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.

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