AECbytes Feature (May 14, 2014)
Newforma, developer of the leading project information management (PIM) solution, Newforma Project Center, has been expanding its product family over the last few years to develop solutions that address a broader array of business processes in AEC. Although it started with tasks more prevalent in architecture and engineering, it has expanded to meet the needs of construction professionals as well as building owners. Recently, it made some key enhancements to Newforma Project Cloud, its web-based construction management and collaboration software for connecting project team members across all disciplines, and also introduced three new apps in its already-extensive Mobile Apps suite for accessing and enhancing project information through smartphones and tablets. Let’s explore these developments in more detail, starting with the new mobile apps.
The new mobile apps that Newforma is introducing reflect a fresh approach to the development of mobile technologies by the firm. In the past, Newforma’s mobile apps such as Punch List and Field Notes had a one-to-one relationship with the corresponding Activity Centers in Newforma Project Center. Newforma has transitioned from this approach towards creating apps that are more functional and task-focused, enabling customers to use a single app for multiple related tasks, even if they are logged under different activity centers in Newforma Project Center. (An Activity Center brings together all the files and activities related to a specific task or business process in Newforma Project Center, as shown in Figure 1, where there are multiple activity centers for different aspects of the project such as project files, document sets, transmittals, submittals, action items, and so on.)
Figure 1. Activity centers for different categories of information in Newforma Project Center.
The new mobile apps are primarily for field management, allowing construction personnel to capture key project data as they inspect the construction progress on the site. They include the Newforma Tasks app, which provides an interactive dashboard for assigning, reviewing, and updating project tasks; the Newforma Capture app, which provides one place for capturing project data in the field; and the Newforma Project Email app, which provides instant access to the project-related emails that team members have filed using Newforma Project Center PIM software. Additionally, a new version of the Newforma Plans app has been released, which allows users to create and locate field notes, punch list items, and action items on relevant drawings. These apps integrate with projects hosted on Newforma Project Cloud and with projects hosted on-premise by the current version of Newforma Project Center. They join the three existing apps, Project Teams, Field Notes, and Punch List, in the Newforma Mobile Apps suite, which collectively provides extensive PIM capabilities on the go and allows project information to be easily accessed as well as captured on the field.
The new Tasks app essentially provides a one-stop shop for construction field management, with capabilities for managing construction quality control tasks such as action items, field notes and punch lists (see Figure 2); view past-due or coming-due items for any team member who’s been assigned tasks; update statuses, descriptions, locations, and assignments; add a photo, or include one from the Camera Roll of the phone or tablet; view the comment history or leave a new comment; and filter items by type, status, space, assignee, originator, due date, discipline, and spec section. This app is available now for iPhones and iPads, and will be available on Android smartphones and tablets later in the year.
Figure 2. The dashboard in the new Tasks app, showing the status of action items, field notes and punch lists for a project.
The new Capture app allows construction quality control tasks such as punch lists, action items, and field notes to be collected as you move quickly through the site— the app stores data locally until it is uploaded, permitting faster captures. For each captured item, you can define what it is, where it was observed, and, if applicable, who needs to respond, and when. The app also lets you snap, mark up, and attach photos to captured items (Figure 3), and upload items to Newforma software at the office or job trailer, where team members can manage captured information and photos. Like the Tasks app, the Capture app is available now for iPhones and iPads, to be followed by Android smartphones and tablets later in the year.
Figure 3. Using the Capture app to define a new punch list item supplemented with a photo and markups.
The new Project Email app provides access to the project-related emails that have been filed. Recall that email management was one the earliest challenges addressed by Newforma Project Center and it continues to remain one of the most critical components of the project information management capabilities provided by Newforma. The new app lets you view all project email and download attachments, search though them, and reply and forward as needed. Any email that is sent from the app becomes part of the project record, and encourages project team members to continue to use email for project related tasks even when they are away from the office. The Project Email app is available on both iOS and Android devices.
The updated version of the Plans app allows users to create and locate field notes, punch list items, and action items directly on the relevant drawings, as shown in Figure 4. It also lets you add markups to drawings to highlight items, as shown in Figure 5. Other enhancements include the ability to zoom and pan documents quickly, mark up and email documents while in the field, hyperlink related drawings to one another for quick access and cross-referencing, and designate favorite drawings for quick access. The Plans app is available now on the iPad only, as the form factor of a smartphone is too small to view a design drawing effectively.
Figure 4. A plan drawing in the updated Plans app showing the quality control items located on it.
Figure 5. Adding a markup to a drawing to highlight a punch list item located on it.
The Newforma Project Cloud came from Newforma’s acquisition of AEC-Sync, a web-based construction collaboration software, in early 2012. It provides project hosting in the cloud, allowing everyone on the project team to access project information from a single source. It can integrate information from the design, construction and owner’s teams and automate workflows related to document approval, PDF markup and general communication. It has a direct connection with Newforma’s other products for project information management such as Newforma Project Center, so the time and effort that has been put into organizing and managing project data on-site can also be leveraged for online construction collaboration with the extended project team.
Key features of the Newforma Project Cloud include submittal and RFI management; web-based markup tools that enable all team members to collectively redline, stamp, and ultimately work from
the same document; an offline archive of project documents when it is completed; and document management at both the design phase (schematic design, design development, construction document, and bid packages) and the construction phase (architectural supplement information, construction change directive, proposal request, change order, and bulletins). The enhancements to the Newforma Project Cloud include new Quality Control tools that enable users to manage punch lists, work-to-complete items, safety observations, and inspections (see Figure 6); and new Spatial Index tools that allow an administrator to define project spaces to easily locate quality control tasks such as work-to-complete and non-compliance items. The information in Newforma Project Cloud also synchronizes with the new Newforma mobile apps, extending the reach of the solution into the field.
Figure 6. The new Quality Control tools under the Field Management activity center, which is also new, in Newforma Project Cloud.
Newforma’s new mobile apps and their integration with the updated Newforma Project Cloud are the latest in a roadmap of extended improvements to the overall Newforma PIM solution, intended to ensure that team members are always working with current project information, whether they’re in the field, in the office, or in the job trailer. The integration also eliminates data entry errors and duplicated effort.
Seen from a broader perspective, these developments in AEC technology are a testament to the growing importance of project information management in the field, of being able to access as well as create project data with mobile devices while on the construction site. Construction is becoming an increasingly critical piece of the overall technology roadmap of the AEC industry, which is no longer just confined to design and construction professionals working with BIM on their desktops.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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