Manage projects and documents online

ONLINE PROJECT management solutions can help users generate, communicate and archive project data using a centralized database and standardized or often customizable forms. Data is available online 24/7, accessible by any authorized party to the project. In addition to streamlining data exchange and helping ensure that everyone-on the team is working with the latest information, this type of solution

ONLINE PROJECT management solutions can help users generate, communicate and archive project data using a centralized database and standardized or often customizable forms. Data is available online 24/7, accessible by any authorized party to the project.

In addition to streamlining data exchange and helping ensure that everyone-on the team is working with the latest information, this type of solution enables contractors to cut down on (often redundant) paperwork and the associated costs of printing and distributing it. It also improves accountability because the timestamped or dated "evidence" is available as part of a detailed audit trail that accumulates throughout the entire project development cycle.

Easily accessible electronic collaboration can also reduce response time to critical issues by eliminating much of the need for phone calls (and phone tag), face-to-face meetings (and possible travel delays), and overnight deliveries of drawings and other documents (and the risk of lost-in-transit excuses).

Though many hosted project managementsolutions are geared generically,at least a couple are designed specifically for contractors and others in the construction industry. These programs typically include templates for RFIs, bid tracking/analysis, submittals/ transmittals, change orders, P.O.s/invoicing, RFPs, equipment and tool tracking, daily reports and other correspondence. Here's a look at two contractor-centric solutions.

e- Builder Enterprise (www.e-builder.net, 800/580-9322) is a Webbased project management solution that offers a set of communication, collaboration and service tools for use on one, selected or all of a contractor's construction projects. To use the software, the contractor needs at least one computer with an Internet browser and Internet connection but no other hardware because all the information resides on e-Builder's server.

'He said, she said' doesn't hold as much weight as a project log.

The solution, which provides customizable forms, enables the deposit, access and retrieval of many types of project information. e-Builder, which is password protected, also supports redlining of documents, in real time, for on-the-spot reaction, comment and editing.

e-Builder is a subscription-based " extranet" (whether sponsored by the subcontractor or by the project owner, general contractor or architect). The originator of the documentation to be shared can display or transmit not only text but also CAD drawings to any authorized team member regardless of whether the recipient has the CAD software that originally produced the document.

Upon project completion, all the documentation is storable on a CDROM or other memory medium.

The Web-based Project|Center ( Bricsnet, www.bricsnet.com, 603/559-2501) is suitable for managing both renovation work and new construction. A hosted service with 24/7 access, the solution includes several workflow applications designed for contractors, architects, engineers and building owners.

The site hosts all project data generated from the pre-design stage through to construction.

Team members approved for access can view hand-drawn sketches, job photos and specifications, and they can view and redline CAD drawings and e-mail among themselves from within the application. After the project is built, Project|Center can either be left online for facility management or stored on CD/DVD as a record of the project.

Document management
Memories of a project fade over time, so centralized, automated document management systems mitigate risk

Contracting is rife with possible disputes and, occasionally, contentious clients who, even years after a project's completion, might come back and complain about some aspect of the work. In any dispute or lawsuit, and especially in front of a judge, "he said, she said" doesn't hold as much weight as a log holding all documentation from a project, including contracts, change orders, letters, phone exchanges, e-mails and notes from job meetings. The company with the better documentation system usually prevails. Many general contractors and construction managers have already adopted computerized document management solutions and so, too, should subcontractors.

Document management software, which standardizes communications across all projects and archives project information in an easily accessible manner, can produce documentation likely to be far more effective in supporting your side than a conglomerationof archived Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and binders full of hand-written notes and other paperwork. Because document management software keeps tabs on everything in a standardized format, you have all the documentation to prove how the job proceeded in case of a dispute.

Constructware for the Subcontractor (www.sub.constructware.com, 800/374-2260) is a LAN-based hosted document management solution using a centralized (companywide) database that, connecting users to the developer through a single point, enables the subcontractor to manage information from bidding through project closeout locally on its own server.

Use of the centralized database can reduce costs and supports access and retrieval of project information and documents quickly and easily in any office nationwide. Typically, each employee is assigned to specific projects, with module access assigned on a user-by-user basis.

Documentation can include RFIs, P.O.s/invoicing, RFPs, correspondence, bid tracking/analysis, subcontracts, change orders, submittals/transmittals, project information/tracking, payment applications, daily reports, meeting tracking, phone conversation log and equipment/tool tracking.

The developer has a similar product offering that is an ASP application, called Constructware (www.constructware.com).

William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at wfeldman@att.net.

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