April 26, 2010
Newforma Project Center Undergoes Re-Architecture
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Newforma Project Center Undergoes Re-Architecture
By Susan Smith

The reduction of staffing in all AEC firms has changed the balance of work and created a greater need for a distributed environment in organizations. Newforma addresses that need with their new release of Newforma Project Center - Seventh Edition.

Newforma chief executive officer Ian Howell, and vice-president, Industry Marketing & Product Management, Bob Batcheler spoke about Newforma Project Center Seventh Edition, the latest release available in late April.

Howell said the release is the first re-architecture release for the company, which has been in production use with 11 customers since the beginning of December 2009.

The two biggest changes to appear in this release are 1) the company migrated all their Newforma Project Center data from what was previously XML flat files on a file server into an enterprise level database, in this case Microsoft MySQL. 2) They also completely redesigned and rebuilt their search engine.

“We realized in the course of developing Newforma Project Search we had really built the guts of a world class search engine with the exception of the little technology kernel at the center, known as Windows Indexing Service,” said Howell. “That met the needs of Sixth Edition but it was old technology and we felt we needed to put a more robust search engine at the core of that. So we built our own based on all the lessons we learned in prior releases.”

Newforma is built on the MySQL relational database management system, and thus its indexing system allows the software to index five times more data with a single indexing server, according to the company. In addition the Seventh Edition offers the following benefits:
  • Increased scalability
  • Improved performance, particularly for remote office and VPN usage
  • Increased flexibility in providing access to information via Newforma Info Exchange
  • Data access via standard SQL reporting tools, enabling development of custom reports
  • Virtual server deployment

Customers of Newforma Project Center can learn to use the new version in about 45 minutes, according to Howell and Batcheler.

Increased Scalability

In previous versions of Newforma Project Center, the server could effectively service about two terabytes of project information. “Since some of our customers are going to up to 20 terabytes, that meant that over time they would need additional Newforma Project Center servers to effectively service that information,” said Howell.

“In Seventh Edition we've increased the capacity of a single Newforma Project Center Server from two terabytes to 10 terabytes, a five-fold increase in capacity, so that works well in hand with the increased demand that our customers are finding as they continue to mine past projects for best practices and past experience.”

Data access through standard SQL Reporting Tools

By building Newforma Project Center completely on MySQL that meant customers have the opportunity to access and report on that information through standard reporting tools, they can create custom reports and they can set up reports as scheduled tasks.

Newforma Info Exchange enhancements

Info Exchange is the website portal access into Newforma Project Center Information for external project team members as well as internal team members, those who might be away from the office. “By continuing to enhance Newforma Info Exchange we're reflecting the increased distributed nature of project teams and project managers are constantly on the road, they need access to the information despite being away from their office,” said Batcheler.

VPN access is not pervasive and when it is available it tends to be slow, according to customers. They wanted to be able to use any internet connected machine and be able to access key information about their project and access a particular message that has been filed to the project through Newforma Project Center. “You can log in from anywhere, an internal team member can search and view any of the email that's been filed as project email through Newforma Project Center,” said Howell.

Project Email

Project Email has been one of those things that people immediately get about Newforma Project Center “but in the past we've only been able to meet that need for people who are on Outlook and Exchange,” said Batcheler. Seventh Edition supports any mainstream email client and server environment that supports that an IMAP-compatible email server.

This is especially useful in the AEC business where a firm is often composed of a large central office with multiple distributed smaller offices or a network of peers in distributed regional offices. When a project has portions of work shared between multiple offices or multiple offices have to interact on a particular project, one of the things databases allow you to do well is replicated information through out a distributed environment. Seventh Edition is able to mirror the project data from the primary server hosting that project out to remote offices, so those offices can have access to that data at LAN speeds.

“You can browse through the messages in preview mode or you can filter messages based on visible text which is primarily the header and the first summary bit of information. You can also search for messages, you type in a search term and we search all email messages, header, body and content of messages as well content of all attachments and return search results,” said Batcheler.

In the various activity centers, whether action item, submittal, or RFI, on the Newforma Project Center client, there's always a tab called email log in which the various email messages associated with that item are captured so there is a decision trail around each of these activities. The email log has also been made accessible through Info Exchange for each of the activity centers. An internal user would see the full email log, an external team member, perhaps a contractor, would only be able to see the items that were sent to them or sent by them.

Security is controlled at the project settings level. In Seventh Edition the project settings dialog has been simplified. Users can choose to disable Project Email through Info Exchange while at the same time submittals and RFIs are published for a particular project. Similarly the user can control individual team members' access to information for the key areas of action items, calendar, emails, submittals, RFIs for each team member on the project, whether external or internal.

“We realized it was possible to get the simplicity of project email addressing without the IT burden,” said Howell. “With the addition of only a single email inbox on your server we can route messages based on the Project Email address through that one inbox and have it wind up in the right projects across hundreds of thousands of different projects. We overcame the prior negatives of Project Email address to create a very effective solution for our customers. It has a particular benefit for the smartphone user because on smartphones we're not into developing device dependent apps on every possible smartphone device. Instead, with a simple technique of entering a Project Email address on any email message you can either forward a message to the project record by forwarding it to the email address, or you can send a file on the project as you're composing an outgoing message to have it wind up automatically on the project record.”

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