Sep 01 2014

Conject UK reports 16% growth

ConjectWoking, Surrey-based SaaS construction collaboration vendor Conject UK, a subsidiary of the Munich-based Conject Group, enjoyed a better 2013, reporting turnover up 16% on the previous year, to £5.028m, finally ending the downward drift that began during the global financial crisis in 2009.

The revenue performance is in line with the expectations set in October last year, when Conject UK CEO Steve Cooper told me UK revenues up to the end of September had grown15% (clearly, the improvement continued through to the year end). The firm’s order book position also improved, with “future recognisable revenues” at 31 December 2013 up 8% to £11.69m.

Conject UK still made a small operating loss. At £164k, this was a marked improvement on the previous year’s £596k, and even if the exceptional costs were stripped out, the 2013 results remain better than 2012′s (while still constituting a fourth straight loss).

vendorsturnoverSept2014

These results, of course, need to be assessed as part of a bigger picture. The Conject Group employs over 150 people as against the UK business’s 50, and total Group revenues last year passed €20m (£16.6m), having grown 14% during the year, so UK growth was slightly ahead of the rest of the group, perhaps due to the different strengths of the group’s regional operations and product portfolios.

Looking at Conject’s main UK rivals, the revenue growth rate still lags behind that of London-based Asite, whose income grew 25.6% in the year to 30 June 2013 (post). It will be interesting to see what Asite’s latest numbers are, as it could conceivably overtake Conject, though I reckon Asite will still lag behind 4Projects - which talked about double-digit growth in recent trading updates but is seemingly less forthcoming with numbers these days following its acquisition by US-owned Viewpoint.

UK market moves

The Conject directors report:

“During the year the company experienced increased confidence returning to a number of its larger markets. Whilst there was still a degree of nervousness there was an increase in orders received from both the UK and Middle East property markets.”

They say the business opened a new office in Singapore (securing five projects in that market) during 2013. Other successful international markets included Qatar, New Zealand, Malaysia, Denmark, north America, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

Domestically, Conject flagged several new project and enterprise engagements, and highlighted as “significant” a deal with National Grid in the UK. “In London the company is working on three of the capital’s largest redevelopment programmes, at King’s Cross, Earls Court and Elephant & Castle.”

Looking at the product portfolio, the report says:

“The UK team are playing a lead role in helping the group enhance its range of applications to service the contractor market, a market not serviced by the group outside the UK. Two of the key projects are focused on supporting mobile working and Building Information Modelling….”

nationalgrid logoUpdate (2 September 2014) – Conject has issued a news release regarding its selection by National Grid (mentioned above) to administer contracts with their delivery partners on [I'm told, a five-year] programme of UK energy infrastructure projects.

The Conject platform has been configured to integrate National Grid and its contractor supply chain, ensuring that all project stakeholders are kept informed about what actions and responses are required to ensure compliance with the specified terms, timescales and options of the various engineering contracts used (NEC, FIDIC). Selection involved a two-day process including real-life test scenarios with National Grid and contractor employees to test capabilities. Conject won the project because its software could be tailored to the needs of all users.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/09/conject-uk-reports-16-growth/

Aug 29 2014

Webforum enters UK AEC market

Webforum’s characteristic clean Swedish design interfaces to rich functionality that may interest larger SMEs managing staff across multiple projects.

Webforum logoAt a COMIT (Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT) community day earlier this summer, I met Colin Payne of Sweden’s Webforum and we subsequently met up so that he could show me the company’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform. While it is not a construction-focused collaboration product, it is aimed at teams engaged in projects and so could easily be adapted to manage both modest internal projects as well as construction projects requiring cross-company collaboration.

The company’s origins can be traced back to the late 1990s and the formation of a research group at the Royal Institute of Technology  in Stockholm, which aimed to develop user-friendly IT tools for planning and implementing technical projects, and for publishing information on the internet. The core product is used by some 700 public and private customers in over 20 countries, with some major Nordic building projects, including universities and urban transit schemes, deploying the system.

Building on the construction usage (see this Tyréns case study, for example), Colin is now working to raise Webforum’s UK profile, particularly among small and medium-sized construction businesses, where he thinks the platform might appeal to firms put off by the relatively high cost and apparent complexity of some sophisticated SaaS collaboration systems (we also talked about others in the SME market, including Collabor8online - June 2013 post - and Clouds UK - 2011 post). Beyond the entry level product, it also provides some good project and time management and reporting tools.

Competitively priced

Webforum is provided in three versions: Teamwork, Project, and Professional. Prices for the Teamwork edition, covering document management and collaboration essentials, start at a competitive £8 per user per calendar month. The Project option offers more functionality, including strong project management functionality (ie: Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, etc – MS Project plans can be imported) and issue management, with prices from £12/user/month. Project-based prices are also available upon request, with a small project (under €1m) charged at €75/month (including up to 3GB of storage).

Drawing and project management

Webforum Viewer_withMarkups_MeasurementsWhen it comes to viewing drawings, Webforum uses v14 of the Rasterex viewer, which supports over 200 file types, enabling CAD mark-up and measurements. The platform is regularly updated, and Colin told me the Autumn release will see an upgrade to Rasterex v15 and provision of a HTML5 version making Webforum available for all browsers.

I was particularly struck by the project management capabilities (not always well covered in other SaaS systems) and by Webforum’s capabilities for time management – Colin showed me how staff time-sheets could be managed, reported and then used for invoicing purposes. This makes the platform potentially attractive to firms looking to enable staff self-reporting across a portfolio of projects, and who need to enable access for employees wherever they are working; as a SaaS web-based solution, it can also be accessed via mobile devices onsite (one of the reasons Colin attended the COMIT event), and its red-amber-green traffic-light reporting interface is particularly user-friendly.

Webforum, therefore, neatly combines back-office functionality found in some intranet systems (eg: Union Squaresee March 2014 post) with extranet capabilities for cross-company collaboration. Moreover, information published to the system can also be selectively reused for public access – useful if a project team wants to, say, populate a public-facing website with up-to-date information about the project. It may take time to configure the platform as a construction-oriented – rather than a generic – platform, but it is an attractive (and attractively priced) example of Swedish Software-as-a-Service.

A Projectplace note

Incidentally, in Scandinavia Webforum’s Stockholm-based rival Projectplace has long been prominent in the generic project collaboration market (I seem to recall that it was also extensively marketed in the UK during the early 2000s, though it never really gained traction in the UK construction sector). It may become even more prominent worldwide following ProjectPlace’s acquisition (for an undisclosed amount) by US enterprise resource management firm Planview. This deal will help Projectplace push more easily into the US, and Planview into Europe, while combining the former’s project-based collaboration with Planview’s executive dashboard tools.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/08/webforum-enters-uk-aec-market/

Aug 27 2014

Five problems with SaaS construction collaboration?

QICpostAug14London-based Quality in Construction blogger Paul Inglesis has written a post entitled “5 Problems With Online Collaboration and Document Management Tools in Construction Industry” (19 August) which is worth a read. The article (which mentions this blog) suggests some major obstacles that are “holding the market back”. Drawing on his contractor experiences working on projects in Greece, Qatar and in east London, Paul (who I’ve met for a couple of beers) sees the following (summarised) problems:

  1. Partial collaboration means… no collaboration – Paul cites contractors’ suspicions over client-mandated systems that they don’t control, and where they are reluctant to add new users.
  2. Need for speed – poor network performance and slow cloud downloads
  3. Changes halfway through the life-cycle of a project – Changing from one Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) system to another midway through a project
  4. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (Leonardo Da Vinci) – The need for tools to be well configured and well implemented so they work simply and reliably from day one.
  5. Windows ’95 – Not the operating system, but a reflection that, in Paul’s view, aesthetically many of the solutions are ugly and so visually old-fashioned.

I have tried to summarise his points (read the original article to get his full view), but I have observations to make on them all. Let’s take a more detailed look at them….

  1. Partial collaboration or dual systems – First, these problems are not the fault of the systems, but of the contractual mindset – too often based on adversarial, risk-averse and/or litigious attitudes. The issues can be avoided if clients and teams work more collaboratively, in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation, rather than adopting a “Knowledge is power” approach. Second, there will always be parallel systems, not least because firms will publish information originally authored on separate internal systems. Further duplication and issues with version control can, though, be overcome if firms can integrate the SaaS platform with their internal systems (using Revit plugins, for instance – see previous post) and if they enforce robust project protocols. Third, where a SaaS platform is licensed – as most UK ones are (excluding Asite) – on a project-based license, there is no additional cost for new users to be created.
  2. Speed – Paul admits network speed is becoming less of a problem, but the speed of a SaaS platform will only be as good as the end-user’s connection to the internet. Most of the SaaS vendors’ experience predates broadband, and they are expert at optimising information delivery through a browser even over slow connections (building information models can be viewed in seconds as SaaS platforms stream just an image of the file). The upload and download of native files will always be more time-consuming if the internet connection is poor or over-contended (one reason that many firms schedule file transfers out-of-hours); the YouTube comparison is inappropriate – uploading the initial video file will be just as slow.
  3. Half-way changes – Again, such changes can be avoided if the client and project team work collaboratively and agree on one system for the duration of the project (better still, if the platform incorporates a tendering system so that users from successful bidders can then be added). In my experience, a midpoint change is very rare – most project teams recognise the training and learning curves involved in switching during an ongoing project. Also, major contractors are increasingly entering into enterprise agreements with SaaS vendors so that the chosen system becomes standard for all their projects and across all their supply chains, reducing issues when people move between projects.
  4. Simplicity – Adoption is more likely when a system is intuitive to use and its interface reflects common industry terminology and workflows (including those specific to a company). Paul is right to highlight the need to carefully plan and ensure sufficient resources during the configuration and roll-out of technology; most reputable SaaS collaboration vendors will focus on the ‘service’, not the software, and work with project teams to ensure it works how they expect it to so that “work-arounds” are avoided.
  5. Old-fashioned – I would agree with Paul on this, though an outdated interface may not be solely the fault of the vendors. The typical document register column-based interface reflects the spreadsheets and forms commonly used for many years in the construction industry, and vendors also test the acceptance of new designs extensively with users before roll-out. While the interfaces might not win awards among the web-savvy, they provide familiarity and continuity to many current users, and have been incrementally improved over the past decade or so. However, there are companies that are breaking the mould and developing almost radical new interfaces which adapt approaches from mobile (even wearable) devices and from social media – see my recent posts on Bridgit (21 August), Avollio (1 August) and on Plangrid (18 June), for example. The current crop of collaboration providers will need to adapt if they are not to see their market taken by the new generation.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/08/five-problems-with-saas-construction-collaboration/

Aug 26 2014

4Projects adds Revit plugin

Watching the SaaS construction collaboration vendors adding building information modelling (BIM) capabilities to their platforms, it’s clear some have been moving more quickly than others.

As regular readers may recall, Asite was one of the first to champion what it called collaborative BIM (cBIM) and, recognising the high market penetration of Autodesk’s Revit BIM authoring software, it added a Revit plugin when it launched its v15 release in July 2012 – an enhancement then somewhat overshadowed by the product’s rebranding as Adoddle. Aconex added a third party Revit plugin (developed and supported by Queensland-based XRev) in early 2013 (see Matt Rumbelow’s blog), and now there is a Revit plugin for 4Projects (or Viewpoint for Collaboration, as it is known in the US and Australia).

[27 August 2014 - Remainder of post temporarily removed pending receipt of official 4Projects news release]

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/08/4projects-adds-revit-plugin/

Aug 22 2014

Asite adds US reseller

Asite logo 2012London, UK-based SaaS construction collaboration provider Asite has a new US reseller of its Adoddle platform: Microsol Resources, which has offices in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and is an Autodesk Platinum Partner. Emilio Krausz, president of Microsol Resources, says:

“We are thrilled to be able to partner with Asite to provide our customers with a superb product for project information, data management and collaboration. Our customers have been voicing the need for this type software, especially as BIM workflows demands an easier way to collaborate on project portfolios of all sizes. Asite finally addresses all of these needs and more.”

Asite CEO Tony Ryan says:

Tony Ryan (Asite CEO)“We are excited to welcome Microsol Resources to the Asite partner community. Together, we will provide leading digital services to the AECO industry in North America in an effort to simplify the complex challenges they face every day.”

Microsol Resources is hosting a four-week webinar series (on Tuesdays at 11 am, on 23, 30 September and 7, 14 October) on “Introducing Asite for Cloud-Based Project Management and Data Collaboration”.

Asite opened a New York office and another in San Francisco in April 2012, having earlier relied on resellers sourced via reprographics networks. It appointed a VP for US Sales, Alex Severino, in August 2013, and I met another US representative, Paul Seletsky, at the London launch of Adoddle 17 in March, when Tony Ryan highlighted Asite’s strategy to raise its US profile and finally crack the US market.

two attempts, the company still “needs to crack the US”. The Goldman Sachs deal was highlighted as a major step forward in raising their profile in north Amer – See more at: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/asite-cocial-and-mocial/#sthash.89KN7VnX.dpuf
US representative, AEC industry veteran Paul Seletsky) – See more at: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/asite-cocial-and-mocial/#sthash.89KN7VnX.dpuf
US representative, AEC industry veteran Paul Seletsky – See more at: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/asite-cocial-and-mocial/#sthash.89KN7VnX.dpuf
US representative, AEC industry veteran Paul Seletsky – See more at: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/asite-cocial-and-mocial/#sthash.89KN7VnX.dpuf
US representative, AEC industry veteran Paul Seletsky – See more at: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/asite-cocial-and-mocial/#sthash.89KN7VnX.dpuf
US representative, AEC industry veteran Paul Seletsky – See more at: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/03/asite-cocial-and-mocial/#sthash.89KN7VnX.dpuf

Permanent link to this article: http://www.extranetevolution.com/2014/08/asite-adds-us-reseller/

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