Aussie company scores Panama Canal deal

Australian company Aconex this week announced a deal that has the potential to put it squarely on the global stage in its role as a provider of software-as-a-service-based project collaboration solution to the construction and engineering sectors.

Australian company Aconex this week announced a deal that has the potential to put it squarely on the global stage in its role as a provider of software-as-a-service-based project collaboration solution to the construction and engineering sectors.

The deal of undisclosed value will see Aconex provide software for the Panama Canal Expansion — a massive project worth $3.2 billion in total. The expansion involves the construction of two new sets of locks, which will be 40 per cent longer and 60 per cent wider than the original locks constructed 100 years ago. Once the project is completed — its expected due date is 2025 — the facility's shipping capacity will have doubled.

For such large projects, the percentage spent on Aconex systems would be typically around 0.05 to 0.1 per cent of the total spend, according to Aconex's chief executive Leigh Jasper.

Jasper said the project would see his company's collaboration portal used by the hundreds of organisations that will work on the Third Set of Locks project.

"One of the things we are most excited about is the international involvement," he said. The expansion project team and the design consortium consists of participants from the US, Argentina, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Collaboration portals are necessary to handle the complex documentation and correspondence such projects produce. Documents produced by engineers — or other participants involved in the project — have to be reviewed by multiple parties. They can morph through many versions and some projects might end up with 2 million documents or more. With people trying to handle it via email, it can become very complicated very quickly, Jasper said.

"With the size of the Panama Canal I expect it to be up to millions or to tens of millions of documents," said Jasper. "So this is our biggest project in terms of documentation."

A lot of the smaller companies don't have their own collaboration portal, and even if all of them did, they have problems putting their data on someone else's SharePoint portal, Jasper said.

Despite the project's multinational character, Aconex's portal is up to the task. Aconex has used some of the over $100 million in venture capital it received from Francisco Partners to develop its products, with one of the new features being language capability. The system can handle Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese and Japanese, among others.

"You never know what would have happened if you didn't have the investment," Jasper said, when asked if the company could have netted the deal on its own. "It enabled us, even during the downturn, to keep growing."

Aconex has expanded over the years globally and now has a total of 37 offices — in Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East and the Americas. It has large projects in the pipeline around the world but also many other projects underway across Australia. Over the last 12 to 18 months it has tripled the size of the team of its Australian operations, Jasper said, adding 20 to 30 people.

A team of 10 will head up the Panama collaboration project, but Jasper mentioned that all of the company is involved in some way or another. The executive reaffirmed that 99 per cent of human talent used by Aconex on projects consists of company employees and not contractors brought on to work on projects.

Jasper mentioned that Aconex gives support for the life of the project, despite the fact that the Panama Canal Expansion project won't be completed for another 15 years. Aconex will be involved in the first stage of the project — the contract is until 2014 — but will look to play a role for the life of the project.

Aconex has posted a video where Jasper discusses the Panama Canal deal:

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