Last month, Autodesk, an industry leader in cloud-based construction technology solutions, acquired Assemble Systems, which tethers jobsite data to building information models (BIM). BuiltWorlds got the inside scoop and had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Assemble’s president, Don Henrich about the acquisition. Below is a transcript of the conversation Henrich had with BuiltWorlds’ journalist Jim Lichtenwalter, covering the Assemble product and what this big change means for the company.
Don, thanks for taking the opportunity to sit down with us. Let’s get started by telling us who you are and what you do.
My name Don Henrich and my title is president of Assemble Systems, which is a subsidiary of Autodesk.
In one sentence, can you describe what Assemble Systems is and what it does?
We blend building information models, drawings, and point clouds into a collaborative project space, so we allow the data to be, and I put this in quotes, “made ready for use by various construction trades.”
I want to move now to Assemble Systems’ recent acquisition by Autodesk. Can you describe that acquisition and what exactly is happening?
There’s a lot of progress being made in the area of building information models. If we look back a little bit, usage of BIMs started right around the year 2000 and has basically snowballed. If you look at the Internet of Things (IoT) or the VR/AR world, there are more and more uses for this data in the construction project.
One of the things that we were able to do at Assemble is hone our focus so that we made the 3-D data easily usable by construction personnel. Autodesk saw that in us, and they have a strategy to be a big provider of the downstream use cases. They thought it would be perfect to plug us in between design and the field. If you hear someone describe it in some of the interviews we’ve done before, they’ll talk about how Assemble is a very powerful tool in the pre-construction phase. The real magic is taking that pre-construction data and using it downstream.
You all are being integrated with Autodesk’s BIM 360 project management platform, correct?
The integration is evolving. We were already integrated with BIM 360 and we will, of course, make that much tighter, and become a feature set of BIM 360. I believe we will also continue to offer the Assemble Systems product to others who may not be BIM 360 users. If you go back and look at NavisWorks, as an application, it didn’t become just clash detection inside Autodesk. The brand lived on because it was well-known and well-liked. While I can’t see perfectly what will happen, I think the Assemble brand will live on as an application, and it will also become a tightly-integrated feature in BIM 360.
That must feel good for you; it’s kind of the best of both worlds.
I do feel really good about that. I also feel good about the team at Autodesk we’re working with the understanding that what we really want to do is to protect the customer. Protecting the customer here means helping them continue to use integrations that exist, making those more powerful, and then offering them additional choices.
Moving back to the acquisition itself, can you describe how it came about?
Late in 2016, we started to look to raise our Series A. We already had some discussions with Autodesk about different types of partnerships that might be beneficial, frankly, more to us than them at that time. In those conversations, we discovered they were interested in investing in Assemble. We embraced that opportunity and created a Series A which was led by them, and that was really the first step of the acquisition. There was, no covenant that said they had any really special rights to acquire us. But, we built a deeper relationship. We agreed to do an integration, and that really led to us getting connected to BIM 360.
What does Assemble bring to the Autodesk product?
I think we bring a few things. First of all, we concentrated for years on ease of use, so the workflow in Assemble is very, very simple. What I say in sales presentations is “no hardware, no software, and no training.” It’s a very modern cloud-based app that you can literally pick up in a very short timeframe. We also are consistent with Autodesk’s cloud strategy, which is to move everything possible and practical to the cloud. We bring a powerful application and a powerful draw to the Autodesk user base for the cloud. We have deep, deep integrations with Autocad and Revit, and that’s very helpful to Autodesk as well.
We have evolved and developed a process for bringing data from other sources and attaching it to the proper objects in the project folder. It’s very similar to using Google. You might ask Google what’s the capital of the United States. Not only does it answer Washington D.C., but it provides you a map, the top three hotels, and flight times from your location. That’s what we’ve done for construction people. They might ask what are the quantities of a drywall on the second floor. Not only will we tell them that, but we’ll tell them the part numbers, the linear footage, and any other ancillary information that is available in an easy-to-consume format.
Why this acquisition better for the consumers?
Assemble customers will benefit from the tighter integration with Autodesk products. Today there’s a method to move the data we call publishing. Soon, you will be able to just reach into the cloud and pull out the data set without any other operation and without publishing. It’ll be a tighter cloud-based integration that will remove a step in the process and will also connect to additional Autodesk applications. Autodesk also has a large ecosystem of consultants, third-party apps, and trainers. All of that will be added to the Assemble world and I think that our customers will benefit greatly from them and that content.
What do you hope this acquisition does for Assemble?
It would be fabulous to see Assemble become a global brand that Autodesk’s team sells and supports all around the world to help change the construction industry.
How important do you think it is for large players like Autodesk to foster innovation and to partner with smaller operations like you all?
I think it’s very important. It’s very difficult to innovate continuously in large companies with existing customer requirements. Living in the startup world, I’ve found that if you can sink your teeth into a problem and with good investors and a good business plan, you can really do a deep dive on the problem and come up with a solution that is very, very powerful. It’s difficult to do that while you’re doing many other things. And that’s why investing in innovative companies is such a smart strategy for Autodesk.