File Sharing/Publishing

Take CAD to the Next Level

15 Sep, 2010 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

SharePoint-based solutions for design data facilitate collaboration and accelerate the AEC workflow.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in the AEC edition of the Summer 2010 issue of Cadalyst magazine. To read the manufacturing-specific version of this article, click here.

Document management, at its most basic, is valuable as a structured repository for CAD data. But it's no surprise that much of the information exchange in the AEC workflow takes place outside the structured system, in formats such as e-mail, instant messages, blog posts, and the like. Software developers are building solutions on Microsoft SharePoint that aim to collect this information and give it structure as well — that is, capture collaboration and correspondence, integrate it into the project history, and make it accessible to everyone in the workflow who can benefit.

Collaboration Engine

Simon Floyd, Microsoft's director of technology strategy, enterprise solutions, described SharePoint as a backbone for sharing any information, including documents, drawings, e-mail, and social media content (such as personal blogs, content tagging, and activity feeds) with anyone, including immediate staff, downstream users, and customers. "It is a facilitator of business processes," he said, adding, "We're working very hard for SharePoint to be a decision engine, to surface more and more information to support decisions." Even more SharePoint power will come in the next year or two as the platform is ported to mobile devices.
According to Floyd, adoption of SharePoint has taken off in recent years because it is a relatively low-cost, feature-rich solution that's Internet-based and easy to integrate. In a world where most CAD users still share data via traditional means, such as local hard drives and networks, companies are beginning to question how they can leverage the collaborative power of SharePoint to get that CAD data into the hands of the people who need it.

"In the past 12 to 24 months," Floyd said, "we've experienced a tremendous increase in the number of businesses looking for SharePoint-based solutions, or indeed just for SharePoint itself. A significant number of large companies have SharePoint today as an enterprise solution and this is becoming true for small- and medium-sized businesses as well. We believe that the strong uptake in SharePoint is due in part to the economic reset and the fact that businesses still need solutions, but at a cost that makes it viable for everyone to use."

SharePoint 2010, introduced in May, includes more feature-rich social computing functionality; Business Insights, which integrates business reporting and analytics; project management; remote BLOB (binary large object) storage; and powerful, integrated search functionality based on the FAST professional search engine technology that Microsoft acquired in 2008.

Leveraging SharePoint, Autodesk Style
Rumors are circulating that a SharePoint-related development is brewing at Autodesk, but the company maintains that its existing Vault solution, used in a SharePoint environment, is the answer to meeting data-sharing objectives for its customers in AEC as well as other markets.

Vault is tightly integrated with Autodesk CAD applications but can be used to control data generated from any number of other industry solutions as well. Data stored in Autodesk Vault can be published to SharePoint for sharing across an organization. Vault users can jump to SharePoint easily, according to Autodesk.

Brian Roepke, Autodesk's director of data management products, said that while other companies are developing SharePoint-based CAD solutions aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, "We've already had this solution that's already really well suited for this simpler, lower-cost deployment." Many Autodesk customers use a variety of the company's software products, and each one would require its own SharePoint integration, Roepke said. "So we keep things very focused on Vault, we cover as many Autodesk applications as possible, then we tie it to SharePoint for that sharing of information throughout the larger organization project team."

Solutions for CAD

SharePoint can work well on its own for general collaboration. But it also can serve as the foundation for other, more specific applications — one of which is sharing CAD data. Choices for AEC applications include the following:

Bentley Systems ProjectWise. ProjectWise V8i (SELECTseries 1), a solution that integrates with SharePoint, is built for organizations such as architecture and engineering firms, engineering procurement and construction firms, general contractors, and owner operators who are involved in the design and construction of capital projects and who need to coordinate work-in-progress information among integrated project teams and across distributed offices. ProjectWise offers multi-CAD support for managing design and construction information, information sharing, accelerated file access, collaboration in real time on work in progress, and in-depth understanding of complex engineering content.

Joe Croser, Bentley Systems global marketing director, said, "By connecting ProjectWise and SharePoint to create an interoperable information platform, CIOs can finally satisfy business, web, and engineering project collaboration needs via this single source of truth for all information. In this connected scenario, SharePoint adds significant additional value to ProjectWise by improving Microsoft Office application integration.

Bentley Systems ProjectWise StartPoint. Designed for small AEC project teams, ProjectWise StartPoint V8i is an entry-level collaboration tool for MicroStation and AutoCAD users. Built on SharePoint, it offers file access control, version control, search, access control with folder-level security, calendars and threaded discussions, and simple project web site and user-level customization.

Cadac Organice. The Cadac Organice 2010 Software Suite, introduced in March, is based entirely on Microsoft SharePoint and built for AEC and other project-driven engineering disciplines. The products are optimized for managing project files (such as Microsoft Office documents, e-mail, and CAD drawings) and controlling document distribution and tracking with transmittals and workflows. Two products in the suite are as follows.

  • Cadac Organice Explorer 2010 enhances SharePoint with engineering document management functionality. Users can create, store, search, retrieve, view, check in, check out, edit, and revise documents all from a user-friendly interface. As a smart client for SharePoint, it offers offline capabilities, supporting users who travel or work in areas where they cannot connect. E-mail messages can be saved through drag-and-drop, and when e-mail messages with attachments or CAD drawings with reference files are saved, Cadac Organice automatically recognizes the attachments or reference files and provides users the option to save these too.
  • Cadac Organice Workbox 2010 is a new module that helps team members keep tabs on the state of their work. Workbox can be used to build SharePoint state machine workflows and execute them automatically or manually on documents and items in SharePoint. It presents users with the workflow options they have related to their role and the status of the workflow, as well as an overview of the running and completed workflows on documents and items.

CADnection. The company slogan says it all: "AutoCAD and SharePoint working together." CADnection the company (and the product) are focused on the sole pursuit of integrating the two platforms to help organizations leverage the strengths of SharePoint as a data repository and collaborative environment for AutoCAD drawings. AutoCAD users are able to easily check out and check in drawings and reference files and save to the SharePoint environment. SharePoint users throughout the organization see drawings as any other SharePoint documents. These drawings can be searched upon, viewed, and launched into AutoCAD.

AutoCAD users inherit SharePoint's content-management and file-integrity capabilities, including user access control, locking and unlocking drawings, version management, and collaboration and workflow capabilities. CADnection extends SharePoint's file capabilities by including reference files management, where-used information, and viewable file association. While in AutoCAD, users can quickly search and retrieve drawings based on its metadata or other content, leveraging the SharePoint search capabilities.

Value Proposition

Over the past few years, Bentley Systems has studied the monetary and operational benefits gained by its ProjectWise users. According to Bentley, Bechtel reported a 19x return on its ProjectWise investment, and Engevix registered a 40% faster time to market for its PowerStation development in Brazil and saved 20% on recruitment costs. HDR cut project-related travel costs by almost $1.5 million dollars, and Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon recorded a 25% increase in revenues per head by connecting offices using ProjectWise and SharePoint.

Microsoft's Floyd said the key take-away messages for companies considering SharePoint-based solutions for managing CAD data are these: "Understand the opportunity for collaboration on work in progress, and realize the domain-centric potential of the integrated experience with a CAD application."


About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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