Collaboration is now more critical than ever as British firms look to other global markets to understand how best to adapt post-Bexit, says Newforma.
I talked to Newforma co-founder Jim Forester when he was in London recently. With the UK political establishment still in turmoil after the EU Referendum result, and the construction industry concerned about possible Brexit impacts on already chronic UK construction skills shortages, part of Forester’s message is that collaboration is now more critical than ever as British firms look to other global markets to understand how best to adapt.
Also vice president of business development, Forester is one of six co-founders of Newforma who started the company with CEO Ian Howell in 2003 to provide the North American AEC sector with project information management (PIM) tools to facilitate collaboration on projects. The company’s initial focus was on managing internal project collaboration, and it was (c. 2006) initially dismissive of web-based ‘extranet’ applications (Forester said this was based on experiences of people dumping lots of content into project folders – “Buzzsaw was the classic example” – a different experience to users of systems based on relational databases). However, as I have reported in recent 2016 posts (Newforma now playing cloud catch-up? and Newforma gets connected), Forester feels its culture of listening carefully to the changing needs of its design customers caused it to consciously embrace the cloud alongside its in-house file indexing and management server solutions in a “hybrid” scenario (“we can’t force those who don’t want to go to the cloud – there will probably be a few hold-outs for the foreseeable future”), helping firms with offices in different cities, even countries to quickly share project information.
Hybrid project information management
Forester regards Newforma as having a different approach to other software firms, including what were once regarded as ‘project extranet’ providers. The company’s core offering is built around a powerful indexing engine and search tools, not on provision of a document management platform (UK document control requirements were met via a Newforma configuration, we learned in October 2012), while Newforma has also applied a subscription-based software licensing model from the outset. However, like the ‘extranet’ products, its early adopters tended to be professional architectural and engineering practices (“the design space”) and, much later, contractors – ie: the organisations typically involved in a design-build project – though Forester says the level of Newforma awareness among owners/operators (eg: hospitals and universities) is now growing, particularly where they are applying IPD (integrated project delivery) approaches.
Mobile, connected, standards-based
A key requirement in his view is the need to move data quickly to support project team collaboration. He says the growing Newforma mobile footprint has helped, while the company’s Cloud Services Connector strategy also helps businesses to rapidly connect to other platforms (eg: Dropbox) that project team members might also be deploying.
A further strand of Newforma’s approach to speeding data flow is support for open data formats. He and Howells were both heavily involved with the early days of the International Alliance for Interoperability (today buildingSMART International) – “it’s in our DNA” – and, while he admitted that Newforma didn’t yet meet the UK requirements of a ‘Common Data Environment’ (CDE) supporting BIM processes (“we’re waiting for that time when our customers start asking for this stuff”), he talked enthusiastically about opportunities created by BCF (BIM Collaboration Format) and wider related developments such as Smart Cities strategies and the industry’s adoption of lean planning (Newforma goes Lean, October 2015).
Newforma stresses cross-stakeholder collaboration
A short time after I interviewed Jim Forester, at London’s Digital Construction Week, Newforma discussed the findings of the latest annual survey they’d undertaken based on in-depth interviews with 100 UK-based professionals working for organisations with over 20 employees in the AEC sector (news release). Given the on-premise, single organisation nature of many Newforma deployments, the survey results particularly highlighted internal collaboration issues.
For example, less than one in ten (8%) AEC professionals feel that levels of cross-stakeholder collaboration is highly effective within their organisation; 95% of respondents said that changes could be made within their organisation to be more effective collaboration on today’s projects. Client projects are being heavily impacted, with projects overrunning their deadlines or going over budget, and AEC firms affected too – afflicted by increased staff turnover, lost clients, or repeat business opportunities missed.
And while the results did indicate strong industry investment in new digital tools over the past 12 months (partly as a result of the UK BIM drive), the majority (85%) of respondents experienced challenges – notably a lack of digital skills within the workforce, reported by 44% of respondents. Additionally, 34% said that a lack of digital training offered by the company hampered the integration process.
Firms are struggling to collaborate effectively thanks to the explosion of information across projects, says Newforma. AEC professionals are spending an average of four hours per week dealing with administrative tasks, such as finding emails and searching for project files, with one in ten spending more than five hours doing this each week. Paul Daynes, regional director, UK and Northern Europe at Newforma (who participated in my Forester interview), pointed to the power of indexing content for discovery (a key part of Newforma’s offering), saying:
“While the AEC industry appears to have mastered the art of capturing all the information it was struggling with this time last year, sifting through it to find the information needed is still taking up a significant proportion of time. As AEC firms express trepidation about the period ahead thanks to Brexit, they should ensure their time is spent on strategic activities that benefit the business.”
… Firms simply cannot afford to waste any more time because, as this research reveals, this lack of collaboration is harming businesses’ project and client retention. Efficiency-boosting project information management tools that integrate seamlessly across all existing systems can simplify the information discovery process, and in turn ensure the collaboration of project stakeholders.”