Online collaboration for marketing and sales

Enhancing customer service is one area where many AEC firms could do better, and web-based tools can help support marketing and sales activities.

Show Document and VeriShow

I wrote about the SaaS generic design review application Show Document about 18 months ago. I didn’t devote much time to it from a construction perspective as it lacked support for CAD file formats and other types of construction files used in an architecture, engineering and construction context.

Developer HBR Labs have been back in touch, urging me to take another look (and the HBR ShowDocument page displays markup of a blueprint), but it transpires the product is still focused on common file formats – including Microsoft Office formats, PDFs, TXT, RTF, JPEG images, web pages and video clips – with no CAD file support.

Like a growing number of developers of other web-based applications, though, HBR Labs has added a mobile ShowDocument version (Android only at this stage) – ideal for the sales “road warrior”, perhaps. And for non-project use, perhaps in developing sales literature or to enhance customer service where some private real-time collaboration through focused meetings is required, ShowDocument and its multimedia sister application VeriShow could be useful for those engaged in sales and marketing.

A video on the VeriShow website shows apparent sharing of a 3D model of a building, so they clearly see some potential in the AEC sector. There is clearly the potential for VeriShow to be used alongside a professional project delivery platform (or integrated into the latter), especially if the meeting and/or its outcomes could be recorded for audit purposes.


Approaching the collaboration challenge from a more construction-oriented approach and with a greater awareness of social media is London-based software developer (and RIBA practice) SliderStudio.* This company has been developing “democratic design” tools for 3-4 years now; I first encountered them in 2008 when founder and practising architect Michael Kohn showed the planning consultation potential of YouCanPlan at a Be2camp event I organised in London. Since then, the business’s focus has been on StickyWorld.

Developed as part of an 18-month research project funded by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, StickyWorld was publicly launched in early 2010 as browser-based project review and exhibition platform for creative business and education, incorporating many usability and simplicity principles from Web 2.0-type applications.

Michael believes that most conventional, industry-specific construction collaboration technologies are aimed at AEC professional users and require them to respond using common industry conventions and processes. StickyWorld, by contrast, aims to present design ideas simply and enable non-professional users to provide in-context feedback by the simple process of ‘sticking’ an electronic ‘stickynote’ in the relevant place.

StickyWorld was initially used to share design visuals (2D and 3D), PowerPoint slides, YouTube videos, etc, but as the Slider team has consulted with users – some involved with the initial TSB project, others recruited since – more opportunities have been identified (see StickyWorld ‘buzz’). For example, many of the temporary exhibits from last June’s London Festival of Architecture were photographed and captured on StickyWorld (here) so that they could still be shared and discussed after the Festival finished. And the presentations from Be2camp Brum in August 2010 were also captured online (here).

More recently, at EcoBuild (where StickyWorld was displayed on the TSB stand), I watched Michael demonstrate how 360-degree photographs of a refurbished residential building could be used to both exhibit the work and provide a conversation platform between project members (the client and architect, for instance) and those interested in the project. This same Virtually PassivHaus example was first used as part of an interactive session during a Sustainability Now virtual event last December.

I have also discussed with Michael how the platform might be used to provide interactivity as part of the technical sales process frequently engaged in between designers and suppliers of construction materials and products. One recent development that could help is the ability to embed a “Sticky Room” into a blog or website so that visitors could view materials and make comments or ask questions relating to the content (above, I embedded Michael’s presentation from Be2camp Brum). More importantly, they might also share that content with other people they know via their own websites and blogs.

Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and beyond

There is a place for both types of product in the marketplace, particularly when it comes to marketing construction services, products and materials. Some suppliers will prefer the polished but broadly conventional approach of a web interface that enables visitors to interact privately in real-time with representatives of the company (Show Document), while others may opt for a more open and social sharing approach, epitomised by StickyWorld. I also expect some businesses who value interaction may opt for both types of approach (or combinations of the technologies).

Using such tools might also be a practical indicator of a company that doesn’t just say it is “innovative” or “customer-focused” – positive customer engagement helps demonstrate such attributes. But, from looking around many AEC industry company websites, I know that some firms still have only a rudimentary grasp of what good online customer service should be, and have yet to think beyond, say, an email address or telephone number “For further information” (and in some cases, you’re lucky to get them!).

[* Slider Studio is a previous consultancy client of Ltd.]

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