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Gathering clouds hold silver linings for project teams

Gathering clouds hold silver linings for project teams


BuiltWorlds recently had the chance to chat with Howard Davis, president & CEO of Assemble Systems, a team-focused BIM platform based in Houston TX. As the popularity of cloud computing has grown in recent years, so too has the firm's market penetration among national industry players.

BW: What is the main idea behind Assemble, and where did it originate?

   Howard Davis

   Howard Davis

HD: Ours is a web-based solution that allows team members to extract data, add intelligence, and collaborate in real-time. This leads to better overall decisions and project deliveries that are on time and within budget. Assemble's roots really come from the general contracting business, where (founding board member) George Pontikes in 2007/08 began seeing the extraordinary amount of information that was then starting to be embedded in design models during the bid process. While preparing bids, he would receive multiple model revisions and it would all happen too fast for anybody to keep up. So he realized that situation was definitely ripe for improvement.

BW: And Assemble is that improvement?


HD:  Yes. The solution he started to pursue was to automate the building information model (BIM) takeoff process. And the aim was to be able to use the project data for all aspects of construction. Development on Assemble began 2008 and originated with a desktop-based solution. By 2010, we felt like we had something suitable for contractors and developers, so Assemble was taken to the investor community. At that point, I was contacted because of my background in strategic technology and my experience working with both early-stage and established software companies. I was interested and the more we looked into it, the more we realized how enormous this opportunity was to take information early in design and make the process more efficient throughout every stage of construction. We were just blown away with how behind many contractors were with their technology.

BW: So, how do you bring them up to speed, and get everyone on the same page?

HD: Well, we spun out Assemble in 2011, and soon converted it from a desktop solution to a web-based, cloud-based solution. We launched our Viewer in 2013 and received a great reception in the marketplace. That year, our software package even won "Best in Show" at the 2013 TenLinks Inc. Autodesk University conference. (Here, from that show, is Davis's interview with AECCafe.) Today, we have 24 employees and more than 75 clients. In fact, we can now claim 40% of ENR's Top 50 contractors as our customers. And we've only been selling our full product for two-and-a-half years!

Last month, Assemble's Nancy Clark Brown, AIA, (pictured below) led this webinar preview of Next.

BW: What do you think is drawing them to Assemble?

HD: From what we've seen, project teams want to focus on building better buildings, not on learning and managing complex design software. So, largely focused on pre-construction, we provide cloud services for advanced, model-based construction data management that lets teams efficiently access, customize, and manage shared design and construction data sets throughout the project life cycle. This way, the entire project team is able to view the model data, update information in real time, and condition data into actionable information. Our construction management software allows team members to analyze quantities, validate subcontractor bids, and explore what-if scenarios to better understand costs as work progresses. And it syncs all parameter data back to the design model, so project teams are always working with the same information. And since we can publish an entire design model from Revit or AutoCAD in just minutes, they can access and manage project data from any web browser.

BW: So the varying levels of technological sophistication across project teams is not a barrier?

HD: No. As I noted, they can access our platform from any web browser. After a new customer signs up, there's just a small download in Revit, then just one push of a button to extract all building information from the model to the cloud. Once that data is in the system, the Assemble database performs like a spreadsheet, where they can manage and update information in the model. There's really unlimited possibilities of uses, and you can store every version of the model in the Assemble cloud. 

BW: You were new to the AEC industry. Has it been different from what you expected?

HD: The construction industry is a little different from the industries we invested in during my time with a private equity firm. There's more of a cautious approach, I would say, to implementation of new technology in the project environment. But once they understand the benefit that the technology brings, I would say that I have also seen a greater desire to implement it. To gain that trust, the promise of technology must be fulfilled. So, whatever new tech you're offering simply can not disrupt workflows. So, the caution may make it slower to get into an organization, but once it gets in the door, the tech often catches on quicker than I might have expected.

BW: What else have you seen that's been encouraging?

HD: The quality of the models being used has increased significantly, even just since we started. So, already, there is more reliability in the initial models. And overall, more collaboration is being enjoyed across the industry. Project teams have been more and more participatory with the BIM model, regardless of the project type. So, we just see a huge opportunity for Assemble because of this increased participation across the board. And so far, where we have predominantly worked with general contractors, BIM/VDC managers, and estimators, we do foresee forthcoming opportunities with owners and facility managers, as well. Through their contractors, owners now are seeing how potential improvements may also be possible in efficiency, cost control, operations & maintenances processes, etc.

On Thursday, 1/29, at 1 pm Central, Assemble is hosting a webinar,"What's in Your Model?

Seattle Selfie: Assemble's team at last fall's AEC Hackathon, where it won the prize for best 3D App.

Seattle Selfie: Assemble's team at last fall's AEC Hackathon, where it won the prize for best 3D App.

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