Monday, October 18, 2010

SharePoint and Newforma Project Center: managing information, curating knowledge

Part 2: Why not use SharePoint to manage project information?

A conversation with LMN Architects Director of Information Technology Tim Rice, AIA

Read Part 1, "What's the Difference?" here.

Note from Allen Preger, a Newforma founder and the company’s chief product officer
“After talking about the different applications for Newforma Project Center and SharePoint in our last blog post, I asked LMN IT Director Tim Rice why he isn’t using SharePoint for more functions.”

ALLEN PREGER: With its flexibility, why hasn’t SharePoint been adopted for project-specific information management or collaboration?

TIM RICE: There would be way too much overhead involved in making SharePoint dynamically flexible enough to manage project-specific information. To give you an idea, we have over two terabytes of active, project-specific data currently being manag
ed by Newforma Project Center. This data all resides in project-specific file shares, which, by the way, supports the way our teams work with CAD, BIM and other graphics-intensive tools to create all that information. I couldn’t fathom changing the process by which we manage the project information we create and consume.

Conversely, we currently manage less than one gigabyte of data on our SharePoint site. As a 100-person professional services firm, I don’t see how we could support scaling our SharePoint site to manage all of our project-specific information and processes. While Microsoft is to be commended for designing SharePoint to be highly-customizable, thereby providing a high degree of flexibility, someone has to provide that customization. It’s a great collaboration platform for ad hoc sharing of project knowledge, but I could never imagine building out SharePoint to support the file types and work flows of our industry.

ALLEN: On the topic of collaboration, have you considered using SharePoint as a project portal for external clients, consultants and agencies?

TIM: As I mentioned, we like the way SharePoint fosters internal collaboration,
but I would not be comfortable opening it up to external companies and trying to manage permissions and accounts.

Out of the box, Newforma Info Exchange does everything we need it to do in terms of file transfers and collaboration with external teams.

We have over 1,900 external Newforma Info Exchange accounts, each one created and managed through Newforma by our users. External team permissions and notifications are all handled by Newforma on a per-project basis. Password generation and reminders are all automated. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had to walk someone through the process of adding a team member or downloading information from the site.

Managing 1,900 external SharePoint accounts would be a logistical challenge, to say the least. And even if we could administer this, I am not sure how we would provide the 1,900 SharePoint client access licenses (CALs) for these people.

Click to read Part
1 of this conversation, “What’s the difference?

LMN Architects Director of Information Technology Tim Rice, AIA, has been an architect since 1979, managing CAD and IT systems since 1988. He has provided firm-wide leadership for the firm’s BIM initiative and is responsible for implementation and integration of new technologies into all aspects of LMN project delivery. LMN has been a Newforma customer since 2006.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SharePoint and Newforma Project Center: managing information, curating knowledge

Part 1: What’s the difference?

A conversation with LMN Architects Director of Information Technology Tim Rice, AIA

Note from Allen Preger, a Newforma founder and the company’s chief product officer:
"I recently caught up with Tim Rice to discuss how LMN Architects uses Newforma Project Center and Microsoft SharePoint. Here’s the first part of our conversation."

ALLEN PREGER: Could I ask you to summarize how Newforma and SharePoint are used within your firm?

TIM RICE: For us, the distinction is very clear. To manage project-specific information or processes, we use Newforma. On the other hand, SharePoint is the platform for our intranet knowledge communities where employees can post and share knowledge of a more general nature or access basic resources like Design, Sustainability, HR or IT.

ALLEN: Can you give me some examples of “project-specific information” and “general company knowledge”?

TIM: Project-specific information includes everything that is in our active and archived project folders. It includes drawings and other documents, as well as project email. We point Newforma at these project folders to manage all of our project-specific information, and rely on its AEC industry specific search features to quickly locate project information. We also use it for project management since it has tools we rely on to manage existing processes for action items, RFIs and submittals. Our project managers and contract administration staff in particular have found it to be indispensable, and beyond the initial configuration of company and project settings, we utilize it as an “off-the-shelf” application.

Lastly, we have been able to replace our existing FTP server with Newforma Info Exchange, which provides a managed web environment that everybody in the firm can use to communicate and exchange files with consultants and clients.

Our knowledge communities in SharePoint are used to manage other categories of company information. As our intranet platform, it provides a repository for company policies, procedures, forms and the like. There is a company news section that is regularly updated, as well as a number of themed sections where people are encouraged to share interesting project stories or technical information on various topics like building performance and materials. With its integration with Microsoft Office, it’s easy for users to contribute content and our graphically-oriented designers like its presentation style.

Shown: A user-uploaded project case study from LMN’s SharePoint-based Intranet site.

We have also used SharePoint as an aggregator of information from other systems. For example, many of our project managers or senior principals are uncomfortable navigating through our accounting system to review project budgets, billings and costs, so we built pages and queries to present that information in SharePoint.

Shown: A project financial summary accessed through LMN’s SharePoint-based Intranet site.

ALLEN: Have you got any examples for us that demonstrate the complementary nature of the project information you manage in Newforma and the company knowledge you manage in SharePoint?

TIM: Sure. We have a master project list on our SharePoint site that is fed from our accounting system and provides links to Newforma as well as a SharePoint page containing general information about the project. Recently, we have begun collecting energy use data for our completed projects. The goal is to compare actual energy use with what was projected during design and in so doing enable us to design better buildings. For that to happen, this information, which is project specific and therefore resides in the project folders managed by Newforma, must be readily available. This is an example of the sort of project data that we want to be able to surface through SharePoint in the context of our master project list.

Next: Part 2 of Allen's conversation with Tim, who tells why he's not using SharePoint to manage project information.

LMN Architects Director of Information Technology Tim Rice, AIA, has been an architect since 1979, managing CAD and IT systems since 1988. He has provided firm-wide leadership for the firm’s BIM initiative and is responsible for implementation and integration of new technologies into all aspects of LMN project delivery. LMN has been a Newforma customer since 2006.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why project administration needs to be easy

Highlights from a recent conversation with Cromwell Architects Engineers Chief Operating Officer Daniel K. Fowler, AIA

If you’ve tried in vain to institute strict project administration procedures at your firm, you probably know the simple reason: Your colleagues would rather be doing their “real” work.

This reality was driven home to us in a recent conversation with Dan Fowler, the chief operating officer of Cromwell Architects Engineers in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Our CA managers spend their entire days doing contract administration,” Dan said. “That’s their job, so they follow the procedures we set up in Lotus Notes. But everyone else has to do actual project work, and they consider administrative tasks to be secondary. We found it difficult to get project people out of “doing mode” and into a mindset to use the tools for data management we had developed.”

Dan’s remarks pretty much capture the sentiment we’ve heard in scores of AEC firms, which may be summed up as, “We got into this business to design, engineer and build things, and that’s what we come to work to do. We don’t want to spend our days filing emails, logging transmittals, responding to RFIs, tracking submittals and generating reports.”

The exception occurs when filing, logging, tracking and reporting are super-simple to do

“Newforma Project Center grabbed us right away because it has core components that have been specifically developed to help firms like ours,” Dan said. “For example, file sharing – Newforma Info Exchange – is great right out of the box.

“We had been struggling with our FTP site and the way we exchange files with clients, business partners and government agencies,” Dan said. “FTP was cumbersome and hard to navigate by us, let alone by people outside the office. The demonstration of Newforma Info Exchange made everyone say, ‘Let’s get it just for that.’”

Dan had similar things to say about Newforma Project Center’s contribution to filing email, finding information in any file type, managing files and more.

“One reason the Newforma software has been so easy to adopt is because it provides an immediate return on effort and allows us to continue using our existing work processes,” Dan said. “For example, we use the same processes to file email with Newforma Project Center that we used with Lotus Notes, which is to either put a project email address in the Cc line, or drag and drop the email to a project folder in Notes. Nobody has to learn a new process.”

And that’s how you get project workers who are not full-time managers to do the “paperwork” that every job demands. Make it so easy that it doesn’t seem like a distraction from the work they woke up that day to do.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reflecting on Newforma’s beginnings 6 years ago

Yesterday, Cinco de Mayo 2010, was Newforma’s 6th birthday. It was on May 5, 2004, that we closed our Series A funding.

The idea of starting a new business actually started a full year earlier, in May 2003, in the offices of Borealis Ventures in Concord, New Hampshire.

I wasn’t there, but as the story goes, several participants left that meeting saying “No thanks, and don’t call me again.” Others, including Bob “Batch” Batcheler (now Newforma’s VP Industry Marketing and Product Management) and Larry Nuttall (now a partner with the Ascentage Group) , were inspired enough to commit to doing some more research and to start talking to potential customers. Soon after, the instigator of the whole adventure, Jesse Devitte (our initial investor and current Board member), recruited Todd Kozikowski (NE Region Sales) to help. Next, they roped in Jim Forester (Senior Technical Advisor) and Allen Preger (Chief Product Officer) during what started as a casual conversation on a sun deck out in California. They then arm-wrestled Dave Plunkett (VP Engineering) to consider leaving his job at Autodesk.

So Newforma was started without any technology, not even a prototype – but with a founding team that was highly qualified to analyze the state of the AEC market to identify opportunities. Our founders sought to add value by creating a new class of software application to meet business needs that were not already being met by existing vendor solutions. Part of the process was to lock themselves in a conference room at an Embassy Suites in Las Vegas with only a small porthole window for a couple of days, after which AEC1 became a registered Delaware company with 7 founders: Batch + Larry + Todd + Jim + Allen + Dave + Jesse.

That is also about the time that I got a phone call asking if I would review the AEC1 business plan to provide input/feedback. This soon became a second full-time job, consuming nights and weekends. After exchanging lots of redlines I recall flying from California to New Hampshire on a very cold Dec 27th in 2003 to work for the next two days with the team on finalizing the business plan in the very same Borealis conference room where it had all started back in May. In January, I was asked by the founders if I would consider becoming interim CEO to lead the fundraising effort and start pitching the business plan to potential investors. Somewhere along the line I resigned from my VP role at Citadon, sold my house in San Francisco, packed my family into a Jeep and drove 3,000 miles across the country all the while pitching VCs in the hope that we would get funded.

I wanted to share this story with you to help you imagine just how excited (and relieved) all of the founders and I were on May 5, 2004, when our first round of funding closed and we actually had a bank account with a credit balance and we could all look forward to our fist pay check.

Wind the clock forward to today and we now have 50 employees, 460 customers, 40,000 users and a second-generation Seventh Edition product that has just been released. At this writing, we have over 1,100 servers deployed that index and share information on more than 350,000 projects. Along the way we have created: project information management (PIM) as a new software category in the AEC market, and we have established Newforma as the leading solution provider in that category.

In addition to thanking everyone on the Newforma team for their important contributions toward achieving these terrific milestones, my genuine appreciation goes to our partners and customers. To all the architects, engineers, construction professionals and IT executives who have shared their detailed requirements with us, provided feedback on product design ideas, validated our product functionality and volunteered to test our software; and to our partners, who have integrated their products with ours, we owe a birthday toast to you all!

What an amazing ride so far - - with still more fun, new challenges and lots of opportunity to provide even more value to our customers ahead !!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Resources for Knowledge Management

As recommended by Bob Batcheler and Christopher Parsons in their Newforma webinar, "Project information management (PIM) for integrated project delivery (IPD): PIM and knowledge management"

Resources – To Learn More

Blogs – especially the Newforma – KA Dialog

Great Reads!

Company Websites