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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Interview with Ian Howell, Newforma

January 14th, 2016 by Susan Smith

 AECCafe Voice recently interviewed CEO of Newforma, Ian Howell on topics including the management of project information today and how to make information from disparate systems talk to other.

Given the huge rise in the amount of digital information generated today, what do you think is the most effective way to manage all that information?

Ian Howell, chief executive officer, Newforma: “Huge rise” is true: When Newforma began in 2004, a large project generated 100 gigabytes of data. Ten years later, the largest project being managed by our customers generated 6.5 terabytes of data – 65 times as much! This growth is a consequence of a few factors: building designs are more ambitious across the industry, as illustrated by such high-profile projects as the one-kilometer high Jeddah Tower and the Apple Campus 2 headquarters; and building requirements are more complex as a result of factors such as sustainable design, concern for carbon footprints, etc.

To manage this explosion of digital data, customers have had to scale their systems and implement a project information management strategy that dovetails with the applications and systems already in use.

A consequence of handling so much more information on every project is the burden of trying to keep it organized. However, our experience shows that busy project team members rarely have the time to comply with the filing rules and meta-data tagging required by structured document management systems like SharePoint.

From inception, our approach at Newforma has been to assume that the required information is “somewhere” (in a folder on a network server, in a cloud store, in a ProjectWise vault or in a SharePoint library), and by indexing all of a company’s data, wherever it has been saved, busy users can very quickly locate exactly what they need to make a decision, respond to a request, or approve a submittal.

Another key to success in managing the growing volume of information on a project is to integrate workflows, streamline collaboration, and to log an audit trail that captures the movements of all the information between each member of a project team. An example of what this means in practice is that a user can create an action item or submittal directly from their Outlook inbox; doing so initiates a Newforma workflow which allows them to share a document, trigger a notification to another team member, and log the event without switching between applications.

How is information in the form of apps for mobile that you are building managed?

Ian Howell: Because the whole point of mobile apps is to manage information on the go – while on a job site, when visiting with a client, or just being away from the desk – that information has to be immediately accessible.

More importantly, it’s vital that those apps do not become another silo of information, unreachable by other applications and team members. We have focused on developing cloud-enabled mobile apps that make project information available to all team members in multiple locations while still being integrated with a user’s laptop when working at their desk.

In practice, that means someone can be at the job site compiling punch list items on an iPad, and given a Wi-Fi connection, a colleague at the office can at the same time organize those items and assign them to the appropriate people for resolution.

Are there new uses for the cloud that you’re seeing arise as more companies embrace it?

Ian Howell: Many of our customers are using the cloud for managed data storage (such as Google Drive or AWS – Amazon Web Services). More and more of our customers are using the cloud for “work sharing” of files between offices (which is why Newforma now provides integration with both systems such as Nasuni and Panzura).

Some customers are evaluating how to move their entire IT infrastructure to a “private cloud” to avoid having to buy, deploy, manage and depreciate hardware, and to have more adaptability to respond to their ever-changing computing needs.

We are also finding new ways to leverage the cloud to help facilitate the design and construction process.  A good example is the innovation of visual planning to support leading firms as they adopt lean design and construction as a best practice. Our Newforma LeanPlanner app provides a virtual sticky note wall on which to manage lean planning, which can be shared through mobile collaboration.

Major CAD software companies are also enabling connection and integration with disparate software to make their customers’ lives easier. Do you work together with CAD and estimating companies to make a more seamless way of connecting for users? How is that accomplished?

Ian Howell: There are four major camps for CAD and BIM in our industry. Customers choose to standardize on authoring tools like Autodesk Revit, Bentley MicroStation, Graphisoft ArchiCAD or Nemetschek AllPlan for all of their projects. Newforma takes a neutral – we like to say “Swiss” – position toward different authoring systems based on the fact that a project team will always consist of some collection of companies that are all using different systems.

We believe this view of the world is essential to our being a leading project information solution because we’re not promoting a specific design or financial application; customers can continue to use their chosen tools.

Our job is to make it easy for all project team members to index, search, share, track, view, mark up and manage workflows for all of that information. In other words, our solution provides transparency and drives accountability across project teams to streamline project delivery.

The bottom line: Customers need cloud-enabled mobile access to project information that is searchable, accessible, audited, current, and in the hands of the each member of the project team, when and where they need it, regardless of what systems they are required to use by their company.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, 3D PDF, AEC, AECCafe, AIA Convention 2015, apps, Archicad, architecture, AutoCAD, Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Bentley Year In Infrastructure. YII2015, BIM, building information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, convergence, data archiving, engineering, field, field solutions, file sharing, IES, IFC, infrastructure, integrated project delivery, mobile, Nemetschek, Newforma, project management, SketchUp, sustainable design, Vectorworks

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