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 !!