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
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
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.
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
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.