Schnitger Corporation tries cloud end-run for the AEC market

Megacity HighwayI use cloud storage for all of the usual reasons: always-on access makes it easy for me to work wherever I am. I can collect the files relevant to a project in one place, create a backup of important works-in-progress and collaborate with others without emailing large files around. Depending on what I need to do, I get at the files from my laptop, desktop, iPhone and iPad. Easy.

My files and projects are spread across (formerly, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive. I can’t honestly say that one is better than any other though I find myself using SkyDrive rather grudgingly because Microsoft keeps wanting to extend its tentacles into other facets of my digital life.

Today, I happened to be doing something on and landed on this screen:

Box wants construction teams to create workspaces for each project so that participants can check designs, create bid packages and approvals, and collaborate on documents of all types. Of course, Box is completely agnostic: it neither knows nor cares that this workspace is for construction — it could just as well be plans for a product launch, a charity campaign, soap-box derby design or writers’ group.

What makes Box’s AEC offering so interesting is that it plays directly to the mobile device market: “Box helps you complete projects on time and on-budget – even when you’re on the go.” Box’s approach completely avoids the AEC solutions that the engineering software providers are trying to move from the desktop to the field. Box’s idea is very simple: workspaces, file folders and authorized users. That’s it.

If you want to go beyond simple cloud storage and sharing, Box has partnered with specialist tech firms in AEC:

What does this mean? If you’re interested in collaborating in a relatively unstructured way, just as it comes may be the solution for you. If you want a bit more structure, these Box OneCloud apps may help. If the project is large and complex, with many stakeholders and levels of accountability, this approach may not provide sufficient granularity or traceability.

I wasn’t aware of Box’s interest in AEC until today, but the company last month announced that its revenue from AEC companies has doubled in the last year without actually saying how much it is. The announcement continues: “Companies like Atkins, Braemore Properties, CORE Construction, C.W. Driver, Dunn Building Company, Intergraph, Layton Construction, Lennar Corporation, Mercury Engineering, The Weitz Company and Webcor Builders have joined our growing roster of AEC customers.” Box even quotes Balfour Beatty, a global $15 billion AEC firm, in its marketing materials.

According to a recent McGraw Hill report, US construction starts are expected to rise 6% in 2013 to reach $483 billion. That’s a lot of big infrastructure projects, campuses and skyscrapers. But it’s also a massive number of smaller projects like housing developments, office parks and strip malls. Just like the mega-projects, these often have big money disputes and schedule overruns due to poor communication and misunderstandings.

Box may still be small in terms of revenue (estimates put 2012 sales at under $100 million) but its growing roster of corporate clients should accelerate growth. Add in an industry focus and the right partner products, and it could become a contender in the move to bring AEC technology to the construction site.

[Note: Box has similar promotions for CPG, energy, high tech, manufacturing and other industries. Only the AEC and legal industry focus pages mention partner apps.]

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