Starting yesterday, users of the Aconex Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration platform will be gradually being moved to a new release of the solution. Version 10.0 has been a long time in development, having apparently been the subject of in-depth user research, detailed staff input and some expert work by one of the world’s leading usability consultancies (this was something highlighted almost ten months ago when I interviewed Aconex co-founder and general manager, product, Rob Phillpot). The result is claimed to be “easier to use and faster to get around”.
A YouTube video featuring the engaging Tref Gare (part of the Aconex product team – others of whom also feature in the video) has been produced and summarises the key changes in a very watchable three minutes and eleven seconds.
The key changes include (in summary):
- a rebuilt online support site named Support Central that streamlines contact with the Aconex support team and also allows users to request and help prioritise new features
- a configurable document numbering scheme builder
- new features in the Tender and Bid Management module
- the ability to convert marked-up drawings to PDF
- addition of an Italian language version (in addition to English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish and Portuguese) – no doubt hastened by Aconex’s securing of the Strait of Messina project (which I mentioned in July)
For those wanting more detail, the changes are also covered in a 48-page PDF document.
While not perhaps as clean and simple as the Woobius project dashboard (released last week; post), that is hardly surprising: this is a very different type of platform, a feature-rich system aimed at supporting complex projects and programmes of work and providing a wide range of processes to them.
Considering the size of the Aconex user base, the geographic spread of its user base, the wide variety of projects and multi-project programmes supported (including mega-projects such as the Panama Canal Locks), and the need to assimilate the different requirements of now seven different languages, the development of a new user interface is no small task. Aconex has also devoted considerable time – and, no doubt, considerable expense – to ensuring the user interface is as intuitive to use as possible, and that navigation is optimised (providing a simplified two-click level of navigation around all parts of the system, fewer page downloads to complete processes, etc).
On the face of it, these might appear simple things for competitors to emulate, but the streamlining of many of the back-end processes needed to deliver information to the end-user’s screen will require some considerable development effort over and above the user interface changes, and not all rivals will have such a diverse range of client and project team requirements driving their software development roadmaps. Aconex’s new look desktop will also make some rival systems look somewhat dated and clunky by comparison; it will not be easy for them to quickly emulate Aconex’s slick and speedy delivery of data and functionality.
The Aconex video also hints at the imminent release of new features. Indeed, apart from the aforementioned improvements to Tender and Bid Management, there is little in this new release of the possibilities hinted at by Rob last November; no new building information modelling (BIM) capabilities, social or multi-media tools, no third party mobile apps or gadgets, for example. But it sounds as though there will be further announcements that Aconex intend to use to put further distance between themselves and their rival collaboration vendors.
Very interesting! It’s great to see a renewed focus on usability. This is, after all, the 21st century – and it makes me happy to see more SaaS providers in the construction industry realising the importance of making software useable.
One quibble: “On the face of it, these might appear simple things for competitors to emulate” – I disagree with that even on the face of it. Usability is not something you can easily retrofit to an application. It’s the kind of thing that needs to be considered from day one, and every day all the way to the present day. It’s all too easy to let a useable interface degenerate into an unusable one, as features pile on. Kudos to the Aconex team for tackling this gargantuan task.
Thanks, Daniel. Probably my phrasing…. It was certainly my intention to say that while some people might believe improving the ‘look and feel’ is a quick win, usability is – as you say – both a major initial challenge and something that needs to be kept under constant review. A “new lick of paint” is not going to cut it – this is something that goes to the heart of the application platform, and also must reflect the developers’ understanding of the particular needs of the end-users the application is targeted at (I think the rest of the paragraph shows we agree).
Thanks, Paul and Daniel, for highlighting usability. I think we’re all in furious agreement that it’s more than a nice-to-have, and has to go beyond appearance. As a newer business, Daniel’s has been able to factor usability in from the start. For us, with an established platform, the new interface was a bigger undertaking than we at first thought. As well as using an interaction design consulting firm as you mention, Paul, we were fortunate to recruit a 4-person user experience team who built on the initial work. While the results have been really well received, the commitment needed to do it well is substantial.
Incidentally, we have provided users with a further short video to explain the main changes; it can be seen in the (also new) user support site at http://help.aconex.com/support/release-100-better-aconex-experience