Organizations that are involved in delivering capital projects, always have the question is whether can a PMIS such as PMWeb co-exists with a Collaboration Document Management Solution like Aconex on the same project. The answer is for sure yes. Although a PMIS includes the collaboration and document management system functions for which they will overlap with those of the Collaboration Document Management Solutions but there are many other functions and features that only a PMIS would have. A PMIS will be always needed to manage the hundreds of project management processes that need to be performed on a capital project and the big data that will be captured while performing those processes. This will enable the organization to have the insight to make better and faster-informed decisions as well as monitor, evaluate and report on the performance of those processes as well as the project overall.
The Overlap: What Are the Two Most Important Functions that Most Aconex Users Use and How a PMIS Will Address Them?
The two most used functions that Aconex provides for project team members are to capture the details of project documents and project mail communications. The document module is used to upload and store the different types of project documents including contract drawings, shop drawings, as-built drawings, specifications, agreements, catalogs, meeting minutes, contract agreements, change orders, and progress invoices among others. It allows the user to capture and upload the details of project documents such as document number, document title, version, revision, discipline, attributes such as location, status, type, size, file name if it is confidential or not, date modified, revision date among others.
In a Project Management Information System (PMIS) like PMWeb, this will be achieved using the document management repository. PMWeb allows adding all needed user-defined fields and attributes for uploaded and stored project documents. Those documents could be in any file format. In addition, PMWeb also allows uploading the documents into their designated file folder which many collaboration applications including Aconex do not provide. This feature of document folders is important not only to map the project filing system but to also limit access to each folder to authorized users. When a project is completed and documents need to be archived, the set filing structure will be the basis for creating the folder structure for the extracted documents.
Aconex’s second most used module in the mail form is used to transmit project communications but wrongly assumed by many that it can be used to automate the hundreds of project management processes needed during the engineering and construction project life cycle phases. Similar to other project mail communications, Aconex can transmit communication from the issuer to a group of individuals. It has no workflow to distribute the mail communication as per the set workflow steps that each project management process or communication would usually have. In addition, and since there is no workflow assigned to those mail communications, requirements for approval authority levels and distribution conditions cannot be incorporated into the mail communication. For each mail, Aconex will capture mail ID, thread ID, mail number, sent date, subject, mail type (since Aconex does not have an input form for the many project management process, those could be RFI, site instructions, transmittal, etc. although a template can be created for each) from the organization, from the user to the organization, attributes such as location, if response required and required response date, status, if it is confidential or not among others.
In a PMIS like PMWeb, this will be achieved by using the ready-to-use transmittal module although the PMWeb correspondence module is considered to be the exact duplicate of the Aconex mail module. PMWeb correspondence module has by default most of the needed fields with the option to add more fields. In addition, a layout template for each type of communication can be added for the desired form similar to what Aconex mail has. This will be achieved by saving the desired communication layout as an HTML file and then uploading this file into the PMWeb layouts repository.
On the other hand, the transmittal module includes the fields included in the Aconex mail module as well as any other additional fields that could be needed to manage project communications. The transmittal form allows linking PMWeb records to be transmitted for review and approval or shared just for information. The PMWeb transmittal form also allows adding checklists to verify the quality of the transmitted communication before it is sent. In addition, the PMWeb transmittal form allows attaching all relevant documents as well as adding links to other PMWeb records as well as to imported MS Outlook emails.
Nevertheless, what makes the major difference between the PMWeb transmittal module and the Aconex mail module is that PMWeb provides the ability to have a workflow to transmit those records whereas Aconex does not have that option. PMWeb workflow will be used to fulfill the complete project communication requirements. The workflow will allow the distribution and submit all transmittals and attached documents for review and approval. PMWeb visual workflow allows also adding the approval authority levels to the workflow steps to ensure that those conditions are fulfilled. Aconex does not have the workflow option for the mail module which is used to transmit project management communications as well as communicate the different project management processes.
So, can a Project Management Information System like PMWeb co-exist with a Document Management System like Aconex on the Same Project?
The answer is yes but it depends on the strategy of how this is to be achieved. Two options can be considered. Both options will use Aconex as the central document management repository for which all project documents will be uploaded into Aconex. Nevertheless, the difference will be to either use the Aconex document management module as the solution to distribute and share project documents using Aconex document management workflow or use PMWeb as the platform to distribute and share project information and attach documents that are uploaded into Aconex to PMWeb project management by either attaching the document URL address or creating an integration to enable PMWeb to access documents uploaded into Aconex directly and attach them to the relevant PMWeb record.
The first option will enable the organization’s document controller to continue using Aconex the way they have been using Aconex to upload and transmit documents. On the other hand, PMWeb will become the platform used to create different project communications and formal communications. PMWeb will provide a single web-enabled platform to capture and share everyday project communication and information.
PMWeb will achieve this by implementing 5-steps for managing any project management process. Those are: #1 Capture data in each process Input Form whether this was one of PMWeb ready-to-use forms or newly created forms using PMWeb custom form builder, #2 Attach all supportive documents and add links to other relevant PMWeb records and imported MS Outlook emails, #3 Distribute the form to its intended recipients using PMWeb Workflow to formalize the review and approval process, #4 Generate the output form needed for formal project communications when needed and #5 Generate real-time reports, logs, and charts for the different project management processes transactions. The output form and reports will be also saved in a PDF file format so they can be uploaded to Aconex Document Management Repository so can be stored and shared with project team members who need to receive those forms and reports.
The second option will also require following the 5 steps detailed in the first option but with the added function of attaching documents uploaded and stored in Aconex into the relevant PMWeb process. This will be covered under step #2 where there are three options to associate the documents uploaded into Aconex with PMWeb. The first option will be the link option where the document URL from Aconex will be copied and then pasted into the PMWeb hyperlink field. The second option will be to download the relevant documents uploaded into Aconex and then attach them to the PMWeb record with the option to upload and store them in PMWeb’s document management repository in the specified folder or subfolder. The third option is the option of creating an integration to access the Aconex document management repository directly from PMWeb.
Regardless of which option is selected, the project management processes that will be generated and managed by PMWeb will include hundreds of records in different forms and formats including RFIs, Meeting Minutes, Daily Reports, Safety Incidents, Budget, Budget Adjustments, Bids, Bids Comparison, Contracts, Potential Change Orders, Change Orders, Progress Invoices, Inspection Checklists, HSE Audit Checklists, Gate Passes, Work Permits, Design Review, and Coordination Checklists, Testing and Commissioning Checklists, Contractors, Consultants and Project Management Team Members Appraisals Forms, Project Charter among many others. PMWeb will ensure that there will be a single web-enabled platform that all authorized project users can access in a secure format to secure the captured data.
The great advantage of capturing everyday project information either through the first or second options detailed above is having a real-time single version of the truth reporting of all project management processes, project and project portfolio status, and performance. The data captured in PMWeb can be visualized in different forms and layouts. Those could be by process group such as cost, contract, risk, quality, HSE, and communications among others. In addition, it can be a project, program, portfolio as well as enterprise level.
In addition, there is also the option to report on the documents uploaded into the Aconex document management repository. Using a third-party integration API for Aconex, the document data captured in Aconex can be extracted and will become available to be reported on by using third-party Business Intelligence IBI) and data visualization applications like MS Power BI, Tableau, and Qlik. If the Aconex mail module was used for other project communications that are not captured in PMWeb, the third-party integration API can also extract the data captured in the mail module so it can be reported similarly to the document management data.
The same third-party business intelligence and data visualization applications can be also used to read the data from PMWeb along with the data extracted from Aconex to generate combined multi-data source reports and dashboards. The data from those two applications can be associated and blended to provide a real-time single version of the truth of the project’s performance and status.
About the Author
Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM is a Senior Project Management Consultant with more than 35-year service record providing project management and controls services to over 100 projects with a total value of over US $5 Billion. Those projects included Commercial, Residential, Education, and Healthcare Buildings and Infrastructure, Entertainment and Shopping Malls, Oil and Gas Plants and Refineries, Telecommunication, and Information Technology projects. He is thoroughly experienced in complete project management including project management control systems, computerized project control software, claims analysis/prevention, risk analysis/management (contingency planning), design, supervision, training, and business development.
Bassam is a frequent speaker on topics relating to Project Management, Strategic Project Management, and Project Management Personal Skills. Over the past 35 years, he has lectured at more than 350 events and courses at different locations in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. He has written more than 250 articles on project management and project management information systems that were featured in international and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a co-founder of the Project Management Institute- Arabian Gulf Chapter (PMI-AGC) and has served on its board of directors for more than 6 years. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a certified Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP), an Earned Value Professional (EVP) from the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE), and a Green Project Management (GPM).
Bassam holds a Master’s in Engineering Administration (Construction Management) with Faculty Commendation, from eorgGeorgehington University, Washington, D.C., USA, Bachelor in Civil Engineering – at Kuwait University, Kuwait, and has attended many executive management programs at Harvard Business School, Boston, USA, and London Business School, London, UK.