Digital-Asset Management in AEC/O (AEC in Focus Column)1 Oct, 2007 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg
Users can access digital information wherever and whenever they want.
The AEC/O (architecture, engineering, construction, and operations) industry spends an estimated $500 million or more each year moving plans from one discipline to another via such courier services as FedEx. Not only is this practice costly in terms of dollars — the cost in terms of its carbon footprint and time is probably in the billions.
With the advent of the Internet, digital project management has become an economical standard for all types of industries, and it is rapidly expanding into the AEC/O arena. The entire construction train has been interconnected electronically, and standards for interconnectivity are evolving for the interchange of 2D and 3D CAD data through IFC, DWG, and DWF formats. Add e-mail, bitmap pictures, Word documents, and PDFs, and you have a problem with digital-asset management. In other words, to manage the physical project, you first must manage the information project.
Recognizing an available niche, several developers have designed software specifically to manage AEC/O digital assets. This is not to imply that we are making big inroads toward the paperless office — unfortunately, we're not — but software products are available to control projects through digital-asset management.
New to the market and conceived by a registered architect, attolist was designed to help architecture firms organize their construction-administration information in a central location that is easily accessible through any Internet connection. Believing that construction administration is inherently filled with redundant, costly tasks, attolist developers wanted to eliminate that redundancy.
This software is 100% Internet based; it has no CDs or updates to install on individual computers. The application resides on a Web server that can be hosted by attolist or by an architecture firm (figure 1).
Figure 1. attolist helps architecture firms organize their construction-administration information in a central location that is easily accessible through any Internet connection.
attolist doesn't have per-user licenses; fees are based on a per-month/per-project basis, which makes it affordable for a firm of any size. The application works on any browser and does not require any plug-ins such as Active X.
To gain access to a project, each user needs a username and password and must be invited by the architect to view a project. Different types of access levels are available. Architect users have unlimited access to a project, but contractors and owners have read-only access.
attolist currently provides a submittal and request for information (RFI) log. The RFI software is 100% electronic. PDF and JPEG files can be attached to RFIs for quick reference. Attolist also has integrated automatic e-mail notification and builtin automatic weekly to-do lists. After a user has been added to the project, merely selecting them as a recipient results in the automatic generation of a submittal and a PDF transmittal.
Autodesk delivers its collaborative project-management solutions, Buzzsaw and Constructware, as software-as-a-service (SaaS) products to help customers effectively manage their project-related communication, information, and business processes across the plan, build, and operate phases of the building lifecycle. (For more information about SaaS, see the "What Is SaaS" sidebar.) Project members across geographically dispersed locations can securely access project information and digital assets anywhere and anytime via a Web browser. This eliminates hours from such processes as 2D and 3D design review, requests for information, submittals, transmittals, and other building-related processes and workflows. Project managers and owners can track user access and the status of their digital assets.
In combination with building information modeling (BIM), Autodesk collaborative project management improves quality and increases accountability on complex building projects. Firms are using Autodesk collaborative project-management programs to expand the effect of BIM on their business by publishing 3D BIM models directly to a central location for easy viewing, access, sharing, and tracking.
What Is SaaS?
Beyond a data-storage or file-management system, Autodesk positions its collaborative project-management offerings as business-process and change-management solutions for improving productivity across the building lifecycle. Autodesk collaborative project management serves not only the architecture, engineering, and construction management disciplines, but also building and subcontracting across all industries.
ProjectWise is software that connects people and information across distributed teams. Today, it is used by many of the leaders in the Engineering News-Record's top 500 engineering firms to manage, find, and share CAD and geospatial content, project data, and Microsoft Office documents. The system includes desktop applications, full-featured clients, and enterprise-ready servers.
On the desktop, ProjectWise Navigator delivers visual collaboration for immersive design review and analysis (figure 2). ProjectWise StartPoint also extends Microsoft SharePoint to deliver entry-level collaboration for MicroStation and AutoCAD users.
Figure 2. On the desktop, ProjectWise Navigator delivers visual collaboration for immersive design review and analysis.
For enterprise-level use, ProjectWise Integration Server allows teams to manage distributed engineering content through a single interface. ProjectWise Caching servers accelerate file access regardless of the storage location, ProjectWise InterPlot Server is used for automating and managing plotting and archiving, and ProjectWise Web Parts are used to expose ProjectWise managed content through a SharePoint site.
Expesite is an Internet-based software developer that offers end-to-end program- and project-management tools and consulting services for numerous industries. Expesite provides project-management solutions for multiunit restaurant, retail, petroleum, and convenience store owners, as well as commercial/residential real estate development and banking/financial services.
By using Expesite, all team members involved in a project — including architects, engineers, the real estate team, and contractors — have 24/7 access to information about each project and site location (figure 3). Expesite's user interface allows users to manage multiple projects at the same time. Expesite enables everyone involved in a project to communicate, collaborate, and share information (with features such as user-defined reporting, notifications, and reminders), all without having to download any special software. Users only need access to a Web browser and the Internet to communicate with everyone involved, from anywhere. As an end result, Expesite accelerates project delivery, reduces paper-based communication, improves accountability, and delivers projects faster.
Figure 3. When using Expesite, all team members have 24/7 access to information about all projects and site locations.
The Expesite solution allows clients to manage projects throughout the entire lifecycle of a location. Documents and data generated in the initial build process are used continuously for future remodeling and reimaging projects.
Expesite has a simple licensing structure. The company charges a monthly fee that allows an unlimited amount of users to access an unlimited number of projects.
Newforma Project Center is project-information management software designed to streamline project execution without requiring changes to the technology environment and processes currently in place.
Unlike document-management systems, Project Center organizes all project information, including project e-mail, without requiring that data be tagged and moved to yet another data repository. For easy searching, the solution indexes all project information, current or archived, located on any of the firm's file servers. Often described as "the Google desktop for AEC," Newforma Project Center's search capabilities are a draw for architecture firm Hart Howerton.
"Newforma Search is a really powerful timesaver, and the brilliant part about it is that we were able to take advantage of search without any change to our project files and without any disruption of our ongoing project work," said Adrian Doheny, project manager at Hart Howerton. In addition, Newforma Project Center integrates with Microsoft Office Outlook to help file project e-mail without leaving Outlook and with only one or two clicks.
Unlike extranet collaboration sites that duplicate files already stored on a firm's internal file server and charge by the amount of data stored, Newforma Project Center manages communication about project information through Newforma Info Exchange, a Web services application that runs on a firm's own network and provides complete logging and tracking of all notifications and downloads related to transmittals, submittals, or other file sharing (figure 4). More than 50 design firms ranging in size from 40 to 2,500 employees are currently managing more than 7,000 projects in Newforma Project Center. The software is installed on servers on firms' networks and is licensed on a per-user/per-annum basis.
Figure 4. Newforma Project Center manages communication about project information through Newforma Info Exchange, a Web Services application that runs on an architecture firm's own network.
The WebArchives digital-asset–management platform, iDAM, lets a global array of users share images, assets, and information. iDAM is cost effective, reliable, and Internet based. It can be deployed quickly and maintained and extended easily.
Organizations using iDAM to manage the global search and retrieval of their enterprise assets are creating digital-asset communities for their employees, consultants, and clients. The iDAM Client Access and Intranet Modules allow users to easily share select files, drawings, images, and job data in a flexible and secure browser-based setting. Separate user, group, and job-asset permission sets enable project teams to manage what and how information is shared with the appropriate audience. The built-in permissions can be integrated via Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) to existing enterprise applications.
iDAM tools are available as hosted software or as a stand-alone server environment.