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From CAD User AEC Magazine Vol 18 No 11 - NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005
The rise of online project collaboration, by Mark Ellis, business manager, Autodesk Collaboration Services
Everyone in construction is looking for a way to sharpen competitive edge. As a
result, companies are leaving no stone unturned when exploring the benefits of
using the right IT solutions.
On the one hand, this is good news for IT vendors. But on the other, because of this environment, buyers are only interested in those solutions that offer early return on investment. And this will only be achieved if the product in questions can quickly bring real, tangible efficiencies.
One area currently coming under the spotlight is online project collaboration services, where interest is being driven by the increasing popularity of design-build projects. Whereas in the past, contractors, architects, engineers, consultants and property owners tended to work in isolation without any real sense of shared objectives, at last these key players are working closer together, sharing information and moving towards a common goal.
According to recent statistics, this approach is currently used for an estimated 50% of all commercial work in Europe, a figure expected to rise to 60% by 2010.
In contrast to traditional methods, design/build brings project members together to form one integrated team. Communication tends to be highly complex, with team members talking to each other and exchanging information regularly both on an individual basis and as part of a larger group.
Of course, in these circumstances, personal interaction is vital. Yet teams need the backing of cast-iron processes, for otherwise misunderstandings, misinterpretations and simple mistakes can all take their toll. For example, it seems as if everybody wants to make changes - and unless there is some efficient way to record these, it is only too easy for someone to begin working on the wrong version.
There is also the problem of communicating drawings. Often they are too large to send by email - and if you risk doing so, there is often no way of telling if they have been received. Printing costs can mount up, not to mention the costs of postage or couriers.
An online collaboration service establishes one secure internet location, where all project documentation is saved. Team members use the site to share, update, track and archive material. One such solution is Autodesk Buzzsaw, which enables customers to save time, reduce risk and maximise profitability by tracking and displaying the latest version of all project documents in one secure online location.
Ease of use and centralisation
Solutions targeted at companies operating in this highly-pressurised environment must be easy-to-use. Ideally, they should keep the learning curve for new users to a minimum, by offering a simple Windows-based configuration and drag-and-drop functionality.
Customers are, of course, also looking for flexibility and openness. It is very important that the chosen solution supports all file types, so that users can continue using legacy files rather than getting locked into a very narrow approach to working. Autodesk Buzzsaw provides this support and its close integration with AutoCAD, in particular, enables users to upload and download drawings direct from AutoCAD.
Another important factor is a centralised structure - the ability, for example, to create a single centrally located customised site and build multiple projects within it. This approach allows companies to standardise project management to ensure consistent documentation, common work processes and faster communication, and enables administrators to simplify and streamline the management process.
Using Autodesk Buzzsaw, project managers can extend their centralised control by assigning user access rights at different levels depending on project needs. This real-time monitoring is done via online dashboards - with both executive and project-level access - activity logs automatic notifications.
Online project collaboration can improve communication significantly. The best solutions do this by providing a common, secure, accessible environment for all team members, allowing clients, consultants and contractors to view and mark-up drawings at any time, when required.
Buzzsaw automatically detects when a newer version of a file has been uploaded so users can be confident that they are always working from the latest version. However, users can also review a design history by retrieving earlier versions to view or by comparing them with newer versions. In this way, knowledge is passed from one phase to phase, so when the owner takes possession, important information has not been lost.
For many customers, though, the critical measure of the success of any service of this type is its ability to generate return on investment. A study by market research firm the Hurwitz Group revealed the average annual ROI for a sample group of Buzzsaw customers of 370 percent, and a break-even time line on total cost of ownership of two to three months from implementation of the service.
These savings come from the elimination of in-house printing and postage or CD costs and also time wasted waiting for documents to arrive. Ultimately, they also come from avoiding potential construction errors caused by miscommunication between project partners. "Buzzsaw has saved us tens of thousands of pounds just over the two years I have been here," Simon Johns of architectural practice, Broadway Malyan told Autodesk. "It has obviously paid for itself many times over."
The emergence of this design/build approach has created a team-based environment, bringing with it an increased demand for project colloboration tools such as Autodesk Buzzsaw.
And, as the building industry implements these solutions, users are profiting from improved levels of communication, enhanced control over and access to data, reduced project cycles and perhaps most critically of all, rapid return on investment.
For some time now, the construction industry has been crying out for a business model capable of providing improved efficiency and reducing costs. The development of the design/build concept has provided a strong foundation. Now, with the growing adoption of online project collaboration and tools like Buzzsaw, in particular, the search appears to be over.
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