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, …
The UK BIM Alliance’s change of name to nima and its focus on whole life information management should also encourage wider thinking about long-term easy access to and use of information. It is now just …
Judging from its 2022 ‘Glider Gathering’, Glider Technology is fast becoming an influential player in the UK construction technology market. UK-based SaaS construction technology provider Glider Technology has come a long way in just a …
Updating Extranet Evolution over the past 12-15 months has become a very irregular activity, mainly due to pressure of other work (some fee-earning, some pro bono – such as voluntary work for what was until …
Dublin, Ireland-based Evercam has raised a total of €8m investment to help it further grow its presence in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. As previously covered in EE (read April 2020 post: Evercam : site …
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.
However, 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.
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
In 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.
The UK BIM Alliance’s change of name to nima and its focus on whole life information management should also encourage wider thinking about long-term easy access to and use of information.
It is now just over a month since the UK BIM Alliance publicly launched its new identity, becoming ‘nima’ (see the official announcement). The official launch coincided with the UK Construction Week trade show in Birmingham. This also helpfully reinforced one of the ambitions of the revamped organisation. It aims to be less London-centric and more visible across the UK and Ireland (recognising that nima incorporates the UK and Ireland chapter of buildingSMART International). As a volunteer member of nima’s facilitation team, I helped with nima’s rebranding process, was interviewed by BIM Plus (see 3 October 2022: “Nima: UK BIM Alliance puts information management first with new name, new approach“), and continue to support the organisation.*
The nima change
The name, also the Greek word for ‘thread’, is not an abbreviation. It has been selected to help give the volunteer-led organisation an identity, sense of purpose and a set of behaviours that are better aligned with current and anticipated future UK thinking about digital working in the built and managed environment.
Unfortunately, nima chair Anne Kemp was unable to be in Birmingham to officially announce the change, so it fell to Varun Soni (a partner at UK consultancy Calford Seadon) and I to deliver the launch presentation on 4 October 2022. After more than a decade of BIM progress, we highlighted that government and industry discussion is no longer just about BIM – often seen as a purely technological change – but about wider information management challenges, including building safety and climate change, and about delivering better, more valuable outcomes across the life cycle of our built and managed assets
The Alliance had been debating its identity and purpose since the publication of the international ISO 19650 standards in January 2019, mindful that industry discussions were also embracing emerging concepts such as digital twins. While BIM is becoming ‘business as usual’ for significant parts of the construction sector, it is often misconstrued as a 3D design technology rather than a process. The new name reflects an evolution. Nima is an organisation supporting purposeful use of information across the whole landscape of the built environment, from the inception stages of projects, through construction, and – most importantly – then to support efficient operation, maintenance and use of assets through to their end of life.
Nima: new look, new actions
As part of the rebranding process, the nima name is supported by a new logo, and the organisation’s website (wearenima.im) and social media channels are being updated. A nima podcast has also been launched; I am a co-host along with Soni and Andrew Gamblen (who, incidentally, recently joined Denmark-based SaaS construction technology and CDE provider Dalux).
Previous Alliance content (including the UK BIM Framework guidance – endorsed in the government’s 2021 information management mandate), local and sectoral group resources, and relationships with industry organisations (including UK government, professional and trade association affiliates, technology providers (see below), and buildingSMART International) will be maintained and expanded.
Nima will have a presence at a wider range of events. After UK Construction Week, it had stands at an Education Estates event in Manchester and at Highways UK, again in Birmingham. And I will be involved in two nima-led sessions at LondonBuild on 16 November 2022.
Nima will also continue to support clients and industry practitioners with case studies, plain language guides, national and local events, and exemplar information management implementation projects.
An Extranet Evolution perspective
Plainly, I am biased. Alongside involvements with other bodies including the Institution of Civil Engineers’ information systems panel, Constructing Excellence, and Leeds-based ThinkBIM, I became the independent chair of the Alliance’s Technology Group in 2019. This renewed connections with many contacts from technology providers including Asite, Autodesk, Bentley, Dalux, Glider, Graphisoft, Procore, Solibri, Think Project, Trimble, Vectorworks and Zutec, to name a few (see full list). And among these vendors, there was, perhaps inevitably, some concern about the rebranding process – businesses which had benefitted from the BIM buzzword (or the related ‘CDE’ abbreviation), or which felt that BIM still needed a prominent focus, were uneasy about the shift towards information management.
However, if anecdotal experience in Birmingham is any measure, the rebrand could potentially mean other technology vendors – particularly those outside the BIM paradigm – looking to get involved with nima. Just as BIM is sometimes wrong used as a synonym for 3D design technology, it is also often mainly associated with the design and construction phases of projects. One of my ambitions as chair of the Technology Group has been to include a wider range of technologies, particularly those used by clients and supply chains for post-construction operation, maintenance, repair and improvement across the whole life of buildings and infrastructure. I had some interesting conversations in Birmingham with people from a diverse array of technology suppliers who now potentially see nima as a convenient way to engage with other providers and with the wider built environment industry.
Industry shifts towards being information-centric, however, also need to be supported by vendors. In Birmingham, I also had conversations with people frustrated by technologies. To be more precise, they were frustrated by poor interoperability: the inability of some widely used technologies to create and manage information in forms that could be easily shared with users of other technologies.
In the nima launch presentation, Varun and I touched on interoperability and the need for information to have longevity, for information to be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR). The ongoing work of the Government & Industry Interoperability Group (of which I am a member) was also the subject of a session in Birmingham, and I facilitated a panel session there for nima Technology Group members which also discussed poor interoperability (it’s worth remembering that nima partner buildingSMART International was originally established as the International Alliance for Interoperability).
Sadly, poor interoperability is something I have been writing about for too long. In my 2005 book, extrapolating data from a US study, I estimated that poor integration of data and systems was costing the UK construction sector somewhere between £800 million and £1.6 billion per annum. I wrote about interoperability in one of my earliest EE posts 17 years ago (New ROI: Return on Interoperability). Two years later, I highlighted another US survey which suggested “interoperability costs add 3.1% to a typical project budget” (Software incompatibility bar to interoperability). It is a theme I have returned to over 70 times since then, and which I will undoubtedly be returning to in future posts. And while in Birmingham, I noted the ‘Autodesk Open Letter’ conversations from 2021 (see Design firms demand change at Autodesk, and More designer unrest about Autodesk) were recently rekindled by AEC Magazine (see The Open Letter: two years on and related September 2022 articles).
[* Disclosure: I also chair the nima Technology Group, and am a nima ambassador. Nima paid my expenses to attend the Birmingham event.]
Judging from its 2022 ‘Glider Gathering’, Glider Technology is fast becoming an influential player in the UK construction technology market.
UK-based SaaS construction technology provider Glider Technology has come a long way in just a few years. On 2 November 2022, I attended the company’s first (pandemic-delayed) user conference.* Its ‘Glider Gathering’ was held at Coventry University (one of Glider’s earliest enterprise customers) and welcomed some 40 delegates – to catch up on the company’s latest developments.
Some Glider backstory
I first met Glider founder and CEO Nick Hutchinson in January 2013 when I went to the London offices of Dome Consulting to hear more about its technology arm, which had developed a couple of SaaS based products to support document collaboration and defect management (see Dome Connect and iSnag, January 2013). These offerings proved popular and a year later Dome Consulting was looking to expand its offering (Dome enters SaaS collaboration battlefield, February 2014).
However, Hutchinson moved on, and in 2016 teamed up with software developer and Dome Consulting technical director colleague Steve Rukuts to establish Glider, which initially supported a disparate range of website and technology projects. It then won a construction BIM/information management project for UK contractor Sir Robert McAlpine, supporting the construction of a new roof structure over the Wimbledon Number One tennis court. The business’s next major commission was through fit-out specialist contractor Overbury, delivering One New Street Square in the City of London for Deloittes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Glider doubled in size, both in terms of headcount (now 30 people, all remote working – Glider has no permanent physical premises) and turnover (in the year to October 2022, this reached £3.5m).
Hutchinson told the conference that the next 24 months would be “exciting”. A fund-raising round is set to fund accelerated growth, with expansion of the product development and sales and marketing teams. The company will continue to work for its two main sets of customers: asset owner operators (its clients include the UK’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation, Deutsche Bank, Schroders, Google, Leeds NHS and Coventry University) and contractors (MACE, Wates, Kier, Overbury, Sir Robert McAlpine, Lendlease). It is also looking to create partnerships with other businesses to deliver information management services.
The ‘Glider Gathering’ heard about recent and imminent feature updates to the Gliderbim® platform, and was briefed about the longer-term product roadmap from head of product John Adams (formerly at Viewpoint/ 4Projects). Another SaaS veteran, Stuart Bell (formerly at Union Square/Deltek and then Business Collaborator through to its March 2020 acquisition by Bentley Systems) talked about the company’s plans for improved professional and managed services delivery. Rukuts also took to the stage to stress that “software is only as secure as the company that develops it,” before underlining the investments the business continues to make in ensuring the security of its platform for its customers . As well as delivering Gliderbim® as a SaaS offering via Amazon Web Services hosting, Glider also offers options for the platform to be hosted by its client organisations.
Hutchinson concluded: “Major asset owners now recognise the value and purpose of owning well specified, structured and validated asset information to drive insights and support lifecyle decisions. At Glider, our mission remains to support market needs through our focus on frictionless collaboration, underpinned by open, interoperable and secure standards-based working.”
Updating Extranet Evolution over the past 12-15 months has become a very irregular activity, mainly due to pressure of other work (some fee-earning, some pro bono – such as voluntary work for what was until recently the UK BIM Alliance, now – since 4 October 2022 – ‘nima‘).
However, I am planning to resume more regular posting in the near future. You will see a few ‘catch-up’ posts highlighting news and other selected highlights, etc from the past few months – mostly concerning firms, products, services or people I have previously featured in Extranet Evolution. If time allows, I will also be testing some new (for EE, at least) types of content, including occasional videos and podcast features.
Dublin, Ireland-based Evercam has raised a total of €8m investment to help it further grow its presence in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific.
As previously covered in EE (read April 2020 post: Evercam : site imagery, AI and BIM), Dublin, Ireland-based company Evercam provides cameras for construction sites to provide regular feeds of images that can also be used to create time-lapse and project management video sequences.
Established in 2010 by Marco Herbst and Vinnie Quinn, the company looked at various potential applications of high resolution cameras and since 2017 has been solely focused on supporting construction projects, with its clients including several of Ireland’s leading main contractors.
Evercam began as a solution for time-lapsing construction projects but subsequently evolved. By 2020, its development team was applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to extend the uses of the camera imagery and software. Using the AI image recognition tools, for example, allowed monitoring of vehicle movements in and out of a site. Evercam imagery could also produce live and historic visual evidence to support building information modelling (BIM), enabling detailed comparison of what was designed and scheduled with what was delivered and when – effectively validating so-called 4D BIM programs.
Evercam raises €8m investment
Evercam has announced that it has raised a total of €8m investment to help it further grow its presence in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. The round was led by Richard Hayes, Calista Direct Investors S.A. (EuroBIM) and Eoghan Quigley, alongside a “stellar consortium of investors”, and follow-on investment from Swisspost Ventures and Elkstone Partners.
The company says communication and accountability are the key drivers of success in the construction industry and believes the visualisation platform it has built enables this by being the ultimate source of reality-capture data. Evercam combines both the digital plan data (4D BIM) and the current reality (fixed position cameras, drone and 360° cameras) and turns it into actionable insights for the entire project team.
It says the investment will help it meet the demands of the global market, and strengthen its support and success teams. Stephen Duffy, chief of staff at Evercam, says:
“Construction is a $10 trillion industry, and the appetite for technology-based solutions is increasing … Evercam is a powerful visualisation and collaboration platform and our traction to date is a testament to the value that it brings to construction teams. We’re excited to use this investment to further grow our global client base. We’d like to thank our existing investors for their continued support and welcome our new investors to the business.”
Evercam has tripled its number of employees in the past two years and now has 600+ projects live globally.
Causeway acquires leading provider of connected asset management software and services, Yotta.
In June 2021, Causeway, the Buckinghamshire, UK-based construction technology group, secured a £120 million (c US$166m or €139m) investment to fund strategic acquisitions and accelerate its organic growth strategy to digitally connect the construction supply chain through further development of its cloud platform (read: Causeway secures £120m to expand). Four months later, in October 2021, it announced its latest acquisition: the building products information platform, SpecifiedBy, founded by Darren Lester (read: Causeway acquires SpecifiedBy).
Causeway has now acquired Yotta, a global provider of connected asset management software and services, from AIM-listed Oxford Metrics plc. Yotta serves over 200 customers worldwide, providing software to assist in the management of more than 35 million physical assets and related services, including highways, street lighting and waste management.
The company says “The joining of Yotta and Causeway will create a single truly integrated end-to-end solution that manages the entire asset management lifecycle for local authorities and their contractors.”
Yotta was established in 1986 and grew steadily, enjoying significant momentum across several service areas, from highways management, environmental services to street lighting and works. The transaction represents the second strategic acquisition since Five Arrows Principal Investments made a significant investment in Causeway.
UK main contractor Kier Construction has selected Procore as its field and quality management solution (but not – it seems – as its corporate ‘common data environment’).
According to recent articles on the CIOB-backed BIM+ website and on The Construction Index, UK contractor Kier Construction has chosen the Procore Software-as-a-Service platform as its field and quality management solution.
Louisa Finlay, director of clients & markets for Kier Construction, said:
“We have bold ambitions to revolutionise digital practices within the construction industry and our partnership with Procore is integral to supporting our aims as part of our project delivery. The platform is easy to use and provides consistency, which is vital as we deliver on our purpose and provide high-quality projects for our customers.”
According to the US-headquartered Procore, its platform’s ease of use and range of integrations, alongside its ability to consolidate point solutions and create efficiencies for everyone on a single platform, will provide Kier with greater visibility across its projects – ensuring consistency, enhancing quality and supporting sustainable working practices. “The high level of transparency Kier will gain also allows the company’s data to be redelivered as intelligent insight which can drive improvements in everything from project progress, to supply chain developments as well as safety and performance.
Brandon Oliveri-O’Connor, VP of EMEA at Procore, said:
“Working smarter isn’t just about using technology, it’s about amplifying a company’s mission and values. It’s a privilege to partner with Kier and support their social and environmental impact goals. By connecting the field to the office and all stakeholders, Procore’s enterprise-ready solution, built by and for the construction industry, is very proud to welcome Kier into our portfolio of customers in EMEA. The company is now one of our largest customers in the region.”
The EE view
Normally, Extranet Evolution would not bother to highlight news of a customer win by an AEC technology vendor (often, major contractors will be claimed as customers by multiple competitors – project or regional adoption may reflect localised rather than corporate preferences). However, the Kier/Procore tie-up is significant for a couple of reasons.
First, Kier Construction is one of the UK’s biggest contractors. In early 2018, it was briefly ranked, by turnover, as the second biggest UK construction contractor (behind Balfour Beatty) and was a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. While Procore lists some substantial US contractors among its customers, it has – until now – struggled to make major inroads into Tier One contractors in the UK and Ireland. To be fair, the US operation had a substantial headstart: Procore began as a California-based startup in 2002, opened an Australasian office in 2017, and only established a London office to target the EMEA region in 2018. This announcement, therefore, marks a step forward for Procore in the UK main contractor market – though it may not be as significant as it initially appears.
For, second, Kier is a contractor with a long history of involvement in development of AEC technologies. Over a decade ago, its in-house department developed a BIM “common data environment” (CDE) platform later branded as BIMXtra. In 2013, the developer was spun out as a separate Hampshire, UK-based business called Clearbox, headed by former Kier director Graham Forbes, with Kier as a “supportive investor” and – in 2016 at least – mandating use of BIMXtra as its standard default tool (see December 2016 EE post: Clearbox BIMXtra starts with BIM). Update (5pm BST, 11 April 2022) – Kier signed a three-year enterprise deal to use UK-based Asite‘s CDE in August 2021. EE understands Asite is integrating Procore’s field tool into the CDE alongside several project-specific point solutions from other vendors.
Kier coming good
The change comes at the end of a testing four years for Kier. Its share price plunged following a failed rights issue in late 2018 (just months after Carillion’s catastrophic January 2018 collapse, of course), and by mid 2019 some analysts considered Kier might “go bust”. It required an extensive restructuring, debt reduction, cost-cutting and disposals programme, which included shedding 1,700 employees and selling its Bedfordshire headquarters and its housebuilding arm, to get the company edging back into profit in 2021.
Procore yet to score a profit
In the meantime, Procore has grown its EMEA presence and expanded into the Middle East and North Africa, after, in May 2021, it became a NYSE-listed company (see June 2021 EE post Reflecting on the Procore IPO). While its 2021 full year revenues of US$515 million represented 29% year-on-year growth, it has yet to declare a profit, losing US$265m in 2021. Having topped US$100/share in August 2021, its shares were trading at around US$54 on 8 April 2022, down 36% from the IPO opening level of US$84 in May 2021.
It will need many more Kier-type deals if it is to become profitable, and will need such customers to be adopting the whole Procore platform, not just elements that are complementary with other provider’s solutions.
[Disclosure: Procore is a past consultancy customer of pwcom.co.uk Ltd.]
Raildiary has capitalised upon its domain experience and expertise to deliver tools specific to the needs of personnel working in a highly regulated and also intensely commercial market.
Manchester, UK-based Raildiary is a railway industry-specific cloud-based data collection and reporting platform utilising mobile and web technologies. On-site data is captured in line with the UK’s Rail Method of Measurement and presented in reports and visualisations, enabling analysis of resource, schedule and health and safety information. Raildiary founder and CEO Will Doyle talked to Extranet Evolution about data capture and the value of information.
A chartered surveyor by training, Doyle worked for Tier 1 contractors in rail construction in UK and in southeast Asia. He says “Problems were always the same: getting critical information from the worksite back to me as a quantity surveyor”. He recalls an electrification project in the north of England where the programme had overrun and costs had risen by around 50%. The contractor needed to document the issues, Doyle said:
“We spent 10-12 weeks working on a construction claim for extension of time and variations, with lots of people gathering data. We had some paper records in ring binders, but we were also finding documents in vans, and even in a rubbish skip – nobody recognised the value of this information. We were eventually able to justify the claim but it nearly crippled the business. I thought there had to be a better way. We need to avoid that end-of-project claims culture and find a more sustainable way of working.”
He quit working as a QS and, with a little funding support, started Raildiary. Together with Paul Clegg (now CTO), he developed a basic minimum viable product for the Apple iPad which helped secure some early clients, and was then able to start expanding his team. Raildiary then raised £650k in funding (from the Rail Supply Growth Fund and Angelgroups) in May 2019. Its mobile device support now includes an Android app.
Doyle said he used his experiences as a QS to specify the application’s functionality:
“Essentially, I want to capture the story of the project. I wanted a site diary which told me who arrived when, what works were planned, and what works were undertaken. Traditionally, paper duplicate pads were used for record-keeping and the overall project picture was created from 1,000s of pieces of paper. The project story might tell me exactly why additional time was needed. Typically, a job is priced on a set of assumptions, but the reality of site work may mean we need to justify new access requirements, bigger foundations, or changed work sequences.”
Making Raildiary user-friendly
By making the application as intuitive to use as possible, Doyle says Raildiary quickly accelerated capture of accurate information by site-based personnel. “It had to be easy to use by someone working at 4am on a cold, dark and rainy site. Record-keeping that used to take an hour using paper could now be done in less than 10 minutes. And as fewer details are missed, contractors get paid for 100% of the work”.
Full and accurate records also help contractors to understand their typical productivity for standard types of work, and to better predict risks. “They now know what projects are too risky to bid for, cost planning discussions are more data-based, and Network Rail can estimate a realistic net cost per kilometre.”
Doyle says the best use of Raildiary comes when the client and contractor both use the tool together, mentioning a project with Siemens that was working that way. “Network Rail can quickly understand the reasons for extensions of time – a late-running train that delays a track possession, for example.” Use has also extended down the supply chain, with data collated about subcontractors and contingent labour suppliers. Other UK customers include Amey and Balfour Beatty, while the product has also been deployed on projects in Spain and the Middle East.
As a commercial specialist, Doyle was familiar with the CEMAR contract change management application, and work on a project at Birmingham New Street station opened up an opportunity to integrate the two solutions. Raildiary captured changes, work progress and resource utilisation that could then be used to support Early Warning Notices and other contract-related processes. “With clear evidence, conversations quickly shift from claim validity – did it happen? – to quantifying the claim. Teams have meaningful discussions rather than disputing facts.”
With Raildiary’s headcount into double figures, Nick Woodrow, formerly at CEMAR, was appointed Raildiary’s operations director in May 2021 (he had been part of the CEMAR management team when the Gloucestershire-based business was acquired by Germany’s thinkproject in May 2018 – post). Woodrow says Raildiary is not solely working with CEMAR, but is looking to be software-agnostic and work with other applications and platforms where vendors recognise Raildiary’s domain expertise: “There comes a point that best-in-class software is better than trying to build it in a platform. We are capturing the data in the right way for the rail function.”
Raildiary is also looking to link to scheduling tools, to undertake earned value management (EVM) tasks, taking data from Primavera P6, MS Project and Asta PowerProject, while recognising that many clients still run projects using Excel. Raildiary has developed a shift planning tool that helps managers populate programmes in less than 10 minutes.
The business is also looking to expand overseas. Its European and Middle Eastern projects have been secured by existing UK customers, but the popularity of the NEC contract suite in Commonwealth countries could help Raildiary to build on CEMAR’s international expansion into those markets. Raildiary is also not just a tool for Tier One contractors, says Doyle (“We have a plan that suits SMEs”), and it can be deployed on non-rail projects. The application has been used for aviation projects, for work on a navy warship and on time-critical highway schemes (“the lane rental approach used in highways is similar to rail possessions”), where clients – as in rail – are moving away from paper and want more than record keeping.
The EE view
Raildiary has identified a niche market and sought to capitalise upon its domain experience and expertise to deliver a platform that is specific to the needs of personnel working in a highly regulated and also intensely commercial market. Competitors include the mobile-oriented eviFile (eviFile – geo-located progressive assurance – May 2018) and Helix Rail, as well as the field applications provided by several of the leading CDE vendors. As Woodrow mentioned, the latter tend to be more generic data capture tools rather than being rail or linear asset-specific, but several software vendors (eg: Autodesk, Procore) are building platforms that allow partners’ niche tools to plug into their ecosystems.
The UK rail sector has been very buoyant in recent years (major projects have included ThamesLink, CrossRail, East-West Rail and HS2), but the scale of some investments is being pared back as the UK government looks to manage its way out of post-Brexit and post-COVID squeezes. However, rail transport also offers a means to contribute to carbon reduction measures, and the various Network Rail regions are already starting to gear up for Control Period 7, the next major rail framework programmes starting in 2024. Like other ‘arms-length bodies’, they will be guided by the UK construction strategy (outlined in the Construction Playbook and Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030) which demands clients and their suppliers collaborate better, “further embed digital technologies”, and enable greater sharing of better data while “driving better, faster, greener delivery”.
Raildiary has successfully started to help rail clients and their contractors shift from an adversarial claims-based culture towards more evidence-based collaboration and negotiation approaches. I understand Doyle and his team are thinking about how Raildiary can translate these process improvements into helping rail networks (and other industry owner/operators) achieve better whole life asset management outcomes.
Planyard offers one place for all project financials management, keeping everything standardised and in sync, with a real-time view of project costs.
Estonia-based Planyard is targeting contractors with a cloud-based budget management tool for contractors. Traditionally, this was a field largely managed by locally-held Excel spreadsheets. And where companies manage multiple parallel projects, there was a risk that project managers might work in different ways in multiple spreadsheets, making it difficult to ensure a consistent commercial approach.
Planyard offers one place for all project financials management, connecting processes, keeping everything standardised and in sync, and reducing calculation errors. Users can track in real time what has been estimated, what has been ordered, and what has been invoiced. Subcontractors involved in bids and progress management can enter their own data. Managers can assess which projects were profitable and which were not, keeping on top of profitability forecasts. Project costs are visualised when they happen – not a month later.
The application is priced competitively, with small renovation projects hosted on the platform for just €20 per project per month (unlimited users, unlimited documents and storage). For medium-sized residential building, infrastructure and engineering projects where more functionality might be needed (tracking subcontracts, change orders and purchase orders, for example), it is €50/project/month. For larger projects, additional functionality is included for €200/project/month. And – as with most vendors – customers can also negotiate to use an enterprise or portfolio offering.
Founded in Estonia, Planyard has attracted customers (see case studies) in countries including Belgium and the UK. Bristol-based Higgihaus Developments has valued Planyard’s integration with the cloud-based Xero accounting software platform. (Other integrations include with Intuit Quickbooks, and with AEC platforms Plangrid and Procore, and there are Apple iOS and Android mobile applications too.)
Nemetschek has led a financing round for Norway’s Imerso, whose platform combines reality capture, AI and BIM – areas also targeted by UK players XYZ Reality and PointFuse.
Having invested in June 2021 in Sablono (post) [Update: and in July 2021 in US-based AI developer Reconstruct*], Germany-based Nemetschek Group has led a financing round [financial terms not published] for Imerso AS. The Norway-based deep-tech company offers a platform to automate construction quality monitoring through a combination of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), reality capture and BIM technologies.
The solution is said to enable easy, everyday use of industry grade 3D scanners on site. The scanners capture the as-built status throughout the construction phase with point clouds – a collection of 3D data points that accurately digitise real-life physical spaces, such as a building, a floor, or a room. Imerso’s cloud-based platform automatically analyses the captured 3D scan data against the plan in BIM. Combining AI and advanced computer vision, it highlights and lists in real-time any relevant work deviations or issues, so these can be resolved efficiently through re-planning or fixes on site.
imerso – “an efficient roadmap for accurate, as-built digital twins”
By connecting the BIM model directly to the as-built snapshot on site, the company says Imerso delivers an efficient roadmap for accurate, as-built digital twins – with benefits across the building life-cycle.
“Imerso is a perfect fit to our goal of helping our customers worldwide shape the world,” says Axel Kaufmann, spokesman and CFOO of Nemetschek. Tanja Kufner, head of start-ups and venture Investments at Nemetschek says: “We see great synergies, particularly with … Solibri. Both companies are on a mission to improve the quality of construction and to create better buildings. Customers can accurately monitor the project’s progress and efficiently improve the results.”
Combining the technologies of Solibri and Imerso will significant opportunities for owners, engineers, and contractors. They can monitor the progress and quality of work on site at a detailed level and produce reliable final client deliverables for the management of the facility. Frederico Valente, founder and CEO of Imerso, says:
“This is a tremendous step in our journey, as we continue scaling our solution with some of the leading players in our industry. Partnering with the Nemetschek Group is rocket fuel for us to leverage their deep roots in the construction sector and in-depth knowledge, and to accelerate the go-to-market strategy of our technology.”
The Norwegian start-up has been developing its solution in collaboration with leading research institutes and some of the largest industry players in the Nordics. Seven million square meters of floor have already been captured in the platform across several customer projects (Update – 11 December 2022 – see Betonmast case study). Imerso is currently being used on some of the largest and most ambitious projects in Scandinavia and central Europe.
The investment in Imerso is described as a strong continuation of the Nemetschek Group strategy of supporting young companies to shape the future AEC/O market and drive innovation.
In the same space: XYZ Reality and PointFuse
Reality capture tools were strongly in evidence at the Digital Construction Week show in London in November 2021 (post). Two UK-based firms are working in the same kind of territory as Imerso, albeit offering subtly different solutions.
In June 2021, London-based construction augmented reality (AR) technology developer XYZ Reality announced it had raised £20m (c €23.3m or US$27.8m) in a Series A funding round (Irish Times article; see also AEC Business). The funding round was led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from existing investors Adara Ventures, Amadeus Capital Partners, Hoxton Ventures and J Coffey Construction (the company previously raised £4.9m–c. €5.7m or US$6.8m–in March 2020 – EU Startups). New investment also came from Activum SG, Optimas Capital and Tishman Speyer.
To date, the technology has been used on projects worth more than £1.5b billion to date, including data centres, pharmaceutical facilities and airports. Customers include the UK-based Mace group, where its solution is being used in construction of a hyper-scale data centre in Europe.
XYZ Reality products: Holosite and Atom
XYZ’s core product is HoloSite which enables construction professionals to view and build accurately from 3D design models. It combines a cloud platform, AR headsets and propriety software. Holosite has been described as “the world’s first engineering grade augmented reality device”. It allows construction workers to view building information models onsite to 5 millimetre accuracy – eliminating inefficiencies caused when buildings are designed in 3D and then converted into 2D drawings.
The Atom is a powerful, custom-built engineering tool combining a construction safety headset, augmented reality displays and in-built computing power.
The company was co-founded by Irish-born career construction professional David Mitchell, now CEO. He was supported by COO Umar Ahmed, a business process specialist with experience at Shell and Microsoft, and visual technology chief Murray Hendriksen.
Overcoming the BIM to 2D divide
Mitchell says conversion from BIM to 2D creates significant inefficiencies with up to 80% of construction works being ‘out-of-tolerance’. This results in 7-11% of project costs being wasted. HoloSite solves this by improving the feedback loop between site and design by 92% as construction workers are now able to make real-time informed decisions in the field.
“2D is an unnatural language for humans; we see everything in 3D, yet tradespeople are being asked to interpret 2D drawings, conceptualise the 3D asset and then build the asset on-site to within construction “tolerances”. Works are currently validated after the fact through laser scanning. 80% of the time the construction fails to meet acceptable tolerances. With HoloSite, we can prevent errors happening in the first place.”
The funding will enable the company to further improve the user experience by doubling the size of the technology team, and expand its development team across all verticals. It is also building its sales and marketing operation; Andy Hamer, once of CodeBook and Invicara, is a 2021 recruit. The company is planning to use some of its funding to develop its second generation headset. Mitchell says:
“The next phase is assisted reality, where our spatial computing technology will have the intelligence to automatically detect and report issues in the field. And ultimately, the goal is builders building from holograms.”
XYZ Reality: the EE perspective
The product name Holosite is immediately reminiscent of the branding of Microsoft’s Hololens, which, since its launch in 2016, has been the subject of various AEC-specific collaborations with Trimble (May 2015 post) and Bentley (November 2016 post) among others. Additional developments followed the launch of Hololens 2 (Bentley and Trimble launch new Hololens 2 products) in February 2019. While this may immediately suggest XYZ is working in the same category as Microsoft’s platform, the latter is a generic technology. XYZ’s is particularly focused on site working in the architecture, engineering and construction sector. Changing the name may also help avoid brand confusion among those with only a passing knowledge of the AR space.
Unrelated AEC products also include Holobuilder, a US/German platform utilising 360-degree photography, first covered in EE in July 2017 (Holobuilder launches 360 construction documentation solution), and recently acquired by FARO Technologies (FARO acquires Holobuilder, 7 June 2021).
XYZ’s hardhat-based technology is also similar to that developed a few years ago by Los Angeles-based Daqri (read BIM+ 2016 article). It competed with Microsoft’s Hololens, another heavily-backed startup, Magic Leap, plus Google Glass, and was extensively backed by investors. It raised $275m by 2017, but it faced some engineering and industry adoption challenges, and folded in September 2019 (read ENR‘s DAQRI is Closing Up Shop). Many would-be industry adopters baulked at paying anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 (depending on custom-built features) for each Smart Helmet unit. Its Smart Glasses, at $4995, were also not cheap enough to achieve high volume sales. Magic Leap also tumbled in investor’s affections; in 2020 backers were marking down the value of their by 93% on average (source: The Information). XYZ Reality will obviously be looking to learn from Daqri’s collapse and Magic Leap’s fall back.
PointFuse – meshing technology
Also at Digital Construction Week was Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK-based PointFuse, which offers an image-processing technology that helps users make efficient use of laser-scanned point clouds.
Laser-scans are typically captured in files that can be anything from 2GB to tens of gigabytes in size. Combining files to produce more accurate 3D imagery then multiplies the data challenge many times over. And, as the files may be in proprietary formats, special AEC software applications may be needed to process them. A high-powered computer with advanced image processing capabilities and high storage capacity may also be required.
The meshing difference
‘Meshing’ technology, such as that provided by Pointfuse, can make a huge difference. A single flat surface in a point cloud, for example, might be represented by 100s of thousands of data points. Meshing enables a much more efficient representation, capturing the surface edges while combining data points registered across its surface. A user’s view is then made up of a mesh of numerous geometric shapes that can be much more quickly assembled, viewed and explored. Such techniques can reduce files to 1/100th of their original point-cloud size – measured in MB rather than GB – and, with the mesh files being software-agnostic, can be viewed and shared via readily available applications.
For the onsite data user this means rapid access to data at acceptable levels of fidelity using applications on existing desktop and laptop machines, even via tablets or smartphone apps. Site internet connections are no longer clogged by time-consuming downloads, and there are significant savings in local file storage. This all adds up to less time spent data-wrangling on site.
And where meshes are used to check the accuracy of new structures or new installations of equipment against the original design models, these lightweight, software-agnostic meshes can be opened 70% faster in design tools. This accelerates as-built BIM checking processes. Once accuracy has been verified, the next stages of construction or installation can be expedited, potentially cutting hours, even days, from construction delivery programmes.
[Disclosure: I have provided consultancy services to XYZ Reality and PointFuse. I have also talked about both firms in an AEC Business podcast recently recorded with my AECTech.TV co-presenter Aarni Haiskanen.]
* On 8 July 2021, Nemetschek announced its participation in the series B financing round of Reconstruct, a US-based leader in remote quality control and progress tracking software powered by computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI). Reconstruct secured a total of around $17 million to develop remote quality control for construction and real estate, accelerating Reconstruct’s product roadmap and global expansion.