Drinking in All That Nemetschek Has to Offer

28 Oct, 2007

Based in Munich, Germany -- home of Oktoberfest -- this company is poised to be a long-term, major player in the global AEC/O market.

Nemetschek AG likely is best known in U.S. AEC/O circles as its subsidiary, Nemetschek North America, the former Diehl Graphsoft, maker of the VectorWorks series of CAD and building information modeling (BIM) products. However, the Nemetschek Group, as the parent company also is known, ranks among the global leaders in software for all roles and phases of the AEC/O building project lifecycle. Nemetschek AG's flagship software, Allplan, like a virtual Swiss Army knife, offers more than 100 tools or modules that can be mixed, matched, and tailored to suit the needs of any AEC/O participant involved in any aspect of designing, building, managing, and visualizing the built environment.

Taking advantage of an invitation to Nemetschek's International Press Launch for Allplan BIM 2008, I recently visited company headquarters in Munich, Germany. As befits a forward-looking, global company with a corporate history of more than 30 years -- longer than most of its competitors -- Nemetschek occupies its own large building, Nemetschek Haus, in a newly-constructed high-tech district of Munich called Messestadt (literally, "convention town," for the new Munich Convention Center, or Messe, located there).

Nemetschek Haus in Munich, Germany. (Photo courtesy Nemetschek AG)

Nemetschek Haus sits on Konrad Zuse Platz, directly opposite the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT). This business school neighbor suits Nemetschek's software style: Allplan strives to be more comprehensive, better integrated, and more tightly linked to business processes than its BIM automation competition. The street address appropriately honors German computing pioneer Konrad Zuse, who is credited with developing the world's first functional program-controlled computer, the Z3, in 1941.

Although history and context are important, successful technology companies must operate at the intersection of present reality and future vision, and I found Nemetschek to be as forward thinking as any software company I've visited. As an American accustomed to roaming the halls of tech meccas in California and New Hampshire, I was struck by the worldly familiarity of Nemetschek's offices, working style, and development process. As my fellow Brandeis alumnus Thomas Friedman has observed, the world is indeed flat.

The Nemetschek Group was among the pioneers of the approach now known as BIM, although the company had not prominently incorporated the terminology into its products until the newest 2008 release. The new emphasis on BIM-ness goes deeper than just the product name. Everything about the latest Allplan is richer and deeper -- in terms of model creation, data management, scheduling, costing, visualization, cross-discipline coordination, and so on -- than the already highly capable previous versions. Indeed, Allplan BIM 2008 is so comprehensive and well-integrated that it easily can serve the advanced needs of large integrated planning organizations (as design-build and engineering procurement firms often are known outside the United States), as well as the demands of architectural practices with even the highest design aspirations.

The current generation of Allplan is not the first with capabilities ahead of its time. Long-term CAD users may recall Nemetschek AG's testing of the U.S. market with Allplan all the way back in 1995. The product then was nearly as BIM-ready as it is today, at a time when

  • Autodesk had not yet acquired Softdesk or developed Architectural Desktop (today's AutoCAD Architecture);

  • Bentley had not yet acquired its snapshot of code from Brics that was to form the core technology of Triforma (the platform for today's Bentley Building, Structural, and so on); and

  • neither Revit (now an Autodesk product) nor the Revit Technology Corporation had yet been launched.

Today, Nemetschek has kept pace not only on the technology front, but on the business front as well. At roughly US$200 million annual revenue, the Nemetschek Group is about the same size as the former Building Solutions Division of Autodesk (now merged into the larger Autodesk AEC, which includes road design and the like). Nemetschek Group's dollar volume and customer base are significantly larger than the building industry portion of Bentley Systems (as opposed to Bentley's plant and civil businesses). So, in one view, Nemetschek is comparable in size or larger than its major AEC/BIM competitors. On the other hand, Nemetschek's BIM solutions are split among three brands -- Allplan, Nemetschek North America's VectorWorks, and Graphisoft's ArchiCAD (Nemetschek acquired that company late last year) -- while competitors' offerings may be consolidated under a single platform (as with Bentley Building or Gehry Technologies' DigitalProject) or split between only two brands (as with AutoCAD Architecture and MEP vs. Revit Architecture, MEP, and Structure). Nemetschek also owns MAXON, makers of the well-regarded CINEMA 4D visualization products, and an assortment of smaller subsidiaries engaged in AEC/O-related activities such as structural analysis for engineers or financial management for contractors.

With its steady growth, strong brands, and successful operations in 142 countries around the world, the Nemetschek Group will continue to assert its presence in the AEC/O industry on a global scale. On a more local and social note, Nemetschek is headquartered in Munich, home of the justly famous Oktoberfest. My hosts at the Press Launch insisted that no visit to Munich in season could be complete without at least one evening in the infamous beer tents. It's a tough job, but I obliged in the pursuit of authentic journalistic experience.

A nighttime stroll through the Oktoberfest grounds in Munich, from the author's perspective. (Photo copyright Jerry Laiserin)