Apr 15 2014

Newforma extends mobile and cloud functionality

Newforma, once mainly known for its on-premise project information management, is extending its mobile and cloud construction collaboration offerings.

Newforma-logoNew Hampshire, US-based construction software vendor Newforma has today announced three new mobile apps, plus an update to an existing app, to improve on-site project information management for users of its on-premise Newforma Project Center (release 10.2) and its Newforma Project Cloud solution (as mentioned in my February 2014 update).

Newforma TasksNewforma Mobile apps

The new apps, which I previewed last week with director of product marketing Dave Wagner and Michael DeSouza, director of product design, reflect a shift from activity-centric tools to ones that span the process of data capture and review. They new tools are:

  • Newforma Tasks app (top right), which provides an interactive dashboard for assigning, reviewing, and updating project quality control tasks, such as work-to-complete and punch lists (aka defects management).
  • Newforma CaptureNewforma Capture app (right), which provides a single place for capturing project data, including text, photos (with markup) and metadata, as the user walks the site. By default, the app stores data locally until it is uploaded, enabling faster, more continuous data capture (more urgent items can also be uploaded immediately if required and if connectivity is available)
  • Newforma Project Email, which provides instant access – similar to the Newforma Windows client – to emails that team members have filed using Newforma Project Center.

Tasks and Capture are both available for iOS devices, with Android versions planned for later this year; Project Email is already available on both iOS and Android. Meanwhile, a new version of the (currently iPad-only) Newforma Plans app now allows users to create and locate field notes, punch list items, and action items on relevant drawings.

Create Link in Newforma PlansLast week’s preview let me see how quickly Plans could be rendered on an iPad, with a “treasure map” thumbnail giving context to any action items or markups that might have been created. Coloured pins help identify different items according to their status; a ‘Favorites’ feature allows users to create personalised lists of sheets that they use frequently, while – for cross-team use – a ‘hyperlink’ feature can be used to build relationships between different drawings for rapid access and cross-referencing (interestingly, adding hyperlinks is only available on the iPad, not on the desktop view).

New Project Cloud functionality

Since its acquisition of Attolist nearly two years ago, Newforma has been building more SaaS capability into its product suite, particularly to support users who may not be using the on-premise applications, and to support users of its field management mobile apps. In short, it is building a suite that provides a ‘single version of the truth’ for project users, helping eliminate duplication and data entry errors.

QCScreenShotAlongside Communications, Document Management and Construction Admin, a new tab has been added at the top of the browser-based tool to cover Quality Control processes (eg: punchlists, work-to-complete, non-compliance items, inspections) while the usability of the overall user interface has also been improved. Foremost among the improvements is a ‘spatial index’ activity centre which allows an administrator to define particular project spaces, making it easier for users to locate quality control tasks such as work-to-complete or non-compliance items.

Newforma Chief Executive Officer Ian Howell said the Newforma Project Cloud updates are just the latest in a roadmap of extended improvements to the overall Newforma PIM solution:

“Newforma Project Cloud provides project hosting in the cloud, where everyone on the project team can access RFIs, submittals, plans, and other key project information from a single source. Many customers have told us they’re slashing their submittals review cycles in half using Newforma Project Cloud. Now, with new capabilities for field management, the quality control aspects of the construction phase of project delivery can benefit from similar performance improvements.”

(If you are attending this year’s BIMShowLive in Manchester, UK, 23-24 April, Newforma is exhibiting on stand GS16.)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/04/newforma-extends-mobile-and-cloud-funtionality/

Apr 10 2014

Conject Group revenues reach €20M

Germany’s ILM SaaS specialist Conject Group grows revenues 14% in 2013 to reach €20M (£16.6m) milestone.

ConjectMunich, Germany-based SaaS construction and real estate software vendor Conject has announced that it grew its revenues 14% to €20 million [£16.6m or $27.6m] in 2013. It also achieved some €25 million [£21m or $34m] in new orders. New customers included retailers Karstadt and ECE, manufacturer Caterpillar, and highways organisation E-Plus in Germany, Unicredit Bank, the ÖAMTC and the Post Office in Austria, the new FIFA 2018 stadiums in Russia, and – in the UK – London Heathrow Airport (Conject is being used by the team working on Terminal 2) and Birmingham City Council. I am told the group is profitable (“the focus is on increasing profitability”), but the group does not release specific profit numbers.

Ralf Haendl, group CEO, said:

Ralf Händl“The healthy growth of all regions in 2013 shows that the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector is recovering well worldwide, and that CONJECT strategy of growth through acquisition and internal investment is solving the collaboration needs of clients. In 2014 we will continue providing a comprehensive ILM offering especially the extension of our worldwide, location and time zone independent service as well as the extension of our portfolio through acquisition and partnership. We will focus on meeting industry needs including for mobile apps, SaaS and BIM solutions.”

The revenue growth keeps Conject comfortably ahead of its fellow Munich-based AEC SaaS technology vendor think project!, which grew its revenues 17% to €17.2m in the same period.

‘Hub’ growth strategy

Steve CooperI asked UK MD Steve Cooper about the results and he highlighted the expansion in infrastructure-related work: “In the late 2000s, I’d say 90% of our work related to buildings, but it’s now about 50%, with the other 50% associated with airports, highways, bridges and utilities,” he said. This expansion is not just in the UK, but in other regional markets; Steve highlighted orders in 2013 in New Zealand from energy and water clients (eg: Meridian and Watercare). He had also noticed a sharp upturn in the Middle East: “orders in Dubai were up 100% on the previous year” (Jumeirah Village was a recent project win there).

However, as a group, Australasia and the Middle East are not what Steve described as “hub markets”. Its key hubs are currently all in Europe: Germany, the UK and France, and from each of these hubs various satellite operations – Russia and Singapore, for example – are being developed with a view to them becoming hubs in due course. Conject has long experience of the Russian market through its work for clients Lendlease and Mace (it is working with the latter on a major urban development project in St Petersburg, for example), and while its southeast Asian operation is more recent, Steve said it is “growing rapidly”. The group will not be speculatively investing in new markets, he said.

BIM for ILM

Continuing to position itself as a provider of Infrastructure Lifecycle Management (ILM) services (it was using the term when I first interviewed company staff in 2009), Conject says it is expanding its portfolio of SaaS tools, mobile apps (it acquired French mobile business Wapp6 in late 2013 – post) and support for building information modelling (BIM).

It will also be starting a ‘soft launch’ in the UK of its SaaS FM application during Q2 of 2014 with a formal launch of the toolset in Q3.

A similar timescale is associated with the roll-out of its BIM capabilities, where the group is keen to differentiate itself by adopting an asset-focused perspective to BIM in line with its ILM ethos. Steve told me Conject has joined BuildingSMART and remains active on the BIM Technologies Alliance, and he attended a recent meeting hosted by BIM Task Group chairman Mark Bew where the UK’s journey beyond 2016 ‘Level 2′ towards ‘Level 3′ BIM was discussed. While many industry folk are focused mainly on BIM for design and construction (see his recent Conject blog post), Steve feels Conject’s ILM approach fits well with asset-centric approaches such as ‘Soft Landings’ and the long-term reuse of data throughout the operational life of a built asset.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/04/conject-group-revenues-reach-e20m/

Apr 07 2014

McLaren releases FusionLive business intelligence portal

McLaren-logoMcLaren Software is building new BI and BIM capabilities into its FusionLive SaaS construction collaboration platform.

London-based SaaS construction collaboration and (since October 2012) CAFM technology vendor McLaren Software has released a new version of its FusionLive SaaS platform including a new business intelligence (BI) portal with some building information modelling (BIM) capabilities. According to the news release:

“The Business Intelligence (BI) portal will help deliver predictable, productive and profitable projects by providing quality data to support management decisionmaking and reduce process bottlenecks. In addition to a new BIM 3D viewing experience, the users will be able to merge two or more models as well as generate COBie compatible work sheets from models.”

McLaren Software has quietly seen a couple of management changes in recent months. Chief marketing officer Tim Taylor moved to Bentley Systems in late 2013, a new US-based marketing VP was appointed in October, and CEO Paul Muir now has a more strategic role in parent company Idox plc as chief strategy officer for the EIM (Engineering Information Management) division of the group. Former HP, Intergraph and – most recently – GL Noble Denton executive Peter Russell-Smith is the new CEO of McLaren Software and is quoted in the news release:

“Worldwide our SaaS customers build critical infrastructure and need real time meaningful information on their schedule.  The Business Intelligence Portal increases their visibility of real time project information enabling them to make informed decisions needed to stay on schedule.  We’re investing heavily in supporting management decision making, simplifying access to engineering documentation for the  mobile workforce, and building information modelling (BIM) capabilities integrated with McLaren’s computer aided facilities management (CAFM) solution.”

I’ve noted business intelligence becoming a recurring theme among the SaaS AEC collaboration vendors in recent years, as they’ve looked to move beyond their document collaboration roots. For example, capabilities were being developed in Conject’s UK division five years ago, and were eventually launched in January 2012 (post), Asite talked about business intelligence at its recent Adoddle 17 launch, it’s on the Viewpoint/4Projects roadmap too (post), and offered in the US by e-Builder too (post).

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/04/mclaren-releases-fusionlive-business-intelligence-portal/

Apr 01 2014

AEC startup SpecifiedBy closes funding round

SpecifiedBy is another UK startup applying social media approaches to construction industry communications, and has closed its seed funding round.
specifiedby.com

In January 2013 I wrote about an AEC social media startup, SpecifiedBy, ahead of its UK launch. It has just achieved another milestone in its development, closing a seed investment round of £125,000, led by Northstar Ventures (also a backer of North Shields-based mobile asset management and surveying SaaS provider Kykloudpost) and IP Group, and supported by several business angels.

Founded by architecture technology graduate Darren Lester, Edinburgh and Newcastle-based SpecifiedBy plans to have a similar impact on the construction industry as TripAdvisor had on the travel sector. SpecifiedBy gives architects and other construction professionals an online platform that combines smart search, project management and access to the shared knowledge and recommendations of other industry professionals regarding building products and materials, plus all the associated building product information and design data, such as BIM and CAD content. Lester says:

Darren Lester

“The construction industry is not exactly renowned for its openness or sharing culture, so we’ve taken on a big challenge. But we believe that by giving the industry access to better data regarding building products and materials, better decisions will be made, which will ultimately lead to a better, more sustainable built environment.

“We’re not a review website as such, but we provide access to invaluable first-hand experience of working with particular products, materials and companies in the same way TripAdvisor gives you the inside track on hotels and restaurants.”

With investment in place, the company plans to further develop the platform, including a ‘private library’ version aimed at teams and practices rather than individuals, and expand the team with roles in content management, sales and marketing to be filled. Darren tells me SpecifiedBy has also agreed a partnership with the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists to promote the platform to its members and put SpecifiedBy in touch with CIAT members who can help with particular technical challenges.

My view

Web-based construction product information resources are not a new idea. Several UK would-be AEC e-commerce sites were launched at the height of the dot.com boom back in 1999-2000, but almost all of them folded quickly as investor confidence in such ventures evaporated. Collaboration technologies proved more resilient, and we now have several well-established Software-as-a-Service vendors, and – with the emergence of social media in recent years – some of these are trying to be more ‘social’ in their modes of communication (Asite is perhaps the business which has tried hardest in this regard – see Asite: ‘cocial’ and ‘mocial’), and I’ve talked to other startups – like FieldLens (see 7 March post; see also my contribution to FieldLens blog) and GenieBelt (post) – whose approaches to SaaS construction software are strongly influenced by social media use and by mobile solutions.

Architects have been among the more enthusiastic users of social media in their industry work; my friend Su Butcher works extensively with architects and has identified how their use of Twitter and other Web 2.0 platforms has grown in the past couple of years (see How Architects Use the Internet and Why 44 percent of UK Architects might be using Twitter). So SpecifiedBy is pushing at an open door, at least so far as the ‘A’ of the AEC market is concerned. And as these extend to other professions and as shared social media-type conversations become more common and more real-time (replacing one-to-one, asynchronous email-type exchanges), I would expect more software vendors to adopt similar approaches.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/04/aec-startup-specifiedby-closes-funding-round/

Mar 27 2014

Edocuments enabling O&M data in the cloud

Essex, UK-based Edocuments is looking to reuse AEC product data fragments to populate O&M documentation for owner-operators’ future asset management use.

Amtech logoI spent 1.5 days this week in the Siemens Crystal Building in London’s Docklands area, attending Amtech‘s second Crystal Clear BIM conference. Friends commended the first conference last year; I had other commitments then, but this year Amtech’s marketing guy Dean Bryans contacted me in good time and I ring-fenced as much time as I could.

When a building services software company organises a conference, you suspect you may be “hard sold” their solutions, but the Amtech event was low on hard-sell and high on networking and good quality, sharable content (see my Storify stream). OK, some of it came from corporate partners (stands included Soluis, SysQue, Concerto, Excitech and Faro), but there was also a good selection of UK BIM speakers – with the UK BIM Task Group‘s Simon Rawlinson and Rob Manning talking on the first day and David Philp on the second. The event was also not UK-centric – other highlights included some European BIM perspectives from the Netherlands and Norway.

Edocuments

EDocumentsSlightly coy about their relationship with Amtech, Chelmsford, UK-based Edocuments had display space at the conference. Founded in 2001 by Lester Morgan and Jamie Dupée, the company originally offered technical authoring and compliance documentation services, mainly to construction contractors (its customer base is still 70% contractors), helping companies compile paper-based operation and maintenance manuals for handover to a built asset’s owner/operator. At first glance, its acknowledged competitors here include Dome Consulting (post), Aconex’s acquired Grazer technology (post), and the O&M modules of solutions such as Conject.

Jamie DupeeApplications director Jamie Dupée identified that IT could streamline the O&M manual production process, but Edocuments has taken it beyond the delivery of Word pages or similar electronic documentation (and helped differentiate themselves from the afore-mentioned would-be competitors). The company determined that creating standard manual pages wasn’t efficient; instead, its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform helps its users create all the information components that make up a document. These fragments (XML blocks) can be compiled on-the-fly into standard deliverables, but can also be data-mined and elegantly incorporated into different user views of the accumulated information. While they may look like documents, the ‘pages’ are created from databases of relevant information; Microsoft Azure is part of the technology platform.

Edocuments currently employs around 23 staff, and is still heavily dependent on its technical authoring and related consultancy services. However, Jamie told me that trials had begun with key customers to get their supply chains to use its online service remotely and submit information, completing standard templates. The Amtech conference included a CIBSE/Arup/Hoare Lea presentation about product data templates and product data specifications – so it’s easy to see how such standardised approaches could see COBie-based product data quickly assimilated into handover and FM information.

I asked Jamie if the technology could be licensed to other manual authors to help them compile O&M information. It could, he said, and we then talked about opportunities to license the technology to SaaS collaboration (and would-be common data environment) providers such as 4Projects, Asite and Conject, so that they could index content collated during BIM collaboration. He was open-minded about the prospect: “via an API, we could import the data, and then, as a value-adding business, validate the provided information,” he said.

The system is already being used by UK main contractors such as Laing O’Rourke (which has a long-standing relationships with SaaS collaboration vendor Asite); Edocuments’s Amtech exhibition stand also highlighted the system’s use on the Manchester Town Hall project – one of the UK’s pioneering public sector BIM projects.

Dochosting

When I learned Edocuments was based in Chelmsford, I was reminded of another AEC document management company, Dochosting, based in the same Essex town, which I briefly looked at nearly eight years ago (September 2006). Jamie told me they were unrelated though they have done some past work with Dochosting, which is apparently still trading.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/edocuments-enabling-om-data/

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