PBC Today speaks with Rahul Kejriwal, CEO of CAD platform developer Bricsys, to discuss the future of CAD software 20 years after the launch of BricsCAD
Bricsys, the global provider of the BricsCAD® brand of engineering design software, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Founded in Belgium in 2002 by Eric de Keyser, Bricsys has grown from a single CAD solution to serving the broader AEC market with a range of integrated products, including BricsCAD BIM and BricsCAD Mechanical. Today, the company has more than 300,000 users, ranging from small architecture firms to some of the largest engineering organizations around the world.
PBC Today sat down with Bricsys CEO Rahul Kejriwal to learn its secrets for developing successful CAD software and where Kejriwal sees the software evolving in the future to better serve the AEC industry.
PBC: Can you tell us a bit about the CAD software Bricsys offers?
RK: We have several products. BricsCAD is our core solution, which we developed to provide designers, contractors and fabricators with a simple design software that was fully compatible with their existing tools.
We offer a CAD platform that supports everything from 2D design to 3D modeling, all based on the use of a single .dwg file format. Rather than jumping from one file type to another, or one software platform to another, users gain a continuous workflow from design through fabrication, fully supported by high data quality and integrity.
We’ve built upon the success of BricsCAD with three other solutions. BricsCAD BIM is a comprehensive solution for building information modeling. BricsCAD Mechanical supports the mechanical design within AEC spaces. All of these solutions are offered together within the BricsCAD Ultimate package. In addition, we offer a cloud collaboration product, Bricsys 24/7. This ties everything together by simplifying the real-time transfer of data.
PBC: How has Bricsys established itself as a leading challenger in the CAD platform sector?
RK: We think of Bricsys as David in the “David vs. Goliath” software development landscape. Within our industry, there are several large, incumbent players that have been around for 40 or 50 years. In my opinion, a lot of these larger companies lost their way somewhere along the line. In the early 1980s and ’90s, they delivered cutting-edge software. Yet in the last 20 to 30 years, technology innovation seems to have stalled. The industry has been stuck. When we speak to customers, interoperability remains a big issue.
For example, everybody talks about the efficiency BIM is meant to deliver. There was a promise that these tools would strengthen efficiency within the construction industry, yet we haven’t really seen that carried through the entire AEC workflow. Instead, we’ve seen small step advantages that continue to be forced down different industry silos. BIM was meant to eliminate these silos.
PBC: How has Bricsys set out to address this interoperability issue?
RK: First and foremost, anything and everything we create is open. Interoperability is our first pillar. All users need to be able to get data in and out of the software as seamlessly as possible.
Take BricsCAD BIM, for example. BricsCAD BIM is entirely compatible with IFC because when we started building BricsCAD BIM, we put IFC first. However, at that time, we had all of these users still using .dwg. It didn’t make sense to leave them behind. Thinking about interoperability as our key pillar, it became clear that everything we do on the BIM or mechanical side must always be compatible with what we do on the CAD platform side. The engine driving use of this software is the same to support seamless interoperability.
For example, one of our largest customers is a large manufacturer of industrial fixed and motorized shutters. Several years ago, they held thousands of licenses for ARCAD, SolidWorks and Revit to support the design of these shutters, mechanical integration, and installation guidance respectively. Ultimately, they replaced the 3,000 seats they held across three different software licences with BricsCAD Ultimate, which includes mechanical, design and BIM tools within one CAD product. More importantly, they secured a seamless, .dwg-based workflow that simplified the process of transferring information across software solutions.
What has really made a difference here is that we haven’t acquired our technology — we’ve developed it ourselves. Many of those large, incumbent companies in the market are an amalgamation of acquisitions. They have one core product, but they’ve bought a bunch of other products to sit on top and expand their offerings. However, some of the pieces don’t fit well together because they were never meant to fit well.
PBC: That’s an interesting point, that these pieces weren’t meant to fit well. Why do you think software users settle for this?
RK: My background is as an engineer, but I spent a number of years in the finance sector buying and selling technology companies, including enterprise software businesses across various industries. One of the things that I soon realized is lacking in our industry is the drive to make technology really easy for the customer to use. It’s simply not at the forefront of these solutions.
In my opinion, good technology should fade into the background. Users should not be thinking about the technology. An architect that uses Bricsys products should not be obsessed with gaining the expertise needed to make the software effective. They should be obsessed with doing a great job for their client, by building a beautiful building that is simple to build.
That’s why our second pillar guiding corporate governance is around establishing Bricsys as a leader in user interface and user experience (UI/UX). UI/UX leadership is about delivering a great experience with software that delights the customer. The key word here is “delights.” We have a dedicated UI/UX team that sits within our product-cum-innovation department and continually asks, “Does this delight the customer?”
PBC: Obviously you’re getting a lot of feedback about interoperability. Are there other factors you hear are critical for “delighting” the customer?
RK: Yes, and it drives our final pillar. It’s around being flexible for the customer. This includes being flexible in terms of how we allow customers to buy our software. For us, this means offering a subscription as well as a network or singular licensing model, and selling our solutions at a price that makes sense for customers and keeps integrated CAD solutions accessible. The design authoring market is massive, and we believe our pricing offers an opportunity to expand that market and get these tools in the hands of more people.
Some of the pricing on these design solutions can be restrictive. A design or fabrication company with a budget might say, “I have ten users, but I can only afford two licenses, so I’ve got to hold off on this investment.” We want to create a shift away from that. Because we are customer-obsessed, we want every user to derive clear value from a CAD platform, or any design authoring tool. I would say we are committed to democratising design authoring tools.
PBC: Speaking of purchasing options, you have come out saying that new named user, or “one-user, one-seat,” pricing models are threatening BIM software adoption. Why do you feel that is?
RK: Honestly, I believe this is because there remains a lot of confusion about what BIM really is — and what it’s really capable of. When you ask AEC professionals how they define BIM, you hear both “building information model” and “building information management.” It’s clear that people are using the tool in different ways, which leads to some of the conflict we’re seeing today. You might say that the industry is still trying to figure out what BIM wants to be when it grows up.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the promise BIM offered has not been fulfilled. When BIM arrived on the scene, the AEC industry was very siloed. BIM was often described as a solution to more seamlessly connect design, fabrication and construction teams to reduce conflicts on the jobsite.
BIM might have had a lot of proficiency downstream in construction, but when I speak to people who use BIM, it often feels like it’s become a checkbox item rather than something that delivers true value. I’ll hear, ” I’m doing BIM because my customer or client asked for an IFC5 or a Revit5.” It’s never, “I’m using BIM because it adds so much more value to my client” or “It saves contractors a lot of money.”
I believe that the industry needs to take a step back and really think about what BIM is today and what it can deliver. In the future, I don’t think this will be something a single software solves, or even a single company. I don’t think BIM will be a “walled garden,” as they call it. I think it must be a multi-vendor offering to truly drive the levels of efficiency in AEC that it has promised.
PBC: You mention that your goal is to determine what the customer wants from a CAD platform. How do you gather this insight?
RK: That’s a great question. The truth is, it’s something we struggle with every day. It’s a hefty lift. However, our driving goal is to be the single most customer-obsessed business in design authoring. What we tried to do first with our CAD platform, and now with BIM and mechanical design, is to continually take a step back and ask “what is the best thing for the customer?”
This starts with how we structure our R&D organisation. Our Product group, which includes the UI/UX team, is made up of product managers, product owners, and people who have been in the industry for a long time and are very knowledgeable. As an example, our BricsCAD BIM product manager was a structural engineer and BIM user for 15 years before she joined us on the technical sales side and was subsequently promoted to product manager. She has a lot of core industry knowledge and understands how users want to use the technology. The Product team defines what the product needs to do, then our development team works very closely to build the product before stepping back and evaluating the quality of how it operates.
PBC: It sounds as though your employees play a big role in driving this user-friendly product direction.
RK: That’s very true. We try to hire as many smart people as we can, but we also look for other key qualities in other hires. We want team members who are technology-first and future-focused. We want people who are very empathetic and can put themselves in another person’s shoes. Finally, we want people who are eager to take on a challenge. Our employees need to be willing to dig in and determine customers’ problems, identifying a solution and then working toward delivering it.
Something that’s I believe is unique about approach is that we connect our developers directly with a broad spectrum of our customers. On a weekly basis, we organise roundtables or one-on-one chats, depending on the customer’s needs. We are constantly gathering information through direct contact with our software’s users.
As I mentioned earlier, we think of ourselves as David in this David vs. Goliath industry. David had a lot of advantages to play to, and that’s why he was able to win. At Bricsys, we play to our advantages. One of our advantages is that we’re a small company. This allows us to stay very nimble. Anyone in my organisation can approach me about something and vice versa. We have key structures, but we’re a team that works very well together. So, what might take six months at a large company is solved within a week at Bricsys.”
PBC: Clearly your employees are a key part of your success, but what about the leadership team that sets this direction? To whom do you attribute the success of this approach?
RK: I think Bricsys’ historic leadership team, and particularly firm founder Erik de Keyser, is key to our success. Erik is a classic risk-taker and entrepreneur, but he was also an architect, so he understood the market really well. He used this market understanding to set a very clear direction and grow the company from its inception to where it is today. It’s so critical to have a clear direction. We believe we have a very clear approach to BIM that is very different from what you see in the market, but we are always measuring it against customer input to avoid losing our way and the value we offer to our customers.
Design authoring, as well as AEC and industrial design at large, is very complicated. It’s not easy to build a BIM or CAD platform product. It takes from 10 to 15 years to get your product to a level of maturity where it can actually stand on its own in the market. Bricsys was already 15 years old when I joined the team. I inherited a great product that was already delighting users. My job is now to continue this push for better solutions that better support our customers’ needs.