Architectural projects involve many stakeholders and a large volume of documentation. Tight timelines and budgets are also common. Architectural firms need technology tools to assist them in meeting all the demands that they face.
The use of computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) is widespread in architectural firms. Now many firms also use Web sites to manage and deliver their documentation. By using a Web site to manage and deliver documentation, collaboration between architectural firms and their contracting firms and clients is simpler and more cost effective.
Benefits of using the Web
Using the Web to deliver and manage documentation can facilitate improved communication and reduce the likelihood of project delays. You, your client, and your contractors can even create a project-specific Web site that all parties can use to deliver documentation. Your architectural firm can gain many benefits from using the Web.
Facilitate collaboration Documents placed on the Web are available for viewing by all authorized design team members, contractors, and clients. The use of the Web facilitates quick and easy access to information for the people who need it. People who are authorized to respond to information are able to do so. Project participants will be able to improve communication and reduce conflicts and misunderstandings.
Save time and money Delivering documents on the Web and by e-mail saves money. By delivering documentation on the Web, your firm will use less paper and postage. Even more importantly, your firm will save time. The time that you and your clients need to respond to each other's proposals will shrink drastically. For example, architectural firms that delivered documentation on the Web greatly improved their turnaround times for requests for information (RFIs).
Deliver better information Delivering well-organized information on the Web is easier than delivering it in print. It is easier to track, understand, and respond to information managed and delivered on the Web. Information delivered on the Web requires clearly spelled-out accountability, making it clear who is accountable for responding to the information at a specific point in time.
You can enhance your firm's design and analysis capabilities by using the Web to manage and deliver your documentation. Your firm can also strengthen your data presentations by presenting them on the Web.
The types of documents that architectural firms are delivering on the Web and by e-mail include RFIs, change order requests, decision documents, and drawings.
Prepare the project team to use the Web
Before delivering documentation on the Web, you need to talk to your client and your contractors about how you will deal with the risks of using the Web for managing and delivering documentation. Consider and document the liability issues and the steps that are necessary for you to take to minimize those risks. All parties involved need to understand the benefits and limitations of using the Web as a management and delivery tool. By addressing the risks in advance, you will be able to use Web-based tools to deliver and manage documentation with confidence. Before delivering documents on the Web, you and your client and your contractor can take steps to make your Web-based communication as safe as possible.
By addressing the risks in advance, you will be able to use Web-based tools to deliver and manage documentation with confidence. Before delivering documents on the Web, you and your client and your contractor can take steps to make your Web-based communication as safe as possible.
Negotiate a solid contract with your contractors and clients Make sure that you, your client, and your contractors reach a solid contract. Verify that the contract specifically addresses documentation management. Your contract should address each of the following documentation questions:
- How will you and other project participants protect documentation from unauthorized use and revision?
- Who owns the data posted on a project Web site?
- Who owns the project Web site after the project is complete?
- Who is responsible if the Web server goes down and data is lost?
- What is the liability for data loss?
- What court has jurisdiction over disputes concerning Web site content?
The contract should include a waiver and indemnity for claims resulting from unauthorized use of your electronic files or unauthorized changes. You should also state in the contract that all documents you deliver are instruments of services and remain your property. You might also add a provision that states that the Mylar drawings that bear your stamp and signature are the actual contract deliverables — any copies on CD or posted to the Web site are for convenience only. Stipulate that in the event of a dispute the Mylar documents take precedence.
Electronic communication might create a contractual obligation between you and your client and your contractors. Conduct all e-mail communication with this in mind.
Agree what documents will be available on the Web At the beginning of a project, reach an agreement with your client and your contractors on what documents you will place on the project Web site.
Determine what hardware and software are necessary You and your client and your contractors should determine beforehand what technological tools are needed to access the posted documentation.
Address the security risks You and the other project participants should decide in advance how you will protect the data that goes on the Web site. Determine how you will use a firewall to divide access to the data.
For security purposes, don't put electronic seals and signatures on your electronic files. Someone can easily modify a file with your seal on it. Even worse, someone can copy your seal and place it on another document.
State-of-the art service
As clients and contractors get up to speed with the latest Web technology, the expectations on architectural firms are growing. Using the Web to manage and deliver documentation is the standard way of doing business. By using the Web to deliver and manage documentation, you can offer your clients state-of-the-art service and make your job easier.
About the author This article was originally published as a white paper by the Society of Design Administration (SDA). The SDA promotes the exchange of ideas and educates its members in the related disciplines of design firm administration.