In the past couple of months, there has been a sudden explosion in the number of construction collaboration vendors offering process management solutions.
- On 21 August, Aconex announced “a major upgrade to its Workflows module, which supports advanced document management in large or complex project environments”. The features apparently include “a wizard that allows users to quickly customize their workflows, a graphical builder for workflows templates and improved searching capability across workflows and their associated documents”.
- A news release dated 6 September (but I’m sure published more recently) says Asite has delivered an upgraded online forms module to develop “a full-featured contract management module”. The forms support features such as rules, conditional formatting, calculated fields and multi-page forms, and by linking these forms to data stored in the Asite platform, complex workflows can be constructed on demand.
- Last week, Business Collaborator announced the launch of BC5.2, the latest version of its project collaboration tool that “offers improved workflow management and interactions”.
- And industry gossip suggests 4Projects is also hard at work developing its own process management solution.
Been there, done that
All four appear to be following a track already well-trodden by [my employer] BIW Technologies, which released its first workflow engine solution more than five years ago, in March 2003. At the time, BIW thus became the first of what had hitherto been regarded as the ‘extranet’ providers to move beyond document collaboration into the management of core business processes – a step that helped consolidate its position as UK market leader.
BIW also recognised that a ‘one size fits all’ approach was inappropriate, as common processes such as requests for information (RFIs), instructions and transmittals often varied between different companies and projects. By incorporating high levels of configurability into its platform, BIW accommodated a potentially unlimited range of client- and user-defined process requirements. I would therefore argue that BC CEO Sanjeev Shah’s claim — “We differ from other software providers because we ensure that the systems we implement truly reflect our clients’ working patterns, meaning they don’t need to go through the costly exercise of re-engineering their processes” — is wrong. The BIW platform has been enabling teams to replicate their existing processes electronically for five years. Its consultants also have years of contract administration experience: delivering suites of forms and reports associated with particular contracts such as the NEC3, whether used in its original or a bespoke version.