Q&A: Nemetschek’s Dr Axel Kaufmann – Digital giant continues its quest for innovation

With 16 brands including including Solibri, Graphisoft, Allplan, Vectorworks and Bluebeam, the constantly growing Nemetschek is one of the important organisations in the world of digital construction. Founded by Professor Georg Nemetschek in 1963, the company continues to evolve.

Bimplus catches up with Dr Axel Kaufmann spokesman of the executive board and chief financial & operations officer (CFOO) of Nemetschek to find out what might be next on the cards.

Tell us about you: how long you have been at Nemetschek, your background, and your role there?

I joined the Nemetschek Group at the beginning of 2020 as its new spokesman of the executive board and CFOO. In this role, I am responsible for all the main Group functions of the Nemetschek Group and its global operating and strategic positioning including M&A strategy. In addition, I am responsible for the Media & Entertainment division. My last position until the end of December 2019 was chief financial officer at the MDAX-listed Rational AG.

My background is based on an extensive international experience in various industries, from machinery to telecoms and having worked at companies like Rational AG, Koenig & Bauer, Nokia Networks and Siemens AG.

You’ve acquired a number of brands in the design and construction sector – are you looking to acquire others?

The Nemetschek Group is continuously looking out for interesting companies to further expand and complete our portfolio of software along the entire building lifecycle. Our geographical focus will remain Europe and the US, even though the Asian markets are becoming very interesting.

What makes a brand/start-up attractive to the Nemetschek stable?

Companies that have a strong culture of innovation and customer focus are interesting for us. Also, the companies should expand our competence technologically and/or regionally. And, since all our individual brands are entrepreneurial and mostly work independently, a strong management is also important.

Nemetschek Group in numbers:

  • Revenue 2019: 556.9 million Euro
  • Net Income: 127.2 million Euro
  • Number of employees: ca. 3000
  • Number of companies in the group: 16

Key Milestones

1963            Certified engineer Prof Georg Nemetschek founds the “engineering firm for the construction industry”
           Nemetschek presents the first computer-aided engineering software (CAE)
           The first CAD solution ALLPLAN 1.0 appears on the market
           Nemetschek presents the database-driven platform O.P.E.N – known as BIM today
Acquisition of brand companies (e.g. 2006 Graphisoft, 2014 Bluebeam)
           Latest acquisition on group level: Spacewell (formerly MCS solution)

Are there particular technologies that you would see as filling gaps in your portfolio?

Our portfolio is well positioned and there are no major ‘gaps’. Currently our focus is on the construction and manage segments, so technologies that enable our customers to work more efficiently and sustainably when creating and managing larger buildings and infrastructure projects are welcome.

There was a flurry of consolidation last year in the AEC software marketplace – do you see that continuing?

Yes, I believe this consolidation will continue as the market matures. Nevertheless, we as an industry will always need inspiring new start-ups and creative companies emerging to drive innovation.

It’s an interesting way of operating, to allow all of the brands semi-autonomy. Why is that?

It is our core philosophy to give our business units sufficient freedom to act in an entrepreneurial and agile manner. This set-up allows them to work very closely with their customers and it is a key driver for innovation. To leverage synergies, we are bundling the brand competencies in our four divisions (Design, Build, Manage and Media) under the leadership of four experienced top managers. Also, there is increasing cooperation between the divisions, which represents a challenge and opportunity at the same time.

Could you envisage there coming a time when there is greater integration?

Many of our solutions are superior and get great feedback from their customers, they are proud leaders in their respective verticals. With the current setup of individual brands more and more joining forces, we are very well positioned to answer to our customer needs, so I don´t see this changing in the short run. But in parallel, we are also working on several strategic projects on a segment and group-wide level that will enable a greater technological integration and connection in different areas.

It is our core philosophy to give our business units sufficient freedom to act in an entrepreneurial and agile manner. This set-up allows them to work very closely with their customers and it is a key driver for innovation. – Dr Axel Kaufmann, Nemetschek

What technologies do you see having the biggest impact on design and construction? And how might you develop in those areas?

Building Information Modelling continues to be the trend technology increasing efficiency, enhancing collaboration and quality as well as helping to save time across the building lifecycle. Also, BIM is a key driver for sustainability, because it minimises errors and the need for cost- and resource-intensive rework. Artificial Intelligence will also play a key role in the industry. And we see machine learning, augmented and virtual reality as well as 3D printing becoming more impactful.

Would you ever, for example, be interested in buying a supplier of, say, modular buildings or homes, in the same way some US blue chip technology firms are currently investing?

We have pre-construction companies in our portfolio which offer software for precast elements, and we can enable the automation of prefabricated parts, which is a big trend in the industry. But our focus is rather on software than modular building or manufacturing.

How do you think the outbreak of Covid-19 is impacting the way AEC firms do business and what might be the lasting legacy?

Sanitation, safety and remote work will play increasing roles for the AEC companies. Prefabrication can ensure safer workplaces for the construction workers, for example. Leveraging the learnings from the work-from-home situation of the past months can help companies to expand on the offsite work.

In my eyes, a much higher level of digitalisation will be the lasting legacy of Covid-19. This also presents a great chance for the industry to catch up in terms of efficiency and productivity.

What keeps you awake at night?

All in all, I sleep very well. No doubt we are carefully monitoring the current environment, staying as close as possible to our employees, and trying to support them wherever possible. On top, sustainability across the entire building lifecycle is one of my key concerns at the moment. It is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity for everyone involved – and it is a must.

Prof Georg Nemetschek, founder of the Nemetschek Group, has recently established the Nemetschek Innovation Foundation. Can you tell us more about that?

Among other great contributions, the Nemetschek Innovation Foundation is already the third foundation of Prof Nemetschek. His professional life has always been characterised by the ambition to achieve technological progress for the benefit of people through creative and practice-oriented research and development in the building lifecycle.

Prof Nemetschek´s aim is to ensure the continuation of this important research activity through the Innovation Foundation and to give something back to the society. The activities of this foundation will focus on promoting competence and excellence in the construction industry in the areas of research, teaching, innovation, and academic life with a strong focus on artificial intelligence.

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