Construction Information Technology Blog

Planrooms – yesterday and today

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jan 19, 2011 5:32:00 AM

Where I come from it’s called a planroom. Others call it a plansroom or a plan room. Whatever you label it the function is still the same. Planrooms have traditionally been the construction industry’s solution to the problem of sharing and distributing project documents like drawings (plans), specifications and addenda. ‘Blueprints’ and spec’s were expensive to reproduce so some bright person decided to put a set or two in a room and invite all the people who needed to see them to travel to the documents to view them in a common place. Over time the concept evolved to creating one location where contractors and suppliers could view many projects in one location. The result was the origination of Construction Association Planrooms and Builders Exchanges (they were exchanging documents) about 100 years ago.

Despite the evolution of reprographic technology through the years very little changed in the planroom world; that is until the mid 1990’s. At that time the list of projects and project information that was typically distributed as a Bulletin or Project News on a weekly basis began to be available online in some form. In the late 1990’s the online project information was supplemented with the addition of access to view the documents as well. It was early days for sharing documents online and there were very few companies enabling this type of activity. Ours was one of the few at the time. At that time there was virtually no sharing of digitally formatted documents between the design team and contractors. Virtually every document was scanned from paper originals and then made available online.

Since 2000 the trend towards using digital files for viewing and distribution through online planrooms has accelerated to the point where scanned documents represent only a very small portion of the information made available online. Lots of paper is still produced but it is dramatically less than ten years ago and the percentage continues to shrink.

online planroom
So what has been the impact of all of this on Planrooms? It is significant. Digital files are becoming the overwhelmingly common way to share project information. A great many Owners, Design Consultants and Contractors now operate their own online planrooms. They take many forms from simple FTP sites with little control or functionality to very sophisticated systems with tools to help manage various document related workflows. The relevance of the online planroom is changing as this transition to a digital construction world continues. The key benefit of a centralized planroom continues to be the ability for contractors and suppliers to access large numbers of project opportunities aggregated in one location with one single technology.

In my opinion the significant change is not over yet. The introduction of online bid submission technology, online submittal management tools, document control systems and other new products will continue to change the offerings of Planroom operators and Builders Exchanges. The progressive ones will survive and thrive. The others will go the way of the ‘blueprint’.

Topics: Online bidding, Electronic document management, Online planroom, Online submittal, Online tools

How much does it cost to take your bidding systems online?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Oct 21, 2010 9:47:00 AM

Well ... how long is a string? Of course a real answer to this takes a lot more specifics about what systems and how you want to organize them. This is a question I am asked often and I can for the most part confidently say, “it won’t cost anything, in fact you will save money overall.”

The activities I am referring to in this case as bidding systems include; maintaining an accurate list of trade contractors and suppliers, issuing invitations to bid, distributing bidding documents, distributing addenda, quantity takeoff, tracking bid coverage and receiving and tabulating bids from contractors and suppliers. The current transition that is underway from doing much of these activities using paper based systems to digital systems is well underway. The result is a need for an effective way to perform these activities using digital systems that support the old paper based requirements when needed. If your online solution can achieve this then you are well positioned to experience some significant efficiencies.

cost of online biddingSo ... back to the question. How much? In the case of our company I can say that the expense line will range from zero to a few dollars per month per user of the system depending upon the features that you require. It is essentially volume based and you only pay for what you use. The part of the equation we rarely see addressed is what the value of the efficiencies is. How much would it have cost to print and distribute paper? What is the value of the time savings from being more efficient? What higher value work could be done by the personnel who used to manage processes that are now automated? What is the potential cost of claims, delays and other problems that arise after the fact if your systems don’t properly track who had access to what information and when?

The obvious moral of the story here is that the answer is only possible to determine if you have already done the work to determine the existing cost of the potential time, expense and risk avoidance. Our experience is that few people have done this and actually have a clear understanding of what it really costs to do all these activities. Do your firm a favour and give this some thought.

Topics: Construction documents, Online bidding, Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Risk management, Construction bidding, Online submittal, Saving money, Saving time

Lost Submittals and Shop Drawings

Posted by Dave Robertson on May 6, 2010 8:39:00 AM

submittal shop drawing scrollsI was copied in on some recent correspondence between one of our clients and an architect they are working with on a project (details removed for privacy).

The conversation is illustrative of the reason so many construction professionals are looking for better ways to manage some of the traditionally paper/courier based processes like submittal and shop drawing review.

ARCHITECT: See attached for submittal review.
CONTRACTOR: Thanks [Architect],
Do you know where the first Mechanical shop dwgs are? They were submitted a month ago. See attached transmittal
ARCHITECT: Hi [Contractor].
The first package came in a box with another submittal, and I did not realize they were in there. I found them late last week and rushed them to [Consultant]. If it’s okay, I’ll have them returned via email. That will be faster.
Have you used PlanSource? Would it be more efficient?
CONTRACTOR: Yes we have been using PlanSource for tendering for about 5 years. They have been trying to get us to use it for shop drawing process but have yet to find an architect to agree. Have you used it before? Would you like to explore it for [Project]. There is a cost so if [Project Architect] agrees we can use the Contractors Contingency Allowance.
ARCHITECT: Let’s talk to [Project Architect] about it tomorrow. I am not great at the whole distribution and courier/tracking system. I find that submittals come in and then get buried on my desk.
I wouldn’t mind trying it.
CONTRACTOR: Hi [PlanSource]
Can you put a quick estimate or proposal together for [Project] for the shop drawing review process and documents so I can present it to [Client]. [Architect] is keen on using it. [Project] is a 12 month project with about 25-30 trades and 10-15 consultants. Let me know if you need any further info.

There are many benefits to online submittal review and tracking not the least of which is no more missing documents. Faster turnaround time, single copy mark-up and review and automated logging and tracking of the review process make it a better process for everyone.

Just to complete the story, the answer to the cost question on this project was “$300 per month or less depending upon actual usage”. The decision was to use the system for the project.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Online submittal, Submittals management, Saving time, Shop drawing management