Imagine a world where you have one commodity producer buying up their transportation network. Afterward, it starts to gobble up the refinery capacity and the final point of sale. A few years later it increased the pricing control of the market when it controlled over 90 percent of the production of that commodity in the US. It does not innovate that much anymore, and it rather buys up pesky competitors or copies their practices directly. In the end, the end client suffers because of a lack of competition. Cartels or monopolies are not inherently wrong, because sometimes one might argue from a law of the jungle perspective as to think of them as a natural consequence of capitalism. But we all must agree that something might be lost in the sense of innovation and growth.
One can learn from business strategy that there are two good ways for a company to expand. That is to either expand horizontally or vertically. If you expand vertically one wants to reduce inefficiencies in the value chain and preferably lock the customers into your value proposition. In the software industry, it's quite prevalent that natural monopolies are created through vertical expansion and more so in the AEC industry. It is an easy-to-scale industry and it is natural to lock your customers into your workflows.
One need only to look at Autodesk and their BIM (Building Information Modeling) value proposition to see a vertical integration in the process. We can truly admire how they lock up their customers by offering everything from BIM model authoring tools to a field application. If one uses their complete offering (golden cage), it is very difficult to break free (unless you are an open standards fanatic). Because you would run into all kinds of issues that you would have to deal with if you chose the alternative. Typical examples of these are exporting IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) models correctly or waiting countless hours for export to finish (i.e. that your machine might freeze up while it's exporting).
Another common misconception that we can find is that it is common among industry participants that are trying out open BIM workflows, is that they expect the IFC file to behave like an original authoring tool file. Instead of looking at it as a distribution format for collaboration. So they overpack the models with details and then complain that the models are too heavy to load. When you are in Autodesk's ecosystem, you really don't have to deal with these challenges. Navisworks may not be the best collision checker in the world, but Autodesk has really managed to iron out those inefficiencies when it comes to cross-collaboration between (their) products.
In most of the countries in the world, Autodesk software is in a dominant market position. We have observed that many times when the customers are explaining to us their own conception of the word BIM, they are really talking about Revit. Open BIM software is foreign to them, even though they like their choice regarding interoperability between software.
Well, that is the open BIM movement which is pushed by BuildingSmart. The good thing about the open BIM software viewing systems (here are 5 good reasons to use Open BIM), is that one version of the IFC model is compatible across different viewing software like Archicad or Revit. Another thing is one can build efficient issues workflows between Solibri (a world-class collision and model checker) and a platform like Bimsync (or any of our other open BIM competitors) without being locked up into one ecosystem. But we do see compromises since you still must work with the inefficiencies regarding the IFC exports (from Revit) or even the question of round-tripping. One bright note is that BlenderBIM is trying to achieve a truly round-tripping of an IFC, but will it be too late for many users? Since IT departments are sitting in their offices around the world and are choosing software as we speak. So who doesn't love to standardize on software that is not future ware?
To tie in the opening paragraph of the story about Standard Oil in the 19th century with our evaluation of the construction software industry, namely that Autodesk gobbles and expands their vertical offering like the commodity companies of yore. For us in the open BIM segment to give a proper alternative to a near-monopoly as Autodesk, we must also tell the uncomfortable truths to our users about the compromises they have to make when they choose either an open BIM or a closed BIM ecosystem. But in being truthful at least we can offer the users a correct perspective and maybe also manage their expectations of what can be achieved in adopting an open BIM workflow. Maybe that in the future can lead to happy first-time users and in the end, lead to less of a closed BIM monopoly situation in our industry?
Per Quang Fjellstad, Head of Sales Nordics at Catenda.
Image source: Building Information Modeling: Why? What? How? – Authors: André Borrmann, Markus König, Christian Koch, Jakob Beetz, 2018.