Potential investor risks included: a history of losses, potential future decreases in construction spending, failure to compete effectively, and miscalculation of the future market opportunity.

Extranet Evolution analysis

Procore has previously raised over US$250 million through a succession of funding rounds, valuing the business at around $3 billion in December 2018 (post). These investments have helped the firm expand overseas into markets including Australasia (May 2017 post) and the UK and Ireland. It has also cultivated a substantial marketplace of complementary integrations with other solutions, and, despite the mounting losses, has made the occasional acquisition (for example, Honest Buildings in July 2019).

The revenue figures make interesting reading, not least because they enable comparisons with the financial performance of other construction SaaS vendors. For example, Aconex, prior to its December 2017 US$1.2 billion acquisition by Oracle (post), generated revenues of US$127.6m (c. Au$161.2m, £99.3m or €108.3m),  in the year to 30 June 2017 (post), a figure that put it just ahead of Procore’s performance at the time.  But Aconex also made an operating profit (US$11.9m – c. Au$15.0m, c. £9.2m, or €10.1m), and claimed a 5.3m-strong user base – nearly four times bigger than Procore’s current figure.

However, global events in the three weeks since Procore’s announcement may well see it shelving its IPO plans (as might Bentley Systems – post). The unfolding coronavirus pandemic has sent markets plunging and many analysts are forecasting a deep recession. Hardly the right time for an IPO. Moreover, past recessions suggest construction experiences a deeper recession than other industries, and takes longer to bounce back. So, even when things do improve, there may be other sectors that offer earlier gains from an investor point of view.

The pandemic is also  likely to lead to a major slowdown in construction activity and spending (see previous post), with a corresponding impact on software vendors including Procore; its revenue growth may falter, with even bigger losses in 2020. The impacts will, of course, depend on the extent to which Procore’s current and future customers – mainly SMEs to mid-sized contracting firms – are affected by the slowdown and how far, if at all, they are supported by clients, banks and governments during the downturn.

The other investor risks – failure to compete effectively, and miscalculation of the future market opportunity – also need to be considered, particularly from a technology point of view. Building information modelling (BIM) was positioned as one of the steps necessary to modernise construction and help it emerge from the financial crisis of the late 2000s; in the UK and several other developed economies, it is seen as a foundation for digital transformation of the built environment. Procore’s platform, though, currently has little BIM functionality compared to its competitors (it has a BIM viewer). Procore-Aconex integrationAconex, and its acquisitions, invested substantially in BIM and associated model, data and workflow management over several years, as have most of Procore’s other key competitors (eg: Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Trimble). But there has been little demand to date from Procore’s SME to mid-sized contractor customers for BIM functionality – most are still predominantly working with conventional drawings, documents and spreadsheets. Integrations with other solutions such as Aconex may help (post), but if Procore wants to compete directly with rival platforms and support larger contractors and owner-operators, it will have to invest significantly in developing or acquiring stronger BIM object capabilities.

[Disclosure: I have written occasional freelance pieces for Procore’s Jobsite, and have provided consultancy services to Procore’s London office.]

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Coronavirus, construction and software

The coronavirus pandemic could potentially shut down construction, with a catastrophic impact upon firms and workers, many of them self-employed. How can software firms help?

As just about every nation is affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, entire industry sectors are facing unprecedented shutdowns. Construction is no exception. In some instances, the shutdown has been enforced by national or local authorities, by clients, or by transport restrictions.

Construction shutting down?

In countries such as Italy and Spain, where people have been told to stay at home, site-based construction activities have effectively ceased; in the United States last week (16 March 2020), Boston closed down 97 construction sites across the city (ENR news article) even before movement restrictions were enforced. In London, non-essential work on the Crossrail infrastructure project was stopped on 19 March (Building news), while closures and service reductions on London Underground and Transport for London bus services were hampering workers’ ability to travel to offices and to sites. Numerous industry events and meetings have been either postponed, cancelled altogether or shifted online, and many industry organisations have closed their buildings and, where possible, encouraged staff to work from home.

pwcom office windowFrom my home office window* in southeast London, however, I can see tower cranes still turning on construction sites in north Greenwich. Renovations on two houses in a nearby road are continuing, and scaffolding erected for roof repairs to my house was dismantled just this morning (social distancing, I chatted through the window to one of the scaffolders, telling him I normally work from home – he joked about having to do his work from home from next week!).

SME and self-employed impacts

As SME businesses, the scaffolder, the local builders, and, no doubt, the numerous trades working on the next phase of Greenwich’s  Millennium Village have little choice but to continue working while they can. Many construction workers are also self-employed. When they stop working, they stop earning – with all the financial hardship and worry that follows. Understandably, some UK construction industry organisations are urging the UK Government to extend its wage support lifeline to the industry’s army of self-employed workers (see Construction Enquirer).

Demolition NewsTo avoid the financial impacts of a complete shutdown, some UK industry organisations (for example, Build UK and CECA) are saying sites should be kept open so long as safe working practices can be ensured. However, the site-based physical processes of construction, maintenance, repair and demolition are not always activities that can be managed while keeping safe. Mark Anthony’s This Week in Demolition newsletter quotes an impassioned plea from an Italian demolition contractor:

“Mark, use your pen to advise the demolition and construction market to SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY.   Construction employees travel together, they work together, they have lunch together. It is impossible to wear a protective mask for eight hours if you’re doing a heavy activity.

Please Mark, help the industry to think in a clever way, The sector has to understand that business comes after the employees’ health and safety. Help the sector to take the right decision to SHUT DOWN before it’s too late…”

A freelance writer and journalist like me, Mark Anthony draws his living from the demolition and construction sector, and says: “the closure of the demolition sector will have a catastrophic impact. And, since I am self-employed, there will be no employee benefits to fall back upon. I, therefore, have very little choice but to keep calm and carry on. I am currently unable to visit sites and, by the time I am able, there is no guarantee that there will be any sites left to visit.”

(I spent part of yesterday writing a detailed email to the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, of which I am a Fellow, explaining why I felt the UK Government’s Coronavirus financial support measures failed to help freelancers and micro-business owners. The CIPR has joined forces with the PRCA to send a joint open letter to the Chancellor today pleading for better aid to support individuals whose incomes are and will be devastated by the pandemic. The Creative Industries Federation and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) are campaigning for creation of a Temporary Income Protection Fund to ensure self-employed workers are not left behind.)

Impacts on AEC software businesses

Slowdowns and shutdowns of construction sites and the closures of the offices of the many organisations involved in planning, designing and managing projects will also have an impact on the technology businesses supplying hardware and software used in these projects, though the effects may take time to work through.

AEC investment in ITThe pandemic has created huge uncertainty and clients will doubtless delay decisions about new projects, affecting every firm reliant on that pipeline of future work. And as ongoing projects are suspended or restricted to essential works only, many workers across the supply chain will be laid off and will no longer be using construction-oriented IT daily. Even in the best of times, the construction industry has historically under-invested in information technology (around a third of the pan-industry average) – often IT is regarded as an overhead not an investment – and some hard decisions will be made, perhaps postponing or delaying purchases, or terminating ongoing licenses and software subscriptions.

Of course, some hardware and software investments might be made to support employees working from home. Remote access to corporate networks might need to be enabled (in the US, one VPN provider, NordVPNteams, says VPN use has grown 66% since 11 March, while overall sales are up 600%). New hardware may need to be provided. Design or project management applications may need to be installed on employees’ own machines. New tools such as teleconferencing solutions might be need to support team working and collaboration (data gathered by indicates that downloads for video conferencing and online meetings platform Zoom increased by 1,270% in the month to 22 March). Cloud-based storage or more construction project-specific solutions might need to be implemented. On tech website BIM+, Nigel Davies from Evolve Consultancy, writing about getting BIM under remote control, mentions use of Autodesk BIM 360 or Bentley ProjectWise (other solutions are available, of course), and Richard Saxon (Coronavirus ‘wartime scenario’ will push the digital agenda like never before) says leaders’ efforts in stress-testing remote working arrangements are paving the way for others to follow faster.

How are AEC software vendors helping?

BIM+ (read Industry steps up to help firms with remote working amid coronavirus) has also started to look at how software providers might help an industry increasingly needing to manage its finances and support its growing number of people working from home. Firms highlighted include:

  • Revizto (doubling the number of users on an existing licence at no cost)
  • Autodesk (offering an Extended Access Program for several of its flagship cloud collaboration products, including BIM 360 Docs; extending contract payment terms – see also the Autodesk COVID-19 resource centre)
  • Graphisoft (free emergency licences to help architects work remotely; free 60-day access to BIMcloud as a service)
  • Evolve Consultancy (offering a major discount on all its online training courses)

London-based 3DRepo is hosting a free webinar at 10am GMT on 26 March (details) on collaborative BIM and delivering projects while working remotely.

WeBuildSlightly further afield, in Australia (though web-based technologies are, of course, quickly adopted internationally), I have been sent news from WeBuild (previously Tenderfield – post), which offers a cloud-based platform offering modules for construction tendering/bidding, document collaboration, project and contract management, and quality and safety control. Looking to help small and mid-sized construction businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, new WeBuild subscribers can have six months free access to all products until 30 August 2020. Co-founder Jason Kamha said: “We realise that many construction businesses will be impacted by shutdowns and time away from the office/jobsite. As a result, SMB’s, who make up the majority of our industry, may need to re-think their digital strategies and implement collaborative technologies for greater project control.” He says the company has “updated our platform’s UI/UX design and added quite a few new features into the system including scheduling, submittals, iOS and Android applications and expanded our operations into Hong Kong and the US.”

Update (26 March 2020)Vectorworks is offering free virtual training opportunities, and has amended some software license conditions to enable more working from home (see blog post).

In AECbytes, Lachmi Khemlani has provided a similar US perspective on coronavirus and AEC software.

(If other construction technology firms are contributing to industry efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts, please let me know.)

(* In his BIM+ article, Richard Saxon talks about using social media apps for virtual co-working. My window photo was shared in a Twitter thread #WFHwindows started by UK BIM Alliance deputy chair Casey Rutland.)

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Autodesk Construction Cloud adoption grows

autodesk logoAutodesk Construction Cloud, launched in November 2019 (post), is gaining traction with owners, contractors and subcontractors across the construction industry, says Autodesk.

The portfolio of software and services brings together Assemble, BIM 360, BuildingConnected and PlanGrid with Autodesk’s established design authoring tools, helping to connect headquarters, office and field teams to increase collaboration and productivity. The company says (news release) recent growth landmarks include:

  • Autodesk Construction CloudAutodesk Construction Cloud’s builders network, powered by BuildingConnected, now has over one million users, “making it the industry’s largest network of owners, designers, builders and trades, enabling each to connect with the right partners and projects”.
  • BuildingConnected’s preconstruction platform now manages an estimated $56 billion worth of project bids each month, with 15 of the top 20 ENR-ranked general contractors using BuildingConnected to manage bidding.
  • PlanGrid field collaboration technology is now used on nearly two million projects around the globe (a figure that I still think needs to be treated sceptically – see these post comments). Coupled with BIM 360, more than 1.5 billion drawings are now in Autodesk Construction Cloud.
  • BIM 360’s machine learning technology Construction IQ is now used monthly by nearly 12,000 project leaders, demonstrating accelerating adoption of Autodesk’s predictive insights to identify, prevent and manage risk.
  • Model conditioning and 3D quantification tool Assemble has had more than 85,000 models uploaded in the last year, revealing that contractors are increasingly turning to Assemble for model-based workflows.

Jim Lynch, vice president and general manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions, says:

“Our customers are continuing to see strong benefits from our best-in-class solutions working together to improve efficiency, increase margins and reduce risk for the construction industry. Autodesk is a trusted partner to more than 300 of the top ENR-ranked general contractors who use at least one Autodesk Construction Cloud product, and many of them are interested in adopting products across the entire portfolio. It’s truly accelerated our growth.”

The growth in Autodesk’s community is largely US-driven as two of its key components, PlanGrid and BuildingConected, were mainly US-oriented businesses prior to their acquisition – in November 2018 and January 2019, respectively – by Autodesk. Whilst an independent provider, Plangrid only began marketing in the UK in 2017 (post); BuildingConnected is due to be launched in EMEA during 2020.

Autodesk trust study: UK collaborationAutodesk, in partnership with management consulting firm FMI Corporation, has also released findings from an industry study, Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust. The study measured the costs and benefits of different levels of trust within construction organisations and across construction project teams. Organisations with “very high” levels of trust achieve better financial and organisational performance, the study said. 240 of the survey’s 2,500+ respondents were from the UK, which reported higher than average levels of trust and collaboration (the study also referenced a previous survey undertaken by Plangrid – post).

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Kubus BIMcollab adds issue management tools

BIMcollab logoThe cloud-based BIMcollab  issue management system for BIM, from Netherlands-based KUBUS, works with a variety of popular BIM applications based on OpenBIM, and there have been some interesting product launches in the first quarter of 2020.

BIMcollab-BricsCAD integration

In January, the company announced an integration with Hexagon-owned Bricsys, whereby a new BCF panel in the latter’s BricsCAD BIM V20 product lets users connect to the BIMcollab platform through its open API. The connected panel allows users to see, open and manage BIM model issues directly inside the BricsCAD BIM product environment, while working directly with the BIM model. BIMcollab’s open BCF API is based on BuildingSMART open standards, to better facilitate effective communications across a variety of BIM tools and workflows.

Using the panel, the BricsCAD BIM user can select an issue and have the relevant model elements automatically selected / highlighted. This workflow enables efficient communications of design issues, without the added hassle of sending emails and attachments back and forth via traditional channels. Users can add comments to model issues stored on the BIMcollab server and can change the status of issue notifications.

ZOOM and BCF manager updates

BIMcollab issue managementEarlier this month (10 March 2020), BIMcollab released a new version of its ZOOM and BCF manager tools, enabling faster, structured and customisable issue-management. Support for OpenBIM products was extended to opening Tekla BIMsight package-files (.TBP) in BIMcollab ZOOM, as was support for the open standardised BCF-API (“This means we have opened up the possibility in the near future to connect BIMcollab ZOOM and all BCF Managers to 3rd party issue management systems or Common Data Environments“).

BIMcollab ZOOM also offers an easy-to-use set of options to analyze, check and validate IFC data. Users can share Smart views and Clash rules with team members to share knowledge and best practices, and create issues to inform modelers about clashes or other errors. ZOOM also allows building owners and other stakeholders to keep a close eye on project progress, or even to join communication workflows.

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Egnyte targets UK CDE market

Egnyte is targeting its enterprise file sync and sharing platform at architecture, engineering and construction, positioning itself as an ‘agnostic CDE’.

Egnyte logoAttending the first day of the FutureBuild 2020 trade show in London earlier this month, I noticed an Egnyte stand among the digital exhibitors. Stepping on to the stand, I briefly met Andrew Martin, EMEA senior sales director and UK managing director, and he told me that US-based Egnyte had identified the UK construction sector as one of its targets for its Software-as-a-Service collaboration and file-sharing platform, and was starting to exhibit more widely as UK AEC events (this was just as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to impact the UK – FutureBuild was already showing signs of reducing footfall, so, as Egnyte reduced its stand personnel, Martin and I didn’t get chance to follow up on this conversation).

Egnyte, EMEA and construction

The Egnyte platform is not a construction-specific SaaS technology, nor is it directly competing with simple file-sharing providers like Dropbox or Box. It is positioned as a corporate solution for “secure content collaboration, compliant data protection and simple infrastructure modernisation”. Established in 2007, the company (backed by Google Ventures among others) is based in California and, having established a million-plus user-base, started a push into Europe in 2014, seeking to tempt enterprise customers with a technology that could be deployed on-premise, in the cloud, or deployed in a hybrid setup.  At that time, Egnyte’s customers included UK contractor Bowmer & Kirkland, the Texas-based arm of UK contractor Balfour Beatty, plus other US firms including Andersen Construction, McKenney’s, Power Design, Inc. and Tutor Perini Corporation.

Balfour Beatty (case study) selected Egnyte to replace its Box file-sharing solution and also leveraged Egnyte’s integration with PlanGrid (since November 2018, part of Autodesk). Egnyte also integrates with other AEC-oriented tools including Nemetschek’s Bluebeam (post), Newforma (Newforma acquires SmartUse, 2014) and Raken (Mobile-first Raken builds its niche, 2017), and, in September 2019, announced an integration with Procore (another US vendor also increasingly active in the UK – it recently joined the UK BIM Alliance, something that I understand Egnyte is intending to do too).

Following FutureBuild, I received an Egnyte email saying that, for construction customers, Egnyte enables them to:

“1. Digitise sites to improve user experience, allow offline access to project documents and sync changes back with HQ.
2. Provide an Agnostic CDE which integrates with your current applications and workflows, creating a consolidated file storage structure which allows you to mitigate version conflicts and data silos, this will ensure a quicker project handover time, a more secure project process and a golden thread of data.”

Egnyte lifecycle ecosystem

An Extranet Evolution view

I am hoping to have a more detailed conversation Martin and his Egnyte UK colleagues in the near future. Judging from its sales collateral, exhibition stand and corporate emails, Egnyte clearly feels it has a compelling offer to an industry sector reliant on efficient and secure information exchange. But, like others, how well it really delivers a ‘common data environment’ is open to question. As recently discussed (January 2020: Towards connected data environments…), UK guidance on the international BIM standard ISO 19650 underlines that a CDE is a combination of technical solutions and process workflows, not a single platform. Also, the envisaged future for BIM is one in which collaboration is enabled more around BIM objects and less around files and file storage (see Open CDEs post). Egnyte talks of “ecosystems” and is clearly committed to developing integrations with other solutions, so its ability to ensure a “golden thread of data” will therefore demand the creation of interconnections at the data level with other technologies and workflows deployed in project delivery and built asset operation and use.

(A small niggle: despite the exposure the company has had to the UK construction market, Egnyte’s website hasn’t been localised sufficiently to remove US-oriented references to ‘general contractors’, ‘specialty contractors’, ‘jobsites’, ‘trailers’ and ‘superintendents’.)

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Open CDEs and BIMLauncher

Amid a continuing UK BIM discussion regarding use of ‘common data environments’, CDEs, Ireland’s BIMLauncher is already connecting some vendors’ platforms at a document-centric level. Truly connected BIM is a long way off, believes BIMLauncher CEO John Egan.

In January 2020 (Towards connected data environments, CDEs), I wondered about the need for data exchange standards to connect the various applications, platforms or technology ecosystems described or used, in the context of building information modelling (BIM), as ‘common data environments’. As UK BIM thinking has influenced international approaches, attempts to develop more consistent international approaches to both defining CDEs and to enabling efficient exchange of data between them has gradually expanded.

UK-BIM-Framework-guidance-2Since October 2019, the the UK BIM Framework – the “overarching approach to implementing BIM in the UK” – has, in Part 2: Processes for Project Delivery, offered detailed guidance on CDEs. The Part 2 guidance, written by John Ford of UK contractor Galliford Try, highlights that a CDE may actually not be a single technology or platform, but a combination of tools and workflows. It also highlights the the need for a standard exchange protocol to facilitate transfer of information and metadata between systems.

This matter was discussed at a 5 February 2020 meeting of the UK BIM Alliance‘s Technology Group*,  where it was agreed that a ‘CDE subgroup’ be established to review and comment upon Ford’s Part 2 guidance, and to discuss the metadata issue. This subgroup (with eight vendors represented: Asite, Atvero, Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Glider, GroupBC, Procore, Viewpoint) met at Viewpoint’s Newcastle office during BIMShowLive in late February; and several of the participants also joined a public panel discussion at BIMShowLive the following day (27 February), where topics ranged from metadata standards to post-Grenfell whole-life “Golden Thread of building information” requirements. The Technology Group is aiming to agree some updates to the Part 2 CDE guidance ahead of the next edition being published at the end of April 2020.

In parallel with these meetings, as I mentioned, there have also been separate conversations in Europe: DIN SPEC 91931-1 is a draft standard aiming to promote open data exchange between CDEs, with input from thinkproject, Oracle Aconex and Nemetschek, among others. And, while Oracle Aconex withdrew from the UK BIM Alliance, it joined BuildingSmart International as a strategic member in late 2019 (news). The announcement said:

“Oracle Construction and Engineering is actively promoting the concept of collaboration workflows, providing leadership in the development of an open CDE API project in buildingSMART having already established DIN SPEC 91391 in Germany. This drew on PAS 1192 and ISO 19650, focusing on helping the built asset industry to innovate and evolve by enabling an easy exchange of data between CDEs, authoring, collaboration and quality systems.[my emphasis]


BIMLauncher logoIn my meetings and in some of the online conversations about enabling exchange of data between CDEs, Ireland’s BIMLauncher has been mentioned. This is the latest startup established by John Egan, who I met a few years ago in Bristol when he was working on a shortlived offering called BIMScript before (2016) establishing Jenca Cloud – an open source platform for cloud-first BIM applications. In 2017 he incorporated BIMLauncher, aiming to develop connectors between different vendors’ CDE solutions. “A lack of integration means stakeholders can’t access the right information, and so they start bypassing the CDEs, perhaps using email to share files, and all version control is lost.”

“I have frustrations about vendor APIs,” he continued. “Too often they are simply help a CDE vendor’s platform to integrate with other BIM software tools – Solibri or ArchiCAD, for example – rather than enabling efficient data exchange with other CDE providers.

John Egan (CEO, BIMLauncher)“As I see it, they think the walled garden approach to holding customer data is a strategy for success.  However, in response to a maturing information management market, there is an increased demand to boost collaboration efficiency in digital construction workflows. A tightly integrated system is the means to achieve this. As a result, vendors’ integration strategies are key to their success and the conflict between providers begins as they all vie to become the one and ‘single window’ to project information management. Some vendors opt for an ‘open API’ approach making it as easy as possible for others to connect; others vet access and decide based on strategic partnerships and alliances for commercial gain. Some vendors are working under the guise of open initiatives like DIN SPEC. Some are not engaging at all.”

Document and workflow integration

BIMLauncher, now an accredited Autodesk Forge System Integrator, had its first success with the development of a connector between Dublin-based Zutec (originally a commissioning and handover platform, post, but now offering BIM integrations alongside a host of data capture tools) and the (now Oracle-owned) Aconex platform. Other connectors have been created for Autodesk’s BIM360, Procore and for Microsoft Sharepoint (and a connector for Ireland’s i3PT CertCentral is imminent), although the integrations often do not relate to sharing BIM data, but to the more conventional level of documents and email communications. Egan says:

“Our integrations hub is focused on document based workflows, as this is the current format of information exchange required for the majority of industry workflows. There is a lot of work to do here before we can focus as an industry on moving to object level management practices.”

Procore-Aconex integrationA recently launched integration between the Aconex and Procore, for example, focused on two areas of the Aconex platform: its document register and its Mail project communications tool, creating a project-level connection that, when deployed, recreated Aconex data in a structured folder system in the Procore Documents tool. “This helps projects where, for example, Aconex has been used by a design team, but where the contractor site teams are Procore users. Documents approved for construction are pulled across.” The Aconex integration can be run in continuous sync mode or be used for a one-time migration between the systems,  and is now available via the Procore App Marketplace.

BIMLauncher participated in a November 2019 BuildingSmart International OpenCDE-API hackathon involving developers from firms involved in the DIN SPEC 91391 project (see Egan’s December 2019 blog post), and the group (also involved in development of the BuildingSMART BIM Collaboration Format, BCF) is now working on an official BuildingSMART project.

(CDE API Version 1 from buildingSMART International on Vimeo.)

BIM CDE integration

While there is clearly an appetite from some vendors to build better integrations, it’s challenging both technologically – some vendors’ solutions have been in incremental development for over 20 years – and commercially – some vendors may not want to make it easy for customers to migrate projects and data to other providers. However, BIM is providing new opportunities to standardise, and to become more connected. Egan is not enthusiastic about API-based approaches, feels that a ‘hub connector’ enabling integration across multiple CDEs should be the way forward, and talked about the secure use of ‘linked data’ to provide better data visibility across platforms while also maintaining the integrity of that data in its originally hosted platform.

“There is no obvious solution. But the technical challenges for vendors themselves to implement a system that can manage information between multiple systems will take significant investment and time to develop. Alternatively, some vendors are choosing to partner with our BIMLauncher integration hub where we manage connections with other CDEs and tools.

“Ultimately, the vendor with the best integration strategy will be the winner. Some vendors are mediocre in their approach; many have no integration strategy at all. But if they are serious about supporting their clients’ information needs they need to be serious about integration.”

[* Disclosure: I am a member of the UK BIM Alliance executive team and chair of its Technology Group, which includes several vendors of ‘CDE’ technologies. The views are mine alone.]

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Operance releases smart building manual

Operance is a mobile-first application from Humberside, UK-based BIM consultancy BIMSense. It is designed to enable anyone to easily search, share, update and use BIM (Building Information Modelling) information, without needing to know anything about BIM.

Scott Pilgrim, Ian Yeo - OperanceBased in the UK at the Centre for Digital Innovation (C4DI), a private technology incubator in Hull, Humberside, BIMSense was co-founded in 2016 by Scott Pilgrim (COO  – on left in photo) and Ian Yeo (CEO). Pilgrim’s previous career included spells as a bricklayer before becoming a construction planner and developments manager at Sewell group, working alongside Yeo. At C4DI, they met Tim Mutlow who became CTO. Identifying that project clients found it difficult to to store, search, update and utilise building information, they began to develop Operance – aiming to help facility managers and building owners better manage their facilities and reduce the costs of building ownership.

Operance for smart building management

Operance logo

Operance was initially  developed as a digital operations and maintenance application. It provided a simple upload platform for BIM consultants and contractors to upload and handover as-built O&M information while helping clients easily visualise the value and benefits of BIM data prior to defining asset information requirements. However, they recognised that too many O&M manuals remained unused and quickly became outdated – what end-users needed was a simple-to-use tool that delivered key information that could quickly be used. As Yeo says:

“Whilst BIM is great and undoubtedly the future, the everyday school caretaker isn’t interested. BIM is technically complicated, requiring a lot of personal investment in terms of learning and changing of habits and corporate investment in terms of training and software. It’s simply unrealistic to expect a caretaker to utilise BIM models and COBie anytime soon, unless you serve it up in a manner they are comfortable with.”

Operance Smart Building ManualThe platform, accessible via Android and Apple iOS mobile applications, enables consultants, contractors and modular builders to upload BIM models and information such as COBie data. It also provides clients and end-users with all their building information in their pocket, accessible anytime, anywhere, without the need to navigate complicated 3D models.

The Operance platform has evolved into a “smart building manual”, enabling users to easily search, share, update and use their building and asset information to create simple tasks and notifications to manage operations and maintenance workflows. Development plans include the ability to auto-classify BIM models and legacy assets utilising AI (Artificial Intelligence) and adding IoT (Internet of Things) digital twin abilities in the future.

However ‘smart’ it becomes, the goal is to keep it simple says Pilgrim:

“It’s a bit like an everyday consumer purchasing a smart phone, they don’t generally care what technology they contain, they just want a smart phone to do all the usual things. It’s the same with building information management, most school caretakers don’t care or know anything about BIM, they just want their building information to operate and maintain their facility, so we are helping consultants and contractors give it to them”.

The Operance ‘Digital O&M’ upload and handover costs main-contractors and modular builders £2,500 per project, with no further cost to the client should they simply want access to their information as per traditional O&M’s, albeit digitally and mobile.

Should the client want to then edit, update, share and utilise their information for simple facilities task management along with every other feature available now and in the future, they simply upgrade to the ‘Smart Building Manual’ license, choosing between a ‘single-building’ license for just £250 per month or create substantial savings across their estate with a ‘multi-building’ enterprise license. There is also additional savings available for longer-term commitments.

Each of the ‘Digital O&M’ contractor upload and client ‘Smart Building Manual’ licenses provide a 30-day free trial, unlimited users, unlimited features, priority customer support and BIM model uploads. Free trials also include access to two example buildings with data for inspiration.

The Extranet Evolution view

The digital O&M market has been expanding for some years. UK point solution providers such as Dome expanded beyond commissioning and handover to launch a defects management tool, iSnag (2013 post), while O&M provision was also something offered by the leading extranet/EDMS providers. In the pre-smartphone era, BIW Technologies was among the first to produce digital Health and Safety Files; later (2012) Australia’s Aconex acquired Grazer to expand its O&M capabilities; Ireland’s Zutec (post), floated on Sweden’s Nasdaq First North stock exchange two years ago (post), specialised in this field too.

The BIM push into facilities and asset management has not been as extensive as it has been for design and construction (and even here it has yet to drive processes across the majority of UK projects). However, government construction strategy focus on delivering better whole life value and on measuring the performance of assets is starting to rekindle FM/AM interest in BIM – and the publication of ISO 19650 Part 3 (covering BIM for asset management) later this year may well boost this interest still further. While such documents may excite some BIM aficionados, BIM also has to be made intelligible and meaningful to those at the frontline managing and maintaining built assets every day (“Dave, the caretaker”). Given a quick demonstration of Operance at BIMShowLive 2020, I was hugely encouraged to see a simple and intuitive-to-use mobile app that could be quickly adopted and used by caretakers and facilities managers with no knowledge of BIM, and with little training requirement.

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Bentley buys GroupBC

The latest consolidation in the global SaaS construction collaboration marketplace has seen Reading, UK-based GroupBC acquired by the US giant AEC software vendor Bentley Systems for an undisclosed amount.

Bentley logo 2017Jointly announcing the deal today (11 March 2020 news release), Bentley Systems says the two companies’ software solutions have been deployed for complementary purposes to improve project and asset information management over the past 20 years. “The transaction results from GroupBC’s expansion agenda, and Bentley’s investment appetite, for international growth opportunities stemming from the UK’s national initiatives for major infrastructure investment and towards infrastructure digital twins.”

GroupBCAcquisition rationale

Bentley has identified that GroupBC’s ‘common data environment’ (CDE) solutions have been widely deployed in the UK for information management across construction and asset estates. GroupBC, it seems, is being bought for its UK exposure to BIM deployment which has seen UK guidelines form the kernel of the emerging ISO 19650 standard. Bentley, of course, also has its own collaborative BIM product, ProjectWise. The Exton, Pennsylvania-based corporation says:

“The new opportunity is to build on ISO 19650, and GroupBC’s UK information management experience, to advance collaborative BIM, through “evergreen” digital twins, to span infrastructure lifecycles. In combination, Bentley’s iTwin Services will now be leveraged to uniquely connect GroupBC CDEs and ProjectWise CDEs. Through semantic alignment and change synchronization, the resulting digital twins cloud services will securely federate – fully enabling 4D mixed reality and analytics visibility – previously separate CDEs for construction and engineering.”

Keith Bentley, Chief Technology Officer for Bentley Systems, said:

“Our iTwin cloud services, taking advantage of iModel-based solutions for interoperability, are ideal for federating CDEs. This enables us to assure that the users of our BC SaaS services will benefit from further extending the value of their project and asset information through digital twins. With the help of our new GroupBC colleagues, we will now be able to better serve engineers, contractors, and owners by bringing together their collective IT (information management), OT (operational technologies including reality modeling), and ET (engineering models). I am confident that the resulting improvements in project and asset performance will be consistent with the UK’s demanding but welcome expectations for new ROI breakthroughs from digital twins.”

Simon Horsley, UK regional executive for Bentley Systems, said:

“Our many UK users, projects, and owners in common with GroupBC will gain a lot from our joining forces to advance CDEs through digital twins. I have been tasked by Bentley management to help the UK to continue to lead the world in going digital for infrastructure advancement, and our new offerings and colleagues from GroupBC bring essential momentum as we pool resources to meet our market’s expanded ‘infrastructure revolution’ requirements. I particularly welcome to Bentley Systems GroupBC’s co-founders Sanjeev Shah and Stephen Crompton, and CEO Wes Simmons.”

Sanjeev Shah and Wes Simmons, GroupBCSanjeev Shah, co-founder of GroupBC (pictured with CEO Wes Simmons, right), said:

“This is a hugely exciting day for our shared accounts and for both our workforces moving forward. The opportunities which arise from bringing our two companies and their respective product portfolios together are enormous, as is the global reach which Bentley can now add for us. Working together we will be even better able to support, through ‘going digital,’ construction and asset lifecycles.”

Stephen Crompton, CPO and co-founder of GroupBC, added:

Steve Crompton“Bentley is going to provide a great new home for our products to thrive in. GroupBC have always promoted an integrated, best-of-breed approach, and being able to complement our leading software solutions with existing best-of-breed products from Bentley presents a uniquely exciting opportunity for us and our user organizations, opening the door for unparalleled integration between our solutions and bridging the gaps between design, construction and ongoing asset information management.”

Wes Simmons, CEO of GroupBC, said:

“Our founders and I would like to thank our equity partner YFM for their visionary support over the last five years. For our GroupBC team, customers, and partners, joining Bentley Systems ensures a future of continued growth, including beyond construction information management through broadly federated digital twins, and international expansion. Here’s to BC CDE and digital twins advancement!”

GroupBC screens

GroupBC back story

GroupBC (formerly Business Collaborator) is one of the UK’s most well-established providers of Software-as-a-Service collaboration platforms, launched in the late 1990s when it was part of the software solutions arm of the Enviros environmental consulting and software group. It has since gone through several changes of ownership and branding:

  1. In April 2003, BC was acquired from Enviros by CodaSciSys for £2.82m.
  2. In September 2006, CodaSciSys demerged, Business Collaborator becoming a specialist subsidiary of Coda plc.
  3. In January 2008, Coda plc was acquired by Unit 4 Agresso, a major provider of ERP solutions
  4. Unit4BussoftIn February 2010, Unit 4 Agresso implemented a group-wide name change to UNIT4, and the BC business was rebranded as UNIT4 Collaboration Software Ltd, though the BC product name was retained. Efforts to cross-sell the solution within the UNIT4 group were unsuccessful, and GroupBC also began to lag behind the development of its competitors in the BIM collaboration space (during the mid-late 2000s, Business Collaborator was the ‘third force’ in UK collaboration behind BIW (now part of Oracle) and 4Projects (now part of Trimble) and ahead of Asite and others in revenue terms, but the brand’s visibility dwindled once it become ‘product-ised’ at UNIT4). Fortunately changes at the top of UNIT4 in 2013 saw it become a non-core business, and …
  5. … in November 2014 (New era for Business Collaborator after MBO), the BC brand was resurrected after YFM invested £3.35m into a £4m management buy-out. Freed of the dead hand of UNIT4, then GroupBC CEO Sanjeev Shah planned to invest more in sales and marketing to reinvigorate existing BC customer and end-user relationships (customers included Thames Water, Nationwide Building Society, Balfour Beatty and Costain), and to win new Software-as-a-Service customers (Sainsbury’s became a notable addition, as did – in February 2019 – Heathrow Airport, though in partnership with Autodesk: post; update [21 March 2020] other recent major wins include the 15-year redevelopment of London’s Canada Water for British Land, and Birmingham Airport’s £500m expansion).

Post-MBO, GroupBC enjoyed double-digit revenue and profitability growth (July 2017: GroupBC revenues up 33%) as accelerated development of its core platform, and investments in building information modelling (BIM) contributed to both user base and revenue growth. As Bentley have identified, it invested in its platform’s ‘common data environment’ capabilities to support teams working to meet the UK government’s BIM mandate. It also invested in research and development into “semantic BIM” (Connected BIM), launching its GeoConnect+ service at the GeoBusiness event in London in late May 2017. Developed by GroupBC with consultancy PCSG and Ordnance Survey, GeoConnect+ connects BIM information with geospatial data in a way that helps large asset owners and operators manage large, disparate estates better; datasets include OS open data, OS mapping data, land and property data, flood, river, and road network data. This and other developments were extensively covered at GroupBC’s user conference in September 2017.

The business has grown its headcount, recruiting experienced staff such as Stuart Bell (formerly at YFM-backed ERP vendor Eque2 and then at Union Square until it was acquired by Deltek in 2016). In January 2018, former Eque2 CEO Wes Simmons was appointed GroupBC CEO, with Shah taking on a new role in developing GroupBC’s strategic industry partnerships.

The Extranet Evolution perspective

At first sight, some cynics might say this is a move by Bentley to absorb a significant UK competitor – Bentley, after all, has been ever-present in the UK throughout the ongoing BIM adoption programme, so it is hardly devoid of understanding of UK standards and related developments, despite making UK BIM its primary justification for the deal. And both Bentley and GroupBC are patrons of the UK BIM Alliance and active participants in the Alliance’s Technology Group.

However, there is certainly interest in expanding UK BIM software development expertise in the Bentley portfolio – the business acquired another UK BIM pioneer, 4D specialist Synchro Software in June 2018 (post). And while there may be an overlap between the Bentley and GroupBC CDEs, there are also some strong technological differentiations – CTO Steve Crompton has been a long-time advocate of ‘open BIM’ and ‘the semantic web’, helping position GroupBC as one of the growing forces in UK ‘digital twin’ thinking (it hosted a breakfast seminar on the subject at Digital Construction Week in October 2019). And Bentley wants to retain its leading role in pushing ‘Digital Twin’ into the AEC mainstream.

The Bentley-GroupBC tie-up also brings with it some significant and long-standing customer relationships. These include owner operators such as Thames Water and retailers including Sainsbury’s, plus contractors such as Balfour Beatty and Costain – the latter has made a strong pitch to ‘digitalise’ and grow its digital capabilities. Such customers will not want drop their GroupBC relationships lightly, and will be trying to read between the lines of Bentley’s news announcement rhetoric and corporate buzzwords to see how the combined businesses will move forward.

This latest consolidation in the collaboration sector (Oracle acquiring Aconex who previously acquired Conject who acquired BIW, Trimble acquiring Viewpoint and eBuilderAutodesk acquiring Plangrid, etc), also highlights that Asite remains one of the few independent UK-based vendors, a business which has been consistently growing its revenues for some years (post). Extranet Evolution will be talking to Asite’s new CEO Nathan Doughty shortly about his view of the market.

[* Disclosure: At the time of the 2014 MBO, I was commissioned by YFM to join an advisory team undertaking ‘due diligence’ on the Business Collaborator technology offering. I subsequently provided some marketing consultancy services to GroupBC, and have also provided some consultancy services to Bentley Systems. I am honorary chair of the UK BIM Alliance’s Technology Group.]

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APE Mobile acquired by Damstra

Perth, Australia-based mobile construction technology vendor APE Mobile has been acquired by another Australian firm, Damstra, for an unspecified amount.

APE LogoThe company, originally Applied Project Experience, was founded by Matt Edwards in 2009, and initially set out to exploit the newly-launched Apple iPad tablet to support construction business processes, with APE Mobile‘s Paperless Site Software-as-a-Service app for contractors eventually launched in 2013 (“Going APE”). In 2015, APE closed a Series A funding round, raising Au$2m to fund further product development and to drive growth. Two years later (November 2017), the company was looking at international opportunities. APE’s head of growth Kevin Reece visited London to check out the competitive landscape (“since the start of 2017, we’ve been doing more marketing overseas … 25% of our customers are outside Australia”); former Xero executive Leanne Graham advised on US expansion, buoyed by further investments in 2016 and other planned fund-raises. To help US adoption of its digital health, safety and environmental (HSE) compliance app, APE developed integrations with ERP systems (Sage 300 CRE, Viewpoint’s Vista and Dexter + Cheney Spectrum), and with document collaboration platforms Procore and Aconex, among other solutions, Reece said. Autodesk’s BIM 360 was a major integration too.

Kevin Reece (APE Mobile, at DCW)Reece (right) took over as CEO in July 2018;* Matt Edwards remained involved as a non-exec director while pursuing a new interest in software bots at Nyfty.AI – developing “little robot helpers” to monitor process workflows and produce reports (Procore appears to be a key integration).

APE Mobile acquisition

Melbourne-based Damstra was established in Australia in 2002, initially as a labour hire company, before developing a SaaS workplace management platform, helping organisations manage, track and protect their workplaces. Its modular, mobile-oriented approach provides solutions for real-time workforce management, access control, asset management, learning management and HSE management. Information about the acquisition is sketchy: Damstra says APE will help it “expand its paperless product suite” used by over 300,000 users worldwide. Giving credit to Edwards for setting up the business, Reece said: “It’s been an amazing and fun few years to get to this point. Stepping up and being part of a bigger family is going to be a whole new ride. … After a handover, a mini-break methinks and then onto the next challenge….”

[* Disclosure: Ltd undertook some consultancy work for APE Mobile in early 2019.]

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DECONT: Digital Enablers for Construction Transformation

DECONT – Digital Enablers for Construction Transformation – is a Loughborough University research project looking at ‘Industry 4.0’ technologies.

Dr Robby Soetanto from Loughborough University’s school of architecture, building and civil engineering was at FutureBuild last week (I first met him when I was industry examiner for an EngD candidate at the university a few years ago). He told me about his current project: DECONT.

DECONT is an industry-focussed research project conducted by Loughborough University as part of the UCL-led Transforming Construction Network Plus initiative. The DECONT project is investigating how transformative technologies known as ‘Industry 4.0’ are shaping the digital technologies that could fundamentally redefine traditional delivery processes and business models for construction.

Industry 4.0

IIoT Architecture‘Industry 4.0’ relates to an extension of automation and data exchange beyond what is currently achieved by by the ‘Internet of Things’ sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies. The terms ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIot) or ‘Smart Factories’ are sometimes used, envisaging factories where machines are augmented with wireless connectivity and sensors, connected to systems that can visualise the entire production line and make decisions on their own. The term originated in Germany a few years ago (and I have heard it used by executives at thinkproject and RIB Software, among others – see October 2016 post, for example).

The Transforming Construction Network describes the project’s remit:

    • “Imagine the future of construction where the connections between components of a building fit seamlessly like that of a car seat belt (clunk/click) or Lego blocks.
    • Imagine every component having a unique digital identity (tagged with smart sensor), enabling it to be tracked wherever it is in the construction process from factory to storage, to final installation in the building, with through-life information being captured.
    • Imagine wireless sensor networks allowing components to communicate with workers, roving as-built BIM compliance data capture robots, and cloud-based BIM models, enabling real-time simulations of the build process.
    • Imagine automatic digital data collection, enabling real-time visibility/traceability of all stages of construction activity. Imagine building owners monitoring daily progress of the construction via a visual 3D model on their laptop or mobile wherever they are.

DECONT aims to identify the opportunities for such transformation and then channel these into future scenarios and a technology roadmap for practical applications, which are driven by a hype-free clear vision of the future. Future scenarios will show inter-relationships between cutting edge digital technologies and construction business models. DECONT establishes a vehicle to stimulate the imagination of participants, to share and test these ideas with others, and to collectively turn them into realistic propositions for transforming the nature and culture of construction.”

DECONT survey and workshop

Soetanto has organised a survey to determine the current and future level of adoption of Industry 4.0 Technologies in construction, and the perceived added value of Digital Enablers within these technologies. Clients, architects, consultants, construction managers, contractors, subcontractors, manufacturers, suppliers, and all professionals working for the construction industry are invited to participate. This survey can be accessed at and should take no more than 10 minute to complete.

A DECONT workshop at Loughborough’s Olympic Park campus in London is also being organised, on 31 March 2020. Soetanto says this will discuss future scenarios, the technology roadmap, and construction business models. A special interest group is also being formed to bring together experts and interested parties. If you are interested in attending, please register here.

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