File sharing and synchronization applications have been around for years, so it’s no surprise to find design and construction professionals trying to make them work for their particular document workflow. On the face of the problem, any digital solution appears to be better than working with the rolls of paper blueprints that become obsolete and out-of-date, sometimes on the very day they are printed.
But while the applications are generic, the document management needs of the design and construction industry are anything but generic. Information changes rapidly, tracking changes in contract documents is critical, and, aside from human error, working from the most current set of documents on a project site is the only sure-fire way to avoid rework, cost overruns, and delays. This is where generic file sharing apps often fall down on the job site and where going back to paper can sometimes seem like a viable alternative.
However, research commissioned by ARC Document Solutions quantified the effect that document management has on the productivity, efficiency and costs of construction project management. According to this nationwide survey of more than 100 architects, engineers and construction (AEC) professionals:
- 75% of respondents reported that up to one-third of project cost overruns are due to project document difficulties and issues
- 33% of respondents found that accessing the latest set of documents and having the most current information to be a challenge in completing an AEC project
- Nearly 40% of the participants said that online access to all documents on any device platform is one of the most important factors in increasing company productivity or in reducing costs
- 25% of survey respondents said that inaccurate project paperwork or too many versions of documents has contributed to a construction delay
More specifically, nearly one-third (30.1%) of the participating AEC professionals said that using generic file sharing applications made completing a project on schedule a challenge.
So where does that leave today’s construction professional in need of a better document management solution?
A Solution Built for Construction
National Commercial Builders (NCB), a builder known for its expertise in the construction of movie theaters, entertainment centers, restaurants and retail chains, found themselves asking that exact question.
Central to NCB’s mission is ensuring that clear communication is fostered and maintained between all parties that work on a project. They believe this so strongly that clients will find it stated plainly in their marketing materials and website.
“We believe the success of your project lies in the communication established between the team members. NCB supports ‘partnering’ with all the team members—bringing the client, architect, contractor and other project contributors together.”
As projects have become more complex and the demands of today’s construction environment become increasingly time-sensitive, the builder found that staying true to its core mission was becoming more challenging. Specifically, general-purpose document-sharing methods were difficult to use and ill-suited for meeting the varied needs of all parties involved in the typical construction project.
While the advent of mobile devices and cloud technologies has brought forth many options for distributing construction documents, these solutions often ended up being just good enough but never optimal. Like so many of its peers, the great challenge for NCB wasn’t finding a solution—it was finding a solution built for construction.
The SKYSITE Alternative
NCB’s search for a construction-grade solution led them to SKYSITE, a cloud-based, enterprise-level document management solution designed specifically for the AEC industry. Developed by ARC Document Solutions, SKYSITE brings a construction-centric mindset and decades of domain expertise to its users. NCB was intrigued by the collaborative benefits of the application, as well as its ability to upload, track, mark up, and synchronize documents in real time with team members, no matter where they are.
Considering that nearly a third of AEC professionals surveyed by ARC identified access to the latest set of documents and robust version control as leading challenges to project completion, NCB’s enthusiastic exploration of SKYSITE came as no surprise.
One feature outside of document control that caught the builder’s attention was photo management. Like many construction companies today, the role of digital photos in managing and measuring progress on today’s project sites has become much more important for NCB. Being able to track the development of a construction project with images makes visual time-lapse studies easy and incredibly useful, provided there is a simple and well-organized way to store photographs.
Addressing problems and documenting solutions with a photo from a mobile phone or tablet is also becoming increasingly common, but, once again, organizing such images, attaching them to drawings, and finding them quickly is critical to increasing productivity. Without such information management tools, more data simply means more headaches.
NCB found that construction teams using SKYSITE can take and tag photos and aggregate them in a single, common project directory accessible from any mobile device. Like any other document in the system, photos can be managed, indexed and searched quickly and efficiently, primarily because photos are stored in the same place as drawings and specifications. With SKYSITE, NCB team members can collaborate and communicate on any mobile device using photos as the medium.
“I am excited about SKYSITE because it’s built specifically for the construction industry,” said Sheldon Oxner, CEO of National Commercial Builders of Lenexa, Kansas. “Today construction projects are conducted in real time, across different locations around the world. Construction teams need access to current and accurate documents with the confidence that the right version of the document is in their hands. We can’t afford to work from outdated hard copies, email messages, generic file sharing apps or FTP sites that are unable to cope with real-time collaboration demand. In our experience SKYSITE provides effective project document and project management with efficient collaboration and information sharing.”
There Is No Going Back
AEC professionals across the country are finding the adoption of technology becoming more critical to their success, whether adding BIM expertise to their staffs or incorporating a cloud-based application like SKYSITE to address document management challenges.
In another recent survey on technology conducted by ARC Document Solutions, respondents have overwhelming identified the adoption of technology (72%) and increased collaboration (45%) as the two issues that increasingly go hand-in-hand in improving the design and construction process.
Likewise, almost all of the survey respondents (93%) believe that increases in productivity and decreases in cost are most dependent on the successful adoption and implementation of new technology tools.
Oxner, commenting about going back to older analog document management methods, said, “Everything is so fast-paced nowadays; there’s just no way you can go back to the way you did things before. It’s just too slow. And with everything moving so quickly, if you don’t keep up with the changes, then you’re going to fall behind. So, no, there is no going back.”
Documents are the principal medium of communication across the various trades and disciplines in the AEC industry. Providing an application that enables a dynamic “single source of truth” to store and access documents from any digital device addresses the strong demand for better project communications and collaboration, both of which help keep construction projects on time and under budget.