Collaboration Vital but not Easy for AEC

7 Nov, 2006 By: Sara Ferris

Adobe-commissioned survey finds the field relies heavily on e-mail, fax and phone -- and more than before, paper

Collaboration is vital to AEC projects. In a recent survey, 94% of participants said they collaborate with others on project information, and 92% of those said this collaboration occurs at least once a week.

This past spring, Adobe Systems enlisted Harris Interactive to conduct a follow-up poll to a 2004 survey that examined document exchange practices in the AEC community. The 657 participants in the 2006 online survey included 241 identified as architects/engineering professionals, 223 construction/project management professionals and 193 owners/operators/facility managers. These findings reflect only the survey respondents, as the data were not weighted. Adobe was not identified as the survey sponsor.

One of the most interesting findings this year is that CAD files are reviewed in paper format more often now than in 2004 -- despite improvements in digital markup tools such as Adobe’s Acrobat and Autodesk’s DWF Composer. Review of CAD files solely in electronic format dropped to 23% in 2006, down from 33% in 2004.

Click here to view the Harris Interactive poll responses to the question, In what format do you typically review/read CAD files?

The popularity of paper makes more sense when you consider the survey’s findings about document security. Concern about unauthorized document changes dropped from 67% in 2004 to 49% in 2006. Not so coincidentally, perhaps, the percentage of respondents taking security measures to protect information grew from 69% to 79%. The most popular security measures are providing documents in a noneditable digital format such as TIFF or PDF (44%) and providing a paper copy only (37%).

Top collaboration tools are e-mail (92%), fax (69%) and audio conference (67%), each cited by 67% or more respondents. Newer tools such as Web conferencing (15%), instant messaging (14%) and video conferencing (14%) are also in use, but less commonly. Construction professionals are less likely to use e-mail and Web conferencing than the other two groups. More than half of respondents (54%) said they travel on business at least once a month. Of those who travel, one-third (32%) would rather conduct those meetings via Web conference.

Though just about everyone’s doing it, few are satisfied with their collaboration processes, with only 20% saying they are very satisfied with their current approach. Interestingly, architects and engineers tend to be more satisfied than members of the other two groups. Reasons for dissatisfaction include delayed response time (mentioned by 81% of respondents); lack of clarity in changes and comments (56%); incompatible platforms, software or data formats (35%); and difficulties communicating across time zones (10%).

In line with the 2004 survey results, most respondents share files outside their organization, though the percentage of those who do this dropped from 79% in 2004 to 72% in 2006. This decrease is seen mainly on the construction side (77% in 2004 vs. 66% in 2006). Thirty-nine percent of all project files are exchanged with people outside the organization, up from 33% in 2004. E-mail is still the preferred method of file exchange (83%, down by 7% from 2004). Courier delivery declined by 21% from 2004 to 2006, but postal (up 21%) and in-person (up 8%) delivery gained in popularity, probably for cost savings.

Word, PDF and Excel are the most frequently exchanged file types. 2D CAD files are used by 37% of respondents for external collaboration, with more architects and engineers (51%) choosing that option. Architects and engineers are also more likely to use DXF (14% compared with 9% overall) and DWF (10% compared with 7% overall).

As in 2004, 60% of respondents today work with CAD files, with architects and engineers most likely to do so (78%). Sixty percent of owners/operators don’t deal with CAD files at all. Two times as many respondents review/read CAD files (43%) as create them (22%). This is up slightly from 2004, when the ratio was 1.5:1.

Top pain points encountered in file exchange are the lack of accurate and timely project information (44%), the many different types/formats of documents (41%), the amount of time it takes to search for documents (41%) and the inability of team members to electronically review and comment on a document (36%).

Most collaboration takes place within a single office, but almost three-fourths (72%) of respondents also collaborate outside their office location, with architects/engineers (77%) most likely to do so. Architects/engineers (68%) are also more likely to collaborate with other consultants and service providers, while owner/operators (80%) are more likely to collaborate with people in their organization who work in different offices.

The April 2006 research involved interviewing more than 650 U.S. architects, engineering and construction professionals, project managers, and facility owners and operators, while the November 2004 research involved interviewing more than 960 U.S. architects, engineering and construction professionals, project managers, and facility owners and operators.  Both studies represent the opinions of only the study participants . 

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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