Improve communication, put job on an intranet

On large projects, keeping participants owners, suppliers, manufacturers and anyone else involved current with the most up-to-date project information (drawings, files and other documentation) is time-consuming and often difficult to coordinate. An Internet/intranet solution that places project information online, effectively putting all project stakeholders on the same page, can be a handy asset

On large projects, keeping participants — owners, suppliers, manufacturers and anyone else involved — current with the most up-to-date project information (drawings, files and other documentation) is time-consuming and often difficult to coordinate. An Internet/intranet solution that places project information online, effectively putting all project stakeholders on the same page, can be a handy asset at a design/build mechanical firm.

Though intranets/Internet technology is still evolving, several innovative online solutions already attempt to streamline project management among geographically scattered participants.

Typically, putting a project on the Internet involves subscription-based services that offer users a way to communicate job-related data to all interested parties. In some cases, the information is two-way. In others the data is posted for viewing and/or printing only. In each case, you pay your money for access to the material that is stored on someone else’s Web site.

These services attempt to improve communication and speed decision making by using Web technology to perform many of the same tasks now reserved for telephone, e-mail, fax or in-person meetings.

Either of the programs below offers the means to build a project-based Web site that can improve the productivity and flow of the project. They also allow you to develop an audit trail — a virtual historical record that documents, in detail, much of the life of the project.

ProjectNet (Blue-Line/On-Line, www.bluelineonline.com, 650/565-7874) uses bl/ol’s virtual, private intranet to share data residing in a “virtual depot.” In essence a turnkey Web site, it functions as a central repository for job-specific documentation. The Web site is the central workspace for all project participants, regardless of geographic location, to share plans, drawings, schematics, spec sheets, change orders, submittals and all other paper-intensive requirements.

In addition, it also offers a forum for full-duplex document conferencing with an electronic whiteboard for document review and plan checks, real-time redlining and messaging.

Each ProjectNet site administrator has the ability to customize preformatted templates (provided in Microsoft Word format) so all components, including drawings and project schedules, accommodate company needs.

Team members can process requests for information and other electronic files in real time. Because electronic files, including drawings, are linkable to the forms, team members can view any related information instantly. It is possible for management to set user-specific access control for viewing and downloading documents.

For efficient printing, ProjectNet can also tie in with bl/ol’s PrintNet service, which gives a selected offsite blueprint shop the ability to access, process and manage on-demand print jobs. Any authorized team member can forward an electronic order for blueprints with the off-site local repro shop, send the most current files electronically and then track, online, the progress of that work order, up through to delivery by Fed Ex or ups.

Pricing for ProjectNet: $250 project setup fee plus $500 per month per project for unlimited users. The second software offering, ActiveProject Version 4.0 for Windows 95/98/NT (Frameworks Technology, www.frametech.com, 800/644-1002), features online design review with integrated commenting and mark-up capabilities and tracked communications. ActiveProject is designed from the ground up for the a/e/c market. To help you build the site, the software offers a template, with graphics, to cover projects from early conceptual design stages through to project completion.

The solution has strong online design review capabilities. Users can mark up drawings using their Web browsers, and save those “visual” comments to the project site. ActiveProject automatically manages the relationship between any markup comments and the version of the drawing, or to any other document to which they relate.

The software creates a complete record of all design comments as they occur, creating an overall audit trail of important project decisions. Adding to convenience, users can contribute new information remotely, via a standard Web browser.

Requesting information directly from any other project participant is easy because a “team tab” function offers at-a-glance contact information of everyone on the project. All requests and responses are logged. Furthermore, anyone outside the project team can request information via e-mail by selecting a contact person from a list of team members.

To ensure that team members know about revisions as soon as they are published on the site, the software automatically creates an e-mail pop-up to indicate a revision has occurred. Project participants who do not require read/write access to the project Web site can use a standard Web browser to visit the site to review a schematic, view a specification sheet or check other pertinent data at will. Pricing for ActiveProject Server starts at $9,995 for a 10-collaborator license. ActiveProject Builder, a Web site publishing-only tool included with ActiveProject Server, is available as a stand-alone application for $2,995.

With both programs, once a project is complete, all the accumulated data can be archived onto a cd for facilities management or follow-up product support activities.