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

IPad’s on the Construction Site

Posted by Dave Robertson on Oct 14, 2010 8:35:00 AM

I have been watching with interest an ongoing conversation with a group of construction professionals about the utility of the new iPad device for the construction site. It’s safe to say that of the 120 or so posts so far the reviews are all over the map. The hawkers of technology and software that can run on the iPad are extolling the virtues. The onsite personnel like Superintendants seem to think it belongs 6 inches deep in their next concrete pour. The majority are in the middle recognizing that there are some benefits but that it will be some time yet before it is a commonplace tool.

The applications talked about provide access to project documents, RFI’s, shop drawings, change orders, punch lists and any number of other pieces of information and forms that are used onsite. Other than its physical size and undeniably cool interface what is the difference between this device and a laptop (ruggedized or otherwise). Not much. A laptop is slightly more difficult to pack around, but really who has a laptop on their person at all times when on the site?

If you are considering using online technology to improve access to information on site the device is a secondary consideration. There are several key factors to consider before picking a device:

  • ipad constructionDoes the software application you intend to use actually make your process better? Is it faster; more reliable than paper; does it automate routine but important activities; does it create an audit trail or some other form of log that can help reduce or eliminate claims? Why are you going digital in the first place?
  • If you are using it to access documents online, will it actually work? Are the documents properly prepared for the internet or are the file sizes so large that they will take forever to download? Would it be better to carry them on the hard drive of your laptop or on a DVD instead? Does the technology help ensure only the latest versions of documents are available? Are they organized well enough that you can easily find what you need?
  • Is it likely that your onsite personnel will carry a mobile device with them and find it easier to work with and use than paper? If it is a schedule, punch list, change order or other document can it practically be viewed on a small device?
  • If you actually need or want paper copies can you print them or order them to be printed?

If you know the application has merit then it is time to think about the right device. It will need reliable and fast internet connectivity; it will need lots of memory; it will need to be rugged enough to be on site in all weather conditions. You should be able to print from it. The device is of limited use if it can only be used in the site office.

Not to be misunderstood here, I am a big advocate of using online technologies to create efficiencies for the construction industry. There are many processes and activities that can be dramatically improved by going online. The key is the process has to be better. Introducing technology in the office or on the site is a waste of time and money unless there is an identifiable benefit. There are clear and definable benefits in the office environment but I am not convinced that the job site is quite ready for the iPad. It’s time will come no doubt, just not yet.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Risk management, Online tools, Software management, Construction industry

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

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

All PDF’s are not alike

Posted by Dave Robertson on Feb 4, 2010 8:05:00 AM

The accelerating trend towards sharing and distributing construction documents online requires people who do so to be more aware of what the technology issues are that relate to the process. A very common issue we see is the misunderstanding of document formats and what they can do. The most common format we see for digital construction documents is PDF. It is a raster format which essentially means it is just an image with no particular ‘intelligence’ unlike a vector format like DWG which has all kinds of potential functionality and information embedded in it.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is described in Wikipedia as “a file format created by Adobe Systems in 1993 for document exchange. PDF is used for representing two-dimensional documents in a manner independent of the application software, hardware, and operating system. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout 2D document that includes the text, fonts, images, and 2D vector graphics which compose the documents. Lately, 3D drawings can be embedded to PDF documents with Acrobat 3D using U3D or PRC and various other data formats”.

construction document pdfWhat is important to recognize about PDF documents is that they are not all created equal. Neither are they all displayed equal. Bad English but I hope you get the point. There are many ways to create PDF documents such as from the full version of Acrobat, a conversion from Word, a scanned image, or even something like a fax machine can produce a PDF. Each of these has the potential to be slightly different, which is where the potential problems arise. It depends what you are using the PDF for and how you are viewing it. For example, if you are sharing it over the internet or in email it is important to properly manage the size for the file. Some of the more sophisticated methods of producing PDF’s or the features that Acrobat allows such as embedding graphics or working with layers can make the files exponentially larger than a simple ‘flattened’ version of the same image.

There are some simple techniques and tricks that can dramatically help with making sure your image files are appropriately prepared for the purpose intended. It may not be a big deal for a few pages but if you are preparing a full set of drawings and specifications for a project it would be best to get it right. Otherwise, the people you are sharing them with will find it very difficult to work with them and you will be back spending time to sort it out. If this is an issue for you and you would like some assistance with how to properly manage or convert files for the internet we would be happy to help. Just email or call and we will help you optimize your PDF’s.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, 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

Looking beyond BIM to Business Information

Posted by Dave Robertson on Dec 17, 2009 3:20:00 AM

building business informationThere is an interesting Blog that I follow called AEC Bytes authored by Lachmi Khemlani. In a recent guest article written by Michael Tardif, Director of Integrated Project Delivery Systems at Grunley Construction Company, Inc. discusses the rationale for the agcXML standard which was developed by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) in collaboration with NIBS as a standard to support the exchange of business information during design and construction. Khemlani states that, “It is important because dramatically improving productivity and efficiency in the building industry cannot be achieved through BIM alone -- we need to look beyond the building-specific and project-specific information that can be compiled in a BIM model to the entire information flow, workflow, and business processes needed to create and sustain the built environment”. 

The article does a great job of making the case for the development and adoption of standards that facilitate the easy exchange of building and project information are essential to increasing the overall productivity in the industry. We will be looking at incorporating these standards into our applications. This link will connect you to the article. http://www.aecbytes.com/viewpoint/2009/issue_49.html

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Software management

Frozen by Feature Fear?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Nov 26, 2009 7:53:00 AM

Do you use all the functions available to you in every piece of software you use? I sure don’t and honestly can’t imagine anyone who does. Almost all software products grow in capability every year as Users and Product Managers identify new requirements that supplement the core functionality of the application.

feature selectionThe key to deciding on a new software application is to be clear about the primary task(s) you are expecting it to do ... and then make sure it does them well. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the complexity of all the other bells and whistles that each product offers but for the most part they just aren’t important. You will achieve 90% of your efficiencies from the core functionality and the other 10% can be achieved conveniently if and when you are ready for them.

Selecting the right software solution can be a challenge when there are so many options available to you but just don’t be frozen into inaction because you can’t see how you can possibly use all the features available. If the core functionality works for you and the business case makes sense on that basis alone, then all the other features just don’t matter.

Topics: Software management