Autodesk has acquired Assemble Systems, a SaaS platform for investing building information models with searchable, filterable and sharable data to support estimating, bidding, scheduling, project management and financials. It uses the BIM as a container and graphical navigator for the data.
Terms of the stock-and-cash deal were not disclosed, but all of Assemble's 55 employees and management team will stay on, confirms Sarah Hodges, Autodesk's senior director for the construction business line. The deal closed July 3.
Autodesk led a $12-million Series A funding round for Assemble 10 months ago to form a strategic partnership and enhance the integration of Assemble's collected data with Autodesk's design products in its BIM 360 project management platform. In the months since, Assemble has used the proceeds to expand its data integration reach and functionality, increase its user base and engagement and increase revenue by more than 100%, says CEO Don Henrich. As the startup began putting out feelers in May for a Series B round of $20 million to $25 million, the offer to purchase came together.
Autodesk's software developers have been working with Assemble's team for several years in the Autodesk Developer Network, Hodges says. That work has focused on connecting Assemble's functionality with the authoring data from design tools such as Autodesk Revit "to make sure that information carries downstream through the execution of the project, which is where BIM 360 and some of our other recent investments fit in," she says.
Other products Autodesk has supported with strategic investments in the last year to develop and improve integration with BIM 360 include 3DR, a reality capture, drone-to-data platform for creating detailed and accurate orthomosaics, point clouds and 3D meshes; Project Frog, whose developers are working with Autodesk cloud technology to create tools and workflows to support industrialized construction and construction manufacturing; eSub, a cloud-based, field data collection, mobile project management and design document delivery platform for subcontractors; Smartvid.io, a machine-learning technology for searching, tagging and analyzing construction video and photos to spot risks and defects and improve safety, productivity and quality; and ManufactOn, a SaaS, mobile and web platform to help construction firms plan, track and manage both prefabrication and regular material handling.
"These other companies and the technology they are bringing to market are working to improve construction efficiency, quality and safety," says Hodges. "It's where the future of the construction space is going and it demonstrates how important many of the technology innovations are to the construction industry."
With the Series A investment last November, Autodesk took a similar strategic partnership approach to improve Assemble data's integration into the BIM 360 environment, but now, with the acquisition, Hodges says, "our decision to move from investment to acquisition is to make that connection integration even stronger. We see it as a piece of the puzzle that helps us connect into the preconstruction phase and carry the data downstream."
"The preconstruction phase of a project is really important and critical," says Hodges. "It's where the most decisions are made and where most of the data is created. And there is really good alignment with Autodesk in where Assemble is implemented today—particularly among the ENR Top 400—many of which are customers of ours as well. The Assemble team has a great deal of knowledge of the space."
Assemble's Henrich says the time was right for his organization, too. "Ultimately we knew there were really two ways to grow the company—independently through fundraising and clearing other hurdles, or to become a part of a larger organization that was central to the market we wanted to play in.
"We started our discussions about two months ago. There had been less-serious overtures before, including when we did the Series A. This time it was very apparent that this was a good opportunity to get it done.
"We got to know the Autodesk people during the Series A work and they got to know us; their investment gives them an inside seat, [and] they were a great investor in that they were not heavy handed in any way."
From that "inside seat," the Autodesk team had an opportunity to witness the application of the Series A funding into the development of new data-connecting capabilities created in Assemble under the leadership of Mark Klusza, chief innovation officer and vice president of research and development, who joined the company in February 2016. He says the customers are running with those new capabilities and have been expanding their use of Assemble well beyond its original sweet spot for take-off and estimating, and now into tying that data into the BIM and schedule and performance for earned value tracking.
"We implemented a lot of deeper metrics on usage," Klusza says. "Because it is a cloud product, we were able to watch the use multiply and expand out of the preconstruction area—because the preconstruction data is what's needed across the entire project."
Henrich adds, "They are using some of the magic Mark pulled off with being able to attach, group, sort and filter and apply the coding structure, and then re-filter and re-sort it and make it eminently reusable by the people in the field. We saw usage blossoming in many accounts and going well beyond preconstruction. Now it's not unusual to have 20 or 30 people in an office using it, and 10 on the jobsite."
"Typically you do a budget and have an estimate and then you have your schedule," says Klusza. "But the owner wants to get earned value over the life of the project. We went from the office use, to the project team use—although that varies with the project and intensity."
Adds Henrich, "The people in the trailer are there for one to two years. We kept focusing on that group, to sort and filter and send them the data they need."
Typical heavy usage of Assemble over the past 18 months has gone from two to three weeks during the estimating phase to an average of five to six months, conservatively," says Klusza. "We weren't out there trying to get our construction clients to hand over Assemble to the owners yet—but that's next."
Hodges says Autodesk has been impressed by Assemble's marketing and sales engine. "They have quite an interesting go-to-market strategy, with their digital marketing and a robust and well oiled inside sales team in Boston," she says. The approach is similar to others Autodesk has been setting up elsewhere, and that again makes for synergy. And finally, she says the reaction to the acquisition has been very encouraging.
"Sentiment has been incredibly positive, both internally and externally. So far it seems to be extremely well received by many of our existing and prospective customers," Hodges says. "I certainly believe it to be big. … I look at 'big' in terms of strategic relevance to our customers, and Assemble really is a connection point with our users."
"It's a great strategic fit," says Henrich. "You really need the design data to support the process, [and] now having Autodesk as the partner allows us to have that common data environment with BIM as a navigation library and graphical context for the data, and we get access to more authoring data as Autodesk owns more authoring systems. We make our data available to all of the Autodesk applications that would benefit from it, and we get strong support of those connections."
"There is no shortage of problems you can solve once you have good use of this data," Henrich adds. "Mark and I have talked to many, many clients about it and put in thousands of hours thinking about it. And now we can put our heads together with the best of the Autodesk team and bring something really powerful to the market."