Automating Autodesk BIM 360 and Project Center Submittal and RFI workflows
Last year, Newforma released the Project Center Connector for Autodesk BIM 360 which enabled Project Center users to access files located in BIM 360 without having to log into BIM 360. It also allowed Project Center users to share these files with other team members who do not have access to BIM 360.
The Project Center Connector for BIM 360 has been expanded to support the automation of submittals and RFI workflows. Now each party can remain in their preferred software and the exercise of flipping a coin to determine who does the manual data entry is eliminated.
The submittal and RFI workflow for the BIM 360 Workflow Connector is largely transparent to users on both sides.
How it Works
As with the Project Center Connector for Procore and the Connector for ConstructEx, this new feature for the BIM 360 Connector enables all project team members to work as usual in their system of choice without altering their existing review processes. All the manual steps needed to recreate information between systems including uploading and downloading attachments are removed. Users in BIM 360 simply send submittals and RFIs using their normal process and Project Center users can accept incoming pending submittals and RFIs as usual.
Newforma customers using the same workflow automation with Procore or ConstructEx report significant time savings. In a recent webinar, Newforma customers Matt Freudenthal from Gresham Smith and Chad Speas from Corgan Associates shared their experiences with the Procore Connector. They explained how their organizations benefited from significant time savings and reduction of errors. In addition, there were no issues with user adoption since nobody missed the mundane manual tasks. In fact, Matt and Chad explained that they started using the workflow connector on a few projects, but it then spread like wildfire! Contractor teams were even requesting that the workflow connector be used on their projects.
Project teams working with Autodesk BIM 360 will now be able to recognize the same benefits.
Calming the Fears of Automation
There are usually some concerns that are raised when humans are taken out of the equation. Some people fear that by removing human intervention in the workflow, the checks and balances are also removed. However, the opposite is true. Automating these key workflows adds more controls that enable the right information to be sent to the right people at the right time.
Some of the questions users typically have about the workflow connectors include:
What information is transferred?
Automating submittal and RFI workflows ensures that information exchanged between systems is complete and consistent. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) map the required information for each type of transaction. BIM 360 users have controls in place when they enter a new submittal or RFI in their system. But when information is transferred via email, there are no guard rails to prevent users from omitting required information, mistyping, or even forgetting to hit the send button.
How do I know if – and when – the information was received?
There is some comfort in hitting the send button in email as it’s a proven communication tool with known results. Using the BIM 360 Connector does not entirely exclude email communication; it’s just automated. When a submittal or RFI is sent, the user is sent an email notification from BIM 360. The Ball in Court assignee also receives a notification from Project Center when the item has been delivered. In fact, a generic group email address can be set up for the Ball in Court user that forwards the email to a specific group of users. A rule can be set for the generic account’s mailbox to auto-forward all emails to a distribution list, for example, the Contract Management team.
Can Expected submittals still be tracked?
Project Center users can still select from the list of Expected Submittals when a Pending Incoming submittal is received. The normal process in Project Center for tracking Expected Submittals can then be followed.
How are differences in system settings handled?
Sometimes the settings, such as default due date, are different between BIM 360 and Project Center. Although this might require some negotiating, the submittal or RFI due date is set based on the default due date configured in Project Center settings. Other settings such as the terminology used for return status may also vary.
There is usually some reconciliation required between teams on the terms that will be used for reviews regardless of whether the workflow connector is used. For example, one system may use “revise and resubmit” as a return option, while the other system uses “reject/resubmit”. This is a setting that is a Connector configuration option in Project Center. When setting up the BIM 360 Connector, the submittal response actions are mapped between the keywords in Project Center and the action responses in BIM 360. While the actions in Project Center can be customized, the BIM 360 actions cannot.
Are the transmission of submittal and RFI information secure?
The BIM 360 Workflow Connector uses encrypted communications with trusted project partners. All transmission of data is secure. This is also the same for the Procore and ConstructEx Connectors.
Hidden Benefits of Project Center Workflow Connectors
There are obvious benefits to automating submittals and RFI workflows. Administrative costs are reduced with time savings, efficiency is improved, and accuracy is increased. Automation can help speed up processes and reduce the time required for manual data entry, tracking, and approvals.
But here are also some hidden benefits. By freeing up time for administrators and other staff, they can now focus on other important tasks. Automated workflows also reduce the risk of errors that can result from manual data entry or other manual processes. This can help improve the quality of construction projects and reduce rework saving time and money.
Other benefits include the impact on relationships. Matt and Chad explained how automating the submittals and RFI workflows improved collaboration between teams. In many cases, there is conflict introduced when one team is required to use another team’s system, or when the manual administrative burden is placed on one team or the other. When each team can work in their system of choice, it can help reduce communication gaps and misunderstandings that can occur when different stakeholders are using different tools or systems.
Many Newforma customers using workflow connectors started off small. Since the workflow connector is implemented per project, firms have the option of trying this out in a pilot environment before turning it on for the masses.
As with the other Newforma workflow connectors, Project Center users add the connector to their projects. There are no changes required on the BIM 360 other than adding the Ball-in-Court user to the project.