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Construction Information Technology Blog

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Digital workflow is more efficient for construction projects

  
  
  

In a recent Journal of Commerce article that I read the author reports on a recent presentation by a document-management expert that discussed the premise that “The construction process from bid to design is paper-based, but adopting current technology can help move companies into a digital workflow”. Sasha Reed, director of account services with Bluebeam Software Inc. says that “When you look at specifications, drawing revisions and how many parties that can get shipped to, it is a no-brainer — there is a lot of paper in this industry. That was not necessarily a bad thing years ago, but with the technology in place now, we do not have to generate as much paper as we did before.” I couldn’t agree more.

Bluebeam is a company that, in their words, “makes smart simple solutions for paperless workflows that leverage the pdf format.” They are absolutely on the right track for providing effective tools that the construction industry can use to manage the growing use of pdf formatted documents for project documentation and communication. 10 years ago virtually every page viewed using our technology was a scanned image. Today, less that 15% of the images posted to our system are scanned. Digitally created pdf’s are the predominant format used. The business case and resulting efficiencies from using digital workflows are overwhelming.

digital workflow for construction documentsThe key issue from my perspective is how to effectively integrate all the various document management activities that are now able to be performed using digital tools. In particular, there is a challenge moving 100% to digital workflows when the reality there are still some unaddressed paper based activities or even more challenging, processes where only some of the parties are using the digital tools with others who are still committed to paper. These are key considerations that our PlanSource technology helps to manage. It is designed to effectively manage and control all documents whether they are the result of a digital workflow or not.

Further on in the article it states “Reed recommends an FTP (file transfer protocol) site for document management of larger files. An FTP site is essentially a virtual storage room. It can provide the controlled access and security needed to download, upload and revise files.” This is the only point in the article that I would take issue with. In other blog posts here I have discussed the many weaknesses of using FTP sites to manage project documents. They are simply inadequate and certainly don’t do anything to bridge the ‘digital divide’ described earlier in this blog post. By all means, take advantage of the tremendous power of tools like Bluebeam, but to be fully effective you need to marry that power with effective document control technology to complete the picture.

Help your Subtrades and Suppliers to be profitable

  
  
  

In some recent conversations with several Contractors I heard a position that I quite frankly don’t understand. The conversation was about why it is important to make it easy for Trade contractors and Suppliers to work with your company. The position taken was that they were only concerned about whether a process works for their firm. It is the other company’s problem to figure out how to work with them and it didn’t matter if it cost that company time and money. That’s just the price of being in business. Huh!

Naturally, your corporate systems have to address the needs of your company and personnel but that doesn’t have to exclude the possibility of making it better for those who work with you to benefit as well. Here are a few thoughts about how to be helpful at the bidding stage of a project:

help subtrades and suppliers
  • Send out invitations to bidin a timely manner to ensure they have adequate time to respond and provide you with a well prepared bid.
    • Allow them to receive the invitation via either email or fax based on what works best for their needs.
  • Provide them the ability to easily access documents and bidding information in a format they can work with whether that is viewing them online, downloading them, printing them on their own printer or sending an order to a reprographer.
    • Don’t force them to waste time and money driving across town to pick up a set of paper documents when they could easily download them at their convenience.
    • Don’t force them to ‘borrow’ a set of documents that they have to get scanned and copied at their expense of both time and dollars.
    • Don’t just post a mass of documents on some ftp site and force them to figure out what software they need to view them and work with them.
  • Provide immediate access to addenda and other supplementary information as soon as you receive it.

The way you interact with your Trades and Suppliers at the very first interaction on a project is a clear sign of what it is like to work with your company through the construction phase. If you want the best pricing it is important to demonstrate that you care about their time and costs and that you are interested in helping them be profitable on your projects.

The most effective way to manage your construction documents efficiently

  
  
  

We are back! Our blogging activity has been curtailed over the last couple of months as we have been very focused on completing our latest innovative new solution for the construction industry called PlanSource FT – File Transfer. I am excited to tell you about it. 

Our existing technologies are widely hailed as delivering significant time and dollar savings to those who use them while concurrently reducing project risk and environmental impact. We were one of the first companies to see the potential of internet technologies to deliver these kinds of benefits to the construction industry. Ten years ago there was no shortage of sceptics who thought that managing and distributing construction documents online was a bad idea. “I need to have the entire plan laid out in front of me to work on it” was a familiar refrain. Changing something as ingrained and iconic as the traditional roll of drawings is a slow process that will only happen if the benefits are substantial. Good news – the benefits have proven to be substantial and the process is changing rapidly. 

When we first started this company (100,000 plus projects ago) virtually every drawing, specification page or addenda uploaded to the system was scanned from paper originals despite the fact that they were all created digitally. About two years ago the transition away from distributing paper sets accelerated as design consultants became increasingly comfortable with the idea of sharing their documents in digital format (typically .pdf or .tiff). Today, only 10% – 15% of the documents uploaded to our systems are scanned, and even that number is declining. 

For the most part the design consultants have used FTP sites (File Transfer Protocol) as the mechanism to share and distribute their digital files with their design team and more recently with contractors. While this mechanism works, it is by no means the best way to accomplish the task. Managing the sites, maintaining security, organizing and working with the files are just some of the challenges presented by FTP.

Plansource     FT - fast easy secureIn response to those challenges we have taken the opportunity to leverage some core elements of our very powerful PlanSource applications to provide the industry with a dramatically better solution to managing and transferring construction files online. That solution is PlanSource FT – File Transfer as mentioned earlier in this article. It is specifically designed for construction and is fast, easy and secure. Users can set up an account and in minutes be viewing documents, sharing them with others, printing them directly, downloading the files they need or even sending orders for copies directly to their own reprographer. It is very inexpensive and will even offer a completely free and fully functional version to those who only have a limited amount of activity.

As digital files have become more commonplace, everybody including Architects, Engineers, General Contractors, Trade Contractors and Suppliers all have an increased need to be able to efficiently manage and work with these files. Whether the files are on a CD, DVD, downloaded from FTP sites or are from an online planroom, PlanSource FT provides a tremendous way to use a single system to effectively manage all of them. We anticipate this great new tool will be released in May and look forward to once again delivering an innovative solution that solves a widespread problem for the construction industry.

Free stuff from PlanSource!

  
  
  


We are nearing the final stages of developing a new secure online technology that is simply the fastest, easiest and most efficient way to share and distribute construction documents.

Do you receive digital files from others? Do you have access to an online planroom or an FTP site? Do you need to then share or exchange those files with other contractors or suppliers? PlanSource FT is designed to be the most efficient possible way for you to do that. It is like an FTP site on steroids. Unlike a typical FTP site where you can only transfer files, PlanSource FT allows users to instantly view, print, download or order paper copies of documents. It is easy to use and requires ZERO training. There is no software to buy or hardware to install. Just sign up online and in minutes you are ready to go.

plansource viewerPlanSource FT is the latest development from one of the construction industry’s most innovative and successful technology companies. Our experience in delivering online planroom technology to over 15,000 users on over 100,000 projects has positioned us with the technology platform and industry knowledge to develop this breakthrough on demand service for the construction industry.

We will be making Version 1.0 of PlanSource FT available early in 2010. If you would like to be one of the first to benefit from using it we have a great offer for a limited number of participants. The first 50 companies who sign up to use this great new software service will receive 6 months of service free. Simply click on this link to sign up. You will be provided with complete details of all fees (which only apply if you continue to use the service after the first 6 months) and of how the service works prior to the launch date. This offer is only available until December 30th 2009 so we encourage you to take advantage of this no cost, no risk offer and be one of the first to start saving time and money.

The ‘Site of Record’ approach to tendering

  
  
  

The process to obtain a price and enter a contract for construction work is complex in part because virtually every project is unique. Over the course of years construction tendering standards have evolved and been shaped by best practices and changes in the law. The advent of new internet technologies offers a new way of integrating the entire process to eliminate some of the more common issues and problems that typically arise through the tender period of a project.

The following are just a few examples of typical issues that arise during the process:

  • Missing documents or information
  • Trade contractors having different information than the Prime Contractor
  • Late issuance of Addenda
  • Incorrect document versions
  • Unclear closing times
  • Incomplete tender submissions
  • Missing schedules or attachments
  • Missing tender security (bonds)
  • Late submission of tenders
  • Busy fax lines precluding bid amendments from arriving on time

bidding recordThese and many other related issues can be managed effectively using a Site of Record approach to tendering. All tender activities, information and documents are made available to all bidders in a single secure online site. The Site of Record is the only official set of information made available to bidders leaving no chance for errors in the production, distribution or tracking of hard copy documents. Every bidder who accesses the information is automatically included in the distribution list for any addenda. The tender form is made available to Bidders electronically with all requirements clearly defined for the bidders. It cannot be submitted with missing information which ensures a complete tender submission. At the instant the reverse countdown clock reaches the closing time bids are no longer able to be submitted or edited. At that same instant the results of all properly submitted tenders along with any required bid bonds or other attachments are all immediately available for review either individually or in a spreadsheet format. All of the activities in the process are logged ensuring that all the key elements of the process are verifiable should the need arise after the fact.

Using a Site of Record approach to construction tendering saves time, reduces costs for all parties and most importantly it significantly reduces the risk of problems or claims arising from errors or omissions in the tendering process.

File Transfer – Building your own solution?

  
  
  

There is an undeniable trend happening in the construction industry towards greater use of the internet for moving drawings, specifications and other documents. The use of FTP (File Transfer Protocol) by Architectural and Engineering teams is widespread. Contractors and Suppliers are receiving more and more information in digital format that they still need to share with others.When working out how to resolve this issue some are looking at the option of building their own in-house solution.

When considering this option it might be useful to ask yourself a few key questions:

build FTP

  • Are you confident that the solution you plan to spend time and money to build has a high probability of delivering the desired results?

  • Are you confident that the actual working solution can be completed within the timescales for development and implementation that are initially predicted?

  • Are you confident that the fully functional solution will be implemented for a cost that is controllable and acceptable?

  • Are you confident that once implemented the cost of maintenance will not be an uncapped drain on your IT Department’s resources?

  • Are you confident the solution will meet your requirements for speed, simplicity and security?

The harsh reality is that in many cases the actual solution finally provided will probably not achieve the original business objectives or savings in costs which made the project valid in the first instance. The inescapable conclusion is that where an existing solution exists, it should be used unless it can be demonstrated that it cannot handle the majority of the required business process. Few companies have the resources and energy it takes to build a fully functional solution. Wasting time, money and people resources on a non-core business activity to implement what seems like a fast and cheap solution is unlikely to make your business better.

 

To FTP or not to FTP

  
  
  

The fact that printing and distributing the masses of paper it takes to construct a project is time consuming and expensive is undeniable. However, the reality in the construction industry is that this paper based distribution system is the industry standard and has been deeply integrated into the way projects are managed.

The evolution of IT infrastructure and new software developments are driving changes that are causing new challenges such as when someone sends you a set of digital drawings and specs. How do you get that information to the people you need to see them? Take them to a reprographer and print copies, burn them to DVD’s and ship those out or possibly put them on an FTP site and let people download them and do whatever they want. 

Let’s take a closer look at FTP serverwhat the FTP option is and what it can do. FTP refers to File Transfer Protocol, the protocol for exchanging files over the Internet. FTP is most commonly used to download a file from a server using the Internet or to upload a file to a server (e.g., uploading a drawing file to a server). It is relatively fast and simple to use but it definitely has its limitations. Typically, FTP services are part of your internal network. They are a favourite target for hackers looking for ways to get into networks. If you are concerned about security, and you ought to be, then you have to be particularly careful to manage your FTP properly. FTP services are little more than a digital box that people who have access to them can use to exchange files. There is no viewing, document ordering, access control or other important functions. Administering even a simple site requires someone to issue and manage passwords for every user. An administrator has to pay close attention to what is actually posted as there is no version management and people can end up with the wrong files. Properly organizing and managing the files for a project takes diligence and there is no record whatsoever of who has accessed particular information.

Typical FTP sites are a simple tool but do not in and of themselves constitute a system for document control

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