Over the years, a number of reprographic houses and printing/plotting hardware providers have sought to cushion themselves from the impact of the shift from paper-based documentation to electronic sharing of information in construction. For example:
- over a decade ago, several of the UK collaboration vendors offered print services that allowed drawings stored online to be printed by some of the construction industry’s leading repro houses (Hobs, for example)
- in 2006, Océ aimed to put reprographers at the heart of the construction project team’s IT strategy on the premise that “paper is essential”; later (and now owned by Canon), in 2012, it launched a simple web-based technical document product called Eneo (now apparently discontinued).
- HP, renowned for its large format printer and plotter products, launched its own cloud-based drawing management solution, ePrint & Share, in October 2010
- from 2010, UK-based vendor Asite worked with various reprographics businesses, notably through the ReproMAX network, as it sought to establish a foothold in the US
The Skysite system mainly targets the construction phase, and is largely focused on sharing PDFs, which immediately puts it a disadvantage compared to most of the more mature collaboration platforms and emerging platforms such as AutodeskA360 (post). These both cover the whole project life-cycle and offer wide support for a range of file formats. Files that are not in the PDF format cannot currently be opened in the Skysite viewer (common CAD formats are not supported), but need other applications on the user’s machine. Skysite mobile apps are available for Android and iOS devices, and there is a Windows Sync app too; these allow mobile users to access projects and documents created earlier from a computer, and support PDF annotation and markup. And, of course, there is a link to the ARC reprographics service should printed output be needed.
Not paper-less (yet), but certainly less paper
As a relative newcomer to the US construction market, Skysite’s website says little about its current customer base, but presumably it will be marketing itself to existing ARC customers. However, I suspect a good number of these may already be using more established and more comprehensively-featured SaaS construction platforms; Lachmi lists several alternatives: “Autodesk A360, Newforma Project Center, Aconex, Bentley ProjectWise, Asite, and others”. OK, Skysite may be relatively inexpensive (a 20-user plan, for example, has a US$245 start fee, and is then US$200/month), but its CAD-less, PDF-only functional drawbacks may deter some, or they may opt for simple generic cloud storage solutions such as Dropbox
But it’s not just the competitive landscape that poses a challenge to Skysite and ARC (and others from the AEC reprographics field). The AEC industry has been moving, albeit somewhat glacially, away from paper since the late 20th century. The emergence of SaaS collaboration platforms around the turn of the century was one key development; growing adoption of mobile devices (particularly tablets) has been another; and the shift from CAD towards building information modelling, BIM, will continue the trend. Even emulating document-based processes is becoming outdated as the construction sector and its clients starts to develop new structures, systems and behaviours based on sharing models and data right across the project life-cycle.
Businesses such as ARC may thrive while some in the AEC sector resist the inexorable move towards BIM, but as the ‘Late adopters’ and ‘laggards’ eventually make the change, adopting common data environments, reprographics-type business models based on hard-copy and electronic document or drawing sharing will quickly become outdated.