What ‘collaboration’ means to 12d SynergyAugust 1st, 2019
The word ‘collaboration’ gets thrown around so much you need to be a pro-baller just to keep up. We’re less pro-athlete and more armchair-enthusiast when it comes to stuff like this — does it mean just ‘working together’, or maybe ‘working together well’? Who knows? This is the second instalment in our series to canvas the best and cleverest of our add-on partners to see if their definitions might help us clarify. Here we’re volleying with 12d Synergy’s cofounder and CEO Joel Gregory about what collab connotes for them.
“Our vision really is to transform the lives of our customers, enabling flexible working conditions — transferring large data sets and enabling collaboration across geographically dispersed construction project teams.”Joel Gregory, Cofounder and CEO, 12d Synergy
Out of the rubble — 12d Synergy’s customer-need-based inception
12d Synergy formed after a series of devastating earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011. 12d Model — 12d Synergy’s parent product — was chosen as the primary software package for survey design and drainage for the resulting rebuild effort.
“But,” says Joel, “they didn’t have any data management solutions that fitted their needs. There just wasn’t anything available. The project was rife with misplaced documents, duplicates, slow transfer speeds. There was no audit trail — there was nothing keeping everything together”.
Recognizing an industry need in the rubble, 12d sought out feedback from those customers they’d worked with during the Christchurch recovery to articulate gaps and problems in processes.
Joel says, “We developed 12d Synergy specifically for the needs of architects, engineers, and construction (AEC) professionals, because in the AEC market it’s not just thousands of documents and emails, there’s also gigabytes of geospatial data, CAD drawings, lots of data that is unique to our industry. Most generic systems just don’t manage those data types.
“12d Synergy was developed to provide a single source of truth for emails, documents, and geospatial data, while giving a complete audit trail from the very start of a project right through to completion and eventual archive process.
“For us at 12d Synergy, collaboration means moving data across computers, offices and sometimes even continents. Unfortunately for the AEC sector, data is measured in GBs not MBs, and this makes collaboration very clunky and difficult. Fortunately, we have developed intelligent transfer technology which can reduce data transferred by up to 91 percent for certain data types”.
Joel attributes 12d Synergy’s considerable growth trajectory (from 350 users four years ago, to over 5,000 today) to its style of development. Necessity as mother, as it were. “The fact that it’s solving a customer problem,” he says, “I think we’ve really hit those pain points, and that’s what it’s about — creating software that has all the features to deal with genuine problems”.
A rather tricky problem it is too. The AEC sector has very specialized, very large data sets that need to change hands often. From engineering consultants, to surveyors, construction companies, architects, town planners, electrical engineers, government departments, everyone involved in a built environment project will need to see the data at some point.
The dark ages before 12d Synergy
Pre- 12d Synergy, shifting large-data files between stakeholders was a major bottleneck of work for AEC project teams, says Joel. It was certainly one of the biggest inhibitors to collaboration and the largest contributor to the blow out in cost and time that was our industry’s wince-inducing norm.
“Previously, nearly every customer we spoke to had their data sitting on a Windows network drive and everyone just accessed it from their local machines” Joel says. “Networks were being hammered because massive projects were constantly being transferred across the network during the collaboration process. Slow performance and continual network congestion were a real problem. And that was the standard working process.
“There was no version control. If you accidentally deleted a file you’d have to go to IT, and it might take a couple of days to get the backups. If you were sharing with another office, they’d just be creating full duplicates of folders and project files, and then try to make sure that you were working on the latest one. Duplicates were everywhere. So, most companies would just work from one office or a project office. Because it was too hard to share data between locations.
“Traditionally the biggest headache for our markets was the data sizes. They’re too big, and the problem is they’re growing much more rapidly than the internet speeds are getting faster. With LIDAR, laser scanning, and everything else under the sun, the data set that used to be 10 megabytes, is now a gigabyte. It’s growing exponentially, and it’s not slowing down.”
You may ask why we don’t just jazz up those internet speeds. Increase them and solve the issue. Good question, comrade.
“The answer isn’t getting bigger pipes because they’ll never get big enough,” Joel says. “So it’s about doing things smarter with products like 12d Synergy to move that data around in a more intelligent way so that you can work from Townsville just as easily as you could from Sydney.”
Or from any regional location just as easily as from a major city, as the case may be.
Customers — the world’s best collaborators
The other important part of collaboration for a good SaaS company is always the interaction and communication with customers. Staying in close and continual exchange with them about how to enable and improve their collaboration efforts. That’s where the magic juice is, and 12d Synergy knows it.
Joel says, “Like Total Synergy, we’ve got an extremely loyal and close user base. We’re constantly talking to them, and let’s be honest, that’s where all our great ideas come from. We don’t go off in a vacuum and come up with this stuff. It’s pretty simple really — you talk to customers, you find out their problems, and then you create software and processes to solve those problems.
“Some companies seem to ignore their customers, particularly our larger competitors, whereas we see it as a real strategic advantage to get in there and work closely with them. Because if our customers are more efficient, they will be more profitable, and they will need more of our software. That, I think, is the real opportunity for growth, win-win relationships between vendors and customers.
“From our customers’ perspective, a major differentiator in how they utilize us to collaborate came about in version three — released in 2016. We introduced a file replication server, which allows our users to cache their data to local offices rather than having to transfer those data sets across different offices or even across different continents. It’s a really cost-effective solution, even for really small companies.
“After we released the File Replication Servers and other features, it was interesting to hear the feedback and stories from the users themselves.”
Everyone wants to go home with Travis
Those stories gave a human perspective to the benefits provided by 12d Synergy. Travis March was working as a Senior Civil Designer on the Toowoomba Range project in Queensland when the 12d Synergy team spoke to him.
“He said before 12d Synergy they were essentially chained to their desks” Joel says. “They couldn’t work from home or any other office because it was too slow, so they literally had to be in the project office to get work done.
“When deadlines hit, they’re working incredible hours. Once they implemented 12d Synergy, all of a sudden he could work from anywhere which, on a personal level, for him, meant that he could finish work at say 5:30, go home, see his kids, have dinner, tuck them into bed, then connect from his home office and continue working for another two or three hours into the night — for him there were all these whizz-bang benefits that we were talking about. He said, ‘Mate, I just get to see my family every night when previously I would barely see them during the week’”.
“Those are some of the personal benefits that come from a system that enables you to work, share, and collaborate from anywhere in the world.
“Projects need staff and in hot markets like Sydney and Melbourne in recent years, it’s been extremely difficult for our customers to find enough skilled staff members to get the job done. So they’re relocating people to these major cities or FIFOing existing staff members, both at great cost. With 12d Synergy you can send the work to the quieter offices. All of a sudden instead of laying staff off in Perth or regional centers, you can actually send them work from Sydney.
“That becomes not just a warm and fuzzy ‘flexible working’ benefit from a user perspective, but it becomes a strategic advantage for our customers because they can increase their capacity in the hot markets. And rather than making staff redundant in the quiet offices, they can keep them busy and retain them for the next upswing in the market. And as you know, our industry is so boom or bust, so anything can even out this cycle is beneficial to employee retention and our customer’s bottom line.”
Find out more about how you can use Synergy and 12d Synergy together on the Synergy add-on page.