Five things that no ‘collaboration’ vendor gets completely right

Following a conversation that started via Twitter, I asked an experienced document controller to write a guest blog post about her top five wish-list for construction collaboration technologies. It seems none of the existing vendors get it right on every point….

I am a document controller with around nine years’ experience and have used most of the systems out there, but have yet to find one system or vendor that does everything well. While the number of things I could complain about with ‘collaboration’ systems starts with the name itself, I have limited myself to five points just to keep it simple.

1. Uploading

Let’s take the super-quick drag and drop of Asite. Add the pre-assigned distribution lists of 4Projects and completely ban child folders. When I have 125 documents with DWGs to issue I want it to be quick and easy. Don’t make it difficult.

Oh, and uploading using an Excel/CSV sheet should be based on Teambinder’s XL-Upload – one thing this odd little system has got very, very right.

2. Folder Structures

The never-ending folder structures are fine if you never use anything but Windows Explorer but for the person uploading they can slowly drive you out of your mind.

Don’t have them. If your search isn’t able to find it, then the search feature is useless. Follow BIW’s example and have Drawings, Reports, Schedules etc. If the numbering system is any good it will tell us where it is; in fact, let’s just make the Avanti numbering convention (see also BS1192) mandatory so there is no room for confusion when designers move from project to project.

3. Search Facilities

Search facilities on all the current systems are atrocious with only the most basic of search filters (I should start a campaign “Bring Back the Exclude Button”!). Bring back Hummingbird while we’re at it – the early 2000s Bovis Lend Lease system was amazing with excellent search features but instead of rebuilding with this as the base it was cast aside for a system [BIW] with an inferior search facility.

4. Quality Assurance

I am sure I’m not the only document controller who has to sit twiddling my thumbs while I wait for the 500th commented document to print/download/save. It’s boring but necessary work that some people think can be avoided by purchasing an archive at the end of the project. Sorry to burst your bubble, Asite, but every hard drive I’ve checked has failed to save much of the information needed. How about a nice button that downloads drawings with redlining and – this really is dreamland – a sheet that has all the written comments on? These could be named something like this:

  • (68)001_cmts.pdf
  • (68)001_red.pdf
  • etc.

Such neat lists of files in a folder would really make me smile. My complaint about QA might seem strange but that is the whole point of these systems. Sure it’s nice to send documents half way across the world in seconds, or to be actively commenting on a drawing through a super-trendy interactive whiteboard but, at the end of the day, all these systems exist to stop someone being sued.

5. Training

Discreetly, I asked colleagues what complaints they had about the systems and – ignoring pleas to just go back to paper and pencil – most had issues that could easily be resolved by adequate training. This isn’t necessarily a vendor issue, though; it has much to do with how user companies manage system training.

We all know how it goes. Peter reluctantly goes off to a training session and comes back all enthused. He has a quick one-to-one with Paul who then teaches Sarah who passes her knowledge onto Mark. Meanwhile, Peter has been offered a shiny new job with the Dark Side and suddenly no-one in the office has actually had any formal training. Nobody wants to suggest they should go because, after all, they’re really busy, they have enough knowledge for what they need to do and, in any event, someone would have to pay. The software vendor offers but nobody wants to pay their rates.

I honestly believe nobody in my office has been taught how to use any of these systems by the actual vendors concerned. One or two may have been taught second-hand by someone who was taught by the vendor. Most have been taught by me. … And I make it up as I go along!

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    • Crawford Patterson on 17 February 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Interesting comment re searching. Personally I have found BIW’s advanced search syntax quite powerful.
    Spot on re uploading. Biggest weakness of most systems.

    • anon on 17 February 2011 at 2:00 pm

    While BIWs search facility is just as good, if not better than many of the current systems in comparison to Hummingbird (which it replaced within BLL) it is inferior. The largest problem with Hummingbird was – you guessed it – training. It wasn’t very intuitive and as a result relied very heavily on training that wasn’t always supplied or was slipshod as it was, after all, an outgoing system.

    • Rohan on 18 February 2011 at 7:59 am

    Yes, I agree with the simplicity and ability to create a bulk upload to TeamBinder offline, connect and then let Excel handle the zipping and upload!
    Another great feature I found with TeamBinder is the ability to link multiple file formats (eg, DWG, DGN, PDF …etc) to a single row in TeamBinder and control who is permitted to download each file format (eg contactors only get access to PDFs)

  1. It’s fantastic to see feedback from an experienced document controller of “collaboration” systems. Re: folder structures and whether they should be used or not – I and my colleagues at Asite tend to agree with your view that less (or no) folders is better – and that a standard numbering system (whether BS1192 or A.N. Other) which gets enforced by the system is the best way forward. If we had our way with the way all the time then project information would be organised this way across every project in the industry!
    Your observation about project archives not containing all the project data for QA concerns me – as Asite Project Archives DO contain all the project data (including markups/redlines, comments, all communications, and all the project audit trail data). I’d be grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time with you and dig further into this (and while we’re at it get some more detailed feedback on your use of Asite that can be fed into our platform going forward!).
    You can contact me directly via Twitter @nrdoughty / email: nathan AT asite DOT com or feel free to post your input on the product development area of our forums at – and we can continue to engage in the ‘collaborative’ eye of the net.
    Kind Regards,
    Nathan Doughty

    • Chris Cooper on 23 February 2011 at 11:03 am

    The problem with trying to enforce numbering systems lies with design teams. they have their own numbering protocols which then have to be changed to fit in with whatever protocols the main contractor requires. You will never get industry agreement on this.
    The initial article is spot on regarding training. I run training sessions myself. We arrive at a project site expecting to train 15 people, and we get 5 if we are lucky. People are ‘too busy’ or get called out of the session for an important meeting. Some projects actually believe that one person can attend the session, and they can then train others. That person has no training skills whatsoever and they have probably retained around 25% of the information they were given in that session. It doesn’t work and until training is taken seriously, this will be the main barrier to using any system.
    All systems have their good and bad points and it’s a shame that we can’t cherry-pick from all of them to create the system we each want.

    • Eric on 1 March 2011 at 8:53 pm

    It always great to hear feedback from document control experts. I would be very much interested in getting your feedback on EADOC’s collaborative project management application. We have some unique configuration abilities that can address some of your concerns.
    1. You can drag and drop, publish to your entire team, and if you don’t want folders then you don’t need to set them up.
    2. This is very user driven, we have some clients that prefer no folders and others that build folder trees to infinity.
    3. Search forms and files(pdf, word,txt). We have searching built in to reporting so you could build a report based on a key word, document status, and who created as an example.
    4.We provide an archive to you at the end of the project as part of our subscription. Not sure about your question about red lines being separate file as this will depend on how your users enter their information. As we have a host of different number options but this is an issue that needs to be solved by the industry.
    5. Every vendor has this issue, we have even offered free training and still received very low turnout. We have done somethings differently with our training classes to increase attendance and user benefit from traditional software training. I would be glad to share these with you.
    If you want to learn more about EADOC’s collaborative web based project management application you can visit, feel free to contact myself eric dot law at or if you would like to learn more.
    Sorry about the slight sales pitch of this response, but you wrote a great article and I wanted to touch on all 5 of your points.

    • The Author on 21 October 2011 at 10:25 am

    Further to this (long ago) written article I can confirm that 4Projects 3G is a funky system with a much better uploading (although revising documents could be easier – we are trying to see if there is a faster way), a more user-friendly interface and a rather nice mark-up tool.

    BIW – the new search filters are better but it’s still suffering. A bit last decade – although the Excel-based data files are easier to use then Asite’s – still not as good as Teambinder.

    Teambinder – listen to the comments your users make. This is a good little system but has had no significant upgrades for a long time and, like BIW, is a bit last decade.

    BuildOnline / FusionLive [Sword CTSpace] – upgrading IE to 8 and above has made a large difference and I quite liked this. Shame we’re not using it at the moment.

    Newforma – a new system for me and majorily suffering from point 5 above – don’t introduce a new system with no training – it immediately makes us DCs hate the system no matter how good it is. There are only so many times you can ring other people and ask for help before they get mad too…

    Asite – no major upgrades lately and they still haven’t fixed the problem with printing comments to pdf (the filename is still gobbledegook).

    Hummingbird – I still miss you.

    • James on 6 September 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Wow! I was trawling the internet of conversations about Database systems (the worst for me is Aconex) and I fell upon this topic dating back to 2011 and still to this day (September 2016) nothing seems to of changed that much.

    Working for a sub-contractor I have to use at least 4 to 5 databases on a daily basis for the numerous projects that we are involved in. It astounds me that as the industry is ever evolving and now bringing in the new era of the BIM infrastructure, we still come across those problems mentioned in this article.

    I find myself almost daily hitting my head on the desk with the complex ways some of these database’s go about doing things and the time lost due to this.

    I could go on for many pages moaning about the many problems these databases have, but alas I will not, as I’m sure that many of you that work in Doc Control will understand whole heartily where I am coming from.
    All I can say is; I’m glad to come across sites like this as I do not feel so alone in my daily anger with what should be simple tasks but become ever more of a chore.

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