While all the main CAD vendors are pushing all singing, all dancing cloud-based ‘collaboration’ services, there’s a lot to be said for having an internal management system that sits within your firewall and is completely under your control. Martyn Day revisits Excitech DOCS
As we write this, big things are happening to Autodesk’s reseller network. In its move to subscription, the net effect has been that its reseller channel (sometimes called Value Added Resellers or VARs) started to condense into larger dealerships. This month Addnode Group announced it had acquired Excitech, which also owns Symmetri, already a huge pan-European software and services reseller to the construction and manufacturing market. In one of the biggest deals of this type, it seems the brands will continue as is, but all firms will benefit from economies of scale.
Within this changing nature of dealerships, many have stepped up their focus on providing consultancy for major projects and also developing their own in-house software. Excitech has always offered high-level consultancy, but the company is now establishing a reputation as being a key player in document management.
Excitech DOCS was launched in September 2017 and in the last two and a half years has continued to expand its capability and reach. With customers come feedback and feature requests and the software has grown from a fairly simple drawing management and transmittal system to a Swiss Army Knife for data collection, management and processing.
The underlying technology to Excitech DOCS is M-Files, an Enterprise Content Management system which approaches data storage on ‘what’ the data is, as opposed to where the data is. This means that users are presented with structured data that doesn’t obfuscate project data by including the layers of system folders and drives. Data is tagged and related to projects. The net result is that it’s really easy to use, like Windows Explorer. As the system is based on M-Files, it can also benefit from the huge ecosystem of third-party add-ons from M-Files developers, so if Excitech DOCS doesn’t have a feature or a data hook, there may well be ‘an app for that’.
The former British Standard (BS 1192) for managing the production, distribution and quality of construction information, is now ISO 19650. One of the original benefits of Excitech DOCS was that deploying it would help your firm adhere to BS 1192. Now, it will assist compliance with ISO 19650. And as ISO 19650 is being adopted around the world, Excitech DOCS is picking up customers all over the place.
The software is a naming convention dream and handles not only file naming but goes right down into the blocks and is completely bidirectional. As a drawing moves through the stages it maintains the revision, naming and updates the title block. This means less errors in documentation and a significant productivity improvement – the larger the number of drawings and documents, the bigger the benefit.
ISO 19650’s well defined approval process is also baked in, dictating how a project document moves from a Work in Progress (WIP) state internally, to an approved external issue state, such as Shared or Published. The approval process is managed by a visual workflow management system, with stages and actions. It’s also possible to edit and create these workflows to make bespoke processes.
While the initial version was mainly about BS 1192 adherence, baking in the defined workflow, customer feedback has meant the development team redeveloped the system to make it possible to customise and map these processes to internal requirements, which may not be targeted at those firms wishing to diverge from the ISO or BS standards.
Markup and geotagging
Drawings can be quickly previewed and through the tabbed interface, identified exactly where they are in any defined workflow (WIP, Approved, Published etc) and document meta data read. Annotations can be added and shared, which automatically drive the approval process. A file sent for checking prior to publishing may be sent back with an annotation – this keeps the document in WIP until it’s approved.
Excitech DOCS can now geolocate images taken onsite. By extracting the location data on images taken with mobile devices, as well as a whole lot of other meta data (date, time, resolution, phone type and even the exposure and F stop!). These can be added to projects via the mobile app in real time or uploaded at any point after. They can be seen on the built-in map.
No man is an island, and neither is a document management system these days. Excitech DOCS has a powerful Transmittal feature, which was in the very first release. There have been a few updates here, for reissuing sets of updated documents in PDF and all sorts of other file options, with automatic transmittal sheet creation: project, client, who created it, date, to whom, their roles, document references, suitability codes, how they received it (email, extranet, fax, disk). This is extremely comprehensive and all automated and end-user configurable.
Beyond direct transmittal, the development team has also expanded the range of collaboration portals that Excitech DOCS can connect to, adding Asite, Google Docs, Dropbox and Viewpoint for Projects, together with Autodesk BIM 360. It can work with and remember settings for each user and per project and can even handle uploading and publishing to multiple extranets. Each project also has an extranet tab, where you can see what has been uploaded where and when.
Outlook and email integration include a fair amount of intelligence, scanning email content (in and out) for relevance to projects as well as suggesting places to store them in the DOCS repository based on past actions. There are powerful filters to find relevant correspondence across a broad range of criteria. It’s available online and offline, using an intermediary cache.
While Excitech DOCS is clearly growing in capability, the one thing that isn’t happening is any additional complexity in interface or usage. It takes what for most firms would be a daily management headache: ISO compliance, document naming, documents tracking, PDF creation, collecting project emails, approving and publishing document sets etc. and just handles it all for you.
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