General Software

AEC From the Ground Up: Manage AEC Projects Online

15 Dec, 2004 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Stay on schedule with these Internet-based options


Effective cost control and timely completion of projects are vital in the construction industry. Today's construction market is highly competitive, driving profit margins down as risks increase. In this climate, one failed project can wipe out an entire year's profit. A project-based industry that depends on the accuracy of daily decisions needs solutions that provide competitive advantages in the field and in the office. To this end, the building industry leans on project management software to control costs, minimize mistakes, and facilitate timely completion of construction. Project management software allows tighter control over bidding, scheduling, and field changes. These products help contain lifecycle costs in the facilities management phase by making data that was stored during earlier stages more readily available.

The lack of accurate and timely information exchange between parties is at the heart of historical inefficiencies such as cost overruns and interparty disputes. Web-based project management appears to be a promising solution to the industry's communication and coordination problems. It retains all standard construction project management capabilities while allowing widely dispersed parties involved in the design and construction process to access centralized project information via the Web. Project management collaboration software brings the architect and engineer together in the design process and imposes more efficiency from conception to construction to facility management.

Project management collaboration solutions originated in both the design and construction industries. Buzzsaw and ProjectWise, initially classified as collaboration sites and available from Autodesk and Bentley, respectively, started in the CAD industry. Both solutions initially addressed the need for collaboration between architects and engineers. Although they're evolving to include additional facets of project management, their main focus remains design and design collaboration, which we'll cover in a future column. Software such as Constructware, Primavera Expedition Professional, Meridian Systems' Prolog and Proliance, and TRIRIGA are examples of solutions that originated in the construction management or design/build industries. Most solutions available from the design and construction sectors integrate data from the design process through facility management in various degrees. They can be purchased as modules so they can be customized to meet specific needs.

Technology Platforms

Four basic technology platforms are used to deploy project management collaboration software:
  • 1. PC/client-server applications. In a client-server environment, IT loads the software application on a server and users download it from the network. Essentially, everyone has a copy of the software on his or her desktop PC.
  • 2. Web-enabled client-server. This is client-server computing, but with another layer of software and hardware added so users can access the application over the Internet. The technology emerged in the mid 1990s and uses Citrix or Microsoft Terminal Server solutions. This is the client-server answer to the ASP (application service provider) challenge—bringing the client-server application to the Web. The software runs on a company server, but users work via the Internet.
  • 3. Thin-client ASP. With true thin-client ASP computing, users go directly to the application through their Web browser. The process is similar to running a program on a mainframe computer, but with access through the Internet. Because the application and the data are stored at the hosted site, problems with hardware and software incompatibilities are eliminated.
  • 4. Self-hosted, Web-based solutions. A new category, this is the second generation of client-server applications. They combine the ease of use of the PC/client-server application with all the benefits of an ASP.

Products

Following are descriptions of some popular project collaboration applications:

Constructware

www.constructware.com

Constructware, a company founded in 1994, develops technology for the U.S. construction industry. Its clients include owners, program managers, engineers, architects, constructionmanagers, contractors, and subcontractors in all major vertical market segments of the construction industry.

 Figure 1: In the Constructware dashboard, user-defined budget columns and calculations track costs on a project.
Figure 1: In the Constructware dashboard, user-defined budget columns and calculations track costs on a project.

The Constructware application is a scalable, secure, Internet-based thin-client ASP communication and collaboration solution. Constructware helps clients centralize and formalize communication among the parties on a project or program. The application accommodates the many business processes in the design and construction industry and facilitates ease of use by hiding the functionality not required by individual users.

Design firms both large and small have used Constructware over the last several years to improve project deliveries for their clients. Of particular interest to architects and engineers, Constructware has one of the most sophisticated, field-proven online drawing and document management capabilities in the industry.

To enhance productivity, users can easily access and store documents online. The system tracks and stores complex construction processes such as RFIs, transmittals, submittals, meeting minutes, change orders, and reports. Correspondence is streamlined because documents can be saved once and sent to multiple companies.

Constructware offers a flexible, XML-based data exchange model that allows each client to customize business rules and data flows between it and virtually any application, regardless of the platform.

Constructware maintains an in-house team of consultants, analysts, and trainers that helps users deploy Constructware. Users are not migrated to a new and improved platform every few years—they receive continual upgrades and new functionality as they go.

Meridian Systems

www.meridiansystems.com

Meridian Systems provides solutions that optimize the plan, build, and operate phases of real estate, construction, and other physical infrastructure initiatives.

The Prolog Application Suite delivers in-depth project management features across projects and programs for collaboration, purchasing management, scheduling, cost control, document management, and field administration.

Prolog Manager automates all aspects of the construction lifecycle, from project design to closeout. According to Meridian Systems, Prolog Manager ranked at the top in the CFMA 2004 technology usage survey for construction companies, global and national enterprises, and large regional-based organizations with more than $100 million in construction volume.

The Prolog Web site complements Prolog Manager as a Web-based collaboration application designed to coordinate the extended project team throughout the construction process, including owner, architect, construction manager, general contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers.

Prolog Exchange automates collection, verification, and entry of paper-based and electronic data into Prolog Manager, saving administrative costs and minimizing data entry errors.

Serving large, global contractors and building owners, Proliance integrates project and portfolio management functionality, facilities management capabilities, business process management, and a business intelligence layer into a single solution. Proliance brings together project scope, budgets, and schedules in one solution through a Web-native architecture using Web Services and XML.

Primavera

www.primavera.com

Primavera defines collaboration as a combination of people, process, and technology, and its products address these three areas. Primavera Engineering & Construction solutions create standard processes, manage change, and support project teams in meeting critical project delivery milestones. Because individual project team members have different roles and priorities, the software enables team members to retrieve, update, and share information in a way that's familiar to them.

Figure 2: Primavera Expedition Professional is a Web-based project control solution that provides access to project documents from any location with Internet access.
Figure 2: Primavera Expedition Professional is a Web-based project control solution that provides access to project documents from any location with Internet access.

Primavera Engineering & Construction (formerly P3e/c for Construction) is a suite of scheduling and project control solutions that allows each team member to select and use a combination of modules that is most helpful to the user's role:

Primavera Expedition Professional (self-hosted, Web-based solution) is a 100% Web-based project control solution that provides access to project documents from any location, whether the project site or the home office. Project owners can be granted read-only access to track how a change order has affected the contractor's next payment. Access can be shared among a number of team members. Drawings, reports, RFIs, and change orders can be linked directly to the schedule, showing cause-and-effect relationships on a project timeline.

Primavera Contractor (PC/client-server application), Primavera's newest solution, allows subcontractors to synchronize schedules with the general contractor by e-mailing their entire updated schedule. At the other end, the general contractor imports the subcontractor's schedule into the project or program master schedule.

Primavera Cost Management (PC/client-server application) helps teams manage finances and forecast costs to create an accurate picture of a project's financial health.

Primavera Progress Reporter (PC/client-server application) connects remote sites to the master schedule.

Primavera Mobile Management (PC/client-server application) lets field managers feed updates to the field office from a wireless device.

Project Planner Professional, P3 (PC/client-server application), provides single-project schedule control for large projects. Users can export P3 data to another program schedule that contains more than one project.

SureTrak Project Manager (PC/client-server application) allows simple scheduling for small- to medium-sized projects.

PrimeContract (thin-client ASP) is a business-process automation solution for project owners. PrimeContract centralizes data to simplify collaboration between the owner and contractors.

Tririga

www.tririga.com

The TRIRIGA organization was formed in 2000 by Marnell Corrao Associates, a large Las Vegas design/build firm in the hotel and casino industry. In 2002, TRIRIGA acquired FacilityCenter 7 from Peregrine Systems. According to the company, FacilityCenter 7 is used by more than 500 organizations worldwide, including many Fortune 500 companies, to manage the entire building lifecycle. TRIRIGA's latest product line, the Enterprise 8i DTO Suite, includes two major applications: FacilityCenter 8i, for real estate and facility management activities, and Projects 8i, which addresses the needs of the design and construction phases of the building lifecycle.

Figure 3. The TRIRIGA Portal offers an array of components, including Employee Self-Service request access and graphic and tabular reporting.
Figure 3. The TRIRIGA Portal offers an array of components, including Employee Self-Service request access and graphic and tabular reporting.

TRIRIGA offers an integrated and centralized Web-based system that handles all design-through-operation business functions related to real estate operations, maintenance, and facilities management. Built on the TRIRIGA Intelligent Business System, it provides a flow of real-time information across locations, divisions, processes, people, and projects.

The user-friendly Intelligent Business System gives users flexibility in managing business operations. Users can configure the graphical user interface to display any information needed, including database records and graphics such as pictures, maps, diagrams, and floor plans. The Intelligent Business System platform incorporates SVG (scalable vector graphics) technology that illustrates workflows and associations between database records and business objects.

The Enterprise 8i DTO solution offers a combination of modules, including portfolio management, facilities management, lease administration, operations management, service management, project management, corporate services management, transaction management, inventory management, security management, asset management, and procurement management.

In the project management arena, TRIRIGA offers modules for everything from budgeting and scheduling to risk management, field supervision, design development and review, bidding, and procurement. Together, these modules provide a centralized solution for all facilities management, real estate, operations and maintenance processes, and data.

The Web-based nature of the TRIRIGA suite makes it possible for maintenance employees, human resources managers, outside vendors, and in-place contractors to access real-time information in a secure, centralized environment. The program supports DWG (Autodesk) and DGN (MicroStation) files.

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Try It First

The business of construction is becoming ever more competitive even as profit margins diminish. The use of these and similar collaborative project management solutions is not only useful, but an economic necessity.

Given this climate, the correct solution for your company will have a direct impact on its profitability, if not also on its very existence. To this end, there is one last piece of advice—try before you buy! To ensure success with any collaboration platform, insist on field-testing the solution using your own staff and matching the product to your business requirements.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, is a practicing licensed architect, industrial designer, and AEC industry analyst. Ed's new book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005: A Comprehensive Tutorial, is available now ( www.prenhall.com ). Ed also offers real-time Web collaboration courses in Architectural Desktop, VIZ, and SketchUp, and the integration of these with other AEC software products. Reach Ed at ed.goldberg@cadalyst.com or visit his Web site at www.hegra.org .


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