Trimble Navigation (an ever-greater misnomer) announced on Friday that it has acquired the assets of privately-held Vico Software, Inc.,  a provider of 4D and 5D architectural modeling software and consulting services. Trimble says this acquisition “extends Trimble’s solutions for building construction and provides a platform to connect the information flow across the design-build-operate lifecycle to improve cost management and optimize scheduling on complex building construction projects”. Financial terms were not disclosed.

4D and 5D are the next big frontiers for all types of asset creation, not just buildings. We’re all familiar with using 3D CAD models to lay out a design to scale and check for interferences; 4D adds time and 5D adds cost to that same 3D data. With 4D/5D, construction can be planned to take into account how to sequence the project, factor in alternatives for construction and staffing, and create a more complete view of the project that includes perspectives other than design.

Imagine a simple scenario: moving into a new house. Should the carpet go down before or after painting? Certainly before furniture is put in place. How are work crews and equipment scheduled for both lowest cost and shortest project duration — and in a way that eliminates duplicated work? It may be simpler to store furniture in a warehouse while the carpet is installed; then again, it may be cheaper to have the painters move it. Without the data to make the decision — cost, time and availability — we’re just guessing.

Vico works with most building information (BIM) design products to create a project management environment that connects cost, scope and schedule with design data in a visual environment that provides owners and contractors a way to examine, interact on and improve project workflows. Trimble’s challenge will be to take this outside the purely BIM world, into the 3D CAD world that supports civil, plant and other projects that can benefit from this type of information integration.

Other offerings exist that overlap with Vico’s products, such as Autodesk’s Navisworks, AVEVA Plant Design Construction Sequence and MARS, Bentley’s ConstructSim and Hexagon Intergraph’s SmartPlant Construction, but adoption is just now starting to take off because of the fragmented nature of these types of projects. The design contractor may not be doing the construction — and in some cases the construction contractor isn’t even selected until many decision are irrevocable, the competitive environment prevents collaboration on methods, many construction projects simply aren’t set up for Lean methodologies, cost data is stored in data structures that don’t talk to design … The benefits far outweigh the obstacles, but this industry is stuck in a tradition that rewards each step being done quickly and cheaply, often with little collaboration between design, planning and construction.

Truly integrated EPCs (engineering, procurement and construction firms) that are engaged for an entire project from early-stage design to construction and hand-over to the owner report that they see significant benefits from 4D and are very interested in rolling 5D into their workflows. They pass these benefits on to the owner in the form of a quicker (and cheaper, less risky) project, becoming a more strategic partner to the asset owner as a result. But this gets into contracting models and the reality that some owners only want the cheapest possible contract and pit EPCs against one another during the bidding process. 4D ad 5D are clearly the way to go, but Trimble (and the other solution suppliers) face an uphill battle in growing adoption of these solutions. I’ll be writing a lot more about this over the coming months, so check back in and leave comments about what you’d like to see first.

The Vico Software business will be included in Trimble’s Engineering and Construction Segment.