Woobius is a new name in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) construction collaboration, and appears (from, among other places, the company’s Scribbles blog) to be the work of three UK-based people: Make architect Bob Leung, technologist Daniel Tenner and user interface specialist Cliff Rowley.
While not a construction professional, one of Daniel’s Woobius Scribbles (Document Control – how hard can it be?) shows that he appreciates the challenge of sharing files between the numerous companies involved in a construction project, but on another blog he dismisses generic file-sharing solutions and lambasts industry-specific solutions:
There are some industry-specific solutions, but without exception they’re slow, bloated monsters that try to control every aspect of the project, and end up pretty much requiring full-time staff just to deal with them. They’re very hard and slow to use, so people end up bypassing them at every corner. And they’re extremely expensive, too.
Woobius, by contrast, he says is “designed to be intuitive and easy to use, automates most common tasks to save time, and is more than an order of magnitude cheaper than the competition”. Daniel said (February 2009) it has over 2000 users – most recruited by recommendation by other users. How much cheaper? Well, the pricing page explains that, currently, Woobius is completely free to use, up to 200MB, and then just £10 per Gb per month.
There are, of course, reasons why industry-specific collaboration platforms “try to control every aspect of the project” – most of them to do with the lawyers and contracts involved, and with an intensely risk-averse industry culture that seeks to make sure every contribution to a project is securely recorded and auditable. And yes, there are people who work full-time at document control. On many projects, they are just as much a key part of the project team as architects or engineers, keeping a finger on the pulse of information flows across the team. As for “slow” – depends on your connection speed, of course; and people do not “bypass them at every corner”, particularly if the client/project manager/main contractor is rigorous in ensuring that the collaboration platform is the only place to exchange project-related information.
However, I think Woobius’s strength – simply file-sharing – is also its weakness. The leading UK solutions, such as [my employer] BIW and its NCCTP competitors, are increasingly focusing on managing complex AEC business processes (see my October 2008 post, The new ‘extranet’ battleground). Documents and drawings are part of the issue, of course, but they are usually associated with a wide variety of industry-specific workflows, both simple (requests for information, architects’ instructions, etc) and more complex (eg: supporting the requirements of the NEC3 suite of contracts). What Woobius might regard as “bloated” is down to the mainstream solutions’ support for this critical facet of many project team’s day-to-day working requirements. Also, all the mainstream solutions provide tools for users to collaborate upon drawings and other documents – ie: to create comments and redline mark-ups on CAD files; this doesn’t seem to be available on the Woobius system.
The US market has quite a number of simple file-sharing or plan-room solutions targeted at the AEC sector (I’ve noted Procore, Corecon, Coreworx and EADOC, among others, on this blog). Woobius seems to fit into the same cohort. Great for sharing documents on small projects perhaps, but falling short of the sophisticated workflow and collaborative capacities required for bigger, more complex schemes.