Dinand Wiltvank of Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf had his doubts about 12Build. When 12Build first started, it was still called Aanenuitbesteden.nl. “I was extremely sceptical,” explains Dinand. “I thought, another young upstart with a great idea. How is that going to add something to the system we already have?” But a few years later, that young upstart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, lived up to expectations.
In 2007, graduate student Erik called on calculator Dinand with an idea: a digital system for processing tenders. “We went live in June 2007,” recalls Erik with a nostalgic look in his eyes. “But it was not as straightforward as it sounds,” adds Dinand. “We started with a small database from Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf, which included about 750 construction specialists.” All the information was merged into Aanenuitbesteden.nl and they could begin. The first invitations to tender were submitted, model letters were drawn up and the telephone just rang off the hook: what exactly is that, Aanenuitbesteden.nl?
A brief overview: Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf
Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf is part of the Nieuwenhuis Groep. The Nieuwenhuis Groep was founded in 1980 as an estate agent. Today, the company specialises in constructing commercial and office buildings and realising project-based housing. Together with its sister company, SelektHuis, it is the market leader in building private-sector detached houses. Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf has its own calculators, draughtsmen, designers, carpenters and a service department. Everything under one roof and therefore short lines of communications.
“We are builders who support customers in finding solutions,” says Dinand. “We are not a tendering contractor. We partner with clients from the onset of drawing up a design that fits within the budget and then work towards the realisation of the project. That is really our strength.”
Years of collaboration: Dinand and Erik
The two men have known each other for years, since the beginning of 12Build, or rather Aanenuitbesteden.nl. “I really like the fact that we are doing this interview now, because I have been involved for so long,” explains Dinand.
“When I heard about the interview, I was reminded of an anecdote. Is it all right if I tell you it? Okay, it was 2014. I was at the Building & Construction fair. Erik was there, always jovial, with a grin from ear to ear. Neither of us had a beard back then. We chatted about 12Build, about how things were at home, about everything really. Erik turned around unexpectedly and then presented me with a two-litre bottle of wine. As a thank you for all the years we had worked together. A colleague who was with me was surprised and asked: ‘You just get that, do you?’” Dinand thanked Erik for this cordial gesture: “However, although I was very grateful, I remember thinking back home with a glass of wine in my hand: I should have got shares instead of that bottle of wine!” Erik laughs and adds: “I still hope you enjoyed the wine!”
“I am very proud of how quickly 12Build has grown”
The importance of 12Build: from paper to a digital tool
The name Aanenuitbesteden.nl changed to 12Build.com in 2013. Dinand: “I think that Aanenuitbesteden.nl is not a bad name at all. 12Build is just more international. It fits in with the company.” Erik adds: “12Build also stands for ‘want to build’. We want to build and our customers want to build. The old name suggests that our platform is only used for submitting tenders, but that is certainly not the case.” 12Build is used for all sorts of projects, including design & construct and projects exclusively with established partners.
Dinand: “I am of the generation that was accustomed to piles of paper. If we were short of table space to lay out all the invitations to tender, we would simply use the floor as well.” Dinand holds his hand above the table to indicate the amount of tenders. “Piles of paper, this high!” Erik: “When we started, fax numbers were still written prominently on invitations to tender. The fax disappeared a decade ago. Today, we spend a few thousands of euros on printing paper every month. But when we started that was 10 to 20 times more with 10 times fewer customers.”
Working with paper was possible, but it was just not efficient. Printing costs money and sending documents by post costs time. The construction industry is becoming more receptive to innovation, for digitalisation, but in the beginning a lot was still done by paper. Even after 12Build had been around for a while. Erik: “Just imagine that in the time of Aanenuitbesteden.nl we already saved over 75% of all that paperwork.”
But 12Build goes even further. Receiving and submitting tenders was initially done on piles of paper, then by e-mails and PDFs and the next step is further automation. Erik: “In the future, it will not be necessary to extrapolate quantities for a project manually from PDF documents, which can result in needless, duplicated work. We want this data to be loaded into 12Build from the BIM model or job-costing software and marked down by construction specialists with one push of the button in the software they use to submit their tenders. That software has an interface with 12Build.” Manual work is automated as much as possible. That saves a lot of duplication, time and of course money.
Dinand: “I was very critical in the beginning, but what a great product it has become, Erik. I am glad I can play a part in its development.” His last feedback was just a few weeks ago. Dinand and Erik remain in constant contact about what can be improved. Dinand: “In the beginning, everything was tackled almost in real time. That was still possible back then. But I continue to provide feedback. After all, it is a program close to my heart.”
“When we first launched 12Build, construction specialists would say, ‘If you want a tender from me, you will need to send the details on paper, otherwise it will all go wrong”
Past and present: no longer the inexperienced graduate student
12Build began as a graduation project for Erik Nieuwenhuis, because he saw an opportunity at Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf, his father’s company, to work more efficiently. “You were fortunate to have such a father,” suggests Dinand. “But you were even more fortunate that I worked at the company.” Erik nods in agreement.
Dinand not only had qualities as a contractor, but also experience in programming. This enabled him to provide critical and constructive feedback on the program’s design and technical issues. The two men have worked on the program from the very beginning, removing bugs, coming up with new functionalities and a lot of brainstorming.
Erik: “Back in 2007, accessing the huge online communication system, in which the status of construction specialists is automatically updated, was very time-consuming. We had to increase the speed, otherwise you might just as well keep working on paper.” Dinand adds: “At that time, every icon that is displayed on the screen was loaded up slowly. Everywhere there were too many MBs. The program is now much faster and you can load up a lot more information in one go. It cannot be compared to the program we started out with.”
Nieuwenhuis Bouwbedrijf is a medium-sized main contractor. That means that major projects are sometimes taken on that involve submitting invitations to tender and that subsequently a lot of time is spent on fine-tuning the client’s wishes. Usually, no additional tenders are submitted at this stage. Dinand: “It sometimes takes months before I work again with 12Build. When I use it again, it is as if I had never been away. Every time I log in, I see new innovations. And this makes me happy. 12Build has continued to develop in a way I had never expected.”
Dinand feels that one of the major advantages of 12Build is that he can copy and paste into tenders and no longer has to write out each one individually. He has taken the time to create standard templates of invitations to tender to speed up the process for himself. “Every time I have a project, I simply click on the template of the construction specialist in question and then add the specific project details. This is all possible because everything is archived in the cloud.”
Despite being critical in the beginning, Dinand now looks to the future of 12Build full of expectations. “You are now working on your brand awareness in other countries. I am not sure where the limits lie for 12Build. What I am sure of is that those limits are not restricted to the Netherlands.”