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Tuesday22 July 2014

Could Newforma Project Centre clean up your desktop?

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Say goodbye to awkward design archives

Hugh Davies

Hugh Davies: Co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies

As digital data stores grow, everyday functions such as finding, distributing or sharing information — and reviewing the transmittal records of that information — can be time-consuming. So what’s the solution when your “virtual” desktop starts to groan under the weight of folder structures and inconsistent manual filing?

Project extranets have sought to address this need and can work well for managing information on an individual project level. However, the multitude of solutions don’t lead to a single, office-wide solution — these often aren’t put in place until the project is well-advanced. Furthermore, relying on a project extranet for long-term archival purposes is not usually practical.

A system is required that can improve information management uniformly across all work in an office, regardless of project scale or status — whether initial, design-stage, construction or archival.

Back in 2003 the Newforma Company began developing its solution to improving project-information management in the construction industry. The resulting software is now on its ninth release and, following a strong adoption in the US, is making inroads into the UK market.

BDP, Foster & Partners, Atkins and Aedas are among the UK companies using the software. However, it isn’t just large firms that stand to benefit.

The strength of the Newforma Project Centre is that it provides an industry-specific information management system, which sits beside Microsoft’s ubiquitous email and file-serving solutions. It augments them rather than creating a separate system.

It is a comprehensive solution, which provides email and document management, digital-asset and content search facilities, data exchange, transmittal logging with third parties and built-in document mark-up and comment facilities.

Crucially, it achieves this while keeping all the fundamental data on your existing file server, where users can readily see and interact with it. This approach comes into its own for work in progress. Cad and desktop publishing files rely on links to files on your file server. By cataloguing them in situ, information management benefits are brought to these crucial work-in-progress files rather than just the “frozen” transmittal documents.

As the basic cataloguing of the in-situ data is automated, implementation on new, in-progress or even archived projects is similar. Access management is also relatively light, as it tightly integrates with the existing permissions already defined on your file server.

The tight integration into the Windows server environment is reflected in the fact that within the office environment this is a Windows-only solution that relies on the installation of client software on each machine. The interface with team members outside the office, however, is via a non-browser-specific web interface.

A significant recent feature has been the introduction of Newforma connectivity. This allows offices that share the software to create project-specific communication channels with trusted team members to facilitate collaborative working.

The balance of lightness of touch in implementation with potential benefits in use is an interesting one. For any office of 20 or more users on the Windows platform that currently doesn’t have a comprehensive information/document-management system, Newforma Project Centre is well worth adding to the list of potential solutions.

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