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Credit: Ilustration: Oliver Burston

The plaintive mantra “on time and on budget” can be heard in the halls of architecture firms across the country. The phrase takes on new meaning in a down economy, where having the ability to work faster and smarter can make the difference between surviving and foundering.

An array of project-management and information-sharing solutions on the market, from the AEC specific to the universal, allows architects to reap new efficiencies. Some are Web-based, some are in the cloud, while others require a a minimum of hardware space.

One criterion for selecting a solution should be how well it facilitates intrafirm collaboration, across offices and at the jobsite. Submittal Exchange (submittalexchange.com), created by Matt Ostanik, AIA, of Des Moines, Iowa, is a prime example of a cloud-based system designed to provide architects with enhanced workflows, correspondence tracking, and accountability for the construction communications process.

“It was about eight years ago that I grew frustrated in my work as an architect with all of the submittals and other correspondence during construction,” Ostanik says. “It was distracting, and I felt like there had to be a better way to manage that process.”

Ostanik’s company also offers a product called Submittal Exchange for Design, which can be used for collaboration and information sharing during the design phase of projects, as well as a product called Greengrade, a LEED administration tool that helps manage all of the tasks and documentation involved with LEED green-building certification.

Another company, Newforma (newforma.com), offers a toolbox of project-information-management software solutions, including its core offering, Newforma Project Center, which helps architects manage project data and communications across internal and external project teams. Newforma Project Analyzer, an interactive budgeting and planning tool, adds another layer of accountability to the process by bringing financial and project information together so that managers can capture a more complete understanding of how well a project is progressing.SHW Group, based in Dallas, is a Newforma devotee. “I think the most important thing is providing that common language and process across our firm, where we’ve really gotten away from multiple spreadsheets that were in the hands of individual project managers,” says Bob Rayes, SHW Group’s chief information officer. “Being able to pull that information together in a way that’s readable by anyone anywhere has definitely increased efficiency.”

In terms of available resources, one of the longest serving has been the AIA’s Contract Documents, which celebrated 100 years in 2011. To help mark that milestone, Contract Docs will move to the cloud next year with an online portal that will provide access to more than 100 industry-standard contracts and documents (aia.org/contractdocs). Architects will be able to purchase one or two contracts in paper format at their local AIA chapter, download documents as needed, and subscribe to unlimited online access.

Additionally, many architects may already be familiar with the Autodesk Building Design Suite for Building Information Modeling (BIM), as well as its fully integrated, cloud-based companion, Autodesk Buzzsaw. Many of these tools, including Buzzsaw and Newforma, offer ways to access project information via mobile devices. Other all-purpose tools, such as Basecamp (basecamphq.com) and Dropbox (dropbox.com), grease the wheels of collaboration and communication. Basecamp, while not designed for the architecture industry, still finds use among firms as Web-based project-management software.

Collapsing data into the cloud means less hardware is needed to serve multiple offices, which reduces power consumption and, ultimately, replacement costs over time. “Cloud computing is a really natural fit with architecture, and it can really open up the doors for more collaboration,” says Ostanik. —By Jennifer Pullinger