An Interview with John Barkwell, Aconex

December 29, 2016

Aconex is the most widely used online collaboration platform for construction, infrastructure, and energy & resources projects, managing more than US$1 trillion in capital projects across 70 countries. Aconex is a secure, cloud-based project controls solution that connects the entire project team to critical information and automates processes across the project lifecycle, including operations and maintenance. Aconex was founded over 16 years ago in Melbourne, Australia, by Leigh Jasper and Rob Phillpot, who believed there was a better way for companies to deliver successful construction and engineering projects. At the time, construction was one of the few industries that still relied on paper. Each project generated a massive amount of it—correspondence and documents that needed to be efficiently and reliably distributed and dispersed to teams. With a successful business model encouraging project-wide adoption, Aconex grew quickly.


BIM is transforming the way built assets are designed, constructed, and delivered. Clients expect it, and governments mandate it. Yet using existing tools, projects suffer from disconnected teams and disconnected data. To address this, Aconex Connected BIM simplifies multidimensional model management—bringing teams, model data and project data together on a single online collaboration platform. With Connected BIM, multiple organizations can easily share, visualize, coordinate, review, mark up, and enrich models directly from a web browser. You get the full benefits of BIM collaboration, including a complete set of linked handover information and an audit of all decisions, without the expense of specialized software.



CanBIM: What is your role at Aconex?



JB: I’ve spent the majority of my career, 20-plus years in the AEC/O technology industry supporting organizations as the industry has evolved from CAD to BIM processes. Now that we are starting to receive rich BIM data from the design community, I am very excited about the opportunities in the construction industry, especially in operations and maintenance.


As director of BIM Professional Services for Americas, I support customers through their buying, implementation, and services processes. I help answer questions about Aconex Connected BIM and explain how it allows project participants to share and collaborate on the BIM data in an open standard system. I also support existing customers in their adoption and implementation plans as part of our Professional Services organization. This involves a lot of business analysis, workflow definitions, reporting, and development of customers’ BIM execution plans.


Prior to Aconex, I spent eight years at Autodesk on the AEC product management team, enabling integration of the Internet with Autodesk AEC desktop solutions. During Autodesk’s acquisition of the Revit technology, I was part of the original Autodesk Consulting organization, helping strategic accounts transition from CAD processes to BIM-based workflows.



CanBIM: Why do your customers typically select Aconex?


JB: With so many point solutions available today, customers come to Aconex to consolidate all of their information and processes—from RFIs and change orders, to inspections, to budgeting—on a single platform. They love that the system can be configured quickly and is also flexible enough to map to their specific processes. Our security model is important to them: only information that is explicitly shared is available to other project members. They can manage millions of documents and models with unlimited data and participants, saving up to 50% on document processing times while reducing printing time and costs. With workflow management, they can automate repetitive document review processes such as design and shop drawing reviews, accelerate turnaround, and reduce administrative delay in review and approval cycles with simple drag-and-drop workflows. Real-time visibility helps them identify bottlenecks and keep processes on track.



CanBIM: What is Aconex Connected BIM?


JB: Aconex Connected BIM simplifies multidimensional model management, bringing teams, model data, and project data together on a single common data environment (CDE) online collaboration platform. Connecting teams, models and project data reduces errors and helps organizations comply with BIM standards like BS/PAS1192, NATSPEC and NBIMS-US. With Connected BIM, multiple organizations can easily share, visualize, coordinate, review, mark up, and enrich models directly from a web browser. The platform includes a complete set of linked handover information and an audit of all decisions.



CanBIM: What exciting applications of BIM might we see in the near future?


JB: We are beginning to realize the promise of BIM; that is, the connection of early BIM design data through construction and on to operations and maintenance. We feel Connected BIM is an essential component for fulfilling that promise by providing an interoperability solution in a CDE that enables the process. Additionally, we now can leverage project analytics and performance data to better track project health and profitability. With Aconex reporting capabilities, a project manager can analyze their project data and generate specific metric reports.



CanBIM: What are some of the major challenges your industry sectors face that your technology will help overcome?


JB: Traditionally, teams are very siloed in their practice, each using tools based on their industry and experience. Unfortunately, the AEC industry has lacked a workflow of interoperability to leverage this design data throughout the design, construction and operations phase. Aconex helps resolve a lot of these issues and mitigate project risk.


Aconex provides project-wide access—in the office and the field—to current documents including drawings, BIM data, contracts, reports, schedules, bids/tenders, and more. Aconex helps participants improve project management by centralizing communications, whether it be email-like communications or customized forms to match your projects’ unique business processes. Purpose-built for construction and engineering, Aconex tracks every interaction and budget, giving you the full picture of all your projects in real time. Aconex Connected BIM solves the problem of siloed BIM data and helps facilitate the design coordination process, providing an audit log of decisions made to mitigate project risk. Aconex Connected BIM complements the teams’ existing workflow and design tools by connecting proprietary solutions in an online CDE.


CanBIM: How is Aconex useful in operations and maintenance?


JB: With the abundance of intelligent BIM data coming from the design community, we can manage and leverage that data in operations and maintenance. By applying the early BIM data to operations and maintenance for the full 50-plus years of the built asset, we realize the true potential of BIM.


We can provide the owner with all the relevant data on specific building components with the related communication chain and help them manage that asset. This is the newest opportunity in our industry, and at Aconex we are in a unique position to help the industry through this transition.


Aconex Connected BIM facilitates aggregation of all vendor-supplied documentation and provides a tool to “enrich” the BIM data with that information. That enriched data can be linked to vendor specifications, then output in a COBie format to an asset information management (AIM) solution like IBM Maximo.



CanBIM: What is the Aconex BIM strategy going forward?


JB: A core value of Aconex and a guiding principle for our BIM strategy is “equal access for all.” Our strategy is to break down the BIM silos so that information can be shared in a neutral CDE file format. We want the broader audience to be able to follow the project’s design intent and progress and to make those designs accountable in a project records management solution.


Beyond that, we are excited about the possibilities of extending Aconex Connected BIM into other areas within our platform, such as Connected Cost. By providing design estimates from the BIM data, customers can understand cost impacts to the project.


While BIM has been adopted in the design phase, we have just begun to see it adopted in construction and operations and maintenance. This is the most compelling opportunity we see, and we look forward to providing this solution to the industry.