Newforma Prides Itself on PIM and Interoperability
Rita Stange posted on April 07, 2021 |
Newforma praised for email and search capabilities and connectors.

Newforma has sponsored this post.

Hallelujah! The days of searching through endless emails are over. Let us introduce you to Newforma, an innovative company that prides itself on Project Information Management (PIM). Newforma is the undisputed pioneer of PIM, having coined the term in 2004 at the company’s inception.

Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, Newforma specializes in connecting architecture, engineering, construction and owner (AECO) industry professionals with information they need, regardless of the types of data they are using.

Newforma is praised for its search and email functionality and has over a 100 thousand users worldwide to prove it. After talking with Newforma, we discovered finding information and interoperability are really at the heart of Newforma and what draws its customer base.

We talked to Marge Hart, Vice President of Product Management at Newforma and Aaron Kivett, Director of Partnerships at Newforma, along with customer Bill Keen, Chief Innovation Officer at Clark Nexsen, an architecture and engineering firm, to see what PIM is all about.

Regarding the company’s PIM philosophy, Hart, who has been with the company for 15 years, said, “It’s interesting to note that Newforma coined the phrase PIM. It didn’t exist before Newforma came along. And PIM was purely based on discussions with customers around their needs.”

“From the beginning we found that people were struggling to manage the information that was on a project. It initially started out with email and files then just grew from there,” Hart continued. “From a philosophy perspective, it's always been around working with the customers’ workflow and products that they work with.”

“Newforma’s solution is very unique in the industry because we [Newforma] sit on top of customers’ project files instead of ingesting them making it easy for our customers. They use the platforms that they need to manage their files for the project for the most efficient project execution. Also, because we sit on top of data sources, it's much easier to get Newforma set up and running. We look at ourselves as an umbrella sitting on top of data sources, instead of everything being in one solution,” she said.

She continued to explain in layman’s terms, “Our customers deal with files, such as contracts, drawing files, Revit models, etc. What we do is we [Newforma] point to the sources of where those files live for an individual project giving project context to wherever the files live. So, if files live in different buckets, such as on a file server, Panzura, Nasuni, SharePoint online, BIM 360 or ProjectWise, we just sit on top of it. We connect to those sources and allow you to search over those files or point to those files as part of an action item or anything that you are using to manage the project.”

The company’s flagship product, Newforma Project Center, provides project teams with the information they need to keep construction projects moving, enabling users to view all project information using one dashboard. With Newforma Project Center, users can easily keep track of emails, RFIs, drawings and action items for each project.

Newforma Project Center. (Image courtesy of Newforma.)
Newforma Project Center. (Image courtesy of Newforma.)

Some of the key features of Newforma Project Center include search, email organization, document management, RFI/submittal features, and Connectors. Let’s look at each of these more closely, which we’ve grouped into five key areas, along with commentary from Newforma.

1. Access and Search Everything

Access

Newforma recognizes that many firms use an array of applications to design and build, hence the company’s focus on interoperability. With this in mind, critical information related to a project may be spread out over a variety of sources, making it difficult to find and manage.

Newforma Project Center eliminates issues and extends across those applications to help unify project information. Users can access project files wherever those files happen to live, whether in Microsoft Outlook, Bluebeam or Autodesk Revit, for example. They can also view all project emails regardless of who sent or received it. In addition, they can respond to submittals and RFIs, regardless of which system the contractor is using.

With Project Center Dashboards users can track action items, find related files and review RFI and submittal status all from one place. More importantly they can see what items are coming due or are overdue items with the Project Summary feature. Another valuable feature is users can locate key documents and files with Project Files and track who has recently accessed or worked on that document.

Search Functionality

With Newforma Project Center’s indexing capability, users can search through thousands of project emails, PDFs, images, drawings, and zip folders, and get results within seconds. This helps teams find information that could end up buried in attachments such as PDF, DWG, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, ZIP and more. Furthermore, users can find information on platforms such as BIM 360, Bentley Systems ProjectWise, SharePoint Online, etc.

Plus, users can search project files and email on the go from a phone or tablet.

2. Manage Email

The team at Newforma said the email capabilities are popular with their customers.

With a little bit of setup, users can keep emails organized by saving their Outlook and Gmail emails to a particular project stored in Newforma Project Center. Plus, users can file project emails directly from their email from their desk or phone.

And emails are filed to the project, not lost in a person’s inbox, so if someone leaves the project, the information is still available in Newforma Project Center. When they need to access an email, they can simply do a quick search to find it.

In addition, users can instantly create action items, submittals and RFIs from an email, creating an audit trail.

Hart said the amount of data that accumulates over the years on just one project can be challenging to manage. “The amount of data has escalated over the years. Communication data is exploding. There are more files than ever being used on a project. With Newforma sitting on top of that information, it just it makes it easier for people to get their arms around all of that data and to manage it.”

“Newforma offers a way of managing all this data,” Hart continued. “By filing those emails and putting project context around that content it makes it easier for people to find that information when they need it, either by navigating, through the project information, or by searching it using our search tool.”

3. Document Management

As Hart mentioned above it can be a chore in and of itself for teams to manage communication such as email, but on top of that there are hundreds of drawings, sheets and specification files to deal with throughout the life cycle of a project.

Newforma Project Center provides a central location to manage document deliverables through all phases of a project, including planning, design, construction, and closeout.

The entire project team can stay up to date and access the project’s most current version of documents during the project. Users can synchronize and manage revisions directly from their Revit files to update sheet properties and generate updated PDFs or DWG sheet sets to the latest revision. Then they can track who received each revision and document issuance.

There is even an Autodesk Revit add-in so users can identify clashes and create action items to quickly resolve issues. Everyone has access to revisions and links to any related information such as action items, RFIs, markups and supporting documents.

Users can also view sheets generated from Revit in the Plans mobile apps or Newforma's Info Exchange website on a Web-enabled server that enables internal project team members to easily and securely exchange project files.

In addition, for construction projects that must demonstrate meeting specific standards guidelines, such as ISO 19650, Newforma provides tools to share documents, track issuances and manage revisions, all with a complete audit trail.

4. RFI / Submittals

The Newforma team also told us that Newforma Project Center has been found to save five minutes per RFI or submittal. This is huge, especially when project teams process hundreds or even thousands of submittals and RFIs on just one project alone.

One problem project teams face is having to manually upload and download submittal and RFI information between construction management systems. Newforma Project Center’s Submittals and RFI features automate and connect workflows to improve response times so users can stay on top of upcoming or overdue items with the Submittals and RFI Dashboard.

With Newforma Project Center, there is no need to learn another construction management application. Users can automatically transfer submittal and RFI information between connected construction management applications used by contractors including Procore and Newforma’s ConstructEx.

Plus, Newforma Project Center is optimized for managing the review process with consultants. For instance, users can automatically create a collaborative Bluebeam Studio session with reviewers.

5. Share Files and Connectors

Even though there are many options for sharing files, including Dropbox, FTP and email, sharing files remains a challenge for most project teams today.

Newforma offers flexible file sharing options. For instance, with Newforma Project Center’s Outlook Add-in, users can transfer files directly from Outlook. Plus, sharing with external team members is not a problem as users have instant access to files with a single click through an email notification or by logging into Newforma’s external user portal without having to have a Newforma license.

Users can also set an expiration date on the file download and Newforma will send reminder notifications to users. They can also track the status of when files are received, downloaded, and by who.

Furthermore, users can share files located anywhere from Newforma Project Center’s common user interface and don’t have to log into multiple systems to share files from a file server, or platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint Online or Bentley ProjectWise.

Newforma’s partnerships and focus on integration and interoperability is one key area where we think Newforma really shines and this is made clear through the abundance of Connectors the company offers.

Connectors offer project teams a way to seamlessly exchange project information and files by integrating with popular solutions on the market such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Bluebeam, ProjectWise, Revit, BIM 360, Procore and many more.

Aaron Kivett has been with Newforma for more than 10 years. He comes from an architecture background and used Newforma before joining the company. Kivett commented on how they have good relationships with their integration partners, and they work with them closely on how to bring value to their joint customers.

“When we sit down with somebody like Procore, the list of things that we can do together is very long and we don't have time or resources to do them all. So, we spend a lot of time talking to joint customers trying to figure out what would really move the needle for them.”

The biggest challenge that customers have is having to double-enter data, Kivett explained. “You know the contractor has a submittal in Procore that the subcontractor has put there. They send that to the architect for review, and the architect will re-enter it into their own system to keep track of it. They're essentially re-entering all of that data over again. Nobody likes doing it. But they have to do it to make sure that they have their own copy of everything. There is too much risk involved to rely on the contractor to just give you a copy of everything in the event of some dispute.”

“Our Connectors streamline the workflow so that when the contractor sends the submittal, it automatically shows up in Newforma ready for the architect to process. When the response comes back, the same problem exists in reverse,” Kivett continued. “The contractor doesn't really like getting notifications from Newforma that have to be re-entered into Procore. The Connector will put the response directly into Procore. This works out well for everyone as it completely eliminates double entry and everyone retains their own record of the process.

“That same problem exists on many different levels. It happens in our files and happens in almost anything where there is a back-and-forth exchange. It's really about trying to figure out where the customers spend the most time and that's how we decide what to focus on,” he added.

Hart added to the conversation, “In terms of the impact on the team members, it also takes away that discussion at the beginning of the project of whose system are you going to use. The architects are trying to force contractors to use their system and contractors are trying to force architects to use their system.”

“And I'll never forget, when we first started off going to Procore conferences, a woman leaned across the table from me, took my hand in hers and said, ‘You have no idea what a difference this is going to make in my life.’ The interest, the feedback, the excitement was astounding. We are able to make a difference in the industry for people,” Hart said.

That’s powerful. The Newforma Workflow Connector for Procore does seem to be quite popular among industry professionals.

The Procore Connector. (Image courtesy of Newforma.)
The Procore Connector. (Image courtesy of Newforma.)

A Favorite Connector is the Procore Connector

“By far our favorite connector is the Procore Connector,” said Bill Keen, Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) at Clark Nexsen during a call to gain some customer insight. “We do a lot of design build work where the contractor is our client and Procore is pretty dominant in the construction industry. It’s just become a huge time saver. It really streamlines our process of getting the stuff that the contractor is managing in Procore into Newforma, our platform for managing our Construction Administration information. It's been a huge, huge plus for us.”

Based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Keen has a background in structural engineering and has been with Clark Nexsen since 1993. He has held various roles including Chief Operating Officer (COO) and now CINO. He said at that time the firm had thirty-seven employees and today has more than 400 employees.

Keen said the firm is a “big Revit company. That's our platform of choice when we're doing drawings, although we do have some clients that still ask us to do stuff in AutoCAD today. But for the most part we’re all in Revit. We have a transportation group that uses Bentley, but all of our 3D building design stuff is done in Revit.”

Regarding his role as CINO, Keen said, “My job is to get everybody in a position where they can innovate, be creative and solve problems. The problem solving is in dealing with process related problems, more organization-wide types of things, leading a lean initiative. In the COO’s role, pretty much all the problems come to you and that's one problem after another. Some days you feel like you haven't accomplished anything, you've just been stressed by all the problems. So being the CINO is a lot more fun than the COO.”

Keen has been using Newforma solutions close to 15 years or so. More of our Q & A with Keen follows below.

How long have you been using Newforma and how did that come about?

Bill Keen: I believe it was in 2007 or 2008. At the time technology was changing, so more and more of our communication was electronic. It was more email and less faxes and letters, things like that. A few years before, some of us started to realize that we really needed a better platform to keep track of all this information. We were communicating with our clients, consultants and contractors and it was all captured in email, but we had a hard time finding anything. That was one of the big, big reasons for us moving to Newforma.”

What do you think are some of the greatest benefits that Newforma has provided for you all?

BK: We saw a lot of value in it for many years, as I mentioned earlier, with the Procore Connector and managing email. I think we've gotten to the point where we had sort of taken it for granted. We were reminded of the value of Newforma in 2020 when the pandemic hit. Everybody was spread out, everybody was remote and the collaboration between people that used to happen face-to-face was more difficult. Even though we were used to Microsoft Teams and everybody was on Teams, people were calling and doing work at different hours.

So, in a lot of cases, people had to do their own research in terms of communication that happened or whether it was emails or submittals and RFIs and having that platform was really helpful to us to get through that. Obviously, we're still trying to get through it.

Do you recall if it was easy to get up to speed on how to use Newforma? What was the learning curve like?

BK: That is something that it took us too long to figure out. There are some elements of Newforma that are very easy and straightforward; they are kind of natural processes like sending and filing emails, using Info Exchange and RFI Submittals. These were pretty easy for us to implement. A lot of us jumped on board with that pretty quickly. But it did take us a few years to push that through our firm-wide processes and just start doing everything.

And from a Construction Administration standpoint, Newforma replaced the old way of tracking a spreadsheet or keeping documents on your desks in a box and stuff like that. But we've learned we needed somebody on staff to support it. Newforma is an investment. I think we took it for granted, that we thought you didn't have to do any work. Since 2017 we have dedicated somebody on staff to Newforma to do training, create internal documentation about our processes and how we could use it. We've seen the adoption increase since we started doing that.

What other Newforma solutions or Connectors are Clark Nexsen interested in?

BK: I think that as Newforma moves more and more into the cloud, so will we. I can see more integration with Microsoft Teams. Based on our conversations with our peer firms, Teams is where conversations are happening during the pandemic. Teams has taken over our worlds. Newforma may be our information management platform but we're finding there are a lot of documents, a lot of communication, conversations are happening in Teams. I think Newforma has recognized that there is a lot of value in keeping track of that information and to be able to search it.

What type of investment is Newforma? The company offers flexible deployment options in the cloud or on your server. Currently they offer three packages.

What do we think? Having emails automatically sorted by project would be worth the price of admission alone. Contact Newforma for pricing and to learn more.


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