The future of AEC project information management

written by
Marcus Roberts
Sep 12, 2023
minutes read

Amidst a swirling backdrop of regulatory and market change (Building Safety Act, ISO 19650, BIM adoption, etc.), project information management has become a pressing concern for leaders in the AEC industry. Atvero recently had a discussion with Microsoft on the ever-changing landscape of AEC information management, and how to leverage cutting-edge technology from Microsoft and Atvero to deliver quality projects.

Microsoft in the built environment – today and the future

Whether it's the evolving regulatory landscape due to increasing client demands, or the growing emphasis on sustainable infrastructure, the key to success for AEC firms lies in effective delivery and quality design. As a result, the need for effective information management in today’s built environment has become more crucial than ever.

Microsoft, driven by a mission to empower every organization to achieve better outcomes, champions the utilization of digital technologies to assist the built environment in optimizing their information management.

For example, pervasive computing, an emerging digital trend, could uncover new possibilities that would streamline information management processes when combined with AI. “One of these includes content summarization, which is the ability to summarize large volumes of text that can help prove, project, or build updates,” said Suri Teja, Account CTO at Microsoft. "Another one is enterprise search, the ability to instantly query different data types for improved decision making.

With such vision, Microsoft is committed to using applications to help surface information that enable AEC companies to improve quality, enhance productivity, and mitigate risks during project delivery. Sustainable transformation in the built environment is one key area that Microsoft looks to support. Through the development of new services that enhance digital skills within companies, Microsoft aims to help improve the long-term viability of organizations.

Microsoft is also committed to driving greater interoperability across disparate functions in practices, thus driving more efficient collaboration. “We understand that people are at the heart of delivering value in the AEC sector. And within the Built Environment team at Microsoft, we are constantly expanding the range of connectors that deliver integration across different application systems,” Suri Teja stated.

Challenges in AEC project information management

One of the most significant challenges that AEC practices experience is quality management, which originates from uncontrolled filing of information. When project teams use folder structures to store information, duplicated copies of files can potentially be stored in multiple locations, making it difficult to locate the latest versions of documents. This may result in out-of-sync collaboration as project team members may issue incorrect information to stakeholders, thus exposing projects to risks such as suspended timelines, fines and penalties, or damaged reputation.

Project standards, such as ISO 19650,also present a major challenge to AEC firms. Developing and defining naming conventions is a complex process, but ensuring project team members are implementing naming schemes correctly is also crucial in adhering to project standards.

Commenting on the importance of maintaining naming scheme standards, Marcus Roberts, Head of Atvero, said:

Five years after a project, how can we tell which information was sent to who and when? Therefore, we need to make sure that how we describe and name information is standardized, so that we can keep track of all information we sent out.

Litigation risks are also a notable challenge that AEC firms usually face. The legislative landscape in the UK built environment has been undergoing significant changes, such as the introduction of the Building Safety Act. As AEC professionals may find themselves involved in legal proceedings that spans years beyond project completion, seamless retrieval of decades’ worth of project data has emerged as a demanding task for IT systems.

Perhaps 30 years after a project, you have to recover a record. However, it’s remarkable to think about how computers look like 30 years ago. The challenge is similar to looking for a Word document in today’s time within Windows 95,” said Marcus Roberts.

With the post-pandemic workforce being transformed by the emerging culture of hybrid working, employees are shifting away from coming to offices and working with desktops. Instead, it is crucial for them to be able to work not only flexibly but also securely, wherever they are in the world.

However, traditional remote access into internal network using VPNs usually consists of multiple issues, such as security risks, latency, or poor connectivity. In the modern workplace, transitioning from server-based systems to browser-based systems may be an advantageous option for companies.

Leveraging Atvero and Microsoft to stay ahead

SharePoint, being the world-class provider of document management systems, is generalized for any industry. On the other hand, Atvero is built on top of SharePoint but is specially tailored to the requirements of the AEC industry. “We are basically SharePoint but specifically designed for the built environment. Our interface is expressed in the terminology that architects and engineers would understand,” said Marcus Roberts.

Developed using SharePoint’s design language, Atvero is highly familiar and intuitive for any Microsoft 365 users to navigate. This means firms can leverage their existing investment in Microsoft licenses to deliver quality projects, without adopting additional systems that require augmented expenses or extensive training.

With Atvero, users can collaborate on projects on the cloud anywhere, anytime and across any device, as long as they have access to SharePoint. Each project in Atvero will be created as a SharePoint site, allowing teams to manage and access all project-related information in one single source of truth.

Instead of complicated folder structures, every file in Atvero is enriched with metadata, allowing for rapid and efficient information discovery. “The idea is instead there's just one place you drop all the files that you've got into Atvero. By a mixture of metadata-driven searching and filtering, we can help you find the information that you want,” Marcus Roberts said.

As the project information gatekeeper, Atvero ensures all document are correctly named, reviewed, and version controlled, meaning information is always accurate and up to date. Atvero supports the enforcement of various naming conventions that either adhere to industry standards such as ISO 19650, or companies’ custom naming schemes.

In Atvero, complete version history of all documents and drawings are always readily available, allowing project team members to seamlessly access the latest revisions. Atvero also provides automatically updated issue registers with full audit trails of transmittals, which enables teams to keep track of every piece of information going out and into their projects.

Being built on top of Microsoft also means Atvero inherits all the features of the Microsoft platform. Commenting on how Atvero helps with mitigating litigation risks, Marcus Roberts said: “We address risks by gathering all project information into one place, but also putting it onto a platform that we believe will still be here in 30 years.

In addition, thanks to SharePoint’s enterprise-grade scalability, Atvero can cater to projects of all sizes, with a few to thousands of documents. Moreover, Atvero offers complete data ownership and robust data security, since all Atvero data will be stored within users’ SharePoint tenancy and protected by Microsoft’s world-class data retention policies.

In addition, thanks to SharePoint’s enterprise-grade scalability, Atvero can cater to projects of all sizes, with a few to thousands of documents. Moreover, Atvero offers complete data ownership and robust data security, since all Atvero data will be stored within users’ SharePoint tenancy and protected by Microsoft’s world-class data retention policies. “In the future, we are looking forward to Microsoft’s introduction of project archiving which will be a great solution for keeping your data online without the headache of litigation challenges,” Marcus Roberts remarked:

We are also excited about features such as Microsoft Co-pilot, a cutting-edge integration of AI that assists for seamless information discovery in your Microsoft account.
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