Construction Information Technology Blog

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

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