They got this: Newforma corrals cloud services

From construction sites to PTA meetings, the ubiquitous desire to get everyone “on the same page” certainly predates the internet, and may even harken back to ancient choir directors cheering the invention of paper in 100 BC.

Today, project collaboration in the AEC space absolutely depends on technology to enable communication, enhance coordination, and update team members across multiple disciplines, in real time. As a result, recent years have seen an explosion of cloud-based file-sharing tools such as Box, Dropbox, and ShareFile, services designed to make data accessible from any WiFi hot spot.

“They do a fine job of bridging the gap between your desk and the field to provide simple, secure file sharing across your project team… but they lack project context,” noted Allison Hunter, Denver-based product manager for Newforma Project Cloud. To provide that context, the Manchester NH-based software provider announced Aug. 11 the release of a new Cloud Services offering — Project Center 11.7 — which “integrates behind-the-firewall” information with easily accessed functions based in the cloud. “It provides an intuitive and simple user interface, accessible from browsers or a mobile device, to ensure everyone is working from the most current files,” explained Hunter.

Cloud history, customer feedback

A worthwhile goal to be sure, but last week, influential UK-based tech blogger Paul Wilkinson suggested that the 12-year-old firm was embracing the cloud reluctantly, playing “catch-up” with competitors. “To me, it seems Newforma is finally now positioning itself as an ‘extranet’, pointing out the challenges of trying to manage project information via email or via generic file-sharing solutions,” he posted Aug. 16 on his popular blog, Extranet Evolution. “Newforma is now, arguably, having to catch up with rivals who not only saw the cloud on the horizon but used it as part of their core offering.”

That comment struck Newforma’s Aaron Kivett as “a bit unfair,” said the firm’s Kansas City-based “director of cloud services”, a position created this summer with the launch of the new hybrid platform. Kivett noted last week that the latest offering has been in development for a year, and that prior to that, Newforma had been working “in the cloud” in some form since even before he joined the firm in late 2010. Prior to that, Kivett had been director of information services for Kansas City-based BNIM Architects, where he first was introduced to his future employer over a decade ago. “I was Newforma’s 24th customer,” he added with pride.

Actually, Kivett explained that the latest offering stems at least in part from customer feedback that had expressed a desire to have someone else manage the extraordinary amount of data that projects of virtually any size now generate. This proliferation of building and infrastructure project information can all but overwhelm smaller team members. “We definitely have had customers asking us for this for awhile,” said Kivett. Now, via Amazon Web Services, “we can manage and host it for them, so the customer no longer has to.”

As a result, the data now also becomes more useful to all parties. “We’ve added Newforma’s ‘special sauce’, so that sharing becomes less transactional, more intuitive and more collaborative,” he said. “Now you think of the project information more as a folder that you can share easily with other team members.”

One beta tester already has offered this testimonial. “It has reduced the risk that someone would work with out-of-date files,” said Lyle Lemon, director of digital practice, Bruner/Cott Architects and Planners, Cambridge MA. “The software makes server-based files available in the cloud, where access is easy, whether using a browser or a mobile device… Even our most technology-challenged partners are able to share files online, and [our] people are using the Newforma app to reference files when working out in the field.”

  • According to Newforma, this creates “the industry’s first truly hybrid platform to integrate on-premise and cloud storage to support collaboration among dispersed project teams – architects, engineers, contractors, and owners. Newforma Project Center with Cloud Services bridges data silos for secure, real-time access to the information needed to collaborate effectively, while providing audit trails for compliance, records retention, knowledge mining and dispute resolution.”

Not surprisingly, Kivett’s new Cloud Services unit will be a centerpiece of next month’s Newforma World 2016 User Conference in Atlanta. “We are most excited by the fact that three-quarters of our speakers there will be customers,” noted Kivett. “But we also have a lot bigger plans to talk about then, too.”

One item to be detailed on the Atlanta agenda is a new partnership with PlanGrid that the San Francisco-based field productivity specialist announced at the end of July to coincide with its own release of “an all-new application programming interface (API)… to integrate all the software apps [used] throughout a construction project’s lifecycle.” To enable this integration with third-party apps, PlanGrid announced that Newforma, CMiC, and Pavia Systems have joined its technology partner ecosystem.