Melbourne-based Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration provider Aconex has today launched Aconex Smart Manuals, effectively a relaunch of an updated suite of products acquired when Aconex bought Grazer in June 2012 (post). The module allows contractors to efficiently capture, review and deliver the documentation required for operation and maintenance of a built asset, and owners can easily maintain that documentation over the operating life of the asset.
Kerri Lee Sinclair, Aconex vice president of operations and maintenance solutions says:
“Aconex Smart Manuals extends the business benefits of the Aconex online collaboration platform to the transition from construction to operation and asset information management. When all project team members collaborate in real time to compile digital documentation – with a complete audit trail – contractors are assured of meeting their obligations, closing the account and moving on to the next project. At the same time, owners can proceed with confidence to realize the full value of their asset through efficient operation and maintenance.”
I had a demonstration of Aconex Smart Manuals last week and talked at length with Kerri about the functionality – a conversation much informed by my experience in launching similar functionality at rival BIW, now Conject, in the early 2000s (see my first Grazer post). Then BIW was facilitating the progressive compilation of the Health & Safety File – a key but hitherto laborious and time-consuming requirement of the UK Construction Design and Management, CDM, Regulations that used to result in numerous ring-binders full of printed information. By enabling its electronic compilation, operation and maintenance information did not have to be retrospectively compiled at the end of a project, and was in a more durable format. Kerri recognised the similarities with Australian experiences, describing the process of manual compilation as “grunt work” often delegated to junior employees, and highlighting the dangers of reliance on paperwork that could be destroyed in a flood or other catastrophe.
Some ten years later, Aconex Smart Manuals offers much the same capability, but with added workflow support, progress visibility and status reporting, and is delivered in three ‘flavours’ to meet different needs and budgets:
- Aconex Smart Manuals enables contractors to define and assign subcontractor tasks and deliverables, automate review and approval processes, monitor all subcontractor actions and performance, maintain a complete and searchable audit trail, and deliver comprehensive, accurate digital manuals to owners. ‘Smart’ differentiators include the ability to navigate graphically to physical assets and access their associated information. Kerri demonstrated to me the use of photographs to select buildings on a hospital campus, then used a simple building elevation (right top) to select the appropriate floor before navigating to a particular electricity supply board, and showing information held about that asset; file searches could highlight relevant drawings, documents, photos (centre), scanned images with stamps, etc.
- Aconex Smart Manuals Dynamic extends the capabilities of Aconex Smart Manuals to owners for the update and control of operation and maintenance manuals throughout the lifecycle of the asset. This product is integrated with the Aconex online collaboration platform, enabling users to access and manage asset information in a secure, cloud-based environment. Kerri likened this to enabling an electronic ‘full service history’ for a car, creating a resource that could be used beyond the defects and liabilities period and throughout the life of a building, with perhaps sub-manuals for discreet areas or individual tenants in a building.
- Aconex Digital Manuals is a streamlined version of Aconex Smart Manuals which provides centralized communications and information management, as well as status monitoring for all subcontractor tasks and actions (right, bottom), enabling contractors to deliver professional digital manuals compiled progressively during the project.
Aconex Smart Manuals and Aconex Digital Manuals can be used as stand-alone solutions for projects already in progress or integrated with the Aconex platform from project inception. At a project’s conclusion, assuming owners did not want to maintain the manuals, information could be provided on DVD or USB devices.
Not totally new, but challenging
When Aconex first partnered with Grazer, in 2011 (prior to the latter’s acquisition), I wrote about my sense of deja vu insofar as the tie-up helped Aconex deliver something that has long been available from a competitor. Much of what I saw last week from Aconex was immediately familiar, and while the workflow, progress monitoring and status updating for compliance are useful additions, they are not unique. Conject capabilities have moved forward, for example, with Conject PM PropertyFile running status reports on information stored in that system, and Conject’s Business Intelligence module delivering graphical progress reports on O&M update workflows.
Today’s launch also clearly extends the capability beyond Aconex O&M Manuals’ initial limited availability in Australasia, and will be monitored with interest by rival AEC collaboration vendors who already have O&M or facilities management capabilities as part of the product portfolio. In addition to Conject (launching a SaaS-based FM module this year; post), McLaren Software (who acquired FMx in late 2012; post) will be watching closely. It also poses a conundrum to Aconex. Smart Manuals is a product set that extends client engagement beyond project completion and handover, and – as Kerri admitted – it raises a question of “how deep into FM do we go”.