Construction Information Technology Blog

Cloud Computing in 2013

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jan 11, 2013 7:30:00 AM

Cloud computing is on the rise. About a year ago, a KPMG Survey titled “Embracing the Cloud” concluded that there is an increased readiness to accept the Cloud and harness its benefits. The vast majority of business executives surveyed expected Cloud-related investments to increase in 2012. More recently, a similar survey conducted by T-Systems in late 2012 found that 44% of those business executives are willing to take advantage of more cloud computing solutions in the future. Furthermore, a recent Forrester Research states that half of all enterprises in North America and Europe are planning to create budgets for cloud-related investments in 2013. In the same way, Gartner’s yearly tech prediction also identifies cloud computing as one of the major influence to a worldwide increase of IT spending in 2013. There is a clear global trend towards Cloud computing.

So the next question would be “Why move to the Cloud?” There are many benefits of cloud computing, particularly cost-savings, flexibility and greater efficiency. With cloud computing, there is no need to invest in expensive hardware or software development and maintenance. Companies can improve their business processes through an on-demand, proven technology usually offered at a fraction of the development cost due to economies of scale. This provides businesses who are early adopters with a new form of low risk competitive advantage. Moreover, the Forrester Research report suggests an era of new IT responsiveness and efficiency addressing the economic inflexibility that ails on-premises IT.

All this hype about Cloud services is for good reason. The Cloud simply works when properly executed. According to this article, a recent survey conducted by the Navint Partners, which interviewed chief execs of companies with over 5,000 employees, concluded that many CIOs are happy with the result of moving to the Cloud. The majority (90%) of the respondents claimed they had gotten all of the predicted savings and nearly two-thirds (64%) of the respondents noted a significant impact on their business process efficiency and effectiveness. Also, 80% of the respondents said that the Cloud gave their company a competitive advantage.

cloud computing survey

Keri Brooke, VP marketing at Host Analytics, said: “Businesses are embracing the cloud and realizing it offers tremendous value and advantages over on-premise applications. This new research reinforces the industry’s shift to a more modern, effective and safe way of doing business.”

It is clear that if your company is not yet using Cloud services, it is very likely that you are missing out.

Topics: Saving money, Software management, Cloud computing

Digital workflow is more efficient for construction projects

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jan 5, 2011 6:29:00 AM

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.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Saving money, Construction ftp, Saving time, Construction industry

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, Saving money, Saving time, Online submittal

Faster, easier = more productivity

Posted by Dave Robertson on Sep 14, 2010 9:21:00 AM

If you were presented with a new technology for onsite activities such as pouring concrete or installing drywall that was faster and easier than the way you currently do it, would you buy it? Maybe. Of course, among other things you would want to understand the business case first. A key factor would likely be comparing how much the new technology costs vs. the savings from increased productivity. Let’s assume you’ve done the math and the productivity improvement would reduce your labour costs for that activity by 25% - 50% making the cost vs. benefit a no-brainer. Now would you do it? Maybe, but there’s a problem - what would you do with all that saved time and labour expense?

Does this seem like fuzzy logic to you? It does to me. Oddly, it is one of the most commonly heard thought patterns we hear when talking to people about adopting new online technologies. They review the compelling business case for adopting a new information technology and then conclude that it may not be something worth doing because they already have people on the payroll that do those activities. Because their time is already paid for, there is no need for them to be more efficient. Huh? The implication seems to be that there are no other higher value activities that could be done if these efficiencies are achieved.

technology productivity

There appears to be a different mindset for some people when considering efficiencies in the administrative side of their businesses versus the operational or onsite activities. Either reducing your overhead costs or increasing the productivity of the dollars spent for overhead are both effective ways to increase profitability. Today’s new information technologies offer great potential to not only improve administrative productivity but they can also help reduce direct costs and reduce the potential for project related risks. Making the most of the dollars spent on overhead is as essential to maintaining a competitive enterprise as buying a new productivity improving widget for the jobsite.

Topics: Risk management, Saving money, Software management

What does it cost an Owner to receive a bid?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jul 16, 2010 8:36:00 AM

The cost of the bidding process for owners of construction projects is significant when you consider all the aspects of managing it. Once the project documents (Drawings and specifications) are complete there are a number of steps required before prices can actually be received and analyzed. Errors or omissions in these activities can have serious consequences including non-compliant bids, claims for delays or extras or litigation relating to the bidding process itself. Some of the key activities include:

  • Preparing the bidding instructions
  • Preparing the bid form
  • Selecting a list of potential bidders
  • Advertising the opportunity
  • Issuing Invitations to Bid
  • owners   cost to receive bidsIssuing bid documents to interested bidders
    • Making adequate numbers of copies
    • Checking for completeness of the bid sets
    • Packaging bid sets
    • Staff time to organize and log sets that are picked up by bidders
    • Preparing waybills and calling couriers
    • Receiving bid set deposits if required
  • Responding to questions and clarifications requested by bidders
  • Issuing addenda and tracking who got them and when
  • Checking time clocks for accuracy prior to closing time
  • Logging bids as they are received and recording the time
  • Receiving amendments that arrive via fax or other means
  • Matching amendments with the correct bids
  • Opening the bids
  • Evaluating the bids for completeness and compliance
  • Reviewing that the required bid security is compliant
  • Tabulating the bid results to prepare them for analysis
  • Receiving and organizing returned bid sets if required

While this list is not exhaustive it is indicative of the amount of detail that must be dealt with in order to properly manage the bidding process. The actual cost will of course vary with the size and scope of each project ... but big or small the steps to manage the process are very similar. Hard costs include items like paper copies, long distance calls/faxes, packaging and couriers. The cost of the staff time required to undertake these activities is substantial and is certainly not the highest and best use of valuable human resources. The biggest indirect cost arises after the fact from potential process based litigation or claims for delays and extras resulting from missing information.

In a previous post I discussed the digital site of record approach to managing all of these activities that offers tremendous potential to reduce or eliminate most of the costs of managing the bid process along with reducing most of the risk for problems after the fact.

Topics: Construction documents, Online bidding, Risk management, Construction bidding, Saving money

Preventative legal advice

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jul 2, 2010 9:22:00 AM

One of the most commonly given pieces of preventative legal advice for construction professionals is “document everything”. Clearly this is very good advice ... but it is not always given the attention it deserves. If you’ve ever been involved in a claim or suit you are well aware of the costs of putting together the story of what actually happened. The bill can be thousands of dollars or even tens of thousands for significant claims. Ensuring a properly documented ‘audit trail’ as I call it can be a time consuming effort but it is like buying insurance ... you don’t expect a problem ... but if it arises, you are prepared.

Good document control technology automates the majority of the documentation needed to know with clarity and ease who saw what and when. The best part of this is that simply having the systems in place can avoid the escalation of an issue to a claim or a lawsuit right up front. A number of our clients have reported on situations where someone states they didn’t receive a particular document or piece of information and as a result expect that they are entitled to compensation. An easily generated activity report showing the information was fully available can often lead to an immediate resolution of the issue. construction audit trailFor example, a log report from our system stating that “[Person] from [Company] on [Date] looked at page 1, 7 and 10 of Addendum number 6”, was conclusive enough evidence to avoid the time, costs and potential bad relationship of what was a six figure claim for an extra.

Best practices today not only ensure a proper audit trail but they also contribute to significant reductions in the time and cost associated with generating it. Manual creation of distribution logs, transmittals, waybills, email records and other means of proving your case are completely automated. Given the tools and efficiencies that are available today it might be worth taking a second look at how your firm is addressing that piece of very good legal advice.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Risk management, Saving money, Construction industry, Audit trail

To scan or not to scan

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jun 8, 2010 11:00:00 PM

I was asked the other day by someone if I thought they should buy a large format scanner to scan construction drawings. They are increasingly receiving digital files but still have lots of paper documents flowing through the office. The scanner and printer combination they were looking at was many thousands of dollars. My very helpful answer was “maybe”.

When we first started this business in 2000 virtually every page of drawings and specifications uploaded to our system was scanned. At that time design consultants and owners were still wary of sharing digital files and scanning was the only way to get the information digitized. There has been a radical shift in the last few years and the concern over distributing digital files has been far outweighed by the efficiencies and cost savings that the consultants and their clients achieve. Happily that means less scanning. Today, 85% - 90% of the documents uploaded to our system are received in digital format.

large scannerFor others who are considering this question there are several considerations.

  • When you receive paper sets of documents are your personnel requesting digital files? Almost every document today is created digitally.
  • Do you need the convenience of having the files immediately scanned in your office or can you efficiently outsource it to a local reprographer or scanning service?
  • Do you want your personnel spending the time it takes to learn and then operate the scanner?
  • Are you prepared for the maintenance bills? We recently replaced the glass on one of our machines. It is $700 just for the glass.

Ultimately the person I spoke to decided that the convenience of having immediate access to both printing and scanning was worth the investment. In a few years this may well be a moot point as more and more information is being exchanged digitally. In the mean time it may well be worthwhile to consider having conversion technology in your own office.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Saving money, Reprographers

The most effective way to manage your construction documents efficiently

Posted by Dave Robertson on Apr 29, 2010 6:35:00 AM

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.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Risk management, Saving money, Construction ftp, Software management

A four step estimating tune up

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jan 28, 2010 7:26:00 AM

construction estimating tune upConstruction estimating is a complex and time consuming process. A good estimator truly understands how a project is managed from start to finish and is able to translate every step into a dollar amount. Estimators today have some very powerful tools available to help them put together the best and most accurate numbers upon which to base their final price. If you are not already doing them here are four ideas that might help you fine tune your process:

  1. Help your Trade contractors and suppliers be more efficient
    On a recent and very large project the General Contractor decided to distribute the drawings and specifications on Dvd’s. There were hundreds of pages of drawings and the cost of distributing paper would have been significant. The information on the Dvd’s was poorly organized and very difficult for anyone to work with and find what they needed. Many opted to simply get it all printed out at significant expense just to figure it out. This was simply a short sighted exercise in transferring the cost and effort on to the Trades and Suppliers. It is hard to imagine how that kind of approach which essentially says ‘I don’t care about your time and expenses to give me a bid’ can ultimately result in that Contractor getting the best price from that Trade. If your attitude up front is that you don’t care, why would it be any different when you get on the site? Given that a significant portion of any bid is usually made up of bids from many Trades and Suppliers it would only make sense to demonstrate that you are good to work with and that you are interested in doing what you can to help them make money as well. A better alternative to the Dvd’s (and subsequent addenda) which still took time and cost money to produce and distribute would have been to make them available in an online planroom like PlanSource for fast and easy access by everyone who needed them. It would have cost less than the Dvd’s, taken less time and would have been far better for everyone involved.
  2. Make sure the right people know when you are looking for pricing
    Sending out Invitations to Bid is essential. There is no doubt that for critical Trades and Suppliers you will still need to have a conversation with them but why not give notice that you are working on the project and let them view the documents in advance of your call to make the exercise more efficient. There are countless stories of how one price from one particular Trade or Supplier made the difference in getting the project. Even for a Construction Management or negotiated contract it is still essential to let people know as soon as possible that you are looking for them to spend some of their time and resources to work with you to put pricing together. Adequate notice simply helps them plan better. PlanSource has excellent Invitation to Bid and messaging functionality that can make the process fast and easy.

  3. Get your database of Trades and Suppliers in order
    We are in a position to see lots of company databases of their Trade and Supplier contacts. Obviously, a key resource for any estimator is the list of contacts they have available to gather pricing from. It appears to be a big challenge for many Contractors to maintain and keep accurate as people and companies come and go. The task of “cleaning it up” is often a once a year exercise for one of the administrators that can take a lot of time and effort to get done. There is a better way. Once again there is software available today that virtually eliminates the need to maintain the list. It can be automatically managed and updated using the management tools available in PlanSource . Add in the available prequalification tools and you have an easy way to screen prospective new contacts to improve and expand your available bidders.

  4. Use On Screen Takeoff software
    Accurate quantity takeoffs are of course a critical element of a good bid. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a scale rule and estimating pad there is no question that good onscreen takeoff software can help you get the work done faster, more accurately and with more options for analyzing and refining your numbers. In addition to the takeoff tools available in PlanSource, there are many options in the market but one well worth looking at can be found at www.oncenter.com .

In a market like the current one where every tender is highly competitive it is more important than ever to make sure you are doing all you can to be efficient with your own time and expenses and to reduce the time and expenses it takes Trades and Suppliers to work with you. Better systems yield better results and ultimately improve your odds of being the successful bidder.

Topics: Construction documents, Online bidding, Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Estimators software, Risk management, Construction bidding, Saving money, Software management

Free stuff from PlanSource!

Posted by Dave Robertson on Dec 11, 2009 6:49:00 PM


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.

Topics: Product Information, Construction documents, Electronic document management, Risk management, Saving money, Online tools, Construction ftp