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Feb 11 2015

Choosing the right collaboration platform for your project – Part 2

Choosing the right collaboration platformIn last week’s post, we looked at issues relating to choosing a vendor – factors such as the business’s industry experience, scale, independence and the quality of their hosting infrastructure.  Having selected a vendor(s) based on these factors, you are now in a position to look more closely at the capabilities of their collaboration platforms.

An important point to consider is that you are selecting a mature software application to help deliver improvements to your project(s).  The focus should be on the benefits the right platform can deliver for you.

Security

The principal construction collaboration platforms are all accessed through web browsers, and the first consideration will be how secure your information is. Typically, an authorised user will need to enter a valid user name and a password before they can access the system.  If implemented, secure server (HTTPS) may then encrypt all transactions between the user and the server, thus protecting your information when it is being processed.

Certain applications route all customer activity through one single URL and others through customer specific URLs, the later offers an additional layer of security.

We are all now presented with a range “cloud” services.  But do you know where your information is being stored, and when it is stored whether it is adequately protected legally?  Recent news highlighted that US authorities can access information stored on US servers – is this what you want?  On the other hand, did you know that Germany is probably one of the safest locations for your information, and the UK is not far behind?

Software interface

This encompasses various dimensions including:

  • Ease of use – Is the application interface attractive and intuitive to use?  Is key project data – both general and user-specific – immediately apparent, perhaps via a home page dashboard view? Can the user quickly find and access information they need, and are any required actions obvious and straightforward to achieve?
  • Personalisation – Even first-time users will be encouraged if the system has been configured to present them with the right information they need to manage their project responsibilities, rather than swamping them with lots of extraneous data.
  • Information structure – Project data is generally divided into logical categories, which may be presented (even if they are in a relational database) as folders or ‘registers’ of files.  In addition, collaboration platforms should incorporate powerful search tools to help users find information according to a different criteria (name or company of issuer, date, keywords, etc.)
  • Terminology – Construction-specific applications will reflect the terminology commonly used within the industry, support industry naming and numbering conventions and common industry file formats, and replicate standard industry workflows (requests for information, etc.) and information statuses (‘approved for construction’ etc.)

Control or Collaboration 

An important consideration in your selection will be whether your organisation and projects will benefit more from a system that offers you high levels of control or high levels of collaboration.  The capabilities of each type of system are fundamentally different and will require very different behavioural approaches of your teams.

This simple choice is a key factor that will guide you more to one system or the other.  It is also a factor that is often overlooked, or more often not understood. 

Core functions

You should normally expect a modern construction collaboration system to provide a range of sophisticated features including:

  • Immediate access to drawings models and documents anywhere, anytime
  • Full revision, version history and control
  • Information flows to ensure the right people see information they need, when needed
  • Integrated search to allow users to find text within files and documents
  • A full audit trail recording who did what and when
  • Fast viewing of CAD drawings even by non-CAD users
  • Comprehensive mark-up and commenting capabilities
  • Revision review (i.e. compare different versions)
  • The capability to configure and implement online processes to deliver robust compliance of agreed communication practices.

Rarer, but providing great added value is system-wide configurable reporting, often referred to as Business Intelligence or BI, which will bring together information from different parts of the application and consolidate it into highly valuable management information (in tabular or graphical form) to support better decision making.

Complementary modules

Beyond these common core attributes, some vendors offer additional modules or complementary products providing further functionality.  Capabilities vary between vendors, so you should think carefully about your wider project or programme management requirements, and perhaps also talk with your key supply chain partners about their needs.

For example:

  • Are you procuring projects using NEC3, JCT or similar forms of contract? – Such contracts have a strong collaborative ethos but their efficient use benefits from automating the workflows and time constraints involved.
  • Will you want greater transparency of the financial impacts of project changes? – By monitoring the time and cost impacts of project changes in real time, a financial control application can help give early insights, and provide you and your colleagues with consistent cost, budget and forecast data to enable better decision-making.
  • Can the collaborative platform support onsite processes using mobile devices? – This used to mean web based applications enabling a shift from the office to the site cabin but today it has evolved to include accessing systems out on site.  Vendors like CONJECT have moved beyond the desktop and laptop browser and enabling end-users to access information and to capture and report new data in real time using mobile devices and apps. 
  • Do you need to manage major assets throughout their life cycle? – If so, you may need to enable collaboration between facility managers and others involved in operations, repairs and maintenance, and perhaps replicate this across numerous sites.  Not all collaboration vendors offer infrastructure life-cycle management support, and for businesses with large asset portfolios – or for their service partners – the ability to use a single system to manage assets from design, through construction, completion and beyond may prove invaluable.

For those assessing the suitability of collaboration platforms and vendors of such systems for their built asset project, we have produced ‘How to Choose a Collaboration Platform’, a buyers’ checklist to help you find the right solution.

In summary, when buying a collaboration platform buyers need to look at more than the software product itself, they also need to research the vendor, and to consider how the platform can integrate with their tools and processes to deliver a comprehensive collaboration environment.  This and last week’s posts are intended to provide some structure to that search.

About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

View my LinkedIn profile:
http://uk.linkedin.com/in/michellemason04

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