RedSky set to launch Project Connect platform

RedSky launches project collaboration platform, Project Connect, claiming potential 30-60% total cost savings against competing solutions.

UK-based RedSky is set to launch a cloud-based construction document and process management platform, Project Connect, targeting its core market of small to medium-sized contractor customers.

RedSky backstory

Formed in 1978 and based in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, RedSky (until 2005 known as Ramesys – post) is a long-standing provider of on-premise and hosted software solutions – mainly integrated financial and contract/project accounting solutions – to the construction sector in the UK and the Middle East. It was acquired by Canada’s Explorer Software Group in 2007.

RedSky is today part of the portfolio of Vancouver, Canada-based JDM Technology Group, a brand created in August 2014 when Explorer was rebranded. JDM’s current North American brands include: construction management tools Explorer Software, Computer Guidance and JOBPOWER and Maestro Technologies; maintenance management software Mpulse, MICROMAIN, EPAC  and Teamworks; and estimating tools  ConEst, Vision InfoSoft, and IndustrySmarts. In Europe, as well as RedSky, JDM includes Integrity Software, Estimate and Rendra AS (provider of StreamBIM software), while Australasian group companies include more construction management software vendors: CSSP (acquired in 2011 – post), LEVESYS, Nimbus, Plusfactor and CostCon.

RedSky Project Connect

The RedSky product range includes a Project Information Management module intended to complement other RedSky software. However, Project Connect can both complement existing applications and offer a rapidly implemented solution for any business wanting to heighten project information visibility. According to managing director Phil Kent, right:

Phil Kent, MD of RedSkyBuilt on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, RedSky Project Connect offers an affordable, light-touch way for companies to integrate key business management applications with information from ongoing projects, sharing best practice and avoiding ‘double-handling’ of data. … We hope that project teams will reduce time and costs by replicating best practice across their entire project portfolio and reap the often small but incremental and cumulative gains from digital transformation.”

Commercial director Mohammad Daudi (who was at 4Projects/Viewpoint from 2010 to 2017) says Project Connect is intended to be “a robust, standalone, multi-tenanted solution that will offer project collaboration out of the box” (register here to be updated on the product’s launch).

RedSky Project ConnectAppraising the UK market, Daudi believes many small to mid-sized contractors are deterred by high-end ‘Common Data Environment’ (CDE) platforms geared to the needs of Tier 1 firms. Project Connect provides a simple-to-use platform that can be used intuitively by anyone used to working with a Windows Explorer-type interface via a standard web-browser.

Once logged-in, authorised users are presented with an initial landing page (with a sub-menu of Approvals, Project Documents, Forms, and Project Tasks), a dashboard showing various headline reporting modules  as well as Today’s Documents. By clicking on a document or drawing, the user is able to open it in a viewer for comparison to another version, annotation or red-lining, and any changes are then tracked. Usefully, the viewer also displays a thumbnail view of the file displaying relevant metadata: tags, notifications, security settings, etc.

RedSky Project Connect mobile - site diaryThe browser-delivered platform can also support use via tablets and smartphones, with a responsively designed interface reshaping according to the device’s screen-size and orientation. This makes it a platform that can help connect site, site office and company back office, says Daudi.

Knowing contractors’ heavy reliance on forms to manage expenses, site incidents, new starters, observations, snagging/defects, site diaries and – of late – COVID-19 safe operating procedures, Project Connect can also be used to quickly replicate any paper-based or spreadsheet-based forms or templates. Fields can quickly be configured to help end-users capture site data that can then be reported and summarised (eg: number, open, closed) by the platform’s reporting tools.

Project Connect pricing

As well as believing over-complex CDE products often deter SME contractor customers, Daudi also believes their subscription pricing approaches – often based on a fixed percentage of the customer’s turnover or a percentage of a project’s capital value – can also be off-putting. Project Connect is set to be offered to customers on a model allowing all system users, including subcontractor users, to access any number of projects for a fixed monthly fee which, after 12 months, will be significantly reduced (just 25% of the first year cost) to reward continued use. Daudi, right, says:

Mohammad Daudi, of RedSky“We think that a lower total cost of ownership of the platform will be an irresistible offer to our customers. If project managers believe that they must have a collaboration system and budgetary constraints exist, then being more selective and taking a closer look at lower-cost offerings like RedSky Project Connect could make sense.”

Extranet Evolution perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of digital platforms across the construction sector, particularly where many previously office-based staff have had to work from home. Solutions which can be quickly deployed via the web and which are accessible on mobile devices will therefore be a key part of many companies’ business continuity strategies.

RedSky’s Project Connect therefore fills a SaaS gap in its offering to its core UK, Ireland and Middle East contractor customers, while also potentially appealing to new customers. The pricing model avoids large up-front costs, and the long-term reduced fee may well appeal in a market renowned for its low profit margins; construction project leaders are often keen to keep IT overheads low. Some contractors’ workloads will also be affected by the pandemic-induced forecast downturn in some parts of the construction market (eg: retail, leisure projects), and UK construction output is not forecast to return to pre-COVID levels until at least 2022, so the reduced price offer may be something to consider as project leaders look beyond the next 12 months.

The application’s Windows-like interface for the desktop will not win any design awards, but the folders-type navigation, along with the capability to easily design and incorporate familiar-looking forms (even complex ones), will reduce user training, familiarisation time, and aid end-user adoption – and the mobile forms look very intuitive. However, RedSky is also competing against other SaaS vendors with solutions arguably also geared to the needs of SME contractors, including Procore, BuilderStorm, Fonn, LetsBuild and Sherlayer.

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NBS acquired by Byggfakta

UK-based construction technology and product data provider NBS has been acquired by the Byggfakta Group, in a deal that also secures RIBA’s long-term future.

Byggfakta Group logoNBS, the Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK-based construction technology provider has been acquired by the Byggfakta Group, a leading Scandinavia-based data and software provider to the European construction industry. The deal (value undisclosed) has been backed by private equity firms Stirling Square Capital Partners and TA Associates – a familiar name among construction technology backers, having previously invested in Newcastle-based Viewpoint (2014 post), Germany’s thinkproject (2017 post), and (2013-16) in US-based real estate tech vendor Accruent,* who later acquired another Tyneside business, Kykloud, in January 2018 (post).

NBS logoThe NBS backstory

Until June 2018 a wholly-owned subsidiary of RIBA Enterprises, NBS has been actively involved in electronic publishing and then software projects since the 1990s (see September 2020 post: NBS Chorus, Uniclass and CDEs). Initially, it extended its conventional ‘National Building Specification’ publishing activities to produce electronic resources for architects and other designers and specifiers. In parallel, it was also commissioned in 1997 to develop a classification system – today known as Uniclass 2015 – which helps industry professionals find different types of related information defined by their subject matter. This is kept under review and updated quarterly under NBS’s stewardship, and has been adopted in Canada and Australia. The company has established country offices in Alberta and Melbourne; it acquired Canada’s Digicon in January 2017, and earlier this week (23 November 2020: news) announced the acquisition of SCL Schumann, a consultancy firm which has also developed a specialist software tool Ezyspec.

NBS Chorus devicesNBS has also developed its own BIM object library (the NBS National BIM Library), and was part of a consortium which developed the ‘BIM toolkit’ (see Why the UK BIM toolkit is a key building block, October 2014). In August 2018, NBS launched its first cloud-based software, NBS Chorus (post), and its product data, including the BIM library, now forms part of online offering, NBS Source. Earlier in 2018, LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank invested £31.8m for a significant minority shareholding in NBS.

According to NBS, its platform “brings construction specifiers, manufacturers and contractors together, to improve the quality of project decision making, drive product specification and provide critical insights, through a unique digital toolset.” It says NBS will remain a prominent brand in the construction space, while “increased investment will boost product development and international expansion plans”. It will also continue a long-standing partnership with the RIBA on the delivery of the RIBA CPD Providers’ Network.

NBS executive chairman Colin Smith, right, says:

Colin Smith“We are delighted to be joining the Byggfakta Group. 2020 saw an acceleration of technology adoption in the construction sector, which is set to continue for years to come. NBS has benefited from this trend and will continue to keep pushing ahead of the curve. Partnering with Byggfakta Group and its investors is an exciting development that will give us the support we need to scale up further and faster. NBS will be taking its products to new markets and will continue to improve its offering to existing customers.

“We will continue serving our customers with our existing products and services, but with the reach of a significant industry player and substantial financial backing. 2021 will be extremely exciting as we push on with new developments and enter into new markets.”

Byggfakta’s first UK deal

The NBS acquisition marks Byggfakta Group’s first expansion to the UK and follows recent investments in Portugal’s Vortal (an eSourcing and eProcurement platform) and Switzerland’s Olmero (a provider of tendering, project management, defects management and BIM tools). The Group also has offices in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Spain. It says the NBS investment will help the group to broaden its scope both geographically and functionally, and to strengthen its position as a data and technology provider.

Byggfakta Stefan LindqvistByggfakta Group CEO Stefan Lindqvist, right, said:

“We have long known about and admired NBS and its unique position in the UK construction market. With the support of RIBA and LDC, and under Colin’s leadership, NBS has become an attractive, SaaS-native technology vendor and we are excited to welcome the company, its employees, and its customers into the Byggfakta family.”

RIBA president Alan Jones said:

“The RIBA founded NBS, and alongside LDC, we are proud to have played a key role in developing it into a thriving business offering exceptional products and services. This transaction secures the RIBA’s long-term future and supports our ongoing work on behalf of members and the architects’ profession in the UK and internationally.”

(* Thanks to Steve Hamil for that tip.)

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Corecon upgrades estimating module

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

The related fields of estimating and bid management have been hot topics among US construction SaaS technology providers in late 2020. For example, at its annual Groundbreak event earlier this month, California-based Procore announced the acquisition of Esticom, an Austin, Texas-based provider of cloud-based estimating and takeoff solutions and pre-construction technology for specialist subcontractors (post; Procore’s marketplace also provides integrations with other US estimating and take-off solutions including Bidbox, Beck Technology’s Destini Estimator, Joyne, ProEst and Stack). And Autodesk has expanded the geographic reach of its hitherto largely US-focused BuildingConnected bid management network to the UK and Ireland (also, incidentally, a target market for Procore) – see final section of previous post.

Corecon Estimating

Corecon logoAnother California, US-based business, Corecon Technologies has just released a major upgrade to its cloud-based construction estimating, project management and job cost software suite. Completing a phased transition to the Angular web app development platform, the update includes significant improvements to the module’s user interface (UI) plus various customer-driven enhancements to track and win new projects. Corecon says (news release) this is its most complex module update since moving to the framework in 2017. Corecon President Norman Wendl says:

“Corecon was already an unparalleled offering in the cloud construction estimating software space, providing not only comprehensive capabilities for developing detailed estimates, but also offering integrated RFP [request for proposal] Packages to solicit and collect pricing from vendors. Our latest enhancements provide construction companies with even more capabilities for producing accurate and competitive bids.”

Corecon’s RFP Packages feature now includes a new Kanban View to group vendors by bid response status. The Bid Analysis function also incorporates UI changes that provide greater insights into vendor pricing (read more about these and other improvements in Corecon’s announcement). Wendl continues:

“We are continuously seeking to provide practical forward-looking solutions that deliver value to construction companies as well as their clients. Our estimating module upgrade provides a modern and collaborative approach to preparing estimates that outperform Windows-based estimating systems, spreadsheets or other online offerings that address just a portion of the estimating process. Another feature of Corecon that is now more prized than ever before by our subscribers is the ability to access our cloud software from home, the jobsite or office, allowing essential construction work to progress even during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Autodesk Construction Cloud is reshaped

Autodesk is expanding its Autodesk Construction Cloud, adding new products in 2021: Autodesk Build, Autodesk Quantify and Autodesk BIM Collaborate. Its BuildingConnected bidding platform has also been launched in the UK and Ireland

Autodesk Construction Cloud ProductsClouds are constantly moving and changing shape, and Autodesk’s cloud offering is no different. At this week’s virtual Autodesk University, Autodesk has announced the expansion of its Autodesk Construction Cloud (launched in late 2019: post). It has added new products, set to be available in early 2021 – Autodesk Build, Autodesk Quantify and Autodesk BIM Collaborate – that it says will empower general contractors, trade subcontractors, designers and owners to drive better business outcomes.

autodesk logoAnd to support its architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) design customers, Autodesk  is adding cloud-enabled document management to its AEC Collection of design solutions (which includes Revit, Civil 3D, AutoCAD, and Navisworks), and launching two new offerings for design content authors and reviewers. These connect to BIM 360 and the Autodesk Construction Cloud set of solutions.

Expanding the Autodesk Construction Cloud

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

Jim Lynch“Almost a year ago we introduced Autodesk Construction Cloud, sharing our vision for the most powerful and complete portfolio of construction management products. The new products we announced today represent a huge milestone for connected construction*, with Autodesk Build providing an entirely new approach to project management. We’re continuing to deliver on our promise of helping builders across the world catalyze their digital transformation and make construction more predictable, safe and sustainable.”

[* In July 2020, Autodesk and IDC published a report: Digital transformation: the future of connected construction.]

Autodesk Build

Autodesk Build delivers a connected set of field execution and project management tools for builders in a single platform that is easy to deploy, adopt and use, while ensuring information sharing and workflows are performed in a tightly-controlled and highly-configurable environment.

By capitalising on features of BIM 360 and PlanGrid while also delivering new functionality, Autodesk Build is integrated with data from all other construction workflows so teams can handle workflows such as project management, quality, safety, cost and project closeout with a single log-in. Autodesk Build establishes a single source of truth for the entire team to minimize miscommunication and mitigate project risk, while standardized data collection for every project enables leaders to make data-driven decisions.

Autodesk Build also enables real-time collaboration between teams in the field and the office with the PlanGrid Build mobile app. With capabilities such RFI creation and issue tracking, and up-to-date drawings and markups, PlanGrid Build ensures changes are immediately available to reduce miscommunication, errors and rework.

Autodesk Quantify

Autodesk Quantify is a comprehensive quantification solution for estimating teams that enables both 2D and 3D takeoffs in one cloud-based tool. With Autodesk Quantify, estimators can quickly and accurately quantify elements from both 2D plans and 3D models and manage these elements alongside subsequent documents in a single environment. With all data in a centralized project location, teams can increase transparency and collaboration on their estimates and reduce risk for faster and more competitive bidding.

Autodesk BIM Collaborate

Increasing numbers of AEC professionals conducting design reviews in the cloud don’t need access to design creation tools – they simply need to review changes. Until now, these contributors had limited options for design reviews in the cloud. Autodesk BIM Collaborate brings design collaboration, model coordination and document management to Autodesk Construction Cloud to reduce rework, improve productivity, and accelerate project delivery. Built upon the unified platform, Autodesk BIM Collaborate empowers project teams to align and execute on design intent and constructability by managing the entire design collaboration and coordination workflow within a single, cloud-based solution in a common data environment. Features such as project timeline, aggregated model viewing and change review provide design teams with deep insights into the real-time status of the design phase and help quickly contextualize changes, while model coordination capabilities like clash detection and issues management ensure the highest quality designs are delivered to the field.

A BIM Collaborate Pro option – formerly BIM 360 Design – will also offer users Revit Cloud Worksharing, Collaboration for Civil 3D and Collaboration for Plant 3D.

Sameer Merchant, head of product development, Autodesk Construction Solutions, says:

“Construction is about building, not learning how to navigate complicated software. Technology should be easy-to-use and effortless to scale – if a construction company grows, its software should grow with it. In developing our new offerings, we incorporated the best-in-class features of existing Autodesk construction products into a common web and mobile framework and integrated them with a shared data platform. As a result, the most loved capabilities will be immediately available within Autodesk Build, Autodesk Quantify and Autodesk BIM Collaborate.”

Autodesk Construction CloudThese products are being added to the 2019-launched Autodesk Construction Cloud portfolio, which included BIM 360 and the AEC design applications, plus three of the company’s 2018 and 2019 acquisitions: Assemble, Plangrid (post) and BuildingConnected (post).

New AEC Collection offerings

Autodesk’s AEC Collection has been expanded to include document management, project dashboards and reports, through Autodesk Docs – built on the Autodesk Construction Cloud platform – plus Insights and Administration. Autodesk says:

  • Autodesk Docs underpins the common data environment for every unified product with centralized document management, providing users with seamless navigation and integrated workflows to create a single source of truth across the project lifecycle. It brings drawings, models, specifications, photos and markups together in one place for review and management. With version control and standardized approval workflows, project teams have easier access to the right information at the right time, whether a team member is at home on a laptop, at the jobsite on a tablet, or reviewing on the go on a mobile phone.”
  • Insights – delivers analytics from the data collected and analyzed, as well as the ability to export that data; encompasses Construction IQ artificial intelligence to identify and mitigate risk.
  • Administration – provides centralised user management and permissioning, templates and other tools for project setup, as well as a single authentication method for any unified product.

BuildingConnected extended to UK and Ireland

BuildingConnected Autodesk logoAhead of Autodesk University 2020, on 13 October, Autodesk announced the international expansion of BuildingConnected, a ‘social network’ for UK and Ireland-based construction firms, aiming to streamline tendering (or bid management) processes via the Autodesk Construction Cloud ‘crowd-sourced’ builders network.

Despite numerous efforts to automate construction tendering processes (as EE summarised in January 2019 – see Autodesk buys BuildingConnected), many construction firms still use piecemeal combinations of email, different software and in many cases, paper.

Tendering technology

The result is often significant time inefficiencies and data loss that leads to costly mistakes. Autodesk believes the international expansion of BuildingConnected will enable teams in the UK and Ireland to keep communication and data fluid, transparent, and consistent across stakeholders, supporting both sides of the tendering process. Autodesk’s Jim Lynch says:

“There are more than one million construction professionals on the BuildingConnected network in North America alone, with over 2,000 general contractors and owners actively bidding out projects – totalling $56 billion in project values each month. BuildingConnected effectively replaces an antiquated approach that has relied on Rolodexes and spreadsheets, and ensures the right teams are in place for every kind of construction project, whether a commercial building, data center, medical facility or infrastructure project. As BuildingConnected further expands internationally, we want to empower construction firms around the world with the resources they need to increase productivity and decrease project risk.”

BuildingConnected helps pre-construction teams to:

  • Quickly solicit tenders with customisable templates and accurately compare those tenders in a side-by-side “apples-to-apples” fashion
  • Track against internal budgets with real-time cost updates
  • Easily collaborate with other estimators on the team, and follow communications and bid versions
  • Export tender and summary sheets for transparent collaboration with owners
  • Gain valuable insight into historical tender data and reports to optimise for future projects

Connected procurement

Mike Pettinella, director of EMEA sales of Autodesk Construction Solutions, says:

“Mitigating risk during the preconstruction phase, which is when costly rework is most avoidable, is massively important to any company’s gross margin. Keeping data loss to a minimum while planning construction projects is one of the most critical aspects of mitigating risk. By bringing the entire tendering process under one roof, teams can keep both communication and data fluid, transparent and consistent across stakeholders. BuildingConnected will have a big impact for construction companies in the U.K. and Ireland on both sides of the tendering process.”

Autodesk procurement report coverAutodesk published a report, Connected Procurement: The Foundation of Construction Success’ outlining the findings of research conducted among 375 owners (clients), general contractors and subcontractors in the UK and Ireland, all with direct involvement in tendering or submitting proposals to bids.

According to the report:

  • just 24% of owners and 19% of main contractors say that it’s easy to find qualified subcontractors for projects.
  • Subcontractors are able to submit proposals for only 50% of the projects that they see.
  • 86% of main contractors and 78% of subcontractors admit that errors are routinely made during tendering that impact the project down the line – including underestimating the project timeline and overestimating the labour resource required.
  • 99% of owners have experienced issues with new collaborators, with a lack of transparency about challenges (48%) and disputes about work quality or completion (46%) the most common.
  • 31% of main contractors have experienced reputational damage to their company due to working with a new subcontractor.
  • 38% of owners say that reliability is more important than cost when it comes to contractors – while main contractors are focused on transparency (35%).

The report also looks at COVID-19 challenges, and points to a skills shortage in the UK construction sector, as additional lockdown measures threatens to disrupt the industry further. With the added pressures brought on by the pandemic, a quarter (26%) of construction firms say that their business has faced increased pressure to complete projects on time, and over half of subcontractors say that employee retention (58%) and labour shortages (53%) are among the main concerns regarding the future of the industry.

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Bentley and Autodesk push ‘Digital Twin’ initiatives

Bentley Systems has established a US$100M business to invest in digital twin technologies, while Autodesk has launched a new product, Tandem, supporting digital twins.

Bentley iTwin Ventures

Bentley logo 2017For some years a champion of ‘digital twin’ thinking (see EE August 2019 post: Bentley pushes ‘Digital Twin’ into AEC mainstream), Bentley Systems has committed US$100M of venture funding to “accelerate infrastructure digital twins”. It has established Bentley iTwin Ventures to invest in promising technology companies addressing emerging opportunities for ‘digital twin’ solutions for highways, railways, waterways, bridges, utilities, industrial facilities, and other infrastructure assets.

Bentley iTwin Ventures is a US$100M corporate venture capital fund intended to foster innovation by co-investing in startups and emerging companies that are strategically relevant to Bentley Systems’ objective of advancing infrastructure through going digital. Bentley says the fund “will target investments in transformational digital twin solutions supporting the design, simulation, construction, and/or operations of physical infrastructure.” The fund will invest in opportunities which can leverage Bentley’s iTwin Platform and open-source toolkits, supporting subject matter expertise, commercial teaming, and/or global reach and relationships within the infrastructure engineering community.

Bentley CEO Greg Bentley says:

“Taking advantage of the momentum from Bentley Systems’ initial public offering [post], we are excited to expand our Acceleration Initiatives by formally launching the Bentley iTwin Ventures fund to support the growth of entrepreneurial companies dedicated to infrastructure digital twin solutions. Our iTwin Platform provides a scalable open-source foundation for technical and commercial innovation that will empower a vibrant ecosystem to creatively combine and connect what digital twins now make possible for infrastructure constituents. Proprietary analytics, data services, benchmarking, and infrastructure-as-a-service commercial models, for instance, are not in Bentley Systems’ direct scope, but we are glad to have a stake in bootstrapping these future successes….”

Bentley Systems worked with corporate venture capital firm Touchdown Ventures to establish Bentley iTwin Ventures.  An initial investment in Norway’s FutureOn was announced last month (16 October 2020) during the company’s Year In Infrastructure event (post).

Participation in Digital Twin Consortium

Digital Twin ConsortiumIn May 2020, Bentley joined the Digital Twin Consortium (news release), a US-based pan-industry body established to drive consistency in vocabulary, architecture, security and interoperability of digital twin technology. In October 2020, Autodesk also became a consortium member.

Update (16 December 2020) – Bentley has elevated its participation in the Digital Twin Consortium by becoming a founding member (news release). A groundbreaker member since the consortium’s launch in May 2020, Bentley will also become a member of the consortium’s steering committee. The company’s Casey Mullen has contributed his expertise as a lead author of the Digital Twin Consortium’s definition of a digital twin, unveiled on 3 December 2020:

“A digital twin is a virtual representation of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity.

  • Digital twin systems transform business by accelerating holistic understanding, optimal decision-making, and effective action.
  • Digital twins use real-time and historical data to represent the past and present and simulate predicted futures.
  • Digital twins are motivated by outcomes, tailored to use cases, powered by integration, built on data, guided by domain knowledge, and implemented in IT/OT systems.”

Autodesk announces Tandem digital twin platform

autodesk logoAt this week’s virtual Autodesk University event, Autodesk has announced the future availability of Autodesk Tandem, a platform intended to “bring project data together from its many sources, formats, and phases, to create a data-rich digital hub that tracks asset data from design through operations – a digital twin”.

Autodesk Tandem ScreenshotAutodesk Tandem connects the digital world with the real world, creating an up-to-date reflection of a model’s physical self. This provides unique operational insight into a facility, building, bridge, or any structure, as well as its components, including, for example, the performance of heating and cooling systems, escalators, and electrical systems.

From design and through construction, the project delivery lifecycle of buildings, facilities, bridges, and other physical structures creates huge volumes of data – much of it disorganised and left unused after handover to owners and developers when the project is completed. Asset owners want digital data at handover given nearly 80 percent of an asset’s lifetime value is realized in operations.

Nicolas Mangon, Vice President, AEC Business Strategy, Autodesk, says:

“If the valuable information created during the design through construction phase disappears at handover, owners will lose money. Autodesk Tandem is a purpose-built tool that gives owners and operators greater insight into their completed project, so that they can make informed decisions to improve performance. We look forward to enrolling our customers into this beta.”

With Autodesk Tandem, all project models are brought into a single platform, creating a digital view of projects, along with metadata for each asset. Architects, engineers and contractors can then fully support the digital handover, giving owners a digital twin of the final asset so that they can dive into all design and construction history. Autodesk describes building informational modeling (BIM) as one of the foundational components of Autodesk Tandem.

Andrew AnagnostUpdate (19 November 2020) – Asked by EE about the company’s strategy to support owner-operators post-construction needs, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost talked about digital twins and Tandem:

“Tandem right now, its main target is owners. It will absolutely provide value to architects and the whole entire process, especially as the technology matures, but right now it is absolutely looking at adding value to the owner’s workflow and enabling owners to have a viable, useful and meaningful digital twin that they can use to manage the lifecycle …. When you look at some of the partnerships we are creating, they are definitely aligned with trying to make sure that … any kind of view of the building extends well beyond the design process into the lifecycle of the building.”

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EQT takes majority stake in thinkproject

European investment group EQT has taken a majority stake in Munich, Germany-based architecture, engineering and construction Software-as-a-Service provider thinkproject.

thinkproject logoThe Stockholm, Sweden-based international investment group EQT has taken a majority stake in Munich, Germany-based architecture, engineering and construction Software-as-a-Service provider thinkproject (no financial details given).

EQT investment

Thomas BachmaierFounded in 1994 and strongly associated with Sweden’s Wallenberg family (Wikipedia), EQT is a 700-strong global investment organisation, with offices in 17 countries, which has raised more than €75 billion since inception and currently has around €50 billion in assets under management across 20 active funds. The EQT IX fund has acquired a majority stake in thinkproject from TA Associates, which invested in the company in January 2017 (post), and thinkproject’s founder Thomas Bachmaier, right.

EQT’s news release says TA, Thomas Bachmaier and the management team will re-invest significantly into the company in the context of this transaction. thinkproject’s management team, led by CEO Gareth Burton and CFO Ralf Gruesshaber, will continue to lead the company and build on its strong track record of growth and innovation.

thinkproject currently serves more than 250,000 users in over 60 countries. It employs around 450 people and its software is used by 2,750 customers across international private and public asset owners, project developers, and contractors. EQT highlights the under-digitised nature of thinkproject’s underlying end market, the construction industry, and notes the sector has seen an accelerated digitisation momentum and widespread technological adoption. It says: “By improving delivery times and reducing waste and energy consumption, thinkproject helps cut emissions in one of the key carbon emitting industries globally.”

EQT says it intends to support the current direction taken by the management team by further growing the company’s global customer base, backing product extension, geographical expansion and supporting a consolidation of the fragmented construction software space. thinkproject is expected to leverage the full EQT platform during its next phase of growth, including EQT’s digital and sustainability expertise, local-with-locals presence across Europe and Asia-Pacific, and domain experience. The company will be supported by the EQT Network, including advisors from EQT’s software, real estate and infrastructure space.

Deal commentary

Florian Funk, Partner at EQT Partners, said:

“For us, thinkproject represents a truly thematic investment at the intersection of EQT’s two core value creation pillars, sustainability and digitization. After having followed thinkproject over the last couple of years, we are thrilled by the opportunity to work together with the management team and TA Associates to further develop this exciting company. This investment is perfectly aligned with EQT’s core focus of investing in high growth companies and partnering with world class management teams. We are truly impressed by the market leading position thinkproject has built and EQT is excited to support its vision of becoming a global champion.”

Gareth Burton (think project! CEO)Gareth Burton, CEO of thinkproject, right, said:

“EQT is one of the most active and successful private equity investors in the TMT [technology, media, telecom] sector with a very profound expertise specifically in the construction sector. thinkproject’s management team and EQT both share the strong conviction around the sector’s fundamentally attractive growth dynamics as well as thinkproject’s ability to further build out its excellent market leadership position and to build the leading global construction intelligence platform. thinkproject continuously strives to serve our customers to help construct a better world.”

Morgan Seigler, Managing Director at TA Associates, said:

“Since our investment four years ago, the thinkproject management team has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to the company’s strategic growth initiatives and customers. We believe that these efforts have helped thinkproject transform into Europe’s leading SaaS provider of construction intelligence solutions for the AECO industry. We are thrilled to welcome EQT as our new partner, and we look forward to working with them alongside the thinkproject management team during the company’s next phase of growth.”

Extranet Evolution perspective

thinkproject has been a prominent European player in the AECO space since the early 2000s, and has already engaged in a string of transactions that have led to some consolidation in the construction software space. EQT’s ambitions to ‘consolidate the fragmented construction software space’, therefore, are founded on a business with ample previous experience, and which has also begun to expand internationally.

thinkproject portfolioInitially, that experience was largely in thinkproject’s domestic German market – Eplass, planConnect – later extending to French product data lifecycle specialist Lascom (September 2015), its Austrian sales partner i-pm (2016 post) and a German competitor Conetics (2016 post). It also established a joint venture with Spain’s ProjectCentre (September 2016), before acquiring the UK’s contract management specialist CEMAR (May 2018), Germany’s BIM specialist ceapoint (March 2019) and CDE competitor and 5D BIM provider Conclude (November 2019), and New Zealand highway asset management software vendor RAMM (April 2020).

A look at EQT’s portfolio shows that EQT Real Estate I has backed various businesses in France, Germany and Sweden; EQT Real Estate II has backed businesses in France, Sweden and the UK; and in September 2020, it acquired a majority stake in idealista, a real estate classifieds platform covering Spain, Italy, and Portugal. While it also has substantial technology, media, and telecom investments, the thinkproject deal marks EQT’s first major investment in ConTech. On past experience, it is unlikely to be its last.

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Procore acquires estimating vendor Esticom, expands platform

Procore’s Groundbreak included news of a new acquisition – US estimating software provider Esticom – and a slew of product announcements, but no mention of the IPO, seemingly delayed due to the continuing impacts of the pandemic.

Procore logoThe week after Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure 2020 (see previous post) was Procore‘s annual Groundbreak event, also – because of the global COVID-19 pandemic – switching from an in-person convention to an online event. In previous years, the California, US-based construction project management SaaS vendor had held three-day events in Austin, Texas ( 2017 and 2018) and Phoenix, Arizona (2019), with keynotes from the CEO and other executives, sessions from partners in the expanding Procore marketplace, and other industry talks.

Attendances have grown from around 1,000 in 2017 to 4,000 in 2019, and the 2020 event was set to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, but the pandemic put paid to that. In May 2020, registrants were informed that Groundbreak 2020 would be virtual, with their event registrations being carried over to 12-14 October 2021 in Denver, Colorado.

For 2020, Groundbreak featured Procore people mainly talking from the silence of their offices in pre-recorded keynotes, sometimes interspersed with contributions from colleagues, customers or end-users. The key news included an acquisition, and a slew of product announcements. The company’s proposed IPO, announced in February 2020 (post) – and later seemingly shelved – went unmentioned, at least in the handful of sessions I watched.

Procore acquires Esticom

Procore founder and CEO Tooey Courtemanche, right, and SVP of product Wyatt Jenkins (who joined Procore in April 2020) both talked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the product changes that Procore had made in response (like its competitors – post). Notably, it had developed integrations with video conferencing solutions including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting. The Procore marketplace of integrations is over 200-strong, but the company’s own product portfolio has also been expanded.

esticom logoThe key announced acquisition related to Esticom, an Austin, Texas-based provider of cloud-based estimating and takeoff solutions and preconstruction technology for specialist subcontractors (no deal value was provided). Procore (news release) said the deal “will add powerful estimating functionality to the Procore platform, complementing Procore’s preconstruction offering by enabling greater accuracy in cost estimates, helping general contractors and specialty contractors win more bids, increasing productivity, and reducing risk throughout the lifecycle of a project.”

Esticom comments

Courtemanche said:

“We welcome the Esticom team …. Procore is investing in the future of preconstruction, an increasingly important and impactful part of the construction process. Together, Procore and Esticom will deliver a single, comprehensive preconstruction solution on the Procore platform, with data connectivity that helps customers track costs and accurately predict estimates.”

Chris Lee, co-founder of Esticom, said

“Contractors who use Esticom typically see a three-fold increase in the number of construction projects they can estimate, and a five-fold increase in takeoff speed. Esticom is modernizing preconstruction by replacing paper plans and spreadsheets, and delivering more accurate estimates. We look forward to further advancing preconstruction as part of the Procore platform.”

Procore says it will fully integrate Esticom into the Procore platform in 2021. In the interim, Esticom will remain a partner on the Procore App Marketplace, with an existing integration where estimates can be exported to generate a project budget directly within Procore. Current Esticom users will continue to be supported as usual, and the product is available for purchase through Esticom.

The Procore platform

A recurring theme throughout the product keynotes was the Procore platform. Courtemanche and his colleagues repeatedly stressed the value to contractors  and subcontractors of having all their project information on a single platform that could be connected to marketplace partner solutions. Case study examples included a US-based photo management software, StructionSite, which enables users to view videos and photographs (via drawings) in the context of the project location in which they they were captured – no need to switch between two disconnected solutions.

New building information modelling (BIM) features (news release) included:

  • Dynamic Wall Elevations, an in-field collaboration feature designed to help specialist subcontractors leverage 3D models during the construction phase of a project. “With Procore BIM, the most performant mobile model viewer in the industry, and its new Dynamic Wall Elevations feature, users can quickly generate elevations, or lift drawings, instantly in the field.”
  • Follow Me, a location-based feature that enables users to rapidly share their virtual location in a model with other simultaneous users of the same model, speeding up collaboration. The functionality is currently available on iOS solutions and will be available in the Procore web model viewer in late 2020.

AI, cost management, compliance, planning

Procore has added some artificial intelligence functionality to its platform, mainly through its acquisition in February 2020 of an AI firm, Avata (for a reported US$3.8m), which had developed a ‘natural language assistant’ which automated some information tasks. Procore says (news release) it is further investing in ways to automate repetitive laborious tasks, uncover hidden information, and provide actionable insights to drive better outcomes for its users. Highlighted AI features include Search, Submittal Builder, and Predictive Analytics.

Updates to Procore’s financial management products provide a real-time project cost management solution that integrates with ERP systems to offer a single financial ecosystem for construction projects. The major announcement here concerned an integration with Sage 300 CRE – a solution widely used in Procore’s US small-to-mid-sized contractor and subcontractor market.

Procore LookaheadsCompliance management for safety and quality has been enhanced by new Action Plans functionality (news), enabling teams to build a step-by-step execution plan for project tasks to simplify collaboration and maintain individual accountability.

And Procore has added a new Lookaheads feature, right, to its schedule tool. This addresses the detailed weekly and monthly planning processes critical to effective coordination of field teams and trade partners. Conventionally, this was often managed using a whiteboard and sticky notes, but the new feature shifts this to an online environment. This is an interesting area of technology that EE has covered in the past – for example, US-based Newforma’s LeanPlanner (October 2015 post), the UK’s Aphex Planner (Februrary 2019 post)  and, in a BIM context, Finland’s Visilean (March 2018 post).

The Extranet Evolution perspective

This was my first experience of Groundbreak (hardly surprising as previous years’ events would have involved the time and expense of a flight to the US), so, while I can’t compare it with previous years’ editions, I can at least contrast it with the recent online Bentley YII2020 experience.

Both were distinctly US corporate, though there were occasional non-US voices to show both firms were more international. Bentley probably had much greater reach in this respect, with projects and case studies from multiple continents, and also acquisitions that have diversified the group. The greatest contrast was in focus: Bentley is an engineering design business now expanding into the construction management field and beyond; Procore is very much a platform targeting widely used by small-mid-sized contracting firms [see update below], but also trying to expand into support for pre-construction activities. And, despite expansion into Australasia, c. 2017, and the UK and Ireland, I estimated around 90% of the imagery used in Groundbreak came from Procore’s north American heartland – the business is still heavily US-centric, probably reflecting where most of its revenues come from.

It will also take time for some of the Procore product enhancements to reach customers and end-users outside north America, particularly when it comes to things like estimating or financial management, where processes are often quite specific to particular national markets.

IPO and COVID-19

In his YII2020 keynote, CEO Greg Bentley was able to reflect on Bentley’s successful IPO (post), but his Procore counterpart Tooey Courtemanche was unable to do the same. Procore’s proposed IPO, announced in February 2020, was immediately put into doubt as markets plunged during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic (post). US industry watchers (eg: Bloomberg, ConstructionDive) suggest the IPO has been shelved until better economic times return. Instead, Procore continued with further capital raising based on a company valuation of $5 billion, closing a US$160m round in mid-2020, while also quietly shedding some jobs. On 28 July 2020, Courtemanche announced “a single-digit percentage of the roles at Procore are being eliminated today”; media reports suggested around 180 people were set to lose their jobs.

COVID-19 will continue to challenge the global construction industry, potentially also causing further job losses. As the UK enters another national lockdown, construction has been told it can continue, but as ongoing projects are completed, there are signs that two tracks could emerge – a relatively buoyant civil engineering and infrastructure sector, and a more stagnant building sector, particularly when it comes to commercial and leisure developments. On the face of it, Bentley is well-placed to support the strong civils track, but Procore’s prospects will partly depend upon where its many SME customers are working. However, Procore believes digital transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic (Procore: Lockdown accelerates demand for digital transformation), so, like most vendors, it is well-placed to help businesses maintain and even improve productivity. Whether the industry at large is able to adapt to the realities of a post-COVID economy is another matter….

Update (13 November 2020) – Brandon Oliveri-O’Connor, director of EMEA at Procore has commented:

“Procore connects key construction stakeholders – owners, main contractors, subcontractors – from small and medium-sized businesses up to global enterprises. We have a mature customer base across all of these segments, with over 9,500 customers and 1.3M+ users worldwide. We work with customers of all sizes to identify and build better solutions for the construction industry, including some of the largest contractors in the world. We are continuing to invest in our growth in EMEA, and have recently added several customers with annual revenues in the hundreds of millions.”

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Bentley growing its construction collaboration toolset

Bentley Systems’ collaboration portfolio continues to grow, with NoteVault integrated into the SYNCHRO Field mobile app, new ProjectWise Insights, much “iTwin-enabling”, an entirely new SYNCHRO Cost application coming soon, and GroupBC being positioned as a capital project management platform for owners.

Bentley logo 2017Bentley Systems‘ Year In Infrastructure provides an annual opportunity to hear about updates to the company’s existing products and about new acquisitions and new products. While this year’s whole event was online, 2020 was little different in its content, with talk of new integrations between well-established and more recently acquired products, of rationalisation of the growing product portfolio, and of impending new product offerings. The group has also extended its “Bentley has your back” campaign, helping teams better manage during the COVID-19 pandemic (see May 2020 post: Coping with COVID-19 using Bentley ProjectWise 365).

Construction management – from 4D to 5D

Once mainly renowned for its architecture and engineering design authoring applications, the Bentley focus is now even increasingly oriented towards supporting construction activities.

Synchro logoNoteVault logoThis trend became evident following Bentley’s June 2018 acquisition of the UK’s SYNCHRO Systems (post) when Bentley started to integrate SYNCHRO with its ProjectWise ‘CDE’ and formed a construction group to try and take a larger slice of the construction technology space (October 2018: Synchro buy a key step in building Bentley’s construction capabilities). More recently, in June 2020, Bentley also acquired NoteVault, a US-based provider of voice-based field automation for construction management (post), aiming to expand “Bentley’s SYNCHRO digital construction environment with industry-leading mobile field applications to track and manage labor, materials, and equipment.”

Dustin Parkman - BentleyDuring Year In Infrastructure 2020, Dustin Parkman, right, Bentley’s vice president, project delivery, announced an extensive integration between NoteVault and existing site-based data capture capabilities. A mobile application, SYNCHRO Field, that initially required manual data entry into forms, now offers voice-to-text transcription functionality alongside access to 4D models in the field. Over time, Parkman said voice-activated data entry would be augmented by functions that were entirely voice-controlled solutions, potentially simplifying and speeding up user interactions.

Parkman said Bentley had also significantly expanded SYNCHRO capabilities spanning 4D construction modeling and sequencing, document controls, cost management, and field management:

“We have added new capabilities and iTwin enabled SYNCHRO to view 4D models and fully detailed schedule simulations with animation and sequencing using only a web browser. Now, any project stakeholder can readily view project information without requiring special software or equipment.
This new functionality enables project stakeholders to instantly collaborate online simply by clicking on a link, with the ability to provide real-time comments back to the project manager. The ability to view a 4D model and a fully detailed schedule via a simple web browser is unmatched in the market.”

Synchro CostParkman’s presentation also made a brief mentions of cost and contract management. A new product, SYNCHRO Cost, is set to be launched towards the end of 2020, aligning bid management processes to other construction management workflows, streamlined sourcing with automated bid solicitation and analysis, while also reduced risk and enabling better compliance with proactive contract management.

ProjectWise 365: Project Insights

Project Insights

Now in continuous development for over 20 years, Bentley’s project collaboration workhorse, ProjectWise has been improved by addition of new business intelligence reporting capabilities. Through its strategic relationship with Microsoft – the Azure cloud platform is used to host ProjectWise 365 – Bentley has incorporated  PowerBI analytics and reporting functionality, and has been expanding this to support wider data needs. As well as summary views of data about design activities or about individual projects, Parkman said users can now aggregate data across entire portfolios, monitor trends and access predictive analytics. As well as comparisons across projects, users can also interrogate data about particular types of projects – water, rail or highways, for example.

“ProjectWise Insights now provides the ability to customize dashboards with a web-based editor or to build custom dashboards from scratch. Every project team can now afford a dashboard, and not just for the largest projects. Project managers can quickly understand if a project is on track. Having access to real-time reporting is helping project teams achieve efficiency improvements of 30%.”

A new task-based interface provides each ProjectWise user with unique insights to their tasks, issues, and objectives helping them to keep projects on time and within budget. Real-time 2D and 3D design review capabilities are built in, making it easy to collaborate in review sessions remotely from almost any location.

Capital project delivery: GroupBC

YII2020 was also an opportunity to catch up with how Bentley has been integrating its March 2020 acquisition of UK-based GroupBC (post). The core Business Collaborator system is now being described as as ‘capital project information management’ platform that can be used as a common data environment by owner-operators to manage asset delivery programmes – complementing ProjectWise (engineering working in progress) and SYNCHRO (construction work).

GroupBC Highways England“Since the acquisition of GroupBC earlier this year, our focus has been on iTwin enabling Business Collaborator and integrating it with ProjectWise,” Parkman said, citing use of this federated common data environment on projects including HS2 and an implementation for Highways England. The GroupBC product portolio included BC Connect (now rebranded as BC Sync to avoid confusion with other Bentley ‘Connected’ solutions) – a toolset designed to streamline the often intensely manual and time-consuming selection and transfer of data between different CDE instances. A new product – Business Collaborator Projects (or BC Projects) – is also being developed for small and mid-sized projects and comes pre-configured to support ISO 19650 information management processes, building on GroupBC’s familiarity with implementing platforms compliant with the emerging suite of international standards.

Parkman said the latest release of Business Collaborator introduces a new self-serve portal that allows end-users to intuitively navigate disparate sources of project and project controls information through asset-based and geospatial interfaces.

“End users can understand in a natural, intuitive context the information they have (and don’t have) and answer questions about their asset or asset portfolio quickly and accurately through a user interface that requires no knowledge of or access to the source systems.”

This is leveraging the GroupBC GeoConnect+ functionality originally developed in the UK with government mapping agency Ordnance Survey and consultant PCSG (now part of Bentley – post) for use internationally, working with other partners providing mapping and other geospatial services (Bentley partner Microsoft, for example, has its own Azure Maps geospatial APIs).

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Lessons from the NBS summit – BIM: the client is key

The NBS Construction Leaders Summit suggested that new impetus is needed to drive digital adoption forward, with clients identified as key agents to push industry change.

NBS logoRecently (14 October 2020), I supported the second day of the NBS Construction Leadership Summit (post).* This online event was organised by the Newcastle, UK-based provider of specification information and related services, and gathered over 2,000 registrations. Prior commitments prevented me joining Day One (addressed by UK government minister, Nadhim Zahawi, building safety advocate Dame Judith Hackitt and Constructing Excellence co-chair Mark Farmer, among others). However, by all accounts, Day Two was equally interesting (all presentations were recorded and are now available via the NBS CLS2020 webpage)

In the Day Two opening #CLS2020 plenary session, attendees heard from speakers including Paul Morrell, the UK Government’s first chief construction adviser, and from architect, academic and former Autodesk vice-president Phil Bernstein. Morrell and Bernstein both spoke at a London conference in September 2010 where Morrell said the UK intended to set a mandate for use of BIM (AEC Magazine), and Morrell did much to drive initial UK adoption towards the mandate’s April 2016 deadline, work continued by his successor as chief construction advisor Peter Hansford.  As such it was interesting to hear both Morrell and Bernstein’s observations on the industry’s digital journey over the past decade.

The BIM and digital journey

Integrate you bastards!Morrell was perhaps hampered by a technical glitch that meant he could deliver his usual rapid-fire ‘stream of consciousness’ slide deck (many of which, though, are unchanged from the presentations he was giving 7-8 years ago). While the COVID-19 pandemic had altered some aspects of day-to-day working, Morrell said many of the fundamental blockers remain: ‘silo’-based working, for example. In pushing digital working, he had wanted to make it impossible not to be more digital, while admitting “Data is a jolt for everybody“. This makes it particularly challenging when the client/owner-operator needs to reuse that data: “If it’s not digital, it’s lost“. He talked about the need for bold and audacious goals (citing Kennedy and rockets to the moon), but when it comes to construction change: “Above all it’s about leadership – who is going to make this happen?

Morrell’s conference comments about the UK’s BIM progress were subsequently reported by Building magazine (BIM uptake stalling, former construction tsar warns). He said:

“We do need government to stay engaged, … using its buying power and facilitating conversations …. It’s faced up well to COVID. Let’s see it face up to this much bigger longer-term challenge.”

Phil BernsteinBernstein, right, described the industry’s journey from paper-based drawing to CAD to BIM (“digitally provocative, behaviourally interesting”) to a fourth mode, which he called “Integrated Digital Delivery“. The current reality of BIM, in his view, was characterised by “representational dispersion” with each stage of information only loosely connected, resulting in “lots of little BIMs“. He then talked briefly about digital twins – always contentious given the transatlantic differences that exist between US views and those in the UK influenced by the CDBB’s 2018 Gemini Principles (August 2019 EE post) – before musing on how architects might contribute to a more socially just society. “The pandemic has raised a lot of questions about health, safety and welfare for architects,” he said, while one lesson from the Grenfell fire disaster (echoing Morrell’s view about ‘lost’ data) was that “the line from design through to operation and use is not well understood“.

In the ensuring panel discussion, Morrell and Bernstein argued passionately about the need for construction clients and other industry leaders to be more demanding when it came to digital working. Morrell said the industry really needs to change the way it sells. “If clients want whole-life value, does construction actually sell a whole-life service?” “I used to think the problem was technological, but I increasingly think it’s cultural,” Bernstein said, adding “A lot of the desire for disruption has to come from the folks demanding the work.”

How do we make that change? Morrell repeated his views about leadership “We need to create an unstoppable demand for new ways of working…. What is the journey?” Bernstein said: “We need to shame people into doing the right thing.”

  • For AECTechTV (post), I recorded a piece about the #CLS2020 event, including an interview with NBS’s Richard Waterhouse about his highlights of the two days:

Modernising construction

The conference then divided into two streams; I followed the specifier/designer stream, which focused heavily on modern methods of construction (MMC) and housing, starting with a good overview from Willmott Dixon’s Tim Carey. He showed that UK Government interest in modernising the industry is nothing new – long before the Latham Report, Egan, or Mark Farmer’s “Modernise or Die”, the government established “The standardisation and new methods of construction committee” … in 1919!

Scarcity of labour, changing regulations and incentives, and industrialisation have created the perfect storm for construction, Carey said. Modular schemes in Croydon and Wembley have demonstrated the art of the possible; “It is also vital to quantitatively measure the outcomes of MMC adoption – but this is rarely done”. MMC can deliver better health and safety performance, fewer interfaces (through effective design for manufacture and assembly, DfMA), faster on-site assembly, and lower carbon intensity – but there are downsides too, Carey warned, citing immature supply chains in a industry still largely reliant upon traditional construction methodologies.

Carey was followed by Jade Lewis of the Sustainable Energy Association who was blunt about the policy pressures facing the UK residential sector. On top of climate change and NetZero targets, post-Grenfell compliance issues, the Future Homes Standard, and fuel poverty, “the UK has some of the worst housing stock in Europe.” She talked about the Transforming Construction programme and the shift towards ‘Smart Construction’, but also highlighted the public costs of poor housing: “Homes have a critical impact on our health and wellbeing, and cost the NHS £2.5bn per year.

Construction Innovation Hub logoGill Kelleher from the Construction Innovation Hub spoke about ‘Delivering quality in a digital design world’, highlighting the core themes of the hub’s work Value, Manufacturing, Assurance and Digital. Underlining points made earlier by Tim Carey, she said “Platform Construction systems can reduce cost, delivery time and lifetime carbon emissions.” She talked about the development of a “Digital Framework” underpinned by the next phase of BIM standards, and said an “Assurance Framework will provide confidence that products, materials and sub-assemblies meet performance and safety criteria.”

14 October 2020, incidentally, was also World Standards Day, and this session included an overview of the NBS platforms from Stephen Hamil (innovation director and head of BIM at NBS), underlining the connections between standards, classifications and specifications, so that designers and specifiers can work effectively with both standard requirements and manufacturers’ product information. He showed how the NBS Chorus system (September 2020 post) can be used to manage submittal reports, capture knowledge, and stay current on standards.

The Extranet Evolution view

This was a construction ‘summit’ that lived up to its name, providing some provocative presentations from industry movers and shakers. The ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were a recurring theme, and there was a strong sense of two primary effects. First, it has driven a step change in adoption of digital technologies to mitigate restrictions on travel, on office-based working, and on working in close proximity on construction sites. Second, it has provided a new focus for collaboration and for digital adoption to help industry overcome the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic.

The latest Construction Products Association economic forecast suggest UK construction output will fall 14% in 2020; its forecast of a 13% rise in 2021 is heavily dependent upon how the UK deals with a potential second national lockdown and a ‘No Deal’ Brexit: “Either would lead to a second dip in the UK economy and construction output.could be affected by new lockdowns over the winter and by Brexit issues.”

NBS Richard WaterhouseWith such uncertainty about the short-to-medium term, perhaps the focus should be on the bigger, long-term picture. NBS chief strategy officer Richard Waterhouse, right, told AECTechTV that the focus on building safety wasn’t just relevant to the UK – it is relevant to the whole world, citing both Grenfell and a more recent fire in South Korea. This is not a short-lived design or construction issue; having assurance that all aspects of the built environment around us has been safely built, operated and maintained should be a fundamental right to every citizen.

This will require not just a whole-life view of individual assets, but also a holistic, whole-life view of multiple connected assets. The national digital twin may be decades away, but BIM and wider digital transformation are vital foundations to its achievement. Perhaps a new digital mandate is needed to change the industry currently known as construction so that it is more conscious of its obligations to create and maintain a safer and more sustainable built environment in perpetuity.

[* Disclosure: As a paid consultant, I supported NBS efforts to promote and to share content from the NBS Construction Leadership Summit, working alongside Su Butcher – read her blog about the event – and others.]

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Visio Impulse: computer vision for construction

London-based Visio Impulse is applying computer vision techniques to help clients and project teams rapidly get insights from site imagery.

Visio Impulse logoIncorporated by Farhad Bazyari in London in June 2017 and launched in February 2018, Visio Impulse applies computer vision techniques to monitor construction and engineering projects. A graduate of Sheffield University, Bazyari completed a PhD in computer science in 2014. He has since been developing applications which can apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to imagery captured via laser-scanning and photogrammetry to assess the accuracy of works and for 3D progress monitoring.

The currently 7-strong company offers services in four main areas:

  • Maintenance – identify maintenance issues early and remotely
  • Project progress – update project plans and designs automatically as site conditions develop, ensure contractual obligations and timeframes are met, monitor costs and quantities and ensure quality standards and accuracy
  • As-built verification – automatically compare as-built drawings and on-site works to ensure accurate hand-over documents, reduce surveying costs and avoid future issues
  • Information retrieval – find the right information at the right time for improved project management processes

Petrochemical plant pilot project

Farhad BazyariThe technology was piloted on a major US petrochemical plant that was being constructed by Bechtel. The plant covered an area measuring 3km by 2km and during the two-year project, it was regularly surveyed by weekly aerial drone flights. As well as monitoring progress, Bazyari, right, said the imagery could also be used to validate whether what had been constructed corresponded to what had been designed. Where necessary, the site operator could then authorise any necessary rework and updates to the engineering documentation.

The project also involved some retrospective work, where Visio Impulse was used to check scans of early groundworks and then produce accurate as-built drawings. “These are vital for an operational petrochemical plant,” Bazyari said. “The operator needs full and accurate records, so that it can respond quickly if there is an accident or malfunction at the plant. The complex has an operational service life of 50 years.”

The project highlighted several issues of accuracy in the as-built drawings allowing the client to identify and remedy potentially critical documentation inconsistencies with the contractor. This should avoid potential accidents and interruptions in the future.

Visio Impulse – construction progress validation

While the technology has been proven on a sprawling and complex project, Bazyari says the techniques can just as easily be applied to more compact and conventional schemes such as building construction and infrastructure engineering projects. “Visual validation and verification of work on construction sites is not yet routine in construction,” he says. “But in recent years we have seen growing user of laser scanners and webcams – from ground-level surveys, from drones, and from crane-mounted cameras – to capture progress.”

Once images have been captured and imported, unsupervised Machine Learning automatically generates thousands of labels for faster and improved analysis. The platform’s information retrieval functionality then uses natural language processing to help construction and maintenance teams search for required information among large numbers of documents. By using natural and specific questions, finding the right answer is easier and less time=consuming.

The visualisations created by Visio Impulse can also be used as a ‘time machine’ to help project teams check the sequencing of construction and installation activities. And with BIM increasingly widely deployed, the platform also allows designers to superimpose design models over site captured imagery.

The business is looking to partner with other businesses offering complementary services – for example, drone companies looking to offer advanced computer vision capabilities, and project managers looking to provide new analysis and insight techniques to their owner-operator clients.

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