Flatten Your Digital Annotations!

Why Flattening PDFs is Important?

Digital annotations are no longer a thing of the future, but understanding how to use them effectively may still provide a learning curve for the AEC market. AEC firms can spin up a pdf from Autodesk products, they can add digital stamps or mark-ups in things like Bluebeam or Adobe Pro, but not too often are we taking that extra step of flattening the pdf. PDF files can contain two types of information graphics or annotations. Graphics files like images, text, etc. are considered static. Stamps, digital mark-ups, sticky notes are all considered annotations that are typically associated with a graphic.

Annotations contain some interactive features and can be very useful in certain situations, but in scenarios like submittal processing or change order request it is imperative to flatten the pdf and turn your annotations static on the document. Without flattening annotated pdfs there is no insurance that all annotations will be visible to participants on their work-stations or mobile devices. In instances where you are using an app to access marked up information after the fact, it is almost a certainty that annotations will not appear if the file has not been flattened before sharing. This can create considerable issues when trying to create a digital work-flow for COR (change order requests) or submittals during a project.

Certain programs like BlueBeam provide you with the option to flatten annotations within their program so that the additional layer that you have created is visible to all project participants regardless of the device or pc being used to review the information. If you are doing your annotations in Adobe, I am providing you with a link to a plug-in that not only allows you to flatten your annotations but it also allows you to get mark-up specific as to what you would like to flatten. This way you can have both interactive and static annotations, but more importantly insure that your comments are visible on any mobile device, app, or workstation for any user.

Click here to read about and/or download the free Adobe plug-in:

Alternatively, Adobe provides this "action" below that can be installed as a plugin to your version of Acrobat that will flatten all of your annotations. http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw/files/2011/02/Flatten_doc.pdf

NextPlans For Educators

Collaboration Generates Real World Experience in the Classroom

Recently, Robert Ford, a construction management professor used his influence in the construction industry to persuade NextPlans, an on-line data management service provider to collaborate with him and allow him access to their services to use in the project based curriculum associated with two of his courses; a fall CM 424- Facility Management and a spring CM 231- Code and Plan Reading course. Robert is a non-traditional educator that worked the construction and manufacturing industries for twenty years before getting a college education. His past experience at the supervisory level in many different applications has instilled in him the ability to evaluate learning performance and outcomes better than most educators. Robert understands that to build knowledge it takes applying fundamental layers of instruction and mentoring to generate positive learning outcomes.

The first step in the collaboration was to locate accessible as-built drawings that did not have the usual confidentiality clauses attached. The Information Technology Director with NextPlans realized that public funded projects could be obtained through a right to know clause and he was able to upload several as-built data sets which included the drawings and specifications related to completed projects conducted on campus. Having the as-built data sets relate to local projects led to a better understanding of the lesson plans for the students. Once the site was developed and the data uploaded the next process was to register all the students on the site as new members of the project team. They were able to register as sub-contractors and were assigned secured login credentials that allowed Robert to track their activities on the site, eliminating any excuses concerning the milestones that had been initiated for grading purposes.

The first application of this study was introduced to a Facility Management course where the lesson plans followed the course textbook materials. Acting as the general contractor Robert would issue request for qualifications (RFQ) that required the students to brainstorm on what the necessary requirements would be to qualify for the administrative roles of a facility manager and the necessary support staff they would need. Chapter 1 of the text covered such requirements.

Once the administrative qualifications were set, Robert issued Request for Proposals (RFP) in segments related to the layout of the text chapter outline. If students had questions they had to upload a request for information (RFI) just as if they were in the real world. After all the necessary RFPs had been completed and all the milestones had been met the students were assigned a group and through a collaborative effort they developed a proposal to present to the class trying to convince them that their particular strategic plan would be the best to implement. The learning outcomes were very obvious to Robert and all his expectations concerning the students and the application of the curriculum plan had been met.

The spring Codes and Plan Reading curriculum plan includes two sets of as-built renovation projects that were implemented on the campus. The students were introduced to the history of building codes and introduced to the function of the 2012 International Building Code reference book which will be used as the course textbook for the study. They will be challenged to learn who to determine the occupancy code associated with the data sets, relate the different drawings to relevant applications covered in the various sections of the reference book, and be able to simulate the actions of a code inspector on the two sets of data for the final project. So far the lesson plans and related milestones are on schedule and the final learning outcomes will be evaluated and released in the final presentation of the study results.

According to Robert this on-line service could be the turning point between the 20th and 21st century approach to construction education. If a program wanted to make a positive change for the future they could introduce this service and application at the introductory level and continue to upload related data to it until the course work had been completed. During the senior capstone experience, that most programs require, the educator could up load a larger project and assign the same requirements the students had experienced during the program to complete allowing the students access to completed work for reference. The same approach would be developed issuing milestones and monitoring their activity until completion.

If you have any questions or concerning please feel free to contact the following collaboration partners:

Educator: Robert Ford, rwford@wcu.edu

Service Provider Vice-President: Zane Sharpe, zanesharpe@nextplans.com

Service Provider IT Engineer: Chris Perkins, cperkins@nextplans.com

Tips for Selecting Construction Software

Construction software is a hot topic these days for design and construction firms. There are hundreds of different construction software packages and solutions available. Each promises to save money, improve efficiency, and improve project delivery. Selecting the right product for your company can be very challenging. To ensure that your firm is making the right decision and getting a return on your software investment, take a prudent approach. Define your business challenges and diligently review the competitive offerings.

Defining your needs
Start by addressing the business challenges you are trying to achieve. Do you need solutions for: estimating, collaboration, document and project management, cost accounting, invitation to bid, preconstruction, etc. Defining the core functionalities and capabilities of a software program is a critical step in the process. The key is to identify the software solution that works best with your company's unique activities and processes.

Consider the Cost
Cost is a key consideration of any software purchase. With construction management software, there are a wide range of products and even more pricing options. Far too many contractors buy more software than they need. Construction software vendors will typically offer licensing agreements based on the number of users, product volume, company size or a combination of variables. Consider these cost factors when making a decision.

Engage the users
No construction software tool will be effective if it is not used. When beginning your review process, develop a core team within your firm that is representative of potential users. Include finance, IT, project management, design, project controls, preconstruction, procurement and others that might be using the system. These team members can help better define your needs, offer diverse perspectives, and will more likely be bought in to the final selection.

Ensure your vendor offers customized training
Purchasing the software is the easy part. Be sure to choose a vendor who includes a full team of training and technical staff that can provide customized instruction and implementation support. Ask the vendors about their training approach and construction industry experience. Specifically ask them what the average training time is before someone can start using the system.

Understand how you will be supported and how custom development is handled

Construction management software should not be a cookie cutter package. Each design and construction company is different and each construction project is unique. Your construction management software should be unique, too. Your construction management software partner needs to be relied upon as a member of your team. This includes availability to quickly develop effective solutions without charging you for every modification. In addition, make sure the support is U.S.-based and included in your purchase price.

Don't underestimate the human-element
Often times software packages are sold on the premise of automation. With so many variables and moving parts during a construction project it is inevitable that there will need to be human-interaction for certain aspects of an interface. Make sure that provider allows for continued end-user support and service management so that you do not create an additional list of tasks for your personnel.

Select a firm that knows construction
Many firms are new to the construction industry. When selecting your construction management software solution, look to a vendor that is stable, established, and knows the construction industry. Make sure your vendor has people who understand construction, workflows, and how design firms and contractors make money.

Make sure you are in good company
Be sure to review the vendor's customer list. When reviewing vendors, look for firms that are in similar markets, have similar revenues, and share common factors with your firm. When talking with your sales representative, ask them specifically how their product has impacted their existing clients. Ask for concrete examples and case histories. Also be sure to ask for references and call them! If the vendor refuses to provide you with references at their client companies, that is a red flag.

Not all software is created equal
With all of the construction software packages out there, not everything is created equal. Packages that might be great tools for document management and collaboration might be lousy for job cost accounting. When reviewing construction software vendors, find out the specific areas in which the vendor excels. These areas should be in close alignment with your firm's specific needs.

Safe and secure
Many construction software packages are cloud-based and may put your information at a security risk. When reviewing vendors, ask about where your data will be hosted, if there is redundancy, and how they address security.

Beyond the demo
Demonstrations are great opportunities to get a feel for the system, navigation and features. Most construction software systems are based on industry best practices and can be adaptable. Use the demonstration as an opportunity to ask about your specific situation and challenges. Typically, the demonstrations focus on the software's "bells and whistles." Ask your vendor if they are willing to give you a free trial or a money back guarantee. In reality, you cannot determine if the system works for your firm until you've started using it on actual projects.

Don't "overbuy" the software
Too many companies select systems for the "bells and whistles." While these features may be appealing, they do little to impact company performance and the bottom line. Make sure you choose software that you will use to its fullest capacity. Many firms invest in a costly technology solution and only end-up using 10% of the functionality.

Construction software offers tremendous promise and potential, however, there are many pitfalls for design and construction firms. By defining your needs, engaging your users, and thoroughly reviewing vendors, you can find the right solution for specific needs, increase productivity, improve profitability and demonstrate a return on investment.

Zane Sharpe is Vice President for NextPlans.com. He can be reached at 866.215.0428 or zanesharpe@nextplans.com.

About NextPlans NextPlans is a web-based construction performance management service that facilitates project information management and information distribution for owners, architects, engineers, general contractors, and specialty contractors throughout the United States. NextPlans creates customized solutions that allow our clients to centralize information, reduce administrative costs, mitigate risk, and improve efficiency. NextPlans is one system with all-inclusive components that creates transparency and accountability on a project from schematic design to facilities management. For more information on NextPlans, visit www.nextplans.com or call 1.866.215.0428.