January 06, 2015 by Paul Wilkinson
In the noughties, I wrote several New Year blog posts with predictions about SaaS and collaboration in the coming year. In January 2008, for example, I predicted:
- Further polarisation of the UK construction collaboration marketplace
- Increased interest in online BIM-based collaboration
- Collaboration vendors to push SaaS and sustainability
- Recession to have impact upon the collaboration technology market
- Social networking and other Web 2.0 application features begin to overlap into construction collaboration
I reviewed these predictions the following December. On four out of the five, there was only modest progress – perhaps because of the one exception: the Global Financial Crisis really began to be felt during late 2008. All the main SaaS construction collaboration vendors saw revenues drop during the very late 2000s as projects slowed or stopped altogether; some bounced back strongly, others had to restructure or were acquired, and some eventually disappeared altogether (the roots of Cadweb‘s and Woobius’s closures last year can, I think, be traced back to those tough years). Vendors’ focus on managing costs also limited R&D and marketing investment, including on areas such as BIM, sustainability and social media, and it wasn’t until the recession ended and revenues started to grow again that the vendors began to invest in their future technology platforms.
- BIM – Building information modelling has been a dominant driver for many vendors over the past 2-3 years. As I have described during this time, Asite and 4Projects have been leading the online collaborative BIM push, followed, in varying degrees of sophistication, by Aconex, Business Collaborator, Bentley, Autodesk, Nemetschek, Newforma and Trimble. Others (Conject, McLaren) are adopting a … well, more measured approach, perhaps conscious that there won’t be a sudden BIM boom for the established SaaS vendors.
- Sustainability – While the BIM-related mantra (repeatedly quoted by the UK Government’s first chief construction advisor Paul Morrell) was one of “Cash is king, and carbon is queen”, we haven’t seen more overt promotion of sustainability. To me, it seems it is increasingly regarded as intrinsic to the whole-life philosophy that underpins the UK Construction 2025 strategy, including its BIM adoption drive.
- Social media – It’s taken a few years, but social media is more widely accepted. Five years ago, I was lamenting how rarely UK construction people admitted using Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc, and while these platforms are increasingly part of many businesses’ communications channels there is often still management resistance to their effective use. Meanwhile, we have yet to see any significant shifts in how SaaS construction collaboration platforms share information by using Web 2.0 techniques.
However, some potentially significant changes have been brought about by developments in the mobile arena. Following the launches of the Apple iPhone and its Android competitors, online application market places (eg Apple’s iStore) were launched in late 2008, providing a means to market mobile-centric tools to owners of smartphones and, particularly from 2010 onwards, tablets.
During 2013 and 2014, I have been tracking the efforts of both established SaaS vendors and new market entrants to capitalise upon the demand for mobile solutions. 2014, for example, saw acquisitions of mobile development specialists by Conject (January) and by 4Projects (December), while several US, UK and European-based startups are also targeting the mobile collaboration space, challenging the previously browser-focused incumbents to react to growing user demands for collaborative capacity on their tablets or smartphones regardless of internet connectivity. I expect more mobile developments in 2015, perhaps with a particular focus on supporting BIM.
What might happen in 2015?
Arguably, the most significant development in the SaaS collaboration market in 2014 was the flotation of Aconex on the Australian Stock Exchange, finally accomplished, after some nervousness, in December. Other notable deals included Bain Capital’s April 2014 investment in Viewpoint – now pushing on with its ambitious programme to integrate collaboration, ERP and other elements of the construction IT ecosystem – and Trimble’s and RIB’s acquisitions of additional SaaS collaborative capacity (GTeam and Docia respectively).
Aconex has successfully replaced some long-standing investors with new backers, and may now be better able to make some strategic acquisitions, perhaps of complementary technologies. Collaboration alone – even spiced up with BIM and mobile – is no longer enough in an increasingly commoditised and global market. Several of the bigger construction IT players recognise this and so are extending their software and platform capabilities and international reach (and it’s possible that firms such as Google might make a strong push into the sector). Watch out, therefore, for some further corporate merger and acquisition activity around this sector in the coming months.
At a more functional level, 2015 is – in the UK at least – the threshold to new ways of collaborating in construction. The UK Government has commissioned the final elements of its BIM toolkit and these are due to be delivered in the next 3-4 months. Armed with the new dPOW and classification tools, the SaaS collaboration vendors will finally be able to provide a Level 2-compliant ‘common data environment’ to support sharing of structured data across projects, and – I hope – we will also continue to see continued progress in improving interoperability.
Finally, and more speculatively, having spent many hours looking at ‘Big Data’ in construction, I also reckon the construction IT sector, and its SaaS collaboration specialists in particular, are well placed to deliver business insights from delving into the masses of data accumulated during delivery of 1000s of built assets for its clients. While BIM is not ‘Big Data’, aggregating information from millions of data collaborations, plus data from clients, from across all their built assets (thinking ‘internet of things’ here too), from supply supply chain partners, and from public and private data sources, could open up new opportunities for construction IT businesses and service delivery partners in this space.