Project Collaboration in the New Millennium
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Status Report on State of the Art Collaboration Tools
By Philip D. Larson, CCE, CPE, PMP, PSP
Project teams looking to streamline their project delivery process are benefiting from the standardization, refinement, and consolidation of the marketplace in regards to the information tools that are now available. These tools include CAD, estimating, scheduling, and accounting to communicate the project intent, establish budgets, and determine resources and timelines, and financial administration of these projects. At the core of these information tools is the operating system (OS) on which these other tools must be able to function. With the emergence of Microsoft some 20+ years ago and its growth and dominance especially over the last decade, standardization of the OS has enabled software vendors to refine their toolset and focus on integration and collaboration rather than recreating or reengineering their tools for a new OS.
With the struggle of the 1980’s well behind us, consolidation of the marketplace has been influenced greatly as Microsoft Windows, and applications written for Windows have replaced previous tools written for mainframes, DOS, Unix, Apple, and other platforms. Many companies have disappeared to a point where there are now just a small handful of companies that represent each of their respective markets. Autodesk, Bentley, and Microsoft dominate CAD with AutoDesk’s acquisition of Revit, Bentley acquiring Rebis, and Microsoft acquiring Visio. In the estimating area, WinEstimator and Timberline have dominated the marketplace over the last ten years, with WinEstimator having acquired G2 Estimator in 2003. Additionally, Timberline was acquired in 2003, by a UK company, because of its strength and market presence in the US AEC accounting marketplace. Primavera and Microsoft continue to dominate the scheduling and project management tools marketplace with the bulk of the competition simply going away. The next major area of future consolidation is the accounting market with a much broader spectrum of tools, from entry-level products like Intuit QuickBooks all the way to multi million dollar installations of SAP. And again, with Sage acquiring Timberline, Microsoft acquiring Great Plains, Microsoft is becoming a key player in almost all market segments, AND the OS environment!
This standardization, refinement, and consolidation has enabled the survivors to focus on integration and collaboration, and streamline the entire process. As an example, CAD systems have moved away from raster and vector based images to object based information models, and in the AEC industry are now commonly referred to as BIM - Building Information
With the BIM process, vendors such as AutoDesk are able to easily provide tools to their clients that can share information downstream to products from other vendors such as WinEstimator. WinEst estimating software can take the codes and quantities of assemblies and/or items generated from CAD and produce a comprehensive detailed cost estimate summarized to whatever level is necessary.
Because estimating and budgeting products like WinEst are database driven vs. produced via a spreadsheet, detailed costing and pricing can be easily maintained, and the exact quantities and their qualities can be more accurately determined. Information carried within the estimating system such as labor rates, production factors, material quantities, subcontractor and supplier assignments, can be further carried digitally downstream into scheduling tools via activity ID, and into accounting via Job Cost Phase code.
Once the information has been transferred to the schedule, resource allocation and utilization tables can be modified to recalculate expected durations based on resource availability. Each of these tools allows for project collaboration in that multiple users can be working on the same file(s) at the same time. Through the use of Microsoft Windows Terminal Server each of these applications can be delivered via the web with the same graphical user interface (GUI), which results in less investment in training to learn a different GUI.
Streamlining the collaboration process in the new millennium is becoming much simpler as the tools mature under a consistent, standard OS as well as the interfaces between the products (vendors) have had the time to improve, and offer value back to the project.
Philip D. Larson is Sr. Vice President of WinEstimator, Inc, and is a certified cost engineer, certified professional estimator, certified project management professional, and certified planning and scheduling professional. Phil graduated cum laude from Washington State University in Architectural Studies and is active at the board level of AACE International and the American Society of Professional Estimators.