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The buildings we work in, play in, live in – and even those we park our cars in – are far more sophisticated than most buildings constructed just 10 years ago. While today’s buildings still contain offices, rooms, hallways or parking spaces, they are built to be smart.

They optimize their energy use, collect water from their rooftops, make better use of space, incorporate futuristic new materials in their construction, recycle the waste they generate, use the power of the earth to heat and cool their interiors, and possess what most of us would call “intelligence” to manage these processes.

The newest skyscrapers built from San Francisco to Shanghai are engineering marvels, wildly different from one to another, deeply complex and highly sustainable. The documents and other content used to design and build them are equally sophisticated.

New technologies are being employed to design and build structures in virtual reality long before actual construction begins. Feature film-making tools are used to animate the building process from blueprints and detect problems before they can steal time and money from the project budget. Digital documents contain enormously diverse kinds of information to address design and building challenges that defy description in just two dimensions. And while the sheer quantity of information generated by today’s building standards is almost unimaginable, locating such information can be literally impossible. Hundreds of companies often come together to create a single structure, and the documents quickly spread and fill hard drives and computer servers.

No matter where they are or what they contain, documents are the lifeblood of the construction process and are a necessity for every one of the thousands of people who work on these structures. From the architect struggling to convey an aesthetic vision to the supplier who needs to deliver drywall on the fifth floor, a drawing often determines what happens next.

Because of their importance, the construction industry is demanding a single place to store documents, collaborate on their creation and access them from any digital device. Contractors need to see pre-construction information, contracts, marketing materials, the working project drawings and all the documents and information generated after construction is complete.

Well beyond a single-purpose application, the emergence of an industry cloud in the construction space would deliver unprecedented value to its participants and change knowledge management in construction forever.

Harnessing the power of an industry cloud to manage construction information in a way that is practical, however, takes more than just technology and sales talent — it takes domain expertise. Far from being all things to all people, an industry cloud company for construction has to be informed by industry experience, possess a deep understanding of industry workflow and have the ability to provide a highly fragmented workforce with exactly what it needs, when it needs it.

A wide variety of solutions exist to help manage pieces of a project such as scheduling, lien payments, supply delivery, inspection or project finance. But a document distribution and sharing platform for the construction industry has to focus on concerns both broad and deep.

Like other business professionals, construction managers need 24/7 accessibility, ease-of-use, device independence, universal document synchronization and memory management, but they also need to have features that are specific and critical to construction project workflow. Consider the following:

  • While the PDF document format is considered universal, there are more than 100 construction file formats. If a document is critical to moving a project forward but a document viewer is limited in its ability to render it properly because of its file format, activity stops.
  • Document synchronization is important, but when using large-format documents on a mobile device with limited storage capacity, selective synchronization is critical.
  • Construction document sets number in the hundreds, even thousands, so search capabilities need to be specific to construction specific attributes like revision number, review status, and more. Users must be able to find a drawing, even if they don’t remember its name.
  • Marking up a drawing has to be simple, easy and fast; if users can’t pull off a glove, “cloud” the drawing section in question and tap out a quick note with one hand, even the most feature-rich markup tools won’t get used.
  • Storing a document based on the date it was posted to the system is a standard in many file sharing apps, but the drawing revision date is critical to avoid working from the wrong document. A “Most Current Set” based on a posting date vs. a revision date isn’t a most current set at all.
Documents are as important in construction today as they ever have been. While a great deal of information about a building project is now delivered digitally, the construction document set remains the lifeblood of a construction project. Nothing gets done without it.

Putting documents in the cloud is a first step toward adding value to construction information; putting documents in the cloud so that construction professionals can actually take advantage of them is the next step, and is as much art as it is science given the specific needs of the industry. Domain expertise and a deep understanding of how documents are used is key to advancing knowledge management in the architectural, engineering and construction space.

But when that right combination of technology, service and experience is available, there will be the creation of a truly useful and transformative cloud for the construction industry, and a “single source of truth” to accelerate and optimize every discipline in construction.
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