Project Information Management: Streamlining Collaboration

By Tiffany Morris, P.E., Technology Manager, ColeJenest & Stone | September 28, 2010

For years, Michael Cole, ColeJenest & Stone managing principal, has led the company in search of "the promised land" of project information management — a place where employees would no longer spend hours filing information, searching for e-mails and asking the IT team to create FTP sites or project extranets for the staff. As so often happens in this industry, ColeJenest & Stone got its first glimpse of the technology it needed through a project partner, Perkins+Will.

ColeJenest & Stone (CJS) is a comprehensive land planning, landscape architecture, civil engineering, and urban design firm headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. CJS was collaborating with Perkins+Will on the Bank of America Center in Charlotte. A Perkins+Will project manager asked CJS to transfer a large file to him via Newforma® Info Exchange. Although unfamiliar with the software, CJS soon uploaded the data without the awkwardness that usually accompanies FTP transfers, and without the added costs of a separate project extranet.

CJS knew something was different when the web interface gave the option of automatically e-mailing periodic reminders to recipients who had yet to download files. As CJS continued using Newforma Info Exchange, they discovered it was easy to see records of file transfers, to re-send files and much more. CJS quickly saw how the software provides management tools that are missing from FTP sites, and avoids the size limitations of attaching large files to e-mails.

Newforma Info Exchange soon introduced CJS to a larger project information management solution, Newforma Project Center. This powerful software includes tools to find information, manage Microsoft Outlook® e-mail, compare documents electronically, and much more. CJS quickly realized that the Newforma solution added value to the applications it was already using and that it would help the company collaborate with both internal and external team members. CJS had entered the promised land!

The Problem Of Project Information

People in the AEC industry know what a burden it can be to manage project information. The large file sizes, high number of team members and repeated iterations make information management a full time job — if you let it. That's why CJS sought a technological solution. CJS was determined to maintain their focus on design and engineering without neglecting the administrative tasks associated with these disciplines. The company lives by collaboration and needs compatible tools to streamline collaborative processes.

For example, it's common to be told, "This file needs to go to so-and-so as well." Because the Newforma solution e-mails a hyperlink from which recipients download files, you can often forward the e-mail and its link to other people. If the security limitations you determine at the outset disallow others from using the hyperlink because you required a username and password, you simply log into the Newforma Info Exchange website and resend the file! If someone needs a record of who received what, and when they received it, it only takes a few clicks to generate a report. ColeJenest & Stone project managers are using these functionalities and more to save hours every week.

Owners and contractors enjoy having a common place for requests for information and change orders. CJS tried creating such places using file transfer protocol, or FTP, but security was always a problem; sites were unfriendly to users and site creation put more work on the IT staff. Project extranets worked well enough, but they didn't dovetail with Outlook, which many companies depend upon. Finally, extranets included storage costs — once to file information on CJS servers, and again to store them on an extranet. The Newforma solution addressed these challenges with FTP and extranet sites.

How Does It Work?

Newforma Info Exchange operates by placing the Newforma Info Exchange server on your network but outside your firewall. External team members exchange information via a web browser. The implementation is quick and easy. By some estimates, the speed of implementation and ease of training contribute to a payback period of about one month.

More On The Horizon

Of course, collaboration involves much more than file transfers. CJS has submittals to manage, transmittals to log and requests for information to fulfill, among other tasks. Fortunately, the Newforma solution includes functions for those jobs, too. CJS is learning how to use these advanced functionalities to promote ColeJenest & Stone best practices as standards across the company.

Newforma Info Exchange provides ColeJenest & Stone many ways to streamline collaboration as part of a larger, comprehensive project information management system, which includes:

  • transferring files to other project team members;
  • receiving file transfers from other project team members; and
  • viewing audit trails of both outgoing and incoming information.

Having a solution for collaboration and project information management came at an ideal time for ColeJenest & Stone. With growth at 30 percent last year, CJS needed software that would help its new employees get up to speed quickly on the company's methods of operation. CJS looked at other solutions, such as document management, but they weren't designed for the typical workflow of the architecture and engineering industry. Now, when CJS tells external team partners to send files using Newforma Info Exchange, it only takes a few minutes to explain the system and its advantages. The entire team enjoys the benefits that come from streamlined collaboration and project information management tools.