Managing Your AEC Content – Part I

About this Issue….

Welcome to AECWeekly! Happy New Year! Until recently the AEC industry has been slow to adopt computerized document management. Although there is a great need for it in AEC, since projects are long lived and generate an enormous volume of documents and content, there has not been much development from engineering document management vendors for AEC firms. Read about this industry trend in this week’s Industry News. Part II will be published next week.

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Industry News

Managing Your AEC Content – Part I
by Susan Smith

Until recently the AEC industry has been slow to adopt computerized document management. Although there is a great need for it in AEC, since projects are long lived and generate an enormous volume of documents and content, there has not been much development from engineering document management vendors for AEC firms.

High end systems such as Documentum, which manage the entire spectrum of documents across the enterprise, do not offer specific management of engineering CAD documents. Recently, as a result of AEC firms’ growing interest in document management, document management vendors have begun to address AEC firms’ challenges.

Currently Bentley’s ProjectWise offers a very robust content management solution and most recently their ProjectWise StartPoint, which maximizes the document management capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint, for smaller businesses and enterprise.

Synergis has been offering their Adept data management system to the AEC, mechanical engineering and other markets for over 20 years. The company is an authorized developer for Autodesk, SolidWorks and other CAD companies. Their solution, Synergis Adept, integrates with Autodesk 2D and 3D design products, SolidWorks, as well as MS Office applications.

Synergis Adept

Martha Lubow, director of marketing at Synergis said that the company is “seeing more interest coming out of the AEC side of things.” Manufacturing has been ahead of AEC in this arena, just as it has led in the adoption of 3D, said Lubow, as that industry deals with complex drawings and products that have very complex parts and relationships. Also, Lubow pointed out, “the sheer volume of information, not only for the part and assembly but the associated engineering change order, which may include a word document, Excel spreadsheet, demands management throughout the lifecycle of the project.”

Lubow noted that the Windows operating system has for 20 years, molded their approach to document management to mean folders, nested folders and non-standardized file names. “The folder system is very linear – not necessarily the way individuals like to organize information. The folder system starts to buckle under the growing amount of project data – meaning hundreds of millions of documents in hundreds of thousands of folders and nested folders. Searching through all those folders is the least efficient way to find and store information,” she pointed out. “The same problem exists for email, where we file critical communications in another, unrelated folder system.” In an AEC organization, often engineers use CAD applications and store all their “folders” on a C drive. “When company critical and sensitive data is stored out on someone’s hard disk, the company is assuming a huge risk – what is the computer crashes, or is lost or stolen? It’s also difficult to share data with other people when it is stored in isolated stove pipes of information.”

How can organizations organize their critical data in a way that’s different from folders? “We see a drawing or document as a database unto itself, because it includes ‘metadata’ or data about the document, such as attributes, x-refs or properties.” Adept stores documents along with information about the documents, for example, a design or project number, the last person who worked on the document, the data completed and data started.

“Because the documents are stored along with associated data, users now have four or five different ways of searching for the documents. The most basic way is to use the library card. For example, say you want to search for all the documents associated with one project number. You would enter the project number, let’s say, 404, into a field on an Adept library or profile card and Adept will instantly locate all the relevant drawings and documents for that project. When Adept performs a search, it’s not just searching on my computer, it searches the entire database of drawings and documents on the LAN or WAN. When users look at the search results, they can quickly see all the information associated with the file, for example, whether it’s currently being worked on, its status in a workflow and its revision number. That’s a lot more information than you get from clicking on file folders.”

In the AEC industry, Lubow sees that the way people are handling information is just not working anymore and they’re overwhelmed. Adept is devoted to managing all the documentation that is associated with the project lifecycle. Adept is an enterprise data and product management solution for global, and small to large organizations that offers a single point of control for managing engineering drawings, business documents and related information on a LAN, WAN or across the internet.

To help customers understand how to resolve their data management needs, Synergis experts work with customers to determine what their business processes are, what type of drawings they have, what their infrastructure is like, so they can set up the appropriate profile cards. “You can set up one library card that includes information that’s relevant to engineering, and other library cards with data relevant to marketing, sales or accounting. Depending upon who you are in the organization, you have the ability to pull up the information that’s relevant to you. With Adept it’s more about finding relevant information than casting a large net in hopes of getting the information you need to make an important business decision,” explained Lubow. “Now Google is a great example of a super search engine for indexed data. The problem with a Google search, from my perspective, is that after the first and maybe even second page of search results, the information is increasingly meaningless. In contrast, Adept finds only that information that is relevant to the search criteria you enter.”

Besides offering tight integration with Microsoft Windows and the leading 2D and 3D applications, Adept ships with the latest version of MySQL Pro 5.0. It supports MySQL, MS SQL Server and Oracle. With the newest release of Adept 7, it provides more granular support for SolidWorks configurations and AutoCAD layouts.

Some new features in Adept 7 include:
  • Performance improvements
  • Windows integration enhancements
  • Support for SolidWorks configurations
  • Additional CAD integration improvements
  • Usability and administrator enhancements

    Future Technology Directions

    The U.S. Coast Guard is a leading edge Synergis customer and the largest landowner agency in the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard Logistics Geospatial Integration Center (LoGIC) has been using Adept since 1998 to manage and control documents for the Coast Guard’s 7.6 billion dollar shore plant that consists of over 8,700 buildings and 15,000 structures spread across 1800 sites. Paul Herold, director of LoGIC, said that the idea behind this implementation was to build towards a system that can “extend beyond the engineering department and help us manage data throughout the organization.”

    The Coast Guard is now using Adept not only for civil engineering but also facility management in naval, aviation and electronics and technical documentation.

    A significant future direction for Adept is integration with still other CAD applications. Up until now, Lubow noted that some APIs for integrating with BIM-based CAD applications have been “lackluster.” Improvements in Revit’s API should make a big difference to future development of a tight integration. Additionally, the Coast Guard is using Graphisoft Archicad is used for building information modeling, and should Graphisoft provide the key API tools, Adept may further drive its integration with multiple building information modeling systems.

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