Early for school

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Construction giant, Mowlem put Autodesk Buzzsaw online collaborative project management solution at the heart of a ú94 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project to design and build six schools in Exeter for Devon County Council.

Large construction projects bring together a diverse range of professions and people. A new-build school, for example, involves a complete cross-section of society from architects and bricklayers to teachers and school governors.

All team members and stakeholders need to be able to collaborate easily and quickly without having to cope with complex IT systems. They also need to know they are working on, or discussing, the most current information, otherwise their time has been wasted.

For this reason, construction giant Mowlem has put Autodesk Buzzsaw online collaborative project management solution at the heart of a ú94 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project to design and build six schools in Exeter for Devon County Council. As a result, the projects are right on track. In fact, the first school opened a term early, five months ahead of schedule.

Timing is crucial

The PFI project involves the rebuilding of all the secondary schools in Exeter and one primary school. All of these are being built again from scratch on, or adjacent to, their existing sites.

The fact that Devon County Council is changing its approach by removing all middle schools has added a real urgency to the project. All the new schools need to be ready on schedule to facilitate this change.

The project began in 2003 and at once Mowlem recognised the need for a project collaboration solution: “We wanted a way of issuing information at speed. Drawings are really too large to email and you can never be sure they have been received. Photocopying and posting them is even less satisfactory and carries administrative overheads that accumulate to a hefty amount,” says Bruce Badenoch, Mowlem’s construction manager.


Ease of use was the main criterion when investigating the market. Badenoch recalls that the team looked at three different solutions, settling on Buzzsaw as the most straightforward, both to implement and to learn.

“We knew that on a project this size there would be a complete range of IT skills. We wanted to avoid a steep learning curve and to have the buy-in of everyone involved. We didn’t want to give any member of the extended team a reason for not having access to vital information.”

As a result, Autodesk Buzzsaw Professional is now being used across the entire Exeter PFI project in a number of ways.

Buzzsaw stores drawings and other project documents securely on an online site that is easy to access at any time by all authorised team members. All actions are logged, providing a complete audit of who has accessed what and when. In addition, automatic email notifications keep appropriate team members informed of important changes and updates. This core functionality provides a complete overview of where the project stands at any given time.

Badenoch says that this aspect of the service has proved popular with their client. “It leads to an open project environment which enables them to browse the site, in their own time, and see exactly what is happening and what stage we are at. Before this, all information was confined to one particular office – and was inaccessible to all but those who were working on it directly.

He adds, “Buzzsaw is also good for communicating designs and other project progress to a wider audience. Because of the redline mark-up facility, other interested parties can comment on the work, without changing the integrity of the design.”

Mowlem also uses Buzzsaw as a procurement tool, posting tender information to five or six potential sub-contractors, giving them a secure area and set day on which to upload their bid return. “Once again this saves valuable time and proves a very efficient way of procuring contracts,” says Badenoch.

He describes how Mowlem has generated even further value to the service by adding customised workflow including Requests For Information (RFI) and Change Order (CO) forms. “Autodesk sat with us and listened carefully about how we work. As a result, they have tailored our Buzzsaw site to include these forms.”

Each of these forms has three or four stages and the workflow has been designed so that users can see at a glance the status of an RFI or CO. Only authorised users can process these forms – and Buzzsaw only allows this to happen if all these steps have been taken.

“This provides a transparent, self-checking process, eliminating much of the confusion that often surrounds COs in particular. As a result, the process is quicker and more efficient.”

Widely used

“A project collaboration service is only as good as the number of people using it,” says Badenoch. Using this measure, Buzzsaw must be very good indeed. He estimates that altogether around 800 people are using the Mowlem Buzzsaw site during the project, with an average of over 4,000 log-ins per month.

“I am actually amazed by how comfortable most people are with Buzzsaw – even those who have only ever used a home PC before,” he says.

When it comes to cost-savings, there has been an obvious reduction in overheads through not having to print and courier documents. However, it’s impossible to estimate the amount of time saved through having instant access to information and through eliminating mistakes that could have been made.

“We have a satisfied client and we look set to complete the total project within the deadline – so Buzzsaw has undoubtedly been worth the investment,” he concludes.



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