Solibri are the market leaders in Quality Assurance and Quality Control software for the construction industry.
Back in late 2019, I sat down with their Product Director, Juan Rodríguez. I really enjoyed our conversation about all things construction technology and product management.
In this conversation you can expect to hear about:
- what the future of product development looks like at Solibri,
- which countries are advanced on their digital construction journeys.
Thanks a lot to Juan for his time, and please feel free to leave feedback or comments below.
Okay. So I'm here today in Helsinki at the Solibri offices and I'm joined here by Product Director Juan Rodríguez. Thanks for joining me, Juan.
Thank you for coming to visit us here.
Yeah, great. It's awesome. It's a nice office here so I'm looking forward to our conversation today. So if you can start by just telling us a bit about yourself and how you got into the world of construction technology.
Yes. So I'm actually originally Spanish. I moved to Finland 13 years ago. I was already working in Spain before I moved to Finland. I worked there mainly with machine vision. At that point, I was just working with laser triangulation and scanning welds and see if the welds... How well-built they are after welding.
When I moved to Finland, I tried to find jobs in the same field. That didn't happen. So I started to look just for software engineering jobs. So before, when I was in Spain, I was also doing development in C++ and that's how I found a job in Tekla. So I just applied there and for some reason, they end up hiring me. But when I started in Tekla, first I started in a team that was working with a API for Tekla. So at that point, they had just released it. This was 2006 and they started to look for somebody to actually do the support, to be more dedicated person to be in contact with the customers, and that's how I started to work more with actual users and understand what they were trying to do and how to help them to provide value to what they are trying to achieve. And it was very interesting to see how many of them were really creative with, at that point, relatively limited functionality and trying to just automate processes and build more efficient tool. So it was a very interesting exercise for me and definitely what got me really interested on BIM construction or how to try to find value for people.
Good. Okay. And so now, fast forward, you're the product director at Solibri.
[03:19] Can you tell us a little bit about, firstly, how you joined Solibri and what the circumstances were there, and what your role is now.
Yes. So after I was in Tekla, just going back a moment, I joined kind of a product management team. They called it segments there, but it's a pretty small product management team. So I was in that team for, like, six years or something like that. So after that, I saw that they were looking for a product manager here in Solibri. But it had been already almost 11 years then in Tekla. I was like, "Well, it would be interesting to see from a different point of view."
So I was very focused on steel, structural detailing... And then suddenly, it's like talking about spaces and all these other things -- coordination, which I was not that familiar with... And it was a very interesting change in the perspective on understanding better the whole work flow, what people are trying to do with BIM, and anyways, digital construction. So that's why I found it very interesting.
And then when I joined here, initially I was the only one in the product management. But since I was working earlier in Trimble, I thought that we could benefit for having other people to help. So nowadays what we have here in the product team, we have... The people are, like, product owners, so the ones that define where the product is going to go in the future. They also talk with the users and try to figure out what is the value for them. And we have go-to-market. So how do we make sure that whatever we do is actually well supported, documented, and all the materials ready?
We also have a data scientist nowadays who is looking more in all the data we have and how can we understand better how people are using the software, how we can help them to prove that. As well, we have one person dedicated for working with different authorities in different countries because, well, for us, it's very interesting to support building codes, like we have done in Norway. We have also done in Singapore. How we can help provide the solutions to make sure that whoever is working on a project, they are ready to do the actual approval when they go to the government, to the authorities. And I think we also have more like a pre-sales guy that can help also the sales team to go around presenting, explaining the value, create demos, and all this stuff.
Okay. Really interesting to hear more about the team that you're
building here. I think it would be good for people, if they aren't
familiar with Solibri,
[05:44] can you just give a brief overview of what the product is and the problem that it's trying to solve?
Yes. So the problem that it's trying to solve... Well, it's kind of several problems, but the main one is just quality assurance. So how do you ensure that your models and your projects have the quality in order to make, to actually go and construct it and finalize the construction project? So that's the main vision. But then there's quite a many things. So there's more tailored solutions for architects where they want to actually make sure that a building is accessible by somebody that has problems with mobility. Or it can be that... Well, all your spaces are well defined in the building. Can be also for a coordinator, where you can actually check all the disciplines and make sure that all the disciplines are coordinated properly.
And yes, everybody talks about clash detection but for us... Yes, we do clash detection but what we want to look forwards more like clash avoidance. So can your window open or is it clashing with a column or this kind of things? So that's where we actually make a difference with other software.
Great. Okay, Yeah. I was a user of Solibri about five years ago. I haven't used it much since then, but I'm sure it's evolved a lot in the last five years and two years, especially since you've joined.
[06:59] Can you tell us a little bit about how the market has changed in the time that you've been working in construction and what the users are asking for? Maybe that's changed.
Well, yes. It has changed quite a bit because when I joined, it was
- And I remember at that point in Tekla, people were talking about BIM. But then when you went to a customer, usually nobody or very few people knew what BIM was at that point. In Tekla, I was... I just want to get my drawings right. That was the mentality very often, and not so much about the models. And now it has shift to... It's not just 3D information. It's the "I" in BIM. So it's information in the buildings. So do I have all of my planning? Do I have all of the course? Do I have all the whatever it is, I don't know, fire resistance rates that I need to have for the different components. So it's much more now in building the information in the models. And that's another of the advantages for us. It's that, well, because we have the federated model, we're able to get all those quantities out of the model.
Of course, another thing that has been changing quite a bit, I think, is BIM used to be this desktop thing back in the day or back in early two thousands. Now, it's something that can be anywhere. It can be in the cloud. It can be in your mobile app. So there's many things that are going in different directions. There's things like point cloud; people using drones and scanning, like, sites. So it's moving towards a complete different direction. I think that the big issue now for all the BIM softwares is how to be able to understand all these new things that are happening and how can they be integrated into the same work flows.
Great, yeah. You mentioned the move to mobile there and also point
[08:42] Are there any other kind of trends that you've noticed that you're building into your product road map that maybe, you think, these are going to be vital for us in the future?
Well, we were talking earlier about machine vision. I think that that's something that it's... I'm not going to say that that's in our road map, but that's something that is definitely going to come at some point. So how can you actually just say... It's kind of building, so especially for this refurbishing projects, how can you just kind of building with whatever it is... Is it a point cloud? Is it a 360 image where you can actually identify where is the structure of the building? So these things, I know we cannot touch. And then how can I then create a model out of that and how can I then start a project to just redo the building from inside.
Those are things that, at this point, we are still in very, very baby steps, trying even to figure out what can be done. And I think that at this point it's pretty much manual in most of the cases, and that's probably where industry is going. And probably all these things apply to many other situations. So point clouds clearly, like... Well, how do you get, like, your site in your in your same project? And you make sure that, well, yes, there's a space to build a building there or not.
Yeah. It's really interesting you mentioned the machine vision
element there 'cause I think Solibri is well placed to do well in that
market. Because, at the moment, you've got the building codes, the
automated checking of preconstruction models. So I think it would be a
fairly natural step to then move that to into as build models and
checking for compliance from video. Exciting times if you do go down
that avenue. Okay. Great. And I'd like to move and talk a bit more
generally about how you see digital construction. You have clients in
lots of different places in the world and you have users using your
product in lots of different markets.
[10:40] Do you see a difference in how the users are using your products in different areas? And if so, are some more advanced, would you say?
Yes. So, yes. There's very different maturity levels for BIM and it's not... I don't think it's just regional. It's also depending on the industry. So nowadays, when we think about construction... I think they're, especially from my point of view, Norway and Netherland are the ones that seem to be really advanced. We have had, well, meeting with people from both countries, and when you see the projects, the amount of data and the size of the projects that they're trying to build, it's incredible and how advanced the processes are. And that's one of the struggles for all off the BIM softwares is how to cope with never ending growing projects all the time or how to try to cope with performance in the different softwares to manage to involve those big amounts of data.
So for those ones that are extremely advanced, especially when they think about what is the information that you want to track from the model, and again, data. So those are more data driven countries in a way, so they trust more the data and they trust to make the decisions based on the data. So they don't care so much about, not that they don't care about 3D, but they don't think that 3D's enough. So you have to have much more amounts of data in the models to in order to actually build a building. So I see that that's where they are advancing a lot whereas in other countries, they're still more focused on just building 3D and then ongoing clash detection. But that's more like the earlier steps going forward.
[12:19] Can you, just before we move on, can you give us an example of the type of data that these companies in Norway or Netherlands are using?
Yeah, So some of them, of course, they put all the cost of estimate, the cost for the materials, but they might even add labor costs. This starts to be also, like in Finland, there's this... You have to... They have regulations on the caron footprint, so there's already other solutions that can look into how to more efficiently purchase your material so you're not creating a large carbon footprint. So you don't purchase from, like, the other side of the country if there's providers that are closer. So this kind of information is now something that is coming forward. We're trying to be more efficient in the process. It's adding all the extra needed information there as well.
I think another one that has been moving forward, and this more from my time scene in secular triple nowadays is the fabrication sector. So in the UK, there were good examples off some quite developed companies. Also in the US, that they actually have very automated work flows already. Typically, they are these steel manufacturers, sent us breakouts here in the Nordics that actually, they get the information from the 3D model and they automate the whole process to do even the assembly of whatever is going to be the columns that are going to then be delivered to the side door, I don't know, the sandwich walls that they create for the precast elements.
Great. It's good to hear what other countries are advanced at,
specially from your perspective, so thanks for that. Maybe to switch to
more on your career. You've moved from engineer to product manager and
now product director.
[14:08] In that shift, how has your role changed? Obviously, less hands on now? Is that correct? Are you spending more time with...
Well, yes and no. So I still want to do things because I still want to be a part of the team. So I don't want to be out of the team. So I still work with within the team centers to do requirements if there's an idea that something that I have been discussing with some users... So I might do those ones. I still work a lot with... I think that the main shift for me is moving more, like, towards business planning and not so much in the way of "That's an idea, makes sense." and, "What is the value that we are actually delivering to the customer?"
So that's something. That kind of shift, the mentality also, that is not just necessarily always doing what the customer ask. It's more switching the question. So many times, customer might ask for, I don't know, new option in a drop down. But nowadays, I care more about: just tell me what you're trying to achieve and how we can create a better work flow. So it's not necessarily adding an option in that I look, it may be something completely different. So trying to look for the more general value.
And I think that the biggest change is relying more in data. So trying to gather all the data that we have to make sure that the decisions that we are making are data driven. So you might hear sometimes that some people are using this software in a certain way. I trust usually more when I see that, actually, people are using the software in a certain way. So then it's easier to make the decisions of how do you want to move forward.
[15:49]Great. Yeah. That links back to the work your data scientist is doing, I presume?
Yes. Exactly. And also together with the go-to-market. Because then it's easier to create the whole story. So what is the problem that we're trying to solve? What is the data to back this up and how can we actually make a solution that makes sense for people?
Great. Yeah. Yeah. It's all about what the customer is doing, how
they're using your product, and then using that data to optimize it in
[16:19] Do you have an example of what some of the insights may be that the data scientist has found that you might not have found before without them?
So, of course, there's different data on how can we segment, like, our user base. Who are, for example, very specialized companies? So one of the things that we noticed is that we have very different type of users. So usually what happens is that in a company, you probably know this better than I do, you will have one, two, three, people that are more advanced; then you have some range in the middle, that are users and they're comfortable using it; and then there's the ones that occasionally use the software. It might be Solibri, might be whatever. Whenever they open the software, it's always kind of a learning curve.
So you were expecting that you will always find this kind of pattern. But then suddenly we started finding these companies that the pattern is like there's a lot of very expert users and typically those are being consulting companies where you have a lot of people that are very experts. And it's like, well, yes, you know that in that kind of companies, the profile of your users is completely different from the typical other company?
Yeah. The thing that came into my head when you were talking about that was segmenting the users and then offering the people maybe a lower level advice in training on what the people in this segment above do that they don't do.
Yes. Yeah, of course. But are you familiar with this data science hierarchy of needs. So what you're talking is kind of more like recommendations. And so now what we are doing is like, well, first you have to have your data and you have to make sure that the data is clean, that the pipelines are there. Then you are able to start to get the actual. That's where maybe the basic analytics come. And there, you can start to find information. And that's kind of in the place that we are right now.
But then when you want to start to have a little bit more like recommendations and things like that, you have to advance in that direction. So that's, of course, where we want to move forward that we have more clever decisions that we can then start suggesting things. So, yes. If you are an architect who is working in the UK, you might want to extract information about your space probe if you have never used it before. Then it starts to go in the direction of, well that's not AI yet, but it starts to go into very basic simple algorithms that you can start suggest a better way of using th software to your users.
So now what we want to look is that how we can understand better how people use the software in different places. So if I have an architect in Germany, how do they use it compared to an architect in the UK? And from there we can learn a lot because probably what one is doing and the other one is not doing, there's something that they could learn from each other. So that's something that already, even if we don't have the capabilities to start suggesting, our people could already... Of course, we will communicate this with other people, but then they can focus more the training. So, "Hey, by the way, are you aware that you could be, I don't know, using, accessibility checking?" For example, if you haven't done it and you actually could do it in your country as well.
Very interesting work and it's just the start of this long journey.
Yeah. Okay. And we've talked about some of the countries that are very
advanced with Solibri and BIM generally.
[20:00] What's the number one mistake that you see people make when they try and digitize their construction operations?
Well, I'm not sure if I would say mistake but I think that for me, the biggest challenge and maybe something that some of these Norwegians and Dutch have been solving is that just work together. And by "work together," I don't mean that you just chat and sit every other week together. But how do you have all the same information for the same project? Because in the end, you are just building the same project. Whereas many times... And I know that if some companies are using, they're going to be like, "Well, yeah, we had contracts." Yes, you have contracts but in the end, you always try to do operate it together and that should be the goal.
So how can we make it in a more efficient way together? How can we share the data? How come we share the information? How we can have, like, a common backlog of things that need to be done this week instead of me sending you emails and then you forward email to somebody else and then the people that actually need the information never got anything. So how can we have a better overlook on how we're working together? So that's one.
I have another one and this is me because I love data. It's that there's ginormous amounts of data. So I could say go on hire as data scientist. Or go on hire somebody to help you automating task because you can see some off these big Nordic companies and some of these big contractors in the US, especially fabricator ones, they already have, like, development things. And I mean, software development things who can create tools to help them automate task. So there's some people here in Isbek that they're working even with some kind of AI. I'm not sure how advanced it is, but suggests what kind of reinforcement you have to already put in some certain types of walls and this kind of thing. So they just have been training the brain for a long time with how their detailing their projects and then after a while, the brain can start to do the recommendations.
So this is where the companies is also are going to start shining. And again, we were talking earlier briefly about what is going to be in BIM software. The company that is going to be like the Apple for Nokia or this kind of thing. And this might happen and BIM software but this might happen also in construction companies. Is there going to be such a company that gets so advanced that it drives the process in such an efficient way that then you just moves forward much faster. And this is something that every company should pay attention to because this is coming for sure. So you have to make the decision that you want to be early or you want to be late.
Yeah. No, yeah. That's great advice. I think both of your points there on the working together and just simple collaboration on projects, which sounds so simple, but makes such a big difference. And then, secondly, the point on data. Yeah. Obviously as a data guy myself, I completely agree with you on that one.
If I can go a little off-topic quickly. In our team, well we have older roles that describe early. So what happened is that at some point everybody was like, "Yeah, what I do doesn't have to do a lot with the others." So, product owners were like, "Yeah, we're just the product owners." I was like, "Yeah, I'm just querying every now and then our database trying to find out patterns to help people at work." And then the data scientist was like, "Well, I'm just caring about the data."
At some point, it was difficult to understand what we were doing. But there's no reason for anybody to say that, "What I'm doing has nothing to do with the rest." You come in a company in a team because if it has nothing to do with the rest, what does it have to do with the company or whatever vision that you are trying to achieve? So what we tried to do is that... This is a very software engineering way of working, but we tried to do this daily standup panel so have a common backlog and have more transparency of what we're working on. It's seriously a struggle just to get this first couple of weeks where you actually have to create a new task in Gida. We are using Gida here. And put it in the backlog, and then somebody has... You have to move it to progress. Then somebody has to review it. Then somebody has to close it. And it feels like a lot of bureaucracy. And then you have to communicate with each other, and everyone. I don't know who has to review. Do I have to really review this? But I don't know anything about it.
Well, there's an acceptance criteria there. If from your own point of view, it fulfills the acceptance criteria, then it's done. Synthesis done is better than perfect. But after a couple of weeks, it started to be like... Actually, somebody I thought that they nobody could help him then it starts to be like, "Well, actually, I'm getting now much more feedback and actually I can ask about how to do something better." So suddenly, we started to work much better in the way that we have more visibility what we're doing. We actually can get support from each other and actually comments and suggestions for how to improve some things.
Even if it sounds really simple, it's actually not easy to just to collaborate. And it's a lot of will from the team or company to just say that, "Yeah, we want to work closer and understand better what we are doing to move forward... Yeah. To have a better path to achieve our goals.
Yeah. You know, it's really interesting you mentioned that because I think the construction industry can learn a lot from the way that software development teams approach their work in general. So, yeah. It's good that you mentioned things like daily standups. They're so simple and I know they happen on some construction sites. But generally on products, they probably don't happen. Just knowing what other people are doing and helping each other out is one thing. Version control is really incredible in software development compared to construction. And also the agile delivery methodology where you just get work out every week no matter what the quality is. But you're getting in front of the client every week rather than every six months the client get it. 300 drawings or something to review.
Exactly. Deliver value as soon as you have it. Just when you have something ready, just don't hold onto it. Just give it because thing is valuable for others in the project.
Yeah. There's so much I think construction can learn from software development, but that's a completely different episode.
Well, there's always improvements to be done in any industry. There's no perfect one, which is a good thing. Keeps it really interesting.
Yeah. Okay, so we're slowly running out of time, I think. And what I'd like to do is finish on the quick fire questions. So it's three or four questions and if you could just tell me the first thing that comes into your head. 30 seconds or less. Sound good?
Okay. If you could change one thing about the Finnish construction industry overnight, what would it be?
I will say hire your data scientist.
Yeah? Become more data driven?
Are you a reader? And if so, can you recommend a book that everyone should be reading?
I am a reader. I have to admit that now I'm reading. I would recommend this book, but it's a Sci-Fi book so up to you. So I'm reading this. If you are aware of this TV show, "The Expanse." So it's a hardcore Sci-Fi, meaning that it's very based on actual realistic science. So it's not going... It's not Star Wars. So it's not lightsabers. It's not all these things but it's more on how we'll be more like a space society or in the solar system would be working on where the problems and how do they solve them. It's actually very interesting that the situations that they described and the solutions that they promote. So that one, I really like.
Yeah. They say that a lot of our future technology comes from Sci-Fi
ideas. So it's interesting you mentioned that.
Okay, and what are your goals for the product team at Solibri generally over the next three years?
Of course, I see that we need to... As we were talking earlier about all these different technologies coming in... So this is going to be a hard one to understand how they all fit into these Federated Model. How can we integrate things like... There's things to come like IFC, road IFC, Rail IFC, all these different things that, how can you merge even much more information that you already have in the projects? And how you can make sense and actually use it in the same environment? So that's a really big challenge.
And then for me personally in the team, is the how are we more even data driven? So how can we continue growing in this pyramid of needs for data science? So how we can take the first steps towards, like, even very basic machine learning algorithms? The safety testing where you can make sure that whenever you release something, you tested in a group, make sure that it's successful. If it is successful, then you adopted for everybody. If it's not successful, than you throw it. But do these kind of very data driven approach and I'm not saying that we should not talk to customers. I always want to talk with customers, but I want that we make the decisions also very driven by the data. And then... Yeah, going to the top of the pyramid is artificial intelligence on all these names and probably is going to grow into something else in the future. Who knows what that is?
Yeah, it's good you mentioned that. I know there's a famous Ted Talk about... We talked about big data, but also thick data. So the thick data is very shallow, but it's those conversations with people that is also really useful data point making these decisions. So yeah, it's good that you mentioned.
But actually that's... For me, it's like the data gives you an idea, then talking with the people is how you actually can make these idea how people use it into more, like, real people how they actually use it. So you'll get to understand people much better how they're working.
Yep. Absolutely. Okay.
And the last question. You must have a big international network of people you know around the world. As you know, I'm visiting different cities and speaking to innovative people working in AEC. Who is the one person you think I should go and meet who's really pushing the boundaries?
Well, we talked earlier about this company that is doing this vehicle with this artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms that they are playing with. So this Ricardo Farenia, he's living in Tampere, north from Helsinki. He's a guy that, in my opinion, he understands very well technology. He's very techy, probably nerdy guy but very clever guy and really trying to push the limits off what they can do. So that's really a very interesting person.
And in the same company, there is Magnus Idversen, who is BIM adviser in Isbek. And he's a really clever guy on how to actually move forward. I'm not sure if you have met him or talked, but he has really good ideas on how to work the projects, how to bring data, how to find creative solutions.
And these are just two names. There's a lot of people that I... I don't want the people think that there's no others that I will... There's people in very good... There's really good people in the different Dutch companies. So there's plenty of them that could help a lot. And I think that you talk about being a being coordinator. You said that's such a central role nowadays and such a key position that you tend to find, many times, very good people in those roles and people that are able to see bigger picture. So it's always very interesting to talk with people that are in that position because, at least from a point of view, is the ones that usually understand quite well the whole big picture off the project.
Yeah, it's a difficult question. Sorry for making you pin down, but yeah. Okay, So our time is pretty much up now. I want to say thank you so much for really interesting conversation and great answers. Thanks for hosting here in the Solibri office and I wish you all the best in growing your team and making Solibre even better for the users.
Thank you very much and thank you for this opportunity. It's really interesting for me as well.
Okay, great. Thanks Juan.