Sep 11 2014

VFA enters UK SaaS asset management market

Capturing and analysing data about existing built assets is being enabled by mobile and SaaS technologies. VFA is now competing in the UK market.

While much of the UK debate about building information modelling has been about accommodating the varying needs of people involved in the design and construction phases of an asset’s lifecycle, only in the last year or so has there been deeper discussion of the owner/operator’s longer-term asset information requirements. The publication of PAS1192 Part 3 in March 2014 has helped with this (as have various conferences covering operation and maintenance needs – thinkBIM in Leeds on 9 July returned to the topic for a third time), and I think the industry is also beginning to understand that BIM can also be retrospectively applied to existing buildings and other facilities.

This is a central argument made by Kykloud‘s Ed Bartlett, among others, who argues that design geometry is just part of the information needed to run capital assets (post). Powerful Software-as-a-Service data aggregation, analysis and reporting toolsets can help owners and facility managers make informed decisions about their assets, and US-based VFA is now providing facilities assessments, using “cloud-based software with analytic tools that drive actionable capital plans” in the UK.


VFA logoChris Low (VFA UK)Over the past 15 years since it was founded in Boston, VFA has shown over 800 organisations how to ensure that their facilities optimally support their strategic business objectives, helping reduce risk, lower costs, improve service quality and customer satisfaction, and satisfy compliance requirements. Its facilities assessments are tailored to organisational needs, and can be delivered online by VFA’s or the client’s staff. VFA has now started growing a Reading-based UK business, managed by Chris Low. Formerly EMEA sales and key accounts manager at MRI Software, and with a background in property consultancy services, Chris explained to me how VFA’s suite of software tools can be used.

    1. First, he said, data is collected through a cloud-based guided self-assessment solution, VFA.auditor, that creates surveys to rapidly collect facility and building condition data via an iPad or Android tablet. Users can collate wide-ranging asset information including location, structure, type, uses, conditions, requirements and associated costs, and related projects and plans.
    2. Next, that data can be imported into VFA.facility, a cloud-based configurable dashboard solution for facilities capital planning and management which helps facility managers, capital planners, financial analysts and executives visualise their data and make optimal decisions about facility spending, sustainability investments and capital planning.
    3. Real estate data from VFA.facility can also be quickly and securely shared with selected stakeholders, via a further application, VFA FacilityView.


  • Asset information can also be integrated, via AssetFusion, with information held in computerised maintenance management systems such as IBM’s Maximo.

The VFA tools thus enable users to quickly and easily search for assets meeting certain criteria, see summary statistics about a selected assets, view locations on a map, and dive into key asset details, including requirements by priority, category or system.

In the UK, Chris told me VFA is successfully winning work from large PFI stakeholders, in market sectors such as healthcare, and with major owners of distributed assets. He also highlighted that the VFA product suite wasn’t just about buildings but included a module for linear and infrastructure assets (steam, water, electrical distribution systems, sanitary and storm sewers, carparking, pedestrian paving, etc).

What-if scenario planning

screenshot1With Chris’s VFA colleague, director of product marketing David Isaacson, we also looked at how the system uses industry-standard Facility Condition Index metrics to set targets for investment programmes. VFA uses CIBSE-defined standard condition ratings, and BCIS cost data to define the lifecycle costs for each system in a building, and calculates the FCI (calculated by taking the capital needs and dividing by the replacement value of the building – see Wikipedia article); the lower the FCI value, the better the condition of the building. With this information, clients can calculate how much funding will be required to achieve a particular FCI, and scenarios can be defined that show – scientifically, transparently and defensibly – the impact of different funding levels.

Capital needs prioritisation

VFA screenshot 2VFA also helps clients decide where, when, and how much to invest by demonstrating that these investments align with the their objectives. VFA’s Capital Budgeting and Ranking Module allows clients to develop multiple strategies to assess different prioritisation approaches. These strategies can include data elements beyond condition, assessing, say, how mission-critical the asset is, what the risk and impact of failure might be, and how well the asset meets the client’s functional needs. Pair-wise analysis processes are deployed, testing the relative importance of individual items in order to achieve an overall rank ordering.

As a result, strategies can be developed to rank all capital needs with budget as an overall constraint. This helps ‘depoliticise’ prioritisation decisions, helps clients develop different strategies for different projects, different parts of the estate, and different investment objects, and allows multiple objectives to be met while making sure that the most important issues are addressed in a timely fashion.

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Sep 09 2014

GTeam added to Trimble Buildings portfolio

Trimble logoTrimble has made another significant move, acquiring (for an undisclosed amount) the software business Gehry Technologies (GT), the software and consulting services business that has been key to cost-effectively delivering US-based architect Frank Gehry’s ground-breaking designs (also, last month, Trimble announced it had acquired London-based FM software developer Manhattan Software).

In April 2012, industry watchers were surprised when Trimble added Google’s Sketchup application to its portfolio of built environment applications, which already included Tekla and the (formerly Meridian-branded) project collaboration tools, Proliance and Prolog (see post). Some six months later it added the 5D BIM solution Vico and established the Trimble Buildings design-build-operate (DBO) division to manage them all (post), and underlined its ‘Open BIM’ approach.


Gehry’s practice has deployed Dassault Systemes’ CATIA platform, but the Digital Project design authoring suite does not appear to be part of the transaction (GT’s website says “GT no longer develops Digital Project, but our colleagues over at DPI would be happy to help you“). The Los Angeles-based GT’s main product, therefore, is a web-based file management and project collaboration platform, GTeam, which is supported by a 10-office GT network offering professional services. It seems, then, that GTeam will add some more BIM-oriented capabilities to complement Trimble’s existing project and programme management offerings.

Trimble will integrate the design tools and professional services of Gehry Technologies into its own forthcoming DBO software solutions platform, according to Trimble CEO Steven W. Berglund:

“Frank [Gehry] has built what amounts to a collaboration platform which enables various project members to share the entire model. It’s a good fit for our emerging DBO platform. … Professional services is not historically a part of Trimble. But the ambition is that [Gehry Technologies] will become a platform for the wider growth of Trimble in engineering and construction realm. We would hope that these offices can become a platform for engaging the international construction industry.”

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Sep 03 2014

New Aconex SVP EMEA

Aconex logo 2014Melbourne, Australia-based international SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor Aconex has appointed a senior vice president with responsibility for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Global Accounts (see news release).

Reporting to Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper, Henry Jones has 20 years of experience in management, sales, marketing, and business development, gained most recently at legal services provider Axiom Global. Prior to Axiom, Jones was at Satmetrix Systems, a provider of cloud-based enterprise feedback reporting solutions.

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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).


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 logoUpdates (2 and 5 September 2014) – Conject has issued a news release and a 5 September blog post 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.

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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.

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