Improving Collaboration on Construction Projects


Not so long ago, the construction industry relied on paper documents to get the job done. With some projects requiring truckloads of documents (literally!), locating a single paper within this information overload was like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack – practically impossible.
Not to mention, a paper can only be viewed by a single viewer in a single location – making collaboration difficult. But now, with the development of digital information, these stacks and stacks of papers can be replaced with a remarkably simple solution.

Not all solutions are created equally, however. It takes the right software to open the door on this exciting new world of efficient, easy-to-use document management. The SmartUse app is a standalone mobile collaboration solution able to handle the industry’s most challenging digital information demands. Intended primarily for contractors and owners (which includes project managers and property developers), the innovative mobile app enables users to instantly – and easily – view, mark up, compare, measure, and share PDF plans on desktops, laptops, tablets and large 55″ touch screens.

The benefits are game-changing. Construction and facilities management teams can easily collaborate in real time between the field and the office. And, because related documents and onsite snapshots are automatically hyperlinked, tedious manual tasks are a thing of the past. In addition, the SmartUse app supports the full-size plan reviews favoured by most project teams, making collaboration a breeze, even with large groups of people.

The Key to Collaboration
The key to full-size plan reviews lies in the Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 powers large, interactive touch screens – gigantic iPad tablets, if you will. The screen may be A0 size and set on a table, “which supports a dramatically more effective mode of project collaboration, in which team members gather around the display in the construction trailer and hash out problems with the plans right in front of them,” says Bob Batcheler, a co-founder and executive vice president of Newforma, the company that offers the SmartUse app. Such display tables, created especially for construction professional, boast adjustable screen angles and ergonomic designs to make gruelling work sessions more comfortable.

Helping People Collaborate Wherever they are Working, on Whatever Devices
But, SmartUse users are certainly not limited to a construction trailer, or to a special table. Collaboration is simple, regardless of where the team is located – or what device they have on hand; the SmartUse app can run across a continually expanding range of devices, including iPads and Windows 7 laptops and personal computers, as well as Windows 8.1 touch-capable devices, including the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet and a large-format (A0 size) interactive graphics workstation. “SmartUse provides essentially the same user experience across all of these devices, enabling a seamless workflow from the field to the construction trailer to the office,” Batcheler says.

No more struggling to communicate. No more hassles coordinating documents. SmartUse takes care of the details, so that the team can take care of the work. And, the software is remarkably easy to use – even for the tech challenged. Just select a project and a drawing, then quickly mark up and assign metadata to what has been done. There are plenty of markup tools and metadata to choose from, so it is easy to tailor the drawing to meet the user’s specific needs. And, the program clearly labels each version of a drawing, so there is no risk of getting the latest version mixed up with a previous version. Users simply use the align tool to view, scale, and stack multiple versions of the same drawing, or they can do a side by side comparison to see how drawings have changed from one version to another. Associated drawings are easy to pull out, since the callout sheet number is automatically linked to the deliverable table of contents.

“Construction” Means More than Buildings and Infrastructure
SmartUse is designed for anyone in the AECO industry who is struggling with the distribution, viewing, markup and auto-linking of current drawings. For now, the SmartUse team is focusing its sales and marketing efforts on the construction and owner segments of the AECO industry, “because those segments have struggled with this issue for so long without truly effective solutions,” Batcheler says. The new technology also enjoys a wider application within construction and owner categories, including mining, energy production, and facilities management. For those who are hesitant to adopt new technology without a trial run, the SmartUse team has made it easy to try before you buy; potential users can simply download the SmartUse app as a free viewer for unlimited users or they can try out the fully functional app for a set time at no cost.

The “App Advantage”
The software company Newforma acquired SmartUse in October 2014 in order to “enable any AECO industry stakeholder to experience the power of Newforma software without having to be previously invited to join a Newforma project,” Batcheler says. “We also wanted a product that could provide a consistent user experience from the field to the construction trailer to the office, regardless of the device, because that is the reality that our customers face. SmartUse fulfils the marketplace’s desire to take advantage of the ‘app advantage’ – ease of use and mobility.”

The acquisition has been a great success. “We are tremendously happy to have the SmartUse team join Newforma; they are smart, inventive people who have developed a really cool product that fits beautifully into Newforma’s product strategy,” Batcheler says. Newforma is committed to continuing the SmartUse team’s focus on developing innovative, user-focused products and will market, sell, and support SmartUse as its own independent brand. “SmartUse has already achieved a high degree of interest and success in the construction and owner segments of our industry, across a very broad range of project complexity,” Batcheler says. “We think they are onto something, which is why we acquired the company, but will position it as a separate brand.”

Maintaining SmartUse’s status as an independent brand makes good sense. For starters, Newforma wants to be sure that users can experience the company’s solutions as simply and quickly as possible, so the team does not want to force SmartUse to do “everything in lock step with our enterprise- and project-solutions,” Batcheler says. “The best way we know to do that is to develop, market and sell SmartUse as its own brand. As an independent brand, SmartUse has the opportunity to expand beyond the success of the Newforma brand to address a pervasive need in the broader AECO industry: the timely and effective distribution, viewing, markup and auto-linking of current drawings and other construction documents.”

Project Information Management Software
Newforma already has a strong history of success with design firms through Newforma® Project Center project information management software, which works behind the IT firewall to manage information across the enterprise. The company’s project-based, construction collaboration solution, Newforma Project Cloud, has also garnered significant interest from contractors and construction managers. Newforma’s mobile apps are also quite popular within the industry. However, prior to the acquisition of SmartUse, all of these apps required access to a Newforma project. Now, with SmartUse, Newforma can offer a streamlined solution accessible by all.

SmartUse is a perfect fit for Newforma’s long-term goals – and for industry insiders in search of a better way to do business. “Newforma’s vision is to transform the building and construction industry,” Batcheler says. “Our customers are rapidly migrating to mobile solutions. SmartUse accelerates our offering in this critical area of growth and provides our customers with immediate additional value. SmartUse is the leading solution for standalone mobile collaboration and is quickly being adopted by contractors and owners.”

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November 21, 2018, 9:46 AM AEDT