Why design software for contractors makes a ton of sense (think: Estimation !)

April 26, 2024

031 | The next battlefield of the CAD Wars? | Why design software for contractors makes a ton of sense | How 3D will transform the project estimation process of GC's

This week:

CAD wars: The untapped potential for contractor-focused solutions

Schneider Electric's acquisition of Bentley Systems and industry implications

Opportunities and challenges in building "CAD for Contractors"

Incumbent CAD players' struggles to adapt to contractor needs

The future of BIM: Integration, collaboration, and progressive UX

Next-Gen CAD for Contractors: The New Frontier

CAD Wars: The Untapped Potential of CAD Solutions for Contractors in the Estimation and Bidding Process

The construction industry is witnessing a new battleground in the form of CAD solutions tailored specifically for contractors. While architects and engineers have long benefited from advanced CAD and BIM tools, contractors have been left with inadequate solutions for their unique needs. As Patric explains, "Many of our listeners that are from architecture and engineering will have heard this. If you're not from there, you might have never heard it. So there's like a funny joke that every second contractor will keep saying and that is, oh, architects can't do BIM." The estimation and bidding process, in particular, requires contractors to enrich and detail 3D BIM models to generate accurate quantity take-offs. However, existing tools fall short in providing the necessary functionality and ease of use. Shub agrees, stating, "Just getting to that stage, I think, is already signs of some more being built and potentially a firm primed for rapid value creation." This untapped potential presents a significant opportunity for innovative startups to develop contractor-centric CAD solutions. By focusing on the specific workflows and challenges faced by contractors, these new players can disrupt the market and gain a competitive edge. Patric emphasizes, "So here you're not really eating into the pie of Revit because it's not a big part of their market. It's not the same. But you're now offering if you build this thing, what I'm just saying, you're offering a new solution where actually everybody can open the enriched 3D BIM file if you're actually not pricing it per seat, which I would not." The demand for such solutions is evident, as contractors struggle with the limitations of current offerings and seek more efficient ways to collaborate and streamline their processes. As the construction industry continues to digitize and embrace technology, the CAD wars are set to intensify, with contractors emerging as the new frontline.

Industry Giants Make Moves

Schneider Electric's Acquisition of Bentley Signals Growing Interest in Construction-Tech for Energy Infrastructure

Schneider Electric, a global leader in energy management and automation, has recently confirmed its acquisition discussions with Bentley Systems, a prominent software provider for infrastructure projects. As Patric mentions, "Schneider Electric, a 190 years old company that is a big supplier to utilities, the energy grid operators, other infrastructure sectors, as well as building operators and owners." This move signifies the growing interest of industry giants in construction-tech, particularly in the energy infrastructure sector. By combining Schneider Electric's expertise in hardware solutions and data infrastructure with Bentley's cutting-edge software offerings, the potential acquisition could create a powerful player in the market. Shub adds, "There's another interesting opportunity I'm digging into which I must admit I have been looking for a company like this for more than a year, but finally seeing like two or three come at the same time, I guess that's life and that's VC for you, on organizing the electrical goods supply chain, specifically focused on electrical goods." The deal would enable Schneider Electric to expand its portfolio and offer integrated solutions that address the entire lifecycle of energy infrastructure projects. The acquisition also highlights the increasing recognition of the value that digital technologies bring to the construction industry. As more companies invest in construction-tech startups and pursue strategic acquisitions, the industry is poised for significant transformation. The convergence of hardware and software solutions will drive innovation, improve efficiency, and reshape the way energy infrastructure projects are designed, built, and maintained.

Ripe for Disruption

Opportunity for "CAD for Contractors": Enabling Easy 3D BIM Model Enrichment and Detailing for Accurate Quantity Take-offs

The construction industry is ripe for disruption, and one area that presents a significant opportunity is the development of CAD solutions specifically designed for contractors. Patric explains, "So what is interesting here is if you actually just skip all these steps in your thesis, in your product thesis, and you just say, hey, I come in with a contractor, I just come in with the data enrichment, all of a sudden you start with the nitty gritty details of these workflow automations in your authoring tool and you work your way backwards to the more functional or more base functionalities of a CAD, BIM, authoring type tool." Traditional CAD and BIM tools, while powerful, often lack the detailed functionality required by contractors for accurate quantity take-offs and estimation. Contractors receive 3D BIM models from architects and engineers, but these models often lack the necessary level of detail and enrichment. Shub agrees, saying, "I think there's quite a few disincentives in place for the incumbents to either not try or not be able to try to build this over the same time period." This gap in the market opens the door for innovative startups to create "CAD for Contractors" solutions that enable easy 3D BIM model enrichment and detailing. By focusing on the specific needs of contractors, such as the ability to apply detailed plaster and insulation information to walls, these solutions can streamline the estimation process and improve accuracy. Patric emphasizes, "And so what a tool like this would allow a contractor to do is load the Revit model, but with a high ease of use, basically select a room and say apply this plaster. And then the plaster is getting actually modeled, not just encoded in the wall, but actually modeled in the authoring enrichment tool onto the walls." The key is to develop user-friendly tools that allow contractors to enrich models with minimal training and effort. By empowering contractors with the right tools, "CAD for Contractors" solutions have the potential to revolutionize the industry and drive significant efficiency gains.

Incumbents Struggle to Adapt

Overcoming Barriers to Adoption: Why Incumbent CAD Players Struggle to Build Contractor-Focused Solutions

Incumbent CAD players, despite their dominance in the architecture and engineering market, often struggle to build contractor-focused solutions. Several barriers prevent them from effectively addressing the unique needs of contractors. Patric points out, "So on the face of it, when someone were to present the thesis we're right now discussing as, oh, it's a CAD for contractors. You might be thinking, okay, I mean, it's a CAD. Revit could perhaps just tweak a few things and get there. Or BricsCAD or, you know, you name it. Any CAD slash BIM enabled CAD tool could make this. But actually, I don't think you can." One major hurdle is the fundamental difference in technology stack required for contractor-centric tools. Contractors need solutions that can handle large, detailed 3D BIM models in a browser-based, mobile-friendly environment. Incumbent players, with their legacy desktop-based architectures, find it challenging to adapt to these requirements. Additionally, the user experience philosophy for contractor tools must prioritize progressive discovery and simplicity, catering to untrained users who may only interact with the software for short periods. Shub adds, "So you would actually have to, and most incumbents, I mean, I can say with conviction, 100% of the incumbents that I ever got to work with will not be able to do that. To make just the choice of doing a deliberate customer discovery and empathy building the way a founder from scratch would." Incumbents, accustomed to serving highly skilled professionals, often struggle to shift their mindset and design intuitive interfaces. Moreover, the fear of cannibalizing existing offerings and disrupting established revenue streams can hinder incumbents' willingness to innovate. Overcoming these barriers requires a fundamental rethinking of product development, customer discovery, and go-to-market strategies.

Enrichment + Collaboration = The Future of CAD for Contractors

Integrating As-Built Models, Collaborative Estimation, and Progressive UX for Untrained Users

The future of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in construction is set to evolve, driven by the integration of as-built models, collaborative estimation, and progressive user experiences tailored for untrained users. As Patric explains, "It's an unsolved problem. Whatever I actually solve, there's the design and the plan and the BIM model and it's great, right? And so the more enriched I have it, the better I will do a quote. And the better I am prepared to do good execution. But at some point I'm putting atoms into space. In the real space, that is. And the real atoms, that is. Not in planning and design, but in the actual execution. And so things will happen." As contractors increasingly adopt BIM workflows, the need for seamless integration between the design phase and the construction phase becomes paramount. Capturing and incorporating as-built information into BIM models will enable better decision-making, efficient maintenance, and improved facility management. Shub adds, "I think if you envision a future where adoption of tech in construction is secular, secularly growing and eventually becomes ubiquitous, you will need all these solutions which open the floodgates." Additionally, collaborative estimation tools that leverage the rich data within BIM models will streamline the bidding process and enhance accuracy. By providing a centralized platform for multiple disciplines to contribute and collaborate, BIM will become the hub for cost estimation and resource planning. Furthermore, the future of BIM will prioritize progressive user experiences that cater to the needs of untrained users, such as contractors and field workers. Patric emphasizes, "So progressive discovery UX is absolutely essential to this. I'm completely convinced but to change your product philosophy that is not progressive discovery to this. I have never seen it. I don't think it works." Intuitive interfaces, guided workflows, and mobile-friendly access will democratize BIM adoption and empower a broader range of stakeholders to participate in the digital transformation of construction.

Investors Weigh In

Construction-Tech Investors Discuss the Challenges and Potential of Building CAD Solutions Optimized for Contractors

Construction-tech investors are actively discussing the challenges and potential of building CAD solutions optimized for contractors. While acknowledging the significant opportunity in this space, investors also recognize the complexities involved in developing and scaling such solutions. Shub shares, "So when you hear all this, like how does it, like what's your investor intuition? Because we literally, I never shared this with you prior to this call. Like it's the first time you're hearing this. Like what's your investor intuition?" One key challenge is the fragmented nature of the construction industry, with varying workflows and requirements across different regions and project types. Investors emphasize the importance of deep industry expertise and close collaboration with contractors to understand their specific pain points and design solutions that address real-world needs. Additionally, the technology stack required for contractor-focused CAD tools, including browser-based accessibility, mobile compatibility, and real-time collaboration, presents technical hurdles that require specialized knowledge and resources. However, investors also see immense potential in the market, given the increasing digitization of the construction industry and the demand for more efficient tools. Patric adds, "And anybody who has built this for like, let's say, three years into the journey and you have terrific shipping velocity, you know what you're doing. So obviously you can be three years into the journey and have built nothing, right? So, but having actually built like three years with high shipping velocity and prioritizing the right, making the right product decisions, I mean, you might already be uncatchable." Successful startups in this space have the opportunity to capture significant market share and drive transformative change. Investors are keen to back entrepreneurs who demonstrate a deep understanding of the contractor workflow, have a clear vision for product development, and possess the technical prowess to execute on their plans.

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Keywords: CAD for contractors, construction technology, construction-tech, CAD solutions, BIM, 3D BIM models, quantity take-offs, estimation, bidding, Revit, Schneider Electric, Bentley Systems, energy infrastructure, construction industry, digitization, disruption, incumbents, technology stack, browser-based, mobile-friendly, user experience, progressive discovery, as-built models, collaborative estimation, untrained users, investors, startups, market potential, entrepreneur