SketchUp Acquisition: The Big Picture

April 27, 2012

When SketchUp first burst onto the tech scene in 2000, the free 3D modeling tool was billed as “3D for everyone.” The simple and intuitive interface of SketchUp, along with people’s desire to want to design outside the boundaries of what typical design programs had allowed, instantly made the tool a hit. So much so, that the product, originally developed by @Last Software drew the attention of Google, which acquired SketchUp in 2006.

It seems the modeling tool is once again on the move, with the announcement Trimble, www.trimble.com, Sunnyvale, Calif., will acquire SketchUp in a deal that is expected to close in the second quarter of 2012.

To those following the construction software market, such a move was expected. For many, the fact that Trimble was the one doing the acquiring comes as little surprise as well. Let’s break down both statements.

The rise of virtual design and construction throughout the past few years has driven more and more contractors to try their hand in the realm of 3D modeling. Yet for those not wanting to make the full-fledged investment in tools like Revit, SketchUp proved to be at least a good basic tool to help them dabble in this realm before making such an investment later on.

We have seen divisions of contractors like Turner Construction, www.turnerconstruction.com, New York, N.Y., adopt SketchUp. In particular, early in 2011 it was announced the contractor considers SketchUp Pro as part of its standard “digital toolbox” to provide BIM-related services on projects around the globe. Turner considers the tool to be ideally suited for such tasks as conceptual "what if" scenario cost estimating analyses, building systems constructability studies, or whole building and site models for sequencing and schedule analysis and work-in-place monitoring during construction.

Turner is just one example, as many contractors consider the tool to be ideal for training and basic modeling tasks. In a way, SketchUp has been a nice entry point into the world of BIM (building information modeling) for some contractors, while also being critical parts of much bigger BIM initiatives for others, as is the case in the Turner example.

Next, we turn to the Trimble part of the news. It is no secret that Trimble has been steadily building a portfolio of technologies with its eye on providing a complete set of solutions in the world of virtual construction. Trimble already owns such well-established brands as Accubid Systems, Meridian Systems, QuickPen, and Tekla. By combining SketchUp with these tools construction teams will ultimately be able to easily collect and share data.

The company says it is looking to take SketchUp to the next level while continuing to maintain the existing functionality. What will stay the same? Trimble will support the existing developer program and customer base; will still offer both the free and professional version; and will maintain the viewing capabilities in Google Earth. The technology provider also plans to keep the core team from Google.

What will change? Trimble plans to grow the team by adding resources and introducing collaboration with other Trimble divisions, extending the reach of the product into the construction market. SketchUp will be available as a standalone or an enterprise solution for an integrated workflow. Trimble, third-party developers, and partners will also be able to develop new applications for the platform.

For the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry, this could also help push Trimble’s BIM to field initiative even further, which consists of a group of technology organizations within the construction industry that are promoting the benefits of extending BIM data to the jobsite.

In addition, Trimble will partner with Google to further develop the 3D Warehouse—an online repository where users can find, share, store, and collaborate on 3D models. Google will host and operate the 3D Warehouse for Trimble for the foreseeable future.

Mark Sawyer is currently the president and CEO of Vico Software, www.vicosoftware.com, Boulder, Colo. Prior to this role he served as president and CEO of @Last Software and helped lead the merger between this company and Google. In an interview with Constructech, Sawyer says he likes the move and admits that while the acquisition is not as big (financially) as Trimble’s earlier acquisition of Tekla, the significance is still very strong. He says such a move gives indication to what Trimble is looking to do, saying, “I think they are taking a run at the (complete BIM offering) and this is one of the pieces of that.”

While Google has taken SketchUp to the masses and enhanced the product through integration with Google Earth and the introduction of 3D Warehouse, LayOut, the 2D companion to SketchUp Pro, and Style Builder, a tool for sketching models, it is interesting to see the product back in the hands of a tech provider targeting the AEC industry. Only time will what Trimble ultimately has in store for SketchUp.