AccuCities: Is its Success a Triumph of Tech or Team?

Andrew Stanton takes an in-depth look at AccuCities
AccuCities

AccuCities is a phenomenally successful London-based 3D city modelling company, with a growing clientele of architects, developers, and planning consultancies, and over 1,800 projects under its belt. Is this due to their unique technology or the two founders Sandor Petroczi and Michal Konicek and their team?

If you speak to the amiable Michal Konicek, a modest, but clearly driven veteran of the space he works in, it is not an easy one to judge. What is clear is they provide a hugely important service that enables their stakeholder clients to solve problems, visualise solutions, win business, reduce costs, and work more efficiently.

Realising there was a problem and a better solution

Petroczi and Konicek have worked together for nearly a decade, and that is important. Before they founded AccuCities in 2017, they worked together in another company and had several years of both understanding the technical needs of what their core clients needed, what the latest solutions were and, most importantly, what was lacking.

Often start-ups build a solution to a hypothetical model in a vacuum and then, after development, realise they have a service that no one wants to use and has no commercial value. AccuCities was the reverse of this process.

Its founding team realised that the envelope needed to be pushed further, that a deliverable as a combination of new city data exploitation tools and 3D CAD data was required to offer customers deeper and more immediate assessments in the planning and development verticals to hasten applications and win business.

AccuCities in the beginning – A big mission and even bigger prize

Working for customers of all sizes, Sandor Petroczi and Michal Konicek wanted to provide services as close as possible to the services of an internal 3D context modelling department, but without all the associated costs. The idea was that anyone requiring an accurate 3D model in London, or any UK city, would have that facility. Rather than becoming gatekeepers, they also wanted to democratise the usage of the high-quality context model in a way and format that a client required.

In the beginning, they bootstrapped the whole show, with the huge undertaking of creating a wide-area 3D London model as a flagship product that would make their potential clients notice them. Using commercially available aerial survey and supported by early adopters like Avison Young, KPF and MAKE Architects – who are still AccuCities 3D London subscribers 4 years later – AccuCities were able to capture 60 square kilometres of the capital in a 3D city model.

After many months of high cost and deep development, AccuCities’ first 3D city model dataset was born, resulting in a product and service that exactingly aligns with the needs of the planning profession and all stakeholders in the supply chain.

“The dataset is accurate to 15cm in all axes and includes all roof features accurately captured. The terrain is captured using the same photogrammetry technique and source imagery, separated by land use. The model can be supplied as AutoCAD solid, DWG, SketchUp, SKP and FBX files for easy editing. For state-of-the-art presentations and simulations, this 3D Model of London is also supplied imported into Unreal Engine 4.”

Accucities logo

Following on from here, other cities were covered, allowing all users to utilise the software for a huge range of work applications, including:

“3D Models for planning, daylight, sunlight and overshadowing studies, glare and pedestrian wind comfort studies, verified views and even used in initial masterplan public consultation boards using 3D Models instead of 2D maps.”

In fact, with over 1,800 projects having been completed, AccuCities has a large database of case studies that underpins its value. An extensive showcase of over 25 customer case studies is available on its website. https://www.accucities.com/customers-case-studies/

As Michal puts it, “Setting up a completely privately-funded 3D mapping agency was both incredibly daring and a no-brainer. We were about to enter a niche market already serviced by a variety of companies, without any governmental or Big Tech contract that could pay for at least some of the initial costs. On the other hand, we knew that there is a gap in the market for the services we could offer.

“We have put together a strong business plan but without the support of our early subscribers and customers, we wouldn’t be able to pull this off. On the other hand, this set-up forced us to be completely customer-oriented; our 5-star rating on Google is a testament to that.”

As the business continues to grow, the library of its model assets also becomes larger and larger increasing its value and commercial leverage in the marketplace.

AccuCities’ two major services

AccuCities operates in two separate yet interconnected branches. The 3D mapping agency branch doesn’t have any creative freedoms. One of AccuCities’ highly skilled operators manually captures what is visible in the stereo 3D environment. It uses purpose-made survey photography, captured using professional sensors and post-production. It is not drone or satellite technology; drones aren’t allowed in flightpaths and satellite technology is not clear enough for the images.

The team continually keeps on top of the changing face of the rapidly expanding parts of the city. In a single square kilometre, there would be perhaps hundreds of changes, when buildings move from under scaffold to actually being completed and so on. So the first 3D London model, captured from a 2016 aerial survey, has already been upgraded with 2019 imagery.

Michal Konicek explains that capturing 3D models of a built environment is done in two different ways. The first is to build out a library of 3D city models, including London, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Dublin. They have just finished Coventry.

“We capture 3D city models into our library on requests from our clients. Our library, therefore, grows to fulfil our customer’s needs, ensuring both a return on our investment as well as having a group of customers using the 3D city model. There is no point in capturing models that nobody uses.

“We also capture small and medium-size models for planning and whatever else, mostly for planning and architects. These would be like your standards 0.1 square kilometre 330 by 330 metres. And we capture a lot of these, somewhere around 1600 -1700 projects, all over the country.”

The granular detail of trees

From the moment you log on to their system and look at the exquisite detail of the modelling, the full potential of the solution AccuCities has created becomes clear. Not only would it be a showstopper as a presentation piece for winning new business for any client using the service, but the stunning detail and comprehensiveness is also second to none. Even down to the trees.

Michal Konicek explains that this is for good reason. All of the architects and urban planners are always looking at them. They want to know what is what, even down to the foliage.

“So when we capture our models, we capture them at the height and the width of the canopy. Then we turn them into a database and populate the model. So, in this environment in Unreal Engine, it also allows us to do some cool stuff, and all of the trees are brought in from a database.

“We can change the date and that will change the current colour because all of the models are georeferenced. We can simulate the shade, the overshadowing, and also the colour of the canopy.”

The second major part of the business

The jewel of the AccuCities service is Plan City, which is this Unreal Engine power application where clients can overlay just about anything, making it a groundbreaking and versatile planning tool. Here they have visualised the entire data set, allowing secondary databases, using bespoke tools they developed.

Michal Konicek explains, “This is used for initial presentations to new clients, to allow them to stand out. When you are a consultancy working in London, it shows your credibility that you know what you’re doing. They would use it for an initial consultation, and then they would do their work in the background for presentations.”

During a normal initial presentation, the clients would be looking to see how the skyline might look like in the future. That is the first data layer that AccuCities produce, collating data from the planning authorities. The value of this is huge for many applications to know how the building environment will change by the time they’re going to be building or selling.

A unique proposition for natural competitors

Having worked in the planning space for a long time there was a realisation for the founders that a lot of their potential clients were natural competitors. The industry, by its very nature, is fiercely introspective and commercially secretive. That is where they hit upon a solution that works for all stakeholders.

They changed the dynamic of how a SaaS solution might typically operate, by enfranchising the clients and allowing them to both have direct access to all of the datasets embedded in their lovingly curated system provided by AccuCities, but also with the ability to slice and dice the system how they liked and, most importantly, build and create their own projects and software. AccuCities would be 100% blind to how the system was being used.

AccuCities 3D city models

No gatekeepers

Instead of the system being locked down and clients being unable to develop their own unique tools without going through AccuCities, the company went the other route. Clients can develop what they like and that data stays with the client locked inside their part of the system. It has made for a universal and democratic style of usage.

“That’s why a lot of these people work with us without any hesitation because they know that whatever data and tools they create, it is all their enterprise, they just pay us a fee and get on with projects.”

Clearly, with the uptake of the system and recurring revenues, AccuCities appear to have hit the sweet spot.

Michal Konicek says, “I am very proud to say we never lost a subscriber. 90% of our work comes from established consultancies that have worked with us for a long time.”

Given the traditional nature of the sector, this must be viewed as a ringing endorsement.

Sparkly dynamic and client profiles

The core ethos of the team is also an important dynamic, there is no corporate slowness; client service is top of the list. In fact, for the very large clients, Michal Konicek says that they are often utilised as an extension of or are thought of as being their 3D modelling department. “They can rely on us to be treated like VIPs, we can get stuff done for them and they never have to doubt any of it.”

Most AccuCities customers are subscribers to its 3D London datasets, and they can either buy the 3D models as a service, or as a product on a five-year licence, in whatever format they prefer, and can use it countless times on limitless projects over the licence period.

The second customer base is subscribers who get access to get data and get constant updates upgrades and everything that goes with it. It’s a typical yearly subscription model where they can use the data as long as they are subscribers. Most of the customers that use these are subscribers, so they already have all of the data that goes into it.

They also have the functionality to the backend of the system, so they can build their own tools and connect these to their own databases. Leveraging data to make additional value out of one receiver.

“For example, in the City of London, boundaries can have an overlay with third party databases,” Michal Konicek explains, “Connecting this database to all the listed buildings around London database from Historic England. Now a client can also find information on that, and the grade of the buildings in the area.”

Protected viewing corridors are a sensitive topic, so the system has markers set up indicating the protected views. There are markers for which AccuCities have the protected views marked up. What this means is that in the planning document there may be a view that can’t be changed, like a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, for instance. A user on the system can overlay a newer building to gauge whether that would affect the view. This is vital in planning execution.

There are numerous datasets to act as aids to the user, like maps showing details like public transport accessibility rating and even a deep dive on traffic flows, to get a sense of the physicality of what is happening at a granular level.

A quick thumbnail sketch

Without getting into the minutiae of the technology – mathematics, coding, and software that lays behind it – if Michal Konicek is asked to quantify what the business does in simple terms, his reply would be this:

“Accurate and detailed 3D city models, 3D models of London and other UK cities, and custom 3D models anywhere in the UK. Customers can select any area of the UK from our website, and we will produce a quote for a 3D model of this area. In London, we offer 3D Models from our extensive library. Customers can also buy a 25 square kilometre Base 3D Model or subscribe to access always updated, high detail wide area 3D model of London.”

Whilst this is the immediate commercial advantage of using AccuCities, there are several others. From securing more and higher value commissions utilising the wow factor of the system when presented to potential clients looking to select a planning or building partner, doing away with expensive physical site theodolite inspections.

Accuracy is also key. The tolerances and exactness AccuCities provides and the speed at which it answers key questions puts it in a class of its own. A new building can be analysed and examined from the viewpoints of all planning restrictions, including its proportional size and height.

The last thing anyone in the planning team wants is a planning inspector giving you a set of points for various directives, with the punitive costs attached. With the system, it is simple to contemplate wide-area considerations, other buildings in the immediate vicinity, placement of external heating controls, etc.

Depending on the need of the client deeper data sets are available. 3D Models of London in Level 2 are structured in Layers. Level 2 Buildings are on one layer, the terrain model is separated into layers such as roads, man-made surfaces, green spaces, and water bodies, also bridges, embankment walls and river structures. The last layer in this dataset is the trees layer which is also available.

As you effortlessly manoeuvre around the digital ecosystem within the hidden world of AccuCities, it is both a panoramic and microscopic deep dive at the same moment, with a clear nod to its gamification heritage.

The stylish bespoke system is reassuringly top-drawer, solid, dependable and it is no wonder that adoption of it continues apace.

Andrew Stanton is the founder of Proptech-PR and Proptech-X. He grows proptech companies using his influence from decades of industry experience and is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations.

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