Thanks to my latest CADwire Insights Weekly, I was pointed to a recently published white paper from Cyon Research (free to download) on managing reprographics in construction projects, with a particular focus on a solution from Océ (Océ Repro Desk Professional).
It raises some interesting issues for construction project teams, particularly those which have been increasingly using web-based project extranet tools, and shifting towards a "less-paper" working environment. Of course, there will always be a requirement for paper at site level (I have visited several projects where the extranet solution is configured to send drawings to a bureau so that site-based staff can have printed drawings for on-site use), but many office-based individuals are happy to produce, publish, download, view and mark-up drawings online, without resorting to printed plot files.
The white paper says extranets "are designed to manage and distribute electronic documents but do not control or automate the thorny problem of getting the plots right". As one might expect of a $3bn-plus supplier of printing and copying technology, Océ looks to fill this gap and to put "reprographers" at the heart of the project team’s IT strategy on the premise, as Cyon put it, that "paper is essential".
The paper doesn’t really detail any integration between the Océ product and other solutions such as extranets. While the latter may not be perfect for managing reprographic tasks, they offer huge benefits in terms of the completeness of the repository (a single source of all project-related information) and their audit trail functions, and, in many projects, they have prompted major changes in individuals’ behaviours, cutting their reliance on time-consuming and expensive-to-produce paper-based drawings, with corresponding cost savings and other quasi-tangible benefits.
As Cyon admit, some team members may not be "delighted" at "placing the reprographics firm in the role of a key enabler in the process". The Océ solution may be a forward step for teams which are still heavily reliant on paper, but it doesn’t appear from the white paper that it will reduce that reliance or reduce the volume of paper produced, nor will it deliver many of other tangible and quasi-tangible benefits experienced by extranet-enabled project teams.
Update 25 April 2006: I re-read the white paper on the train today (on-screen – Midland Mainline services include laptop power connections at most seats – see GNER post). I can see how the Océ solution might help projects which are being managed using largely conventional communications, but the suggested upside is not as convincing when pitched against a sophisticated extranet solution.
I think Cyon also underestimates the print management capabilities of some extranet solutions. BIW Information Channel, for example, offers an optional Autocad plug-in which allows designers to publish their CAD files to the extranet (in the required exchange format(s), etc, with the native file still available as a download) with a single click of a button.