Software tools support effective project management

November 2010 » Features » BUSINESS STRATEGIES
Collaborative features and online access serve the needs of large and small projects and firms.
Bob Drake

From small to large projects — and in small to large civil engineering firms — project management plays a pivotal role in moving projects effectively through design and construction. As in many functions within firms today, software programs have become important — even vital — tools in the process.

Hundreds of members of the Panama Canal expansion project team, based across the Americas and Europe, are using a web-based software system to manage the design and construction of this large and complex project.
Panama Canal Authority

Increasingly, the software tools reside or are accessed online, with collaborative features such as design plan storage, document tracking/searching, multilingual capabilities, customizable forms, scalability, and dashboards. Recently announced enhancements and applications of project management software demonstrate some of the prominent trends in this arena.

The current expansion of the Panama Canal is a good example of the important role project management software can play in large, complex, international projects. The expansion will almost triple the size of container ships that can fit through the locks.

Aconex, a provider of project collaboration software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, was selected to service the $3.2 billion Panama Canal Third Set of Locks Project. The web-based Aconex system will provide all the organizations engaged on the program with a central platform for managing information and project communication.

The project involves construction of two new lock complexes — one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic side of the canal — that will be 40 percent longer and 60 percent wider than the originals. Each lock will have three chambers and each chamber will have three water recycling basins.

The Panama Canal Authority, which operates the canal, appointed CH2M HILL as program manager. Grupo Unidos por el Canal — a joint venture consortium of Impregilo of Italy, Sacyr Vallehermoso of Spain, Jan de Nul Group of Belgium, and Constructora Urbana of Panama — was awarded the design-build contract. The design consortium, CICP, is led by MWH Global and includes participants from the United States, Argentina, Italy, and the Netherlands.

“The project team will be made up of hundreds of participants based across the Americas and Europe, which will need to exchange tens of thousands of documents and correspondence items each month,” said Aconex CEO Leigh Jasper. “As a result, efficient collaboration between parties will be integral to the project’s success.”

Aconex is providing a secure, common platform for project communication that links all the entities. All project members will be able to access, distribute, and track their documents and correspondence in real time, regardless of their location, the company said. The Aconex online project management system also will integrate with a number of enterprise applications, including Microsoft Sharepoint and Oracle’s Primavera Contract Management, to provide project-wide collaboration and control.

Complexity on a smaller scale
Oracle recently highlighted the use of its Primavera Contract Management program to manage the construction phase of architectural and engineering work for the city of Richmond, British Columbia’s Olympic Oval, the site of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and centerpiece of a major new urban waterfront development. Adding to the complexity of the project, the Olympic Oval incorporated sustainable design, including use of reclaimed trees from British Columbia, installation of temperature tools/systems to optimize energy use, recycling of construction waste, collection and reuse of rainwater from the Oval’s 20,000-square-meter roof, and paperless electronic management of submittal records. As a result of these and other strategies, the Oval received LEED Silver certification from the Canada Green Building Council.

Cannon Design needed a project management solution that could streamline communications to ensure efficient processing of thousands of requests for information (RFIs) and submittals to avoid project delays and liabilities. According to Oracle, Primavera Contract Management enabled Cannon Design to reduce risk and improve productivity by creating a virtual environment that enabled dozens of architects, engineers, and construction managers in multiple offices across North America to access and collaborate on documents in real-time from a single portal. The program also ensured that the project was compliant with internal best practices and industry standards by providing analytical data that the Cannon Design team leveraged to refine and improve the review process and performance during the entire project life cycle.

“There are a multitude of components in the construction of a sustainable structure of this magnitude, each of which needs to be analyzed against strict parameters established by the Green Building Council,” said Gustavo Lima, principal and director of construction administration at Cannon Design. “We needed a solution to help monitor the components while streamlining communications between team members. With Oracle’s Primavera Contract Management, we were able to execute the project on time and within budget while meeting the rigid demands of the LEED Silver certification.”

New functions and features
Internet and wireless technologies have transformed not only how project participants communicate, but also how bid packages, plans, and documents are acquired, stored, accessed, and shared on projects of all sizes. For example, version 4.1 of the browser-based Spitfire Project Management System includes a Plan Room portal that allows contractors and subcontractors to view, review, and download bid packages, plans, drawings, specifications, addendums, and other bid and request for qualifications (RFQ)-related files through a web browser. Configurable security controls allow deployment of the Plan Room in either a public or private manner on a project-by-project basis.

“Spitfire’s web-based Plan Room requires little training, yet it solves problems inherent in files that are too large to e-mail, unreadable faxes, and lost or out-of-date CDs and hard copy plans,” said Stan York, vice president of development at Spitfire. “Spitfire’s Plan Room is an authoritative location that is always kept up-to-date because those involved can submit revisions that become instantly accessible to all appropriate persons.”

Spitfire also recently announced development of an Android 2.2 app for smartphones and other mobile devices to work with its project management system. The app allows anyone with a device running the Google Android 2.2 operating system to send photos to Spitfire’s construction project management software; to call project team members without cluttering the phone’s contact list; to receive alerts about time-sensitive issues; and to review, access, and update project documents.

In a similar development, Autodesk recently released AutoCAD WS, a free web application — previously available as Project Butterfly — and a new mobile iOS app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. AutoCAD WS uses cloud computing to enable AutoCAD users to view, edit, and share designs and DWG files through web browsers and mobile devices. In addition to conducting virtual design reviews with project stakeholders around the world, the new application features an online DWG editor; online storage for DWG, DXF, and image files and other documents; built-in sharing that generates a unique URL allowing invited stakeholders to view DWG files online; and real-time collaboration that enables people to work on the same DWG file simultaneously and to see changes reflected in the file as they are made. A design timeline captures and tracks all changes made to drawings for version control and auditing.

Changes, or rather customization, are the focus of Project Insight version 9.0 project management SaaS, released in late September. With Custom Form Labels, the web-based program now allows project teams to set up data labels in the Project Insight interface to better reflect their business terms and processes. This includes labels that are used in reports, task lists, and Gantt charts. System administrators can also add custom fields, remove existing fields, or change labels to a different language. Project Insight 9.0 offers three editions for flexible, scalable project management: hosted workgroup, Professional, and Enterprise.

Customization and scalability are the themes of Projecturf 2.0, a web-based project management software for small- to mid-sized engineering firms. Projecturf 2.0 offers four business plans with monthly fees based on the number of projects being managed. All plans provide unlimited file storage space with no cap on users, project managers, or features. Users can present work to clients and let them review, comment on, rate, and approve designs all in one place. All plans include all features, such as event calendar, reply via e-mail, Google docs integration, reports and graphs, subtasks, file versions, global dashboard, quick jump menu, formatted for print, time tracking, notes, design thumbnails, code snippets, bookmark sites, and access permissions.

Whether collaborating with offices and firms around the globe or working in a single-office firm on a local project, software developers have leveraged the capabilities of the Internet and of mobile communication devices to provide real-time, scalable project management tools.

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