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D4COST Software

Going Digital: Virtual Plan Rooms and Project Collaboration
By Norm Cadsawan

The construction industry has been making great strides in updating traditional planning and documenting methods to make project communication more efficient and less costly for companies and for the environment.

For example, rather than printing out paper versions of all plans, schedules and agendas, project participants – including architects, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors and owners – can now develop and share digital plans and meet virtually online to share important information. This saves the cost associated with generating and relaying physical plan documents, as well as the time and travel costs associated with meeting face-to-face to share and collaborate on plans with others.

On top of those benefits, switching to digital documents and spaces means all stakeholders gain anytime, anywhere and immediate access to important documents, and can provide corrections and updates much more quickly. Ultimately, this translates to projects being completed faster, and businesses having the opportunity to take on additional jobs and become more profitable.

Virtual plan rooms
As a result of these advances, many municipalities, construction companies, architects and engineers have opted to use virtual plan rooms and cloud-based file access as alternatives to in-person meetings where traditional hard copies are exchanged.

Generating and sharing digital versions can speed up many of the planning processes, since all of the project participants involved - from architects and estimators to project managers and owners - can easily access the documents from anywhere. Beyond the cost-savings associated with no longer printing documents, companies reduce their businesses' carbon footprint. Promoting this and other steps like this that a business takes to become "green", can be a valuable asset in helping firms win bids from environmentally-conscious clients.

This isn't to say that there won’t continue to be a role for printed documents and face-to-face meetings throughout the lifecycle of construction jobs. Some documents simply need to be printed for impact and face-to-face meetings are extremely valuable in building relationships and facilitating collaboration. The difference is that firms today have many more options available to keep projects moving without waiting on the delivery of hard copy plans and aligning travel schedules to meet.

As the technology further develops and becomes easier to access, virtual plan rooms and cloud-based document access are becoming increasingly popular given their numerous advantages.

Digital collaboration
One key advantage is digital collaboration. Easier, always available access to project documentation shared online is allowing project participants to be much more participatory earlier in the building lifecycle – providing feedback and insight that can impact further plan development, correcting errors and leading to the delivery of a stronger end-product. This participation continues throughout the lifecycle of the project, ensuring everyone has the most up-to-date and complete information in order to perform their part on the project.

Additionally, going digital allows for tremendous time-savings in communicating plan changes and updates to the rest of the team. For instance, with one central location to make documents available, a significant burden in terms of time and cost is greatly reduced for general contractors communicating with numerous subcontractors. Also, the responsibility for awareness of project changes and updates posted online becomes shared by all project team members with access to the online site, rather than shouldered more by the party issuing the change as when relying on more traditional communication methods. In fact, many cloud-based solutions for document sharing also offer audit trail tools to further identify who is referencing the documentation (and who isn’t), which can be valuable in shepherding late-comers to review documents when needed, or serving as legal support if a dispute should arise downstream.

Cloud-based document access is not only helping construction companies collaborate and communicate more effectively with each other. It is also rapidly becoming a powerful tool for helping contractors better perform their specific role at the job site. Field teams are increasingly relying on the cloud to access crucial project files and information from the field on their tablets and mobile devices as they work. With immediate access to the most current information available, field teams are able to double-check assumptions, get rid of the guesswork and ensure work performed is done correctly and effectively the first time. This translates into less project delays and creeping costs associated with re-work, and allows all project participants to move onto other projects and profit opportunities sooner.

Benefits for businesses
Businesses incorporating these new technologies into their project planning and delivery are experiencing substantial productivity, efficiency and cost-savings benefits. With greater information availability and improved communication between all project participants, projects progress more smoothly, resulting in a better end-product and the opportunity for owners to take notice and award additional future business.

In addition to the benefits associated with utilizing “private” plan rooms and cloud-based document-sharing solutions, businesses can also realize new business development benefits by taking advantage of builders exchanges and other “public” virtual plan rooms. Industry-oriented virtual plan rooms, usually requiring membership, can offer opportunities that open the door to future projects. These online forums provide
members with quick access to information on future projects open for bid, making it easier for contractors to solicit new work. Some plan rooms even offer additional access to estimating technology, such as on-screen takeoff capabilities, to further streamline the process of creating an estimate off of a set of plans offered within the online plan room.

Virtual plan rooms, cloud-based document-sharing solutions, and the rapid evolution of mobile technologies are offering the architecture, engineering and construction industries more fluidity, flexibility and efficiency than ever before. Beyond the time and cost-savings associated with the diminishing need to produce and share high volumes of paper plans and documents, these technologies are breaking down barriers in project communication and increasing collaboration between partnering companies to deliver a higher quality end-product. Project teams are in a much stronger position to contribute from anywhere, at any time, to keep a project moving forward and on the right track, and to provide insight and feedback much earlier in the project. Owners are experiencing these benefits first-hand and rewarding companies that embrace these technologies with additional work. These technologies also offer companies a way to expand their visibility into new project opportunities and bid and earn new business. Companies that take notice and begin looking at ways they can leverage these solutions can gain a competitive edge in today’s competitive market.

About the Author: Norm Cadsawan is a senior director of product management for Sage North America’s Construction and Real Estate business unit. Prior to this position, Norm led Sage Construction and Real Estate’s preconstruction business development efforts as a strategic planning director. His experience at Sage also includes leading the third-party software developer program. In his current position, Norm is responsible for Sage Estimating, formerly known as Sage Timberline Estimating, and Sage Construction and Real Estate’s cloud solutions, including Sage Construction Anywhere.

Norm brings more than 18 years of experience in the technology and construction industries to Sage. Prior to joining Sage, Norm led software development projects for preconstruction services and technology company, Eos Group. He also gained extensive knowledge of the worldwide construction industry by managing construction product lines for both Hilti Corporation and BASF. His software experience includes leading software enabling programs for Intel Corporation, managing key accounts for financial services software provider, Fiserv, and holding key marketing roles in two early-stage software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors.

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