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.
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’.