A FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE OPEN DESIGN ALLIANCE, Belgium-headquartered Bricsys, the makers of the DWG-native BricsCAD product line, turned 20 years old this past February. The company, founded by former CEO Erik de Keyser, has development centers worldwide, from Singapore to Europe. It also has regional headquarters in North and South America.
Recently, Bricsys reached out to Architosh to have a fireside chat with its CEO, Rahul Kejriwal, about where Bricsys is with its BricsCAD product line and what makes Bricsys’s perspectives on the CAD industry different from the competition.
But in terms of how we think about the market and where we apply ourselves, Hexagon gives us the complete freedom to decide how we go forward.
First, we should review some key facts. In 2018 the Ghent, Belgium-based CAD company, was acquired by Swedish tech giant Hexagon. At the time, its annual revenue was EUR 13 million. While modest, the company has continued to grow steadily and today has over 300,000 active users, says its CEO.
BricsCAD has a single core product code base for BricsCAD and a second code base for its CDE (Common Data Environment) offering for the AEC/O industry. In the following interview, we learn many interesting things about both.
Anthony Frausto-Robledo (AFR): Since the Hexagon acquisition in 2018, how would you characterize the strategic direction with BricsCAD?
Rahul Kejriwal (RK): I would say, standing here today, having been part of Bricsys maybe two years before the acquisition, almost nothing has changed in terms of our perspective—about the market or how we think about our products.
But in terms of how we think about the market and where we apply ourselves, Hexagon gives us the complete freedom to decide how we go forward.
Can you characterize this market perspective more?
We think that the market today is not focused on the customer. It focuses on everything other than the customer, like pricing. Our mission is about really bringing the focus back to the customer. When Erik was the firm’s CEO, he had one goal: to become the most customer-obsessed business in design authoring, whenever I spoke to him. That’s how we define our market. And I think we are still on that path.
Can you give me an example of some of the things you are doing that exemplify that mission strategy of being customer-obsessed?
Let’s take the example of AI. AI is a buzzword; it gets a lot of airtime. But we think about AI in a very particular way, a very customer-obsessed way, coming back to that mission statement. So, one of our very popular AI functionalities that we deliver in BricsCAD is called BIMify. It’s part of our BricsCAD BIM product.
We think that the market today is not focused on the customer. It focuses on everything other than the customer, like pricing.
We created this [BIMify] because many customers using our BIM product were spending a lot of time assigning intelligence to dumb 3D objects. So, we challenged our developers to create a machine-learning-based algorithm that could automatically classify BIM models. It lets architects spend more time on higher-value tasks, like design. The BIMIFY command can scan a large model in seconds and classify building elements to a high degree of accuracy.
Back in 2019, there were some big announcements with Bricsys and architecture global giant HOK. Can you update me on your BIM initiative with respect to HOK as a customer?
To be clear, HOK is not a customer of ours; they are a partner. We partnered with them on the technology side—and we like to think of that relationship as a partnership more than a vendor-buyer relationship.
Greg Schleusner, Director of Design Technology at HOK, is very active, a thought leader in our industry—I’m sure you know him or have spoken to him in the past. From our perspective, we focus with HOK on really rethinking how we look at the industry without going into these buzzwords. BIM at a product level is a packaging of technologies to make it easier for buyers to buy the software.
However, when we talk to HOK, we are not talking about BIM; rather, we say, ‘let’s talk about your workflow.’ These workflows are focused on a design team’s daily tasks, like building interior design or façade design.
How does the HOK interior design team do their workflow? And how could Bricsys go in and solve real problems for them? At the end of the day, when we look at our customers, our products are just tools for them; they are a small part of what they do.
This is 20-30 percent of what goes on with their time. Seventy percent of their time is focused on what they want to do in their business. I feel like what many software companies do is make the mistake of getting obsessed with their product rather than their customers.
As a practicing architect, I may disagree a little bit about those percentages, but not by much. On the whole, I understand your larger point.
When I speak to architects, they don’t think about their CAD or BIM software all day. They think about designing beautiful and functional buildings that delight their customers.
Good technology fades into the background. It should not be front and center bothering you every day, making you jump through hoops. That is where part of the [AEC] industry is today; we spend so much time talking about the technology that it distracts from one’s day.
For architects, your day job is designing buildings.
Back to your BIM product, what is happening with computational design?
At that conceptual design phase, we do partner with Rhino folks. I look up to Bob and the McNeel team and what they have achieved. They are the most beloved software product of all the AEC software providers. And they have the most ardent fans.
And whenever I get a chance to interact with Bob or any of his employees, I always ask them, ‘what’s the secret sauce? How have they been able to become so loved in the industry?’
I couldn’t agree more. It’s about the customer.
This is what Bricsys aspires to do, every day.
At a technology level, just like everyone else, we use Rhino.Inside technology as well. We have a fast, live link between the products, so whether you’re iterating through design possibilities with Grasshopper or modeling directly in Rhino, you can access the full workflow from inside of BricsCAD.
So, from the build, buy, or partner analysis, how does the success of the Rhino. Inside affect your product and strategy?
From the Bricsys perspective, we do take a very “partner-first” approach. We don’t want to build everything in all sub-verticals. We are the platform. We want best-in-class partners around us, partners who share our values about serving the customer.
And how many partners or integrators do you have today?
Today, we have 400 partners worldwide serving critical markets with many vertical solutions. Rhino and Grasshopper are really popular for computational design, but for MEP, we have application partners such as AX3000.
Are your AI technologies exposed in your APIs?
Yes. We have invested a lot in our APIs. And we expose all of our BIM technologies, including our AI technologies.
For example, our Blockify AI engine, the lightning-fast tool to detect repetition in a drawing, is exposed in our APIs. It replaces similar objects by blocks to reduce the file size dramatically.
Speaking of APIs and such technologies, there are a lot of OS and hardware changes afloat in the broader computer industry. Can you update me on your platform strategy and how you will be targeting Windows, Mac, and Linux? And then there are the graphics APIs.
When it comes to our internal discussion with our developers, our R&D teams, etc.? I would characterize us as very aggressive.
We want to get our hands on the newest technologies, whether the new silicon from Apple, or Vulkan, whatever—there are so many new technologies out there, and the world is moving in different and exciting ways.
Regarding the new Apple M series architecture, we’re actively working to port BricsCAD.
So, this is internal. But externally? We are very conservative. We need to ensure that any new product that we release meets our customer’s business-critical requirements. CAD software is used to capture and store our customer’s intellectual property. Their level of trust in us is very high, and we must uphold that trust.
So, in regard to Apple Silicon change in particular?
One thing I will say is it is quite difficult to re-platform. From a Bricsys perspective, it would be a big lift for us at our size. And secondly, Bricsys is committed to delivering a multiplatform solution that includes macOS and Linux. We are committed to supporting all three platforms, giving that choice to the customer.
To do that, we need a single-code stream. Or at least today, we think a single-code solution is the best way to do that. There are advantages and disadvantages to that method, but externally that is where we are landing today.
Regarding the new Apple M series architecture, we’re actively working to port BricsCAD. We need native M series binaries for several of the component technologies that we incorporate into BricsCAD, and we’re working with our vendors to expedite that process. We’re really excited to see the performance of BricsCAD on the M series silicon, too!
What about support for mobile apps on iOS or Android? Will BricsCAD land on iOS at some point?
On iOS, we don’t have anything today for BricsCAD. Why is that? At least today, we haven’t been able to deliver a user experience that is enjoyable enough and useful enough to add value to the customer. Can we do it—put BricsCAD on mobile? Absolutely! We are just being cautious about what we deliver.
From a cloud or mobile perspective, Bricsys 24/7—our Common Data Environment—is the number one CDE in AEC in the Benelux market today. We have not taken Bricsys 24/7 too far outside of the Benelux region to date, because we first want to validate the product in our home market. However, we will deliver 24/7 outside the Benelux region starting this year.
I mention 24/7 because that product works on mobile devices; we have a free-of-charge app that users can download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
We have covered a lot of ground, including your growth to 300,000 users worldwide. But there is one thing that perplexes me: your BricsCAD Shape offering. It seems that the commitment there for marketing this as a real advantage for Bricsys isn’t as strong as it could be. How do your customers engage with this tool, and what are they telling you?
That’s a great question, Anthony. Bricsys Shape can be a powerful product, particularly in the conceptual design phase competing against SketchUp. BricsCAD Shape is based on the same 3D solid modeling technology that’s inside BricsCAD, BricsCAD BIM, and BricsCAD Mechanical.
From a cloud or mobile perspective, Bricsys 24/7—our Common Data Environment—is the number one CDE in AEC in the Benelux market today.
To be fair to the SketchUp team, they have a great product. They have done a great job both under Google’s ownership in getting as many customers as possible and now under Trimble’s ownership in making sure they add a lot of very specific functions for the architect.
From a Bricsys perspective, I must take responsibility here; we haven’t done justice to our Shape product. And part of the reason is our size and scale.
So you have created something you don’t quite have the resources to handle?
To do justice to Shape, we need to put a lot more focus and effort into it. Over the last three years, we have put it on a maintenance schedule rather than an aggressive development schedule.
So, you can try out BricsCAD for 30 days as part of its trial. After that, both BricsCAD Lite and BricsCAD Pro’s paid functionality is locked out. But you are left with a fully functional version of Shape. All users who try out BricsCAD gain BricsCAD Shape for life. That was our way to get customers to try this product. And as long as BricsCAD Shape is on your desktop, you can buy and activate a full commercial license without needing to re-install BricsCAD
Can you clarify your product line, so the reader understands what BricsCAD is in all its offerings? I know that you previously used different product naming in the past.
Sure. The way to think about our product landscape is that we used to offer three products, BricsCAD Classic, Pro, and Platinum. Each came with an increasing level of functionality, to provide a lot of more advanced 3D variational modeling and parametric design functionalities.”
We realized that our customers were getting confused, and they were spending a lot of time trying to figure out which of the three to buy. So, we merged the Platinum version’s functionality into BricsCAD Pro and renamed BricsCAD Classic to BricsCAD Lite, a pure 2D drafting tool. This is our version of AutoCAD® LT, and we’ve added full support for the Lisp programming and customization language in BricsCAD Lite – something that’s sorely missing in AutoCAD® LT.
We’ve also added some of our AI technology to BricsCAD Lite in the form of Blockify to help users automatically replace repetitive data with more efficient Blocks.
Rahul, thanks for this great discussion about Bricsys. I think readers will have a much deeper insight into your company’s products, your industry perspectives, and what makes BricsCAD technology differentiated.
Thanks for the opportunity.
Post-Interview: Analysis and Commentary
So Bricsys was a founding member of the Open Design Alliance (ODA), the industry consortium responsible for reverse-engineering Autodesk’s proprietary (.dwg) file format. It has been the ODA’s tools that nearly all of the other CAD companies worldwide utilize to enable import and export functionality for AutoCAD files. While the company hasn’t had the market visibility of other Autodesk competitors, like the Nemetschek Group or Bentley, they have always been there in the background, quietly building out what Rahul calls BricsCAD Core.
One thing that makes BricsCAD unique in both the AEC industry and in the AutoCAD clone wars—if we can call them that—is in the first case, it has taken the DWG file format into the era of BIM as an authoring solution. Its larger AutoCAD clone rival—Germany’s Graebert, whose OEM solution powers Dassault’s DraftSight and has a 2 million seat market impact reportedly—doesn’t take a direct assault on Autodesk Revit like Bricsys with its BricsCAD BIM. Both companies have managed non-trivial market share gains to the detriment of Autodesk AutoCAD.
The second unique thing about Bricsys is the company has created a direct conceptual modeler aimed at SketchUp and gives it away as an onramp to its other CAD/BIM products. (see: Architosh, “New ‘Shape’ by Bricsys Takes Aim at Trimble SketchUp,” 5 Nov 2017). One might think about Trimble’s efforts to add BIM and CAD functionality to SketchUp as a vector working in the opposite direction to Bricsys with respect to Bricsys Shape.
In terms of a BIM authoring tool, BricsCAD BIM has a bi-directional link to Rhino-Grasshopper vis-a-vis Rhino.Inside technology from McNeel. It is IFC 4.0 and BCF compliant and can open Revit files via ODA technology.
Bricsys solutions are aimed at mechanical industries in addition to AEC/O. BricsCAD Mechanical is a product that focuses on assembly modeling and sheet metal design. This is a serious MCAD tool actually on the Mac. There are so few in existence it bears serious mentioning. Its optional Communicator for BricsCAD enables the import/export of most key MCAD formats on macOS. Imagine working with Creo, ProE, and CATIA files inside BricsCAD Mechanical on Mac.