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Archive for Past Projects

Your IT and the Cloud: Are they Compatible?

Today we present the second of three articles about Cloud Hosting specifically for the AEC Industry. We look forward to your comments


Offerings_Hosting_370x320Just because your AEC business is running legacy technology doesn’t mean it cannot make an easy transition to the cloud. In fact, many of today’s most successful matches between the cloud and construction are based on the process of “cloud-enabling” existing IT systems.

AEC Cloud has been hosting early every construction software available since 2000. It just comes down to a matter of compatibility.

You see, running an AEC business requires such core systems as project management, document management, accounting, estimating and job costing, for example. For the most part, these systems are not native cloud applications. No problem. Service solutions available today can ensure that what isn’t “cloud native” in your IT department can certainly become “cloud ready.”

Of course, the ultimate compatibility test is made up such factors as time, cost and security. But such issues have become relative non-issues as cloud services and solutions are faster, better, cheaper and more secure. Just ask our clients, such as The J. Companies and Morley Builders.

A Secure Package
Let’s take The J Companies, a builder/construction manager based in New York, as our first example. The company started down its cloud-based IT path in 2005 by hosting Prolog Manager from Meridian Systems using our AEC Cloud. Over time as the needs of IT expanded, so too has the role of the cloud.

For example, with clients located across the country, and with multiple construction, consulting or development projects going on simultaneously, the need to compile information and keep documents organized has become the priority.

Today, you can find Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange, Document Locator from ColumbiaSoft, and Master Builder from Sage, accompanying its Prolog Manager application up in the cloud. A custom solution gives employees access to an integrated package of virtual desktop, document management, accounting, and project management tools that can be accessed anywhere and anytime.

So let’s talk security. Document Locator is essentially the core of the business for The J Companies. With the AEC Cloud, an unlimited library of documents has become stored in the cloud. Given the high quality document security, that means that there is never a risk of information being left unsecure in the cloud.

Just ask David Brot, the Principal of The J Companies, who says that he has never needed to worry about his company’s information. Document security and stability in the cloud has never been an issue.

Low Cost and Connected
Now let’s address that issue of high cost. Back in 2013 when we first engaged with Morley Builders the company was talking with many different software vendors about developing a custom solution. The company was looking to have its employees maintain large amounts of drawing and specification information and stay connected, while working at construction sites or back at the office.

It was an exercise that, as many other AEC companies have figured out, is prohibitive in terms of time and cost.

This is where an OBA can come into play. This is an application written for Microsoft Office applications based on .NET technology that uses web services to connect to a Line of Business (LOB) application, or other applications. OBAs that are built on the Microsoft Office Business Application framework are used for extending LOB applications. This means that AEC companies can capture critical information in spreadsheets and work offline.

Today Morley Builders uses our Drawings & Specification OBA. This allows its employees to input large volumes of data all at once. The fact that the OBA interfaces with Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets makes it easy for employees to get up to speed learning the tool very quickly.

Like The J Companies, Morley Builders works with Prolog. This is where the direct connection from the OBA comes in handy, making the process of batch revisions an integrated process between the programs.

Cloud Considerations
It’s not difficult to find these types of success stories within the AEC industry. More and more, we see companies coming to us to help make the cloud a critical part of the way they run their IT systems across the company.

Applications like Dropbox, Evernote, Box and others have catapulted the idea of “the cloud” into the IT discussion these days. But the truth of the matter is that the cloud has long been a part of doing business in construction, tied to core operational systems.

Legacy IT systems are necessary in construction. So too is the cloud. Ensuring they are compatible can be the most powerful investment your company can make in 2015.

[infobox]If you are thinking about moving all or part of your business to the cloud, give us a call and let us show you how to leverage the myriad benefits of cloud hosting.

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Past Projects: eInvoice

In our “Past Projects” section, we revisit some old projects that were decommissioned for various reasons.

eInvoice was way ahead of its time and filled a key role with high acclaim for more than 5 years at NSLIJ. We stopped it because the technology ran its course, and we did not want to become an invoicing vendor.

Below is the description of the technology:

logo_products_einvoice

eInvoice facilitates the way AEC Industry companies manage invoices with a focus on operations collaboration. It is a community aware, enterprise capable, project focused electronic invoicing system which is made possible by treating the process as the hub vs. the participants.

The invoice approval and payment process in the AEC Industry requires many participants. Beginning at the job site, based on a contract, invoices make their way through an approval cycle and then move on to the finance department for enterprise accounting capture and payment.  The process flow below shows the overall cycle. The problem is when this is done manually, there are many opportunities for error, location based restrictions, and general lack of transparency.

eInvoice-frmwrk1

Other applications that facilitate the invoicing process are generally built from a Standalone or Finance perspective.  The Standalone focus is generally approached with an application that emulates the project invoicing process and then integrates with other Line of Business (LOB) applications like project management & accounting.  This usually involves lengthy implementation cycles in order to match up the standalone application with the way your existing applications function.  The Finance focus is generally approached with an application that emulates the accounting process.  While we clearly understand accounting must be involved, we think that approach is backwards, starting in the middle of the process and/or forcing operations staff to become financial software users.

The process flows below show the standalone and accounting focused methods. We think this is starting in the wrong place, leaving out the operations team and their core software. Additionally the integrations are often being handled by the invoice tool, which is counterintuitive to a typical integration middleware strategy.

 

Background

eInvoice was born out of a need to simplify the invoice management process for vendors, architects, project managers, business services staff, executives, and financial professionals. The project was co-developed by North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System and The Cram Group. At the time it was revolutionary initially garnering the most aversion to change and ultimately becoming their favorite application. The two limitations at the time were old methods of integration preventing efficient cross domain usage and lack of Line of Business application vendor support for community driven processes.

Subsequent versions made attempts at overcoming these technology hurdles to no avail due to costs of integration. As The concept of Cloud was better defined by NIST and software vendors started to get enabled, we were empowered to think about our business and the business of invoicing in completely new ways.

Today we have taken the same real world principles and applied better technology from the ground up. We are just scratching the surface of where these types of applications can go.

 

Features

Cloud Ready: When we say Cloud ready, we don’t mean some marketing term.  It also does not mean we have to host it.  eInvoice was built from the ground up based on the NIST cloud definition.  As we work toward the definition of Cloud (we are close, but also purists), eInvoice users will realize benefits that change the way invoicing is done in the AEC Industry.  Visit our Cloud page for more information on our mindset and the NIST cloud definition.

Prolog Ready: eInvoice is the first natively integrated 3rd party application for the Prolog Application Suite.  We don’t mean it sort of integrates, we mean it has a native building block that bolts on, rock solid.  We started here due to the large community of users interacting with the Prolog Suite but more importantly due to the extensive Prolog Connect web services platform made available to all customers of Prolog Converge.

Community Aware: eInvoice understands the construction ecosystem goes beyond an owner or general contractor’s desires and brings different value to all participants.  Approvers can focus on the programs & projects under their control while submitters can focus on projects from multiple programs, projects and controlling entities.  This results in a community of users with one place to process their invoices.

Enterprise Capable: eInvoice goes beyond the single database or project and allows connections across all projects so participants can get everything done from one familiar place.  There are existing ball in court queries for participants but since the contract sources are bound, external reporting tools can also be used for alternative business intelligence presentations.

Project Focused: We understand project management and the field.   That’s where the work gets done and the invoice starts.  eInvoice is fully aware of project level contracts and business rules, vs. the accounting requirements.  If your Project management and accounting software are in line, eInvoice will fit like a glove.

Role Based: Contracts flow two directions and as a result Invoices have submitters and approvers.  As a result, it shouldn’t matter which company the contract is with or which database the project is in.  eInvoice enables dynamic user assignments across any database or project breaking down traditional clumsiness associated with database or project specific processes.

Plug & Play: eInvoice integration requires no business consulting or custom programming to configure.  It’s tightly integrated with the Project Management Line of Business (LOB) Application version that is licensed.

Where most providers create core applications with options to integrate with old technologies, we took a different approach creating a modern, cloud driven platform with out of the box snap in capabilities for LOB applications.  This plug and play approach eliminates IT hassles.

We have no plans to go backwards and create generalized middleware so as AEC Technology Space Vendors build cloud capable products with openly programmable web services we will bring the benefits of the eInvoice platform to other LOB applications.

Configuration: eInvoice has administrative tools to configure companies, administrators, approvers, and submitters with minimal data entry or synchronizing with the LOB Application.  The workflow can be defined with as many steps as desired while honoring the LOB Application business rules.

Licensing: We know there are business people that want a simple turnkey solution, we also know there are many smart people out there managing existing IT solutions that eInvoice can be a part of.  We can host it or you can host it wherever you want.  But it’s not just about hosting.  If we host it our software + services approach allows options for single tenant or multi-tenant deployments enabling options to bill the approver company or the submitter company or both.  Have it your way or any way in between.

Notes: *Cross Domain and Community based features are forthcoming.

 

 Why use eInvoice?

eInvoice-frmwrk2

eInvoice-frmwrk3

Since our leadership is from the operations side of construction and the cloud mindset of technology, that’s the approach we took to invoicing. Rather than trying to own the entire invoicing process, we stepped back and looked at what part of the automation was missing. As a result, eInvoice is focused on the collaborative job site operations approval process. eInvoice is built for this purpose only and leaves the accounting and payment integration in the hands of other Line of Business (LOB) and integration applications. This keeps our focus clear, the cost down, and allows other applications to be maximized. The process flow below shows where eInvoice fits into the Project Invoicing cycle rather than trying to own it.

eInvoice-frmwrk4

Who Uses eInvoice?

eInvoice has successfully facilitated 1,000’s of monthly transactions for more than 5 years.  Below is a list of some customers that have benefit from eInvoice:

Array Architects PCAKF Group

Albanese Development Corp.

Anson environmental Ltd.

A.S.C. Contracting Corp.

Axis Construction Corp

Baldassano Architecture, LLP

Barr & Barr, Inc

Bovis Lend Lease LMB, Inc.

Botto Mechanical Corp.

Carrier Commercial Services

Cannon Design

Cameron Engineering & Assoc., LLP

Consulting Associates of NY Inc.

Cauldwell Wingate Company, LLC

Consumer Markouts

Consulting and Testing Services

Dattner Architects

Davis Langdon

Desman Associates

Diam-N-Blu Mechanical Corp.

Empire Genral Contracting

Ewing Cole

Fiber Control

Flack and Kurtz

Floors Unlimited

Francis Cauffman Inc

The Fulcrum Group

Gotham Construction Company LLC

Gordon L Seaman

Gorden, Sibell & Iannone, PLLC

Hammes Company

Hensel Phelps Construction Co.

Horizon Engineering Associates

H&T Contracting Inc.

Jato Building Contractors, Inc.

Jefferson Wells

Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc

JRB Construction Corp.

JRS Architect PC

JSK Construction Corp.

Langan Engineering & Environmental

Lilker Associates

Lizardos Engineering Assoc, P.C.

Matrix Mechanical Corp.

Materials Testing Lab Inc.

Maarv Waterproofing Inc.

McLaurin & McLaurin, IncMcGuire Group Architects

Michael Anthony Contracting

Morris/Switzer & Associates

Multivista Construction Documentat

Nouveau Elevator Industries Inc.

Pam Chow Architects

Paul Jacob Hill Architec & Design

Par Environmental Corp.

Perkins Eastman Architects PC

P.W. Grosser Consulting

RA Consultants LLC

Racanelli Constructions

Rockwell Architecture Planning

Reilly & Associates

RGBK Inc D/B/A Romano Gatland

RJ Lee Group inc.

Roux Associates, Inc

Rolands Electric Inc.

Romano Paving and Contracting Corp

Salans LLP

Starcom Communications Services

Scale Plumbing

SDM Representatives, Inc.

Shulman Industries Inc

Sidney B. Bowne & Son LLP

Sierra Group

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP

Skanska

Spectrum Signs Inc.

Stantec Consulting Services, Inc.

Swanke Hayden Connell Architects

Turner

Tectonic Engineering

Testing Mechanics Corp

Turner FMS

Thornton Tomasetti Inc.

Total Safety Consulting, LLC

TPG Architecture, LLP

Tremco/WTI

Upright Expediters, Inc

VHB Engineering, Surveying & Lansc

Vincon Electric Co. Inc

VTS Medical System LLC

Wiss, Janney, Elsnter Associates

WSP Cantor Seinuk

S. Engineering, PC

Quick Tour

Invoice Submission: Staff from Vendors, Subcontractors and other company types submit invoices against an existing contract.  This is made simple by showing the submitter the information specific to their company based on active agreements.  Submitters see real time contract, change order and historical data & attachments in one screen, making all relevant information available each step of the way. eInvoice complies with all of the business rules in the Project Management Line of Business Application (Prolog in this case) to ensure there are no variances.

Sub-Approver

Submission Form

Confirmation

Confirmation Notification

invoice-que

Invoice Queue

 

 Invoice Approval

Staff from Owners, General Contractors, and other company types approve invoices from a cue based on submissions.  With relevant information available in one screen,  approvers can focus on quickly making informed decisions and speeding up the entire invoice management process.  Upon final approval, the Project Management Line of Business Application is updated, notifications are distrbuted, and information can be routed to ERP & Accounting systems for payment.

 

FirstApprover

First Approver

Contract_Attactment

Contract Attachment

CommentsThread

Commenting Thread

Configuration

All of the options are completely configurable by the Project Management Line of Business Application owner.  Company participants, workflow steps and other settings are 100% browser native.

 

Company Mapping

Company Mapping

Approver Mapping

Approver Mapping

Workflow Configuration

Workflow Configuration

Massaro CM Services: Maximizes Effeciency With AEC Cloud/TCG Services

In 2010, The Cram Group via a partnership with Accordant, began hosting Meridian Systems’ Prolog Manager and Prolog Converge for Massaro CM Services. This helped the company streamline its document management system, and communicate better with clients.

The Cram Group handled the company’s migration from Prolog Website to Prolog Converge. They also performed several professional services, including:

On-site training on Prolog, Converge notications and Development of a custom Prolog Converge Dashboard.

Read the entire case study here: [View PDF]