Collaborative software

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Clare Watson explores how collaborative software can lead to potentially huge hidden savings.

More for less is increasingly becoming the mantra for the AEC sector. Cost may still be king but carbon emission is fast becoming the hot talking point. Many in the sector feel that in order to keep costs down emissions will have to take a back seat. However, thanks to collaborative working harmony may not be so far away.

Clare Watson: The biggest hidden saving ironically comes from one of the most visible areas of cost; file storage and archive space.

Over the last ten years, much has been written about the direct cost savings associated with collaborative software, however savings are being found in more than just printing and courier costs. Significant reductions can be made in time, charges and, significantly, carbon too.

A lot has changed since the early days of construction extranets, with increased functionality and improved user interfaces meaning the technology does not require an accompanying degree to operate it. As efficiency is more important than ever, it is worth examining the various ways in which collaborative software can become an asset to austerity.

There are many well quoted savings that users of collaborative software may be familiar with. The Compagnia report (2003) may be seven years old now but the saving it highlights, 4.28% of project costs, is still valid.

This figure takes into account savings from several of the unique aspects of collaborative software. For instance, with project or business information being stored online, and used in conjunction with in-built view and mark up tools, users can create a transparent record and audit train of changes, leading to significant savings on administration costs. In addition savings are being made on printing, distribution, postage and couriers, all of which quickly add up.

Projects can also expect to save on management costs. With simple to set up processes such as transmittals and approval processes; document control becomes a much more streamlined process, saving on overheads and allowing project managers to concentrate on deliverables.

Hidden savings

While initially harder to quantify, collaborative software can lead to potentially huge hidden savings.

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At 4Projects, we talk about ‘one version of the truth’, what this means is that all users are operating from the latest revision of drawing, information and instruction. Using the system, they are always accessing the latest live information meaning rework costs are significantly reduced, if not eliminated.

Project over-runs, penalties and litigation are not uncommon in the sector however by using an integrated delivery approach, firms can reduce these risks. A transparent audit trail is also an essential tool to mitigate risk in these instances. Online collaboration tools facilitate projects, ensuring they deliver both to budget and on time.

By having a shared collaboration space, users can also reduce the need for disparate team members to get together for meetings. Shared working spaces and discussions enable design reviews without users having to be in the same room. When working on international projects savings can run into the thousands.

The biggest hidden saving ironically comes from one of the most visible areas of cost; file storage and archive space. Instead of having filing cabinet upon filing cabinet (sometimes filling entire rooms), all the stored information can be transferred online, eliminating the excess. Office floor space, heating and furniture, each of these expenses can be reduced through the correct use of collaborative software.

There is another area where users of online collaboration tools can make savings, an area that will make your IT Director sit up and pay attention. If the collaboration platform in question allows integrated communication in addition to document and drawing sharing, then you can significantly reduce the size of your local company data and email server.

Servers across the country typically groan with the data storage requirements of complex AEC projects. I am sure the majority of workers have experienced pleas from the IT department to ‘reduce your inbox’. Through collaborative platform people can reduce the numbers of emails flying around and remove the need to store information for audit and archive purposes.

Instead of distributing items via email, users have the ability to upload once to their own server and then issue the information via the system. For example, emailing a 5MB drawing to ten people means 50MB of space on an email server is taken up. By distributing via the collaborative extranet this is removed completely, while maintaining an audit trail of the distribution. There is also the added advantage of being able to ensure your recipients have actually downloaded the item.

Carbon savings

So where is carbon in all this? Well whenever you print less, travel less, post and courier less and use less energy for buildings and servers, you are saving carbon emissions and earning green credentials.

The next time you have to go through a tendering process where you have to identify your commitment to reducing carbon emissions make sure you have an extranet planned in the project. By using the tool across a business for the full lifecycle of all projects and operations, the carbon reduction doesn’t need to end once the construction has.

Increasing cost saving potential

Traditionally, extranets have been used on a project-by-project basis, simply for the delivery phase of a build. However, clients, asset owners and contractors alike can harness huge cost, time and more importantly carbon savings applying the software throughout their business.

By contracting with a supplier of collaborative software on an Enterprise basis rather than just project-by-project there are savings to be had. Not only will it be more cost effective in the long run in software fees, but businesses can use the software for any number of projects from feasibility through design, delivery and asset management.

Users can also utilise the platform for general business collaboration. All communications, shared documents, knowledge library, asset library, HR forms, expense forms, management reports, training resources, to name but a few.

The savings are set to increase as the SaaS (software as a service) models develop. From the early days of construction extranets, providers continuously add functionality to their platforms. This is one of the great benefits of SaaS products; they evolve incrementally and users always have access to the latest version, no need to upgrade. Tools for managing construction milestones, online contract management plus online procurement and tender processes mean that the scope for cost savings is extended through additional construction management processes.

Reductions in cost, time and carbon — just a few reasons to consider taking a second look at collaborative software.

Clare Watson is vice-president of marketing for 4Projects.

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