4Projects NEC3 Manager may not (yet) have a highly-polished dashboard, but its NEC backing is helping push this young product forward.
On Friday morning I attended a breakfast briefing in central London by software-as-a-service construction collaboration vendor 4Projects who were showing off their NEC3 Manager product to some prospective customers, plus a representative from the contract publisher NEC (and me).
(Briefly introducing the main 4Projects SaaS platform, account manager David Warren said it now had some 170,000 users from 29,000 different organisations around the world; he also stressed that these figures were based on unique users logging-in during the last three months.)
The 4Projects team (David, plus Richard Harrison) admitted that its contract management capability was still relatively new – it was launched in December 2010, when NEC appointed the company (and rival BIW, who’s NEC3 functionality is more mature) as licensed content partners (post) – and the product is clearly still being developed. For example, there were issues with how some tick-box data was presented in the contract reporting tools, and the system does not yet allow a user working on multiple projects, or on single projects involving multiple contracts, to have a single dashboard view across all their contracts. Nonetheless, the core contract management functionality is well-delivered.
David explained that the digital fee to use an NEC contract was included in 4Projects’ charges for using the system (indicative costs for using the NEC3 Manager alone – ie, without the rest of 4Projects’ document, communication and workflow management toolset – were around £300/month for a £5m project, with no limit on number of users, organisations, etc; this figure excludes consultancy costs). Once the system is implemented on a project, NEC3 Manager is used to manage two main elements: pre-contract award processes, and post-award contract management.
Prior to finalising the contract, commercial managers can use NEC3 Manager to access the content of any of the standard NEC contracts, and create a version specific to their needs. Alongside standard contract details and clauses, custom clauses (Z clauses) can be created, and the contract can be easily populated with details of the project, the professionals involved, and the proformas (eg: Early Warning notices, Compensation Events, Project Manager’s Instruction, etc) they will use. For firms using the system repeatedly, company-specific NEC3 contract templates can be created to reduce the effort involved in re-entering non-standard clauses, etc (one attendee asked if the system presented a summary schedule showing all the non-standard additions; it doesn’t – at least, not yet). Once a contract is agreed, clicking on “Finalise” closes the contract creation process and enables users to start interacting via the contract management dashboard.
The NEC3 Manager real-time dashboard is populated with configurable widgets (“4Portal widgets”), and users can also configure the dashboard interface so that it quickly delivers the key information relevant to their project roles. Rather than an “in-box” (used on earlier versions of the software), the platform features a “Live Events” summary showing the current status of all NEC3 processes instigated through the system; overdue items are shown in red, others in black. If users do not log-in to the system for a while, email notifications containing links to the relevant information are automatically issued, helping ensure critical issues or deadlines are not missed.
As communications about an issue (or “incident”) develop, associations between different processes are created and tracked, and there are simple bar-chart and pie-chart tools to quickly convey status information graphically. Reports could also be configured and, if required, exported to Excel, and all user interactions with the system are time- and date-stamped to create a transparent and secure audit trail of all the contract processes, reducing the risk of conflict and litigation.
4Projects NEC3 Manager is clearly still a relatively young product, but the company has benefitted from the detailed feedback it has received from NEC and from existing users (Richard explained how staff at contractor Sir Robert McAlpine, while not actually using the NEC3 tool on the 2012 Olympic stadium, had volunteered contract-related experiences to help guide its development). The interface looks quite intuitive and user-friendly, and the contract creation process will be familiar to managers who have used the NEC black book and related documents. To me, the dashboard isn’t quite as polished as that delivered by NEC specialist Sypro Management* (see Sypro updates NEC3 interface), but the widget-based configurability may appeal to some users.
(I understand from 4Projects that more breakfast briefings are being organised during August.)
[* Disclosure: I have provided consultancy services to Sypro Management Ltd.]
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