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E-Projects or Project Extranets or Project Hosting

Projects on the Web ?

An information Article by Andrew McLeman FRICS

(Last updated Jan 2009 - please note that while I have  checked all the links, it is meant as more of a guide to start you off, and you should make sure you check these out in more detail + costs if you are considering signing up for anything!)

Whole projects on the web? - Haven't you noticed that drawings are nearly all CAD anyway?  The same with reports and specs they are mostly either PDF's Word or Excel! or other systems that can be converted.

The interchange initially between Professionals and then Contractors and then later sub contractors is more often now by electronic means - why just not take it a little further? -  Imagine not having to print out all drawings for all persons?

If consultants, contractors and sub contractors (some of whom only need initial access for pricing) could get the info direct from the web would that not be easier? Just think how many trees are needed to create the average NBS spec! Think of the savings in paper, ink, postage, packaging and storage alone! The industry standard is to 'push' out all the information, these systems allow people to 'pull' only what they need!

Take it a stage further and make all reports, minutes, progress photos, cost reports , Bills of Quants, Variations, even web cams etc. all being available or restricted depending on project hierarchy to separately password restricted levels?

Think how much 'bumf' is 'shoveled out' to all parties when they only want their bit! Just think of the meetings that could be saved with an efficient and private intercommunication tool! You can ensure that all members of the team have at all times access to the most up to date information.

In practice only the Major Projects use this sort of system at present, and its probably true that it falls down mainly at sub-contractor site level as they are mainly not equipped yet to deal with information this way. The fault perhaps lies with Main Contractors trying to impose systems, but not helping sub-contractors with the implementation. While it seems to be a good idea, it is just too much trouble to change the systems even if it is more efficient.  

Some Questions I hear you ask?

Q. But do QS's Contractors, Sub-contractors have CAD?

A. They don't need it! - Free AutoCAD viewers (e.g. for DWF files  'AutoDesk DWF Viewer' or even better Autodesk Design Review - which even allows measurement) of for DWG's "Autodesk  DWG True View") which allow anyone with a computer to view or print out drawings, are already easily available for free download. (e.g.- quite often while you will still need drawings for your part of the job - you just need a quick look at say a services drawing, but you don't require a paper copy. Print companies such as Service Point provide a service where they are linked to project extranets and will print and deliver drawings the same day. 

Also for 3D drawings viewer get Google SketchUp  viewer click here

Q. What about Security?

A. The project Extranet is a closed network only available to those involved in the project and invited to participate. The Project Manager would determine the levels of access and passwords. (e.g. a specialist sub contractor could have access to the relevant drawings and spec, but not any financial info.) Someone 'surfing' the internet and landing on the site 'by accident or even on purpose ' would still not be able to access any information.

Q. But surely a Bill of Quants can't go online ?

A. Why not !- they can go out in 'read only' fashion or as spreadsheets

Q. But what if 'Someone' refuses to play ball?

A. No big deal - just revert to paper for him!!

Paper will always still be needed for certain things anyway! - (For example you'll still need drawings for those site 'promotional' photos where a chap, or perhaps often a girl, and a colleague (both wearing hard hats of course!) point to the drawings while looking into the middle distance!!)

Q. Where do I get the drawings 'viewers'?

A. From our list of viewer software below:-

AutoDesk "DWF Viewer 7" is a free download but only allows  viewing of DWF files (i.e. DWG files specifically converted to "DWF" for the internet or viewing). Autodesk "Design Review 2007" , also free, is even better as it allows DWF's to be marked up and even lengths and areas measured on screen.   AutoDesk's "DWG True View" is also free and can read DWG's or DXF files  (and create DWF's from them) 

(Note that the old viewers - Volo View Express and Volo View 3 - are now discontinued) 

You could also consider Autodesk AutoCAD LT ('Light') 

BENTLEY VIEW (Microstation - Bentley) allows viewing of Microstation "dgn" and AutoCAD "dwg" drawings
http://www.bentley.com/products/

Google SketchUp for 3D drawings viewer  click here


For 'Documents' in general having compatible software is best although most spreadsheet and WP programmes can convert. It seems that Microsoft now have the Industry standard in Word and Excel, go away from the flow 'if you dare'. While conversion is usually possible, you can also waste lots of time on re-formatting! . Open Office is free and can view, and resave in MS office formats.

Adobe Acrobat Viewer- Free Download allows viewing of original documents ".pdf" files. (PDF = Public Document Format. ) Any document can* be converted to "pdf" and viewed 'just as' the original  fonts, colours, pictures and layouts.
Especially good for forms, brochures etc.
The Viewer can be downloaded 'Free' from the Adobe web site: Get the latest Acrobat Viewer if you have Vista or  XP otherwise you have to use Version 6.for Win 98 http://www.adobe.co.uk/products/acrobat/readstep2.html
To create a ".pdf" document they say you need full version Adobe 'Acrobat'  but actually WordPerfect and Serif Page Plus  can convert and even edit pdf documents. (

Some More Questions and Answers

Q. Where do I find Project Hosts, what services do they provide and how much does it cost?

A. See our listing below of various PROJECT HOSTS (discovered to date).

Note there are others - these are some of the ones I have come across so far- they all offer different services, and it may depend on the size of the project, security issues, and the like. Why not try out one of the free ones to start with - you have nothing to lose?

The cost is not that easy to determine until you use it. Most companies charge based on the storage used, and determining that in advance is not all that easy. (e.g. If you assume an average drawing is about 0.5Mb - you would get 200 drawings to 100MB.) Your usage might depend also if you kept or archived earlier revisions, and a whole host of other factors including what info was held. 

Their order below is "as discovered" + not alphabetically!

ARUP - COLUMBUS
www.oasys-software.com/product/dm/columbus

Daptiv PPM formerly E-Project Express and e-Project Enterprise
http://www.daptiv.com/

 

"PROJECT POINT - BUZZSAW"-
AutoDesk (makers of AutoCAD) also provide a project hosting service (through a subsidiary company -Buzzsaw) http://www.buzzsaw.com

VIECON PROJECT HOSTING- BENTLEY SYSTEMS
(From MICROSTATION = Bentley)
The makers of microstation CAD software also offer a similar service
http://www.viecon.com

CTSpace formerly BUILD-ONLINE PROJECTS ONLINE
http://www.ctspace.com/

CADWEB
http://www.cadweb.co.uk/

STRUCTNET PROJECT HOSTING
http://www.structnet.com/pacificstructural/serv05.htm

4 PROJECTS.com
Approx. 500pm for 5m Project
http://www.4projects.com

BRICSNET _ PROJECT CENTRE
www.bricsnet.com

CAUSEWAY TECHNOLOGIES - 
Collaboration - Enterprise and Project ASP
www.causeway-tech.com


OPEN TEXT - formerly HUMMINGBIRD 
www.opentext.com
www.hummingbird.com

PROJECT VILLAGE
www.projectvillage.com

SARCOPHAGUS - THE PROJECT
www.sarcophagus.co.uk

+  others no doubt!

INTERNET HARD DRIVES ?


As an alternative you could create your own extranet using your own server? - or perhaps more easily using one of the many Internet Hard Drives  ?

 

Sharenation will give you 5Mb free to store your files, thereafter you'll have to pay. 
http://www.sharemation.com/xythoswfs/

http://www.filesanywhere.com

+ there are bound to be others!

Q. How much space will a project need?

A. Well how long is apiece of string! ("Twice half its length" - for those that didn't know!)

Of course it depends on the project size and duration, although unless you needed to track every revision and document by date, much of the redundant info could be cleared off from time to time and so even 100MB could probably be 'workable' for a small project.

As for any cost - while benefits would be gained by design teams it is very doubtful that they would be keen to pay the fees! It is more likely that this will be Client driven (and paid for), though they may expect' keener fees! - Management Contractors will also drive this forward due to the efficiencies gained, expecting the client to pay of course!

Conclusion

Despite the still very slow take up, this 'revolution' is coming whether you like it or not - You had better be prepared to go with the flow rather than against it! - Why not pick a small project in your organisation and try it yourself with one of the free services? 

We are pleased to help you setting up a project extranet even where we are not involved in the project already

Please also feel free to Comment - Provide New Information/corrections and your experience - All feedback much appreciated + some will be published
e-mail me at

Andrew McLeman FRICS
McLeman QS Network :- 
QS, CDM Co-Ordination and 'e-Construction' Services
www.mcleman.net/

 

   
 


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Co-iincidentally we have four  CDM-C projects in Merchiston. The first is the conversion of the North Merchiston Club, the second is the new tennis courts for  Merchiston Bowling and Tennis Club , the other two are  projects at Merchiston campus of Edinburgh Napier University one being a new entrance canopy and the other the third phase of their re-roofing programme.. 

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The Bourse in Leith is a commercial development where we are CDM-C and QS for a stone fabric repair.

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We are now well into our CDM-C Framework commission which runs till late 2012 with West Lothian Council Construction Services. We have already undertaken a new 1m visitor Centre at Beecraigs, a number of demolition projects, a War Memorial, plus the more usual housing and schools projects.

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