May 14, 2007
New Perspective on Process Management from Newforma
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

New Perspective on Process Management from Newforma

by Susan Smith

This week we take a look at a company that has been around for a few years, which addresses the management of the vast amount of project information on AEC projects. Newforma CEO Ian Howell talked about how the company started out with a founding team of people who used to work at Softdesk (a company that was acquired by Autodesk). This team of people were domain experts with knowledge of building successful applications.

Ian Howell: We talked to about 100 companies and asked simple, open ended questions, such as, where are your points of pain? What technology are you using? What’s working for you and what’s not? Do you need a better CAD system? Do you need a better civil engineering design software solution, etc. We wanted to understand where they were hurting. Their pain point was around managing project information, just keeping track of the overwhelming amount of information they’re dealing with on projects. There is increased complexity in those projects with LEED certification. There is a lot more they have to do, it is a very litigious industry and they have to keep good
records and good archives, should they get to the stage of discovery further down the track. How could they be better prepared for that by having more discipline and doing more diligence while the job was in progress? We got into that area of information management, that very quickly took us to process.

What fascinated the founding team was, as you compared the efficiency of the manufacturing industry – Boeing and supply chain, etc, there was none of that in the AEC space. Instead, there was a lot of task based automation. They bought AutoCAD to do their drafting, they bought Timberline to do their estimating, but these became islands of information, and there was no real ability to reach in and get pieces of information for reuse when it came to decision making processes. There was of course, the well-known NIST report that $15 billion is wasted annually in the U.S. industry. The Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) report gathered together a bunch of owners who wanted to know,
why are 85% of our buildings either late or over budget? Those two industry groups and reports gave importance to the idea of what could be done about process efficiency in the AEC arena. Underlying that, you have to manage the information better and then how do you take advantage of that in terms of more efficient process?

100 customers gave their feedback to product strategy, who defined the major features areas of the product, so we like to say it’s being co developed with our customers. They’re biggest point of pain was the overwhelming amount of email they were having to deal with. “Don’t make us go out of Outlook,” they said. “We go to our office in the morning, we start up our inbox and it’s open all day, how much we can we manage through Outlook?”

Who knew we would be in the Outlook plug in business as one of our features areas?

AECWeekly: Isn’t this type of process management managed by other products already on the market such as BIM and project management solutions?

Ian Howell: I’m a founder of the IAI, the predecessor to the buildingSMART Alliance, and have been active since 1995. When we ask our customers today who else is doing what we do, the answer is no one, but everybody. We have about 14 major features areas in our product. You could go out and buy 14 different products that address those. You could buy something for email management, do some custom development on SharePoint for document sets, you could license a number of viewers, and download some free viewers, subscribe to Buzzsaw to manage transmittals. If you tried to stitch together a quilt of about 14 separate applications you could address all of the things that our major feature areas address. Just as you could go buy a separate word processor, separate spreadsheet and email programs, etc. In a project information sense, we take more of the integrated view of Microsoft Office. What’s compelling about Microsoft Office is you get an email, you double click on the attachment, you click on a link, you suddenly bring up an embedded spreadsheet and that cell takes you out to a website. You don’t consciously know you’ve used Outlook and then Word and then Excel and then Explorer. What you’re doing is following an information path. We’re doing the project equivalent of that in the AEC space, whether it’s view markup,
email, sending a transmittal, approving the submittal.

Maybe just an example of that is in managing project email. At the moment you have all your drawings and specifications on your central file server. Email is stuck on Microsoft Exchange or email backups somewhere and there’s a complete disconnect of where a whole bunch of the decision trails are being kept vs. where the project documents of record are being kept.

We have a little tool in Outlook that says you can file project emails, put them on your central file server, make them part of your project record, fully searchable, double click them. They come straight back to you as an email message that you can manage as though they were emails, and make that decision trail visible to the whole project team, it’s not stuck in someone’s inbox. We put a lot of understanding around how do you manage that information better, how do you take action on that information better. At the moment, I get an email, an AutoCAD file, I walk down to the CAD guy ask him to plot it out for me, I get out my red pen, that sounds antiquated, but that’s
what’s happening 95% of the time in offices.

We’ve tried to look at what the project process, e.g. transmittals, is. What’s important about them, are you trying to track info that’s going to your external consultants and coming back? How’s that being done today? They still use the transmittal log and still use the transmittals forms, and some people are using project extranets, whether that’s Constructware or Buzzsaw, etc. When you ask them how many projects are they managing on the project extranet, it tends to be a handful. When you ask how many jobs they have in their office, they say, 290. What do you with the other 284 projects? Because you’re only doing a handful on extranet technology and
the other 284 are being managed through the clunky FTP server. If you want auto trail, you want notifications and alert, expiration dates, etc. why are you only doing it on six of your projects when that should be available to all projects in your office?

We can address that through the transmittals process with Newforma, and all 290 of their jobs can be managed efficiently through their own communications.

AECWeekly: How is Newforma going to integrate with BIM?

Ian Howell:
Where this intersects with CAD and BIM is we treat all of those as authoring systems. People are going to be generating project deliverables from those authoring systems, views of the model captured in a DWF file, and DWG CAD drawing. Where we come in, is how do you manage that, how do you share that, how do you search and find where something is? One of the first things we learned, is from a study Autodesk did years ago in the UK, that found that up to 20% of what a project engineer’s, project manager’s or architect’s time is wasted on is looking for stuff. Most often they’re not able to find it and must recreate it.

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