The Collaboration Conundrum

September 7, 2018


Collaboration - one of the most popular buzz words in modern business marketing. You see it in every ad, article, video, and white paper within the Architecture Engineering & Construction community. Problem is, every single one of them has a different meaning and approach on how to handle it. They tell you how vital it is, and that it’s the key to higher profits and all of us becoming fabulously wealthy, but they’re always vague on what collaboration really means, and how to accomplish it. Well, today I’m going to try and break it down into a simple, understandable, concept that we can all make use of!


In the AEC world, collaboration really breaks down to two simple concepts:

  • Sharing files with other people for review and information

  • Working on the same file – at the same time - as other people

Simple, right? It really is, but as with most simple concepts the devil is in the details. At some level, we’ve all been collaborating for as long as we’ve been working. These concepts aren’t new (despite what marketers want to tell us) we’ve always shared files with co-workers, clients, and consultants. The difference is that modern technologies, like Office 365 and Bluebeam Revu, give us the ability to handle collaboration a lot more efficiently.


With collaboration, it’s all about process. Far too many of us are still using out-of-date tools, like emailing documents, which is a slow and error-prone procedure. Emails, especially with attachments, can get caught in SPAM filters and lost for days, if not permanently, delaying responses and eventually delaying entire projects. Sharing multiple copies of the same file with different people/firms regularly leads to pricing disputes and legal battles because people are looking at out-of-date and/or inaccurate documents.


Collaboration (with a capital ‘C’ for this discussion) allows you to keep a single copy of any document in a secure, controlled location, and gives everyone who need it the ability to access, edit, or review that document from that location. Think about the potential disaster avoided (not to mention time and storage space saved!) simply because you haven’t emailed 30 copies of this file around the globe. You’ve established a “single source of truth” where everyone is working with the same, correct data. Modern Collaboration tools like SharePoint Online also give you an audit trail to keep track of who made changes/revisions along with the when, where, and why of those edits. That is a priceless tool!


The other aspect of Collaboration is multi-person editing of documents, which is often called “Co-Authoring”. All Microsoft Office 365 products (Word, Excel, etc.) allow for co-authoring of their documents, and tools like Bluebeam Studio let you have up to 500 people at a time co-authoring and making markups/edits/reviews of construction documents. Think of the time and potential headaches saved when you remove hundreds of emails bouncing back and forth with changes, suggestions, and poorly explained ideas from your project reviews. Collaboration tools like these let folks add their own comments, sketches, even full-scale edits (if you give the rights to do so) on any of your design/construction documents. Not just that, but these co-authoring tools keep track of who makes each comment and change, for permanent record and reporting.


The issue for AEC firms is which Collaboration tools to use, how to set up and implement those tools, and training staff on how to use them. That can be a huge undertaking for a busy company, even if you have in-house IT staff to help. The good news is that ZenTek Consultants is here to help. We specialize in helping AEC firms with Collaboration, communication, and optimizing the entire design-build process. We configure and customize workflows for our clients from initial concept planning, to final client turn over. Whether it’s CAD, 3D Modeling, BIM, Design/Construction Management, Estimating, or any other AEC related process . . . we can help you save time, money, and win more projects by helping you develop the workflow that meets your company’s specific needs. Reach out to us today and start a conversation about how to improve your Collaboration skills.


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