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Sketchup-ur-space Magazine - June 14

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Acquisitions Accelerate BIM for Field Work

Today, another big provider of BIM (building information modeling) software was acquired, driving home the importance of BIM at the jobsite for the construction industry. This morning, Autodesk,www.autodesk.com, San Rafael, Calif., announced it has acquired Vela Systems, www.velasystems.com.

Autodesk is a leader in providing 3D CAD (computer-aided design) software for the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry. The company has solid positioning in the market in regards to providing BIM and CAD software to improve documentation, collaboration, and management of design data. According to a survey of Constructech readers, 90% use technology from Autodesk for design and BIM in construction.

However, a recent trend in the industry has been moving design and BIM processes from the office to the field. Autodesk has taken the necessary steps to begin this move by offering a growing portfolio of cloud and mobile solutions to help extend the value of BIM to the jobsite. For example, last fall, the company introduced Autodesk Cloud, which is a collection of Web-based products, services, and capabilities to push the users' desktop to mobile devices. Autodesk also acquired Horizontal Systems, a provider of BIM collaboration solutions, last year. The company says Horizontal Systems is an important contributor to accelerate the movement of BIM to the cloud.

But today's acquisition of Vela Systems is perhaps one of the bigger moves that Autodesk has made to help shift BIM data to the jobsite. Vela Systems provides field-management software for BIM, quality, and safety reporting. The survey shows 12% ofConstructech readers use technology from Vela Systems for field management, ranking No. 1 among the field systems for construction.

Autodesk executives say it will continue to sell Vela as it is sold today, and customers that are using technology from Vela can expect the same level of support. In the future, Autodesk plans to integrate Vela into Autodesk 360, just as it is doing with the Horizontal Glue product.

"What this acquisition will do is it will allow us to expand the footprint of Vela to the global construction industry, which I think is really exciting," says Jim Lynch, vice president, Building Products Group, Autodesk.

He adds, "There are two big things I think the acquisition does. … It expands the idea of getting building information modeling or BIM project information to the workers in the field on the jobsite. That is one thing it does. Ultimately it helps expand our footprint in construction. The second thing it does is it expands Autodesk's cloud offerings."

This acquisition comes at a time when the construction industry is demanding new ways to access BIM data on mobile devices such as Apple's iPad. The use of connected devices at the jobsite has grown exponentially in the past year, and contractors are constantly looking for new ways to access data on these devices. This is why big name technology providers such as Autodesk are pushing mobile capabilities for BIM.

Josh Kanner, cofounder of Vela Systems says consumer devices like the iPad have really changed the industry. "Instead of having to ask field personnel to use a mobile device, many of them are bringing them to the jobsite already. That has totally changed the dynamic of how the industry is looking and approaching the concept of bringing technology to the field."

Autodesk is not the first technology provider to make a big acquisition to push BIM to the field. Trimble, www.trimble.com, Westminster, Colo., has acquired a handful of companies in order to continue to develop its vision for BIM to the field.

Following the acquisitions of Meridian Systems, QuickPen, and Accubid Systems for project management and estimating, Trimble announced last year the acquisition of Tekla—which provides tools for virtual modeling and BIM. Trimble is positioned well as it already has the GPS and total station technology for the field. By acquiring Tekla, it allows Trimble to connect the complete lifecycle of construction from design through field work.

But that is not all, just six weeks ago, Trimble added another big name to its portfolio of products—SketchUp. The product—formerly owned by Google—has been a good tool for construction organizations that want to test the waters, so to speak, with BIM, but don't want to dive in the deep end. The acquisition of SketchUp is in an interesting one in that it could take the basics of BIM to the field in new ways.

Beyond acquisitions, another way Trimble is pushing this trend forward is through its BIM to Field Alliance, www.bimtofield.com, which was developed to provide the industry with a single-source of information for extending BIM data to the jobsite.

Partners in the BIM to Field alliance include Accubid, QuickPen, Tekla, Trimble, and Vela Systems, among others. It will be interesting to watch this alliance and see how Vela's involvement in the group plays out in the future.

With the acquisition of Vela Systems, Autodesk and Trimble could be even more closely aligned as competitors, even if the companies don't acknowledge it. Autodesk offers Navisworks—which Autodesk acquired in 2007—to coordinate disciplines, resolve conflicts, and plan projects before construction or renovation begins. Trimble, through the acquisition of Tekla, offers Tekla BIMsight to improve workflows, identify conflicts, and collaborate with partners.

With the acquisition of Vela Systems under its belt, Autodesk now has a new tool to help enable BIM in the field. By integrating Autodesk Navisworks with Vela Systems, contractors can visualize design in the field and improve quality of the project.

Autodesk's acquisition of Vela Systems is certainly a big mark on the radar for BIM in construction. By integrating Vela's field software with technology from Autodesk the industry will have another means by which to push data to the jobsite. This likely isn't the last acquisition for BIM in construction. The industry will probably continue to see shakeups in the market for years to come.

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