September 10, 2015 | Lachmi Khemlani
After the AEC dotcom boom and bust debacle in the late 1990s to early 2000s, the last few years have seen a remarkable resurgence in the growing number of cloud-based solutions for different aspects of design and construction. A quick count of just the solutions explored in depth in AECbytes include Bentley ProjectWise,Autodesk A360, Autodesk Vault, Graphisoft BIMcloud, Newforma Project Cloud, and most recently,Aconex and SKYSITE. One cloud-based solution that has remained largely out of the spotlight until now is EADOC, a collaborative construction management application, a brief overview of which was provided in the AEC Technology Updates, Spring 2012 edition. EADOC was just acquired by Bentley a few months ago, so we are likely to see a lot more of it going forward. Not only does EADOC include construction management functionality that ProjectWise does not have, it also integrates this functionality with project financials and cost capabilities, making it very unique in comparison to other construction management solutions as well. Let's take a closer look at EADOC to explore how these two sets of capabilities are integrated.
EADOC was launched in 2006 for web based collaborative construction management and since then, it has continued to expand its scope and capabilities as well as its client roster. Unlike most other construction management applications that are developed for general contractors, EADOC is targeted towards facility owners and construction managers, and is being used to manage capital projects and programs ranging in construction value from $200,000 to $1B+ (USD) with construction durations of six months to seven years (see Figure 1). A few implementation examples include the County of San Luis Obispo and HDR, which are using EADOC to manage all four contracts within the Los Osos Wastewater Project; the County of Santa Clara, which used EADOC to help it achieve the goal of going paperless for its new San Jose Health Center project; the City of Riverside, which has selected EADOC to manage the expansion of its Water Quality Control Plant; the New York Olympic Redevelopment Agency, which used EADOC to manage the construction of the new Conference Center at Lake Placid; Lee County in Southwest Florida, which is using EADOC to manage its entire Capital Improvements Program; and the City of Henderson in Nevada and Carollo Engineers to manage the new Southwest Water Reclamation Facility. Additionally, leading firms such as CH2M Hill, HDR, HNTB, Swinerton Builders, J.H. Findorff, Jacobs Engineering, and others are also using EADOC for the construction management of several of their projects. It is a sizable client roster and points to the value gained by these firms and organizations in choosing to implement EADOC over better known solutions, even before it was acquired by Bentley.
The key construction management (CM) capabilities in EADOC include the ability to handle submittals, drawings, pay estimates, change orders, RFI's, action items, schedules, and other construction-related documents. All of these are contained in a central cloud-based repository that is accessible anywhere and at any time to the entire project team, enabling them to collaborate with each other more effectively, avoid duplication of content and confusion about which is the “latest version” of a document, establish a clear audit trail showing who accessed what and when, and in general, make the project easier to manage. While cloud-based storage and collaboration has become fairly standard now, it is the interface design, usability, and comprehensiveness of an application that can make it “stand out” from the crowd, which is something that EADOC has attempted to accomplish. It has also gone further by integrating project cost controls such as budget, funding sources, contracts, pay estimates, change requests, and change orders with its CM capabilities, giving its clients—construction managers and infrastructure owners—the ability to not just collaborate with the entire project team and track all project documents and communications but combine it with the ability to control costs and manage risks as well.
How It Works
As mentioned earlier, EADOC is typically deployed by a facility owner or a construction manager who can procure it for a single project or, for an annual fee, deploy it on unlimited projects. Once they have acquired the license to deploy it, whether on a single project or on unlimited projects, it can have an unlimited numbers of users and an unlimited amount of data. Needless to say, the data is the “bread and butter” of an application like EADOC—the effectiveness of the application for managing a construction project is directly proportional to the quality of the project data that is contained in it. This data comes to EADOC in two ways: by importingproject documents such as drawings, specifications, schedules, and so on; and by using EADOC’s built-in tools and forms for creating submittals, RFIs, punch lists, and other CM tasks, as well as financial items such as budgets, contracts, risks, etc. These are clearly grouped in different categories in EADOC’s interface: the Documents tab (shown in Figure 2) allows different types of project documents to be uploaded, while the Work and Finance tabs (shown in Figure 3) allow different CM and finance-related items to be created and processed. As you can see, the large number of options and tasks available under each category covers the entire gamut of tasks typically involved in managing a construction project.
The other tabs in EADOC’s interface are equally comprehensive and include the ability to view custom dashboards, memos, meetings, to-do lists, etc. (the Start tab), as shown in Figure 4; generate different types of reports, statistics, alerts, etc. (the Report tab); set up different project-related aspects including organizations, users, activities, etc. (the Profile tab); and manage folders, permissions, and groups (the Admin template). There is also a comprehensive support section explaining all the options in the EADOC application and how they work (the Help tab).
While an extended discussion of all these capabilities is beyond the scope of this review, some key highlights include the ability to define different locations, materials, and equipment for a project and subsequently associate them with any document, CM task, or finance item, enabling a rich database to be built capturing their relationships, which in turn makes searching for a specific item faster and more intelligent. For example, you can quickly see all the drawings, submittals, RFIs, action items, and so on that reference a specific location or equipment (Figure 5). Any document, whether it is imported or created within EADOC, can be associated with different colored notes which can be comments, risk items, LEED documents, and so on (Figure 6). Since EADOC keeps track of the entire history of any document, it can generate a network diagram at any time showing the flow of all the documents related to a task (Figure 7), which is very helpful in getting an “at-a-glance” insight at a potential problem or hold-up. For scheduling—a very important task in managing any construction project—EADOC allows schedules from popular scheduling applications such as Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 to be imported and viewed (Figure 8), allowing team members to track project progress without the need to have the native schedule applications on their computers.
For the financial planning aspects of the application, items such as funding and budget can be input directly into EADOC and assigned to divisions, programs and projects. In addition, other finance-related items such as contracts, change orders, pay estimates, etc., can be created and tracked against funding and budget. There is a dedicated tool to create risk items for tracking potential cost impacts and delays; these risk items can then be attached to documents (as shown in Figure 6 above) to make it easier to identify potentially problematic issues early and track them until they’ve been mitigated. A risk summary page can provide a quick high-level overview of outstanding risks in a project or a portfolio comprising a group of projects (Figure 9).
Deployment and Post-Implementation
With regard to deployment, EADOC is completed web-based, eliminating the need for firms to own and manage expensive servers and enterprise software. It can be accessed via a standard web browser from any computer, smartphone or tablet with an internet connection. The safety and security of data is ensured by SSL encryption; additionally, the permissions-based access ensures that users can only access the information specific to them. An additional aspect that makes the application easier to implement is a distributed administration model (Figure 10), where each participating firm that has been invited to the project by the owner (or construction manager on behalf of the owner) adds and manages its own users and can additionally add their own subcontractors and/or sub consultants to the project, whom it will also be responsible for managing. Since the pricing of EADOC is per-project rather than per-user, the addition of more users to the project in this manner does not impose any additional financial burden on the owner and allows everyone in the project chain to use the full features and functionality of the system to maintain their own document logs and avoid duplicate data entry.
After a project is complete, it can be maintained in EADOC as an online archive if the owner/client has an ongoing contract with EADOC, or else, it can be packaged into a rich, electronic archive in PDF format that maintains all the linked relationships between the project’s documents, communications, and costs. While the application does not yet directly integrate with an FM application, the rich data that it generates, including all the as-built information about locations and assets, can be exported to a spreadsheet and then imported into the FM application that will be used for the further operation and maintenance of the constructed project. This needs to be done while the project is still being maintained online in EADOC, before converting it into an offline archive.
For those still managing a construction project manually using Word documents and Excel spreadsheets—or other home-brewed systems—to track submittals, RFIs, logs, action items, and other documents, and relying on email or FTP to send files back and forth, the implementation of a construction management application like EADOC is a no-brainer. It comes with all the benefits of implementing a web-based collaboration solution that are well-known—ease of communication, immediate access from anywhere and at any time, elimination of duplication, a clear audit trail showing who accessed what and when, minimization of the IT infrastructure needed to house and manage project data, and so on.
In addition, not only does EADOC provide a comprehensive range of CM functionality covering what seems to be every conceivable task, it also integrates this functionality with project financials, making it unnecessary for facility owners and construction managers to rely on separate stand-alone financial applications such as Prolog for budgeting, risk tracking, forecasting, and cost control. This is also what makes EADOC unique compared to other construction collaboration solutions, for example Newforma Project Cloud (a rebranded version of the AEC-Sync construction collaboration application that Newforma acquired a few years ago), which does not include any costing functionality.
Other plus points of the application, in addition to its comprehensiveness, pricing model, and the distributed administration described earlier, include a well-organized interface in which all the tools and options are logically arranged, and a built-in Help functionality that you can rely on to learn to use the application without needing to download manuals. Since the number of tasks is so large, it does take some time to learn how the application works but after the initial learning curve, the application can be navigated quite easily.
On the flip side, the learning curve could have been further shortened by more “how-to” videos on using different aspects of the application. Many of the more visible videos on the EADOC website are of case studies, implementation examples, and other marketing material, and while there are some learning videos, they are a little hard to find and are not listed in any organized manner for easy reference. Another, more serious, limitation is the lack of a viewer for any file type other than an image format. This means that any documents that have been uploaded to the application—CAD files, BIM models, PDFs, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc.—cannot be viewed in the application but have to be downloaded to the local computer and subsequently opened with the native application, if one is available.
At the moment, EADOC still seems to be a stand-alone application which, short of being able to import schedules and import and export Excel files, does not integrate with other AEC applications for design, collaboration, coordination, and so on. Maybe some of these are not essential at this point for construction and financial management as it is currently practiced, but going forward, it would be great to simply be able to “import” a project into EADOC and have all the physical building element information—including locations and assets—automatically populated instead of having to create these lists manually.
Now that EADOC is part of Bentley’s AEC product portfolio, we can hopefully look forward to a closer integration with ProjectWise, with the two applications together providing “end-to-end” design and construction managements capabilities for a project. It will be interesting to revisit the application after it has been part of Bentley’s portfolio for some years to see how it has progressed.
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