Newforma Project Center Sixth Edition (First Look Review)

15 Apr, 2009 By: Robert Green

Project information management software for AEC teams embraces more file types and integrates markups in a simple, e-mail-like interface.

Newforma Project Center
Sixth Edition
Project Information Management for AEC

Overall Grade: A-

Pros: Simple interface; excellent content-search capability; task-to-timeline integration; low upfront cost.

Cons: Network requirements may be too extensive for small companies.

Price: $200, Express version; $400, Professional version; annual subscription per seat.


No matter which CAD system you use, you still need to save your files in a logical way so you can find them later, right? Yet with all the advances in the CAD tools we use, most companies store their files haphazardly and have trouble finding them later. And the plethora of file formats and e-mail attachments used in today's typical projects can make project control vexing.

Newforma Project Center Sixth Edition is the latest update to Newforma's project information management software that addresses these key nuts-and-bolts type of concerns, and it adds some new functionality to provide control in BIM (building information modeling) project environments.

Stronger Content Search
One of Newforma Project Center's greatest strengths is how thoroughly and transparently the software keeps track of the who, what, and when that happens with every file, and it tracks what is in each file as well. Using Newforma Project Center, it would be very easy, for example, to find all AutoCAD DWG files in Project Number 12345 that contain the phrase "Cable Tie" in the body of the drawing. After locating those files, Newforma Project Center could show you the history of the file with any associated action items, their assigned team members, and relevant dates.

When implementing Newforma Project Center, getting all the information into the system simply requires telling the system where the data is -- typically within directories on a server drive -- then letting Newforma Project Center index that information. Although this process could take anywhere from hours to days, depending on the volume of data, it is an unattended process that ultimately allows you to start using the system. After all, what good is a document-control system if it is a huge headache to import the documents into the system in the first place?

These content-management and search functions have become stronger in each edition, and the Sixth Edition continues the trend of mining more data from your files with less effort on your part.

Agnostic Markup with BIM Support
With the variety of file formats floating around in technical environments, many firms today have resorted to maintaining different markup tools for different CAD formats, a generic markup tool for graphics (digital pictures, etc.), and yet another markup tool for PDF documentation. Newforma Project Center streamlines this process by offering markup tools that work with many common CAD and graphics formats, as well as any image you can display on-screen -- -- a concept the company calls agnostic markup. Support for the Adapx digital markup pen also has been included for those who want to use pen-and-paper-style markups.

The Markup Session activity center now recognizes all PDF and DWF markups.

Another capability facilitated by the new agnostic markup approach is BIM markup and commenting. BIM processes can be problematic because many project team members who need to comment on or review BIM models don't have the application or are not proficient with the BIM authoring tools. BIM markup allows those users to easily view and mark up views of the BIM models to add notes, callouts, and more, which are then stored in the Markup Sessions section of Newforma Project Center. (This is very much like working with Adobe Acrobat markup tools.) These stored BIM markup sessions can be managed as action items and routed to project team members regardless of which CAD tools they use, if any.

Marked-up views of a building model can be tracked in the Markup Session activity center for BIM/CAD design review.

LEED Support
New in Newforma Project Center Sixth Edition are enhancements to tools such as Project Timeline and Action Items that can help companies comply with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The Sixth Edition allows you to capture typical LEED administration tasks as action items and relate them to milestones in the Project Timeline (see figure below). Existing Newforma Project Center users will have no problem using these new functions, because they'll already be familiar with the idea of responding to action items. As with everything else in Newforma Project Center, using the system feels very much like using an Outlook e-mail client -- and that's precisely the idea.

Newforma lets users import LEED-related roles and responsibilities as action items to track all elements of a project’s LEED strategy.

Project Monitoring
As mentioned, Newforma Project Center makes interacting with the system an e-mail-like experience. The problem with e-mail, though, is that you don't always know which timeline is associated with a given task in your e-mail inbox, so time tracking must be performed individually through the use of Outlook calendars. Most project-management software, such as Microsoft Project, can manage timeframes but is unaware of the files associated with a given task on its schedule. Users end up needing two separate solutions to track files and tasks.

Newforma Project Center Sixth Edition solves this problem. Now users can import Microsoft Project data into the Project Timeline section (see figure below) to show the collaborative work team what is happening along a timeline, with related tasks and questions consolidated into a single panel. This feature can save you a lot of time if you already use Microsoft Project (because you won't need to recreate tasks and milestones in Newforma) and could save a lot of money on Microsoft Project support and training as more users simply view assigned tasks in Newforma.

The Project Timeline lets you import phases, tasks, and milestones from Microsoft Project, allowing project plans to be communicated to staff more easily.

Network Topology
The kind of power that Newforma Project Center brings to bear doesn’t just happen by accident; it requires a good bit of coordinated computing power around the network. You can see in the network topology diagram (below) that each office with a central file server requires an indexing server to scan all the project-specific data at that location. In addition, one centralized Newforma InfoExchange server is required somewhere on your network to manage transmittals and file sharing with external project team members (who only need an internet browser). This means that most companies choose to repurpose their FTP (file transfer protocol) servers to become the Newforma Info Exchange Server and add a Newforma Project Center server at each office with local project directories.

Newforma Project Center supports local and Internet-based remote users via a Newforma Newforma Project Center server at each office location and a central Newforma Info Exchange Server (typically the existing FTP server).

For companies with IT staffs that are familiar with maintaining multiple servers, Newforma Project Center’s requirements represent nothing more than an additional network resource cost.  However, small companies without well-supported networks or no on-site FTP server may find the requirements too much to justify the software purchase.  Newforma Project Center is a network-centric application, and as such requires an investment in network infrastructure.

Mature, Versatile Solution
When you work with a lot of files, it's the little things -- such as being able to find what you need, getting the information to others in your work team, and keeping everyone on schedule -- that make project management so challenging. Compound these problems with a workforce that communicates primarily via e-mail, and you've got a real coordination problem on your hands. When you look through Newforma Project Center Sixth Edition, it's pretty clear that the developers understand these challenges.

In the Sixth Edition, Newforma Project Center has become more mature and versatile, embracing many more file types and integrating those files with markups and schedule-based task management -- all within a simple, e-mail-like interface. With the BIM markup management and LEED administration features, Sixth Edition has stepped up to provide a credible solution for managing the latest challenges within AEC workflows.

For a detailed look at Newforma Project Center, see the Cadalyst Labs Review of Newforma Project Center Fourth Edition.