Last week, Autodesk announced the official closing of its acquisition of BuildingConnected, an online bid management solution designed to serve general contractors and subcontractors. The tech solution facilitates a more streamlined bidding process and gives users access to a network of industry contacts. The closing follows two other Autodesk acquisitions in 2018: PlanGrid and Assemble Systems.
According to a press release issued last week, Autodesk plans to intregrate workflows between BuildingConnected, Autodesk BIM 360, Revit and AutoCAD, and PlanGrid and Assemble Systems, to provide customers with one comprehensive solution for improving workflows throughout the construction process. CBO caught up with Jim Lynch, vice president and general manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions, to talk about the strategy behind the company’s recent acquisitions and why the industry may or may not be ready for a fully connected, digitalized jobsite. See what he had to say below.
CBO: Can you discuss the strategy behind the acquisitions?
JL: Ultimately, we are trying to connect the workflow for the construction industry. We want to enable that rich design data to come in and be useful during preconstruction planning, which then moves through to the field, and finally becomes useful in operating the asset or finished project.
With that in mind, our goal for these acquisitions was to fill in some gaps we had and deliver value that we felt couldn’t be realized without fully connecting the workflows. Assemble Systems, for instance, takes design information and conditions is for construction—with more accurate quantities, more accurate estimates, and more predictable schedules. Assemble Systems essentially conditions the model for better preconstruction planning.
BuildingConnected delivers important bidding capabilities that we didn’t offer prior to the acquisition. They fill that important gap in preconstruction planning. What is equally compelling about them is the network that BuildingConnected has built of more than 700,000 construction professionals. It would be helpful to utilize that marketplace for construction industry. PlanGrid helps fill a gap in field execution. They have built a solution that is best of breed in terms of document management for the field. And they have done a great job of addressing the needs of both the general contractor (GC) and the subcontractor. If you combine all of these solutions with BIM 360, it becomes a compelling offering from Autodesk.
CBO: Where do you think the industry currently is in terms of the overall implementation of the connected jobsite?
JL: The industry is ready for the connected jobsite. There is strong growth and traction around all the products that facilitate this, too. If you consider the investment in startups over the past year, it’s clear that the industry is hungry for technology that can drive greater productivity and connectivity. There are 100 million workers globally in the construction industry. Almost every GC I talk to mentions the challenges with hiring currently. They are looking at technology and saying, ‘How does this idea of the connected jobsite address the challenges of the demand and of finding the right skillsets. There is still a huge runway of opportunity for construction tech. Tech is in place to drive more digitalization and greater collaboration both on and off the jobsite.
CBO: What are the major holdbacks for most midsize to large construction companies?
JL: Construction is booming right now. Data would suggest it has slowed a bit here in the United States, but growth is still very strong. Sometimes what you see is when companies are busy, their ability to embrace new technology is lessened. In the last economic recession, the companies who took the time to retool—to rethink their processes and how they could become more efficient and operate leaner—were the ones who came out stronger.
Additionally, for some companies in this industry, adopting digital technology is still a relatively new concept. Some companies—many of whom are industry leaders—have taken the time to build a digital strategy and plan out where they want to go using new tech. For those that haven’t yet, it’s important to take a step back and say, ‘Where do we see ourselves going?’ You may not have time to completely retool, but maybe right now it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of your processes. Don’t get caught up in the idea that you have to do it all on day one. Take the first step.
The other thing is, a sizeable portion of the industry still hasn’t embraced BIM. Many of those who haven’t hold the belief that because they haven’t embraced BIM, they can’t have an overarching digital strategy. Tools like Assemble Systems help drive more and more companies to embrace BIM. The fact of the matter is, you’ll go further when BIM is a part of the equation on your jobsites. It will accelerate your company’s ability to predict costs and project schedules. That being said, there are plenty of companies that are using 2D technologies to get a digitalized version of what happens on the jobsite.
CBO: Following the closing of the BuildingConnected acquisition, what's next for Autodesk?
JL: I’m excited about the three acquisitions we did last year. With them, we have a compelling solution for the industry when combined with BIM 360. This year—it’s all about execution for the Autodesk team. We need to make it easier for our customers to acquire and adopt the technology. We have to continue to build out the capabilities within these solutions. The other thing we need to do is continue our investment in third-party partners. And, as always, we need to focus on the workflow needs of our customers.
CBO: Do you see any specific holes Autodesk has yet to fill in its product offering?
JL: We need to continue to build up cost capabilities. We started this last year. The feedback we are getting from pilot customers is positive. But I think we have a great opportunity to improve our offerings with the solutions that Assemble Systems provides for preconstruction planning. On that note, production planning is another area that could be ripe with opportunity for Autodesk.