Aug 06 2014

No SaaS ‘Safe Harbor’?

Will US-owned vendors of collaboration services be shunned by clients wanting to keep their intellectual property safe from prying US eyes?

I recently had an email conversation with someone who was trying to choose between different SaaS construction collaboration technology vendors. His initial focus was on the functionality of the various platforms, but he then began to consider other service aspects, including licensing models and the availability of mobile tools, and then got particularly concerned about the location and security of providers’ hosting.

It is not unusual for SaaS collaboration customers to want their project data to be securely managed nearby. Middle Eastern clients, for example, might want their data hosted in the region, not in Europe or the USA (equally, some US businesses have not wanted their data hosted outside the US). Several of the vendors have therefore created hosting outposts to serve customers in particular regions, and to provide scalability, flexibility, increased redundancy, and more predictable uptime (in June, Viewpoint opened up an Australian hosting environment for Asia-Pacific customers of its 4Projects/ Viewpoint for Collaboration service, augmenting locations in the UK and US, the latter established in August 2013).

My correspondent, working on a sensitive UK infrastructure project, was particularly concerned that the US Patriot Act, Act of 2001 and Section 362 and others in place, might mean providers such as ViewPoint/4Projects information could be accessed by US Intelligence anywhere globally. (This para updated 1330hrs BST, 6 August)

Is he right to be that concerned? While the 2013 Edward Snowden US National Security Agency revelations have sent rippled round the world about the role of US intelligence, this Legal Week article by Neil Cameron suggests he could also have grounds for concern in civil court proceedings. Microsoft was recently ordered by a US Federal Court judge to provide details of emails, even though the data was hosted outside the US, in Ireland, by a Dutch-owned subsidiary. It seems that the Safe Harbor Privacy Principles created to extend the EU Data Protection Directive regarding data privacy,and so facilitate US-EU trade and commerce, may no longer be effective protection (though Cameron does point out it’s early days and the decision may well be appealed).

I would be interested to hear the comments of any vendors on these issues.

(Update: 7 August 2014) – Aconex joins Cloud Security Alliance

In an unrelated announcement, Melbourne-based construction collaboration technology provider Aconex has announced that is has joined the Cloud Security Alliance, a not-for-profit broad coalition promoting best practices for providing security assurance within cloud computing.

The CSA published a sponsored white paper – What Rules Regulate Government Access to Data Held by US Cloud Service Providers – in February 2013, followed by a July 2013 survey on Government Access to Data.

(Update: 18 August 2014) – In addition to some interesting comments on this post, I have received the following from Alun Baker, managing director EMEA, 4Projects by Viewpoint:

Alun Baker… Viewpoint has been (and still is) looking at implementing localised data centres in various geographies in accordance with our commitment to provide the best service possible for customers.  As you would expect, we have extensive data security protocols driven by both best practices and global privacy laws and in any case would be considered a low risk target for governmental data seizure given the minimal data we collect.  It’s worth noting that we have never actually had an official request for information and if one were served upon us we would expect, within the bounds of the law, to challenge such a request.   As far as disaster recovery is concerned these systems are kept in the same jurisdiction as the main data centre so if your project is using a UK data centre the information will never leave UK soil.

In terms of protecting information globally from the US, remember that the lack of any law such as the Patriot Act in the majority of non-western countries means that information can be seized without restriction or judicial oversight – meaning data could arguably be considered safer in the US or UK than most other geographies lacking specific protocols and judicial oversight.

We are growing rapidly and are seen as the market leader in the collaboration and BIM space across the globe.  As a result, such policies have been rigorously scrutinised by some of our most risk averse customers”.

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Aug 04 2014

Cadweb goes bust

cadweb-logoA clutch of broken link alerts, a website now longer accessible, emails bouncing…. It seems that west London, UK-based construction collaboration technology provider, Cadweb, has ceased trading, weeks after UK rival Woobius did the same.

Cadweb crash

Formed in 1995, Cadweb launched its first commercial product in 1998 (I wrote an IT Best Practice Programme case study about its use on a project at Green Park, Reading in 1999); its SaaS solution followed in March 2002, and the company claimed to be one of the longest-established UK project collaboration providers, delivering collaboration services to several long-standing customers (including Land Securities, PRUPIM, Gardiner & Theobald, Chapman Taylor Architects, and Sweett Group).

Its CEO Francis Newman often attended meetings of the short-lived Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers (NCCTP) trade grouping, and I occasionally bumped into business development director Tony Dodd (briefly a BIW colleague of mine before he joined Cadweb in 2002), though he left the company in late 2013 – which was roughly when I last met Francis. The Cadweb team carefully guarded information about the company’s financial performance (see my January 2009 post), sometimes making a virtue that it had not required external funding (the company, always one of the smaller collaboration vendors, was 99% owned by a Newman family trust). However, during the late 2000s (when the global financial crisis adversely affected the revenues of several collaboration vendors) and judging from the limited information made available via Companies House returns, its liabilities grew and its net assets declined, and it seems it’s eventually ended in insolvency.

On 15 July 2014, the London Gazette published a notice regarding a meeting of creditors to be held last week on Wednesday 29 July at the Wheathampstead, St Albans offices of insolvency practitioners Maidment Judd.

rapier logoMeanwhile, in October 2013, Francis became a director of a new business, Rapiere Software, which is developing a web-based decision support tool for design of low impact buildings. Apparently based in Architype‘s London office, the new company’s backers include Sweett and BDSP Chapman.


It comes as little surprise that Cadweb has closed down. It rode the wave of interest in SaaS-based construction collaboration in the early 2000s and benefited from early adopters testing out the various solutions, and it gained some loyal customers. However, rivals say they rarely encountered Cadweb in client competitions in recent years, and as these rival solutions developed stronger capabilities, Cadweb’s relatively simple platform had less appeal.

After Woobius closed down recently, I used a UK football analogy to describe the gradual polarisation between the “Premier League” of leading providers and a “Championship” level tier who support loyal long-term customers, but who compete at a product and price level below that of their more successful rivals. If a business can’t manage customer ‘churn’, if its premium services can’t be adjusted to attract the SME market, and if it doesn’t have other services in its portfolio, it will struggle – and this appears to have been Cadweb’s fate. (Long-time Yorkshire-based rival Sarcophagus, for example, offers e-tendering and email management solutions as well as SaaS collaboration.)

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Aug 01 2014

Avollio targets property asset managers

Elegantly designed to be easily intuitive to use, Avollio - logoAvollio describes itself as an online property asset management and collaboration platform. It provides tools to:

  • share, manage and improve properties
  • to manage tenants, rentals and leased assets and coordinate building projects, and
  • to collaborate with clients, colleagues, suppliers and contractors.

In short, Avollio, created by a southwest London, UK team co-founded by architect Ian Thompson and developer Pascal Rieger and released in a Beta version in April 2014, promises to cover two or three areas that were previously managed through largely separate online solutions.

For example, UK professional users have long used cloud-based collaboration platforms to manage their projects, and there has been a gradual push to offer similar but simpler solutions at the SME end of the market (I wrote two weeks ago about UK providers such as Woobius – now seemingly discontinued – Collabor8online and CloudsUK). Equally, I have talked about solutions which are more asset-focused – Kykloud, for example, or iSite’s ‘Assetology’ hub.

While Kykloud has made a virtue of being predominantly a tablet-accessed system, most of the other systems have tended to be computer browser-based. But in the last year or so, I have started to watch several mobile-first and social media-savvy development efforts to create new platforms (for example, US firms such as FieldLens, FluidCM and PlanGrid, Copenhagens’ GenieBelt, and UK startups such as Basestone, HandS HQ and Cadbeam).

Ian says the Avollio platform interface has been developed so that users can seamlessly transfer between desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile, accessing visual and text information on any interface without limitation on functionality; it is currently a web-based platform, with no apps for offline access – Ian envisages it becoming part of an ecosystem of complementary “satellite” tools (SaaS, mobile, back office – he mentioned integrations with Xero and Free Agent cloud-based accounting services, for example), rather than trying to do everything in one platform. We also talked about eventual integration of BIM capabilities into the platform.

Retail potential

Ian Thompson (Avollio)Ian’s 22-year architectural career, covering South African and the UK, includes includes design projects for Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, Strada and Vivat Bacchus across the UK in airports, railway stations, shopping centres and high streets. Using feedback from customers who had used other applications he’d developed, Ian and Pascal are now developing Avollio as a configurable cross-platform cloud-based solution (“We’ve had restauranteurs and retail outlets tell us it’s the perfect platform to stay in touch with staff as well as manage inventory bought for fit-outs”). As well as the outlet owners, the platform clearly also has potential for the interior designers, architects and others involved in designing and delivering store and restaurant environments (this might pitch Avollio against established AEC intranet providers such as Union Square – post).

Incidentally, mention of retail asset management also reminds me of Leicestershire, UK-based, ICON (in early 2012, they were looking at mobile use of QR codes for asset-tracking; coincidentally, I met up with ICON’s Chris Lovelock again at a recent London reception hosted by Newforma).

Polished user interface

Avollio’s design polish and simplicity aspirations remind me of Woobius: “designed by architects for architects”. As well as architecture and retail, Avollio’s website includes user cases for property managers, holiday lets and home-owners – implying this may also be a great solution for the SME user. Users can navigate around their workspaces by Portfolios (the company’s name was chosen for its similarity to “folio”), Properties, Projects and People, and from each view, users can drill into increasingly detailed levels of information. The platform also delivers easily created reports across all the views.

avollio projectSome capabilities – documents, notes, calendar and address book (and integration with Gmail and Outlook is coming soon), for example – are common to all views; others are specific to particular requirements (for instance, Property management includes tools to manage acquisition and leasing, while Projects includes tools to manage asset inventories and regulatory compliance). Avollio is also pleasing to look at – it uses familiar tools such as Google Maps and Street View in its navigation, while photographs of projects and users help accelerate navigation; Ian was keen to implement a Pinterest-like look and feel, reflecting the visual-first approach of many design professionals.

As you might expect of a Beta application, there are still areas to develop. Some functionality has been created to address particular customer needs and has now been ‘parked’, while there is also a development roadmap – one feature on this is provision of templates to simplify the creation of new customer portfolios, properties or projects.

To date, the company has been funded by its founders, and Ian is planning to find seed investors in 2015 to help it grow further. Currently, the product is free to use for up to five properties, five projects and 500Mb of storage – over these starting points, the Avollio website has an elegant slider-controlled pricing tool charging per property or project and storage space over this limit.

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Jul 30 2014

RIB Software acquires Docia

Docia - logoSome 21 months after acquiring Australia’s ProjectCentre (post), Stuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software AG has announced it has acquired another Software-as-a-Service business: Denmark-based SaaS construction collaboration technology provider Docia (aka Byggeweb) – a company I first profiled in May 2011. I understand the deal value (including earn-out) is almost €20m, and the acquisition will potentially expand RIB’s reach across Scandinavia and other markets, including the UK, India and South Africa, while adding facility management (so-called 6D) capabilities to the RIB iTWO product suite.


RIB is emerging as a strong player in the construction SaaS market. In February it reported its global 2013 turnover grew 45.4% from €39.2m to €57.0m, but it reported triple-digit growth in its international operations (up 193.8% from €8m to €23.5m) and in its SaaS/cloud operations (up 139.3% from €2.8m to €6.7m). The Docia acquisition will doubtless boost both these latter metrics.

RIB software logoFollowing the ProjectCentre acquisition, RIB created a solution that combined RIB’s iTWO 5D enterprise platform and ProjectCentre. Launched in June 2013, iTWO Collaboration Exchange (iTWOcx) offers tools covering pre-contract and design through to construction cost control and progress reporting, marking a shift from document collaboration to cloud-based management of all project-related data throughout the design, engineering and construction process. ProjectCentre had already differentiated itself by providing ERP-type functionality to its customers and iTWOcx incorporated capabilities from RIB’s application to heighten this differentiation further.

(The convergence of SaaS-based construction collaboration and construction ERP is happening across several companies. Over the past year, I have discussed similar developments relating to 4Projects/Viewpoint, Asite, Unit4 and Conject.)

RIB and Docia to target FM

Initially, it might appear that RIB has acquired another business similar to ProjectCentre, but Docia’s geographical sphere of operations is different, and its products extend beyond the current collaboration/ERP data capabilities of iTWOcx.

Docia, founded in 1997, grew into a consistently profitable Software-as-a-Service business turning over £3m per annum by 2011, with most of its revenues secured from projects in Scandinavia. It then began to expand internationally opening offices in South Africa (May 2011), India (October 2011), Poland and the UK, where it has also looked to exploit its Scandinavian BIM expertise (July 2013) and mobile applications. With over 100,000 users across 20 countries, it is also a strong player in the cloud-based facilities management or infrastructure lifecycle management (ILM) market, and this appears to be the prime justification for RIB’s move.

RIB describes Docia, among other things, as Scandinavia’s leading provider of cloud based facility management, and believes Docia will help it expand its iTWO Big Data platform to support model-based facility management processes (dubbed 6D) as well, providing a service managing “quality, time, and cost for investment and maintenance at a virtual level before starting with the actual building work and to support the usage of a building after its completion on an end-to-end basis in the cloud.” Dr. Hans-Peter Sanio, CTO of RIB Software AG says:

With our iTWO 6D Big Data cloud platform our customers are able to handle Project- and Facility Management processes online and make decisions in real time. The access to the data and their processing takes place via desktop applications in the browser or over mobile apps such as our iTWO 6D Control Tower app for project and maintenance controlling or Docia’s Quick capture app to record onsite defects for quality assurance and inspections on smartphones and tablets.

This move will particularly interest the UK-German SaaS provider Conject which already has a cloud-based FM solution serving mainland Europe customers and has been gearing up to launch it in the English-speaking market (see February 2014 post).

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Jul 22 2014

New chairman at Aconex

Aconex logo 2014AconexAdam Lewis (Aconex chair 2014), the Melbourne, Australia-based SaaS construction collaboration technology provider, has appointed a new chairman. Simon Yencken, who succeeded the then embattled Martin Hosking in June 2011, has stepped down (but will remain a director) and Adam Lewis (right), a non-executive director since November 2011, is the new chairman.

Today’s boardroom reshuffle announcement has also seen Keith Geeslin, a partner at Aconex investor Francisco Partners, elected as a director in place of his Francisco colleague Petri Oksanen who had served on the Aconex board since 2012.

The company was rumoured last week to be preparing to float on the Australian Stock Exchange.

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