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Specialists in PR and marketing support for building services, building management and sustainability

 

Controlled collaboration

(written for CableTalk)

Sharing key information such as drawings and specifications is a key element of any project, and getting it wrong can be expensive. Colin Barnes of Collabor8online explains how new, low-cost online collaboration technologies can play a vital role in minimising risk

Anyone whos worked in electrical or mechanical contracting for a while will be all too aware of the potential cost of errors in project information. Retentions from main contractors, disputes with sub-contractors and clients, additional site time to rectify incorrect work all of these eat into the bottom line as well as damaging your reputation.

So it makes sound commercial sense to ensure that information sharing processes are as fool-proof as possible and this is increasingly important as more information is shared electronically.

On the face of it, e-mail is the obvious way to share information. Its fast, cheap and can be accessed from any location using a computer or mobile device. But lets consider what actually happens.

For example, you might attach a brief, a drawing and a specification to an email and then send it to other members of the project team for comment perhaps six other people. They then send their comments back separately and someone has to consolidate all of these into new documents, which are then re-sent so team members can see what each other has said. They may then reply with additional comments and so it goes on, with everyone in the process receiving different versions of these key documents.

At this point, its very easy for people to get confused about which version is the most recent. Ive got version 5 here, but was there a version 6? As version 5 is the latest one I can find Ill work with that.

On larger projects, the e-mail approach may be replaced by a web-based repository for all project documents. These make use of expensive document management systems, typically financed by the main contractor or end client. However, this approach isnt financially viable for the electrical contractor who wants to share information within the company and, perhaps, with selected sub-contractors.

In the latter scenario, tried and tested online collaboration technologies that are now emerging for the construction industry are set to provide much of the functionality of an expensive document management system, but at a fraction of the cost. As such, they have the potential to enable contractors to take effective control of how information is managed and processed. And, crucially, the whole process is very intuitive and requires no special IT skills, training, software or hardware.

This is how online collaboration tools work. All of the documents relating to a particular project are posted online to a central site. Team members can then view or edit documents, depending on the level of authority they have been allocated by the administrator. The documents can be accessed at any time of day with any internet connection from any location.

People with permission to edit can then create revised versions in the same place but with an automatically generated version number clearly showing which version is which. After all revisions are completed, the project administrator publishes the final versions for everyone to work with.

The system can be used with any kind of document - specifications, drawings, prices, variations or application details, even images or videos - anything you like. You can also create folders and sub-folders to organise each project in any way that suits. Furthermore, there is very little expense, as the software is online and purchased on the basis of a small monthly fee though larger contractors can host their own solutions if they prefer.

Given the potential cost of errors in information management, it certainly makes sense to look at how the latest technologies can play a role in reducing risk, increasing productivity and driving down costs.

www.collabor8online.co.uk
 


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