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What ‘collaboration’ means to Drawboard

What ‘collaboration’ means to Drawboard

July 4th, 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? We thought a series to canvas the best and cleverest of our add-on partners to see if they’ve got a hole-in-one with their definitions might help us clarify. For the first in this series, we’re talking to Drawboard’s head of product, Rowan Matz, to get the score on what collaboration means to them.

Rowan says that, for Drawboard and their cloud-based product, Drawboard Projects, “collaboration has to be effortless and it has to be really, really accessible.” Sounds good to us!

Back to the old Drawboard — the match with Microsoft

Drawboard began as a startup in Melbourne, Australia in 2011 and released a prototype for their first PDF markup tool, Drawboard PDF, the following year.

Rowan says, “that prototype was very much focused on pen and touch, which is something that hadn’t really been done on a Windows platform until that point. The timing was very good alongside Microsoft pushing touch and pen devices like the Surface and really evolving the quality of those devices — making them really usable.

“We straddled that momentum and Drawboard grew pretty quickly. We worked very heavily with the users that came on board early and took their feedback to create a very smart but user-friendly PDF tool. Then Microsoft got wind of this and really liked that we were pushing the same values as they were and pre-loaded us onto their devices. That really catapulted us into relevance.”

That’s why Synergy and Drawboard Projects are integrated wink — architects, engineers and construction designers need to share PDF docs between them and their project teams and that’s easy in Synergy. But Synergy doesn’t allow for mark-up, so you can quickly open a PDF from a Synergy folder in Drawboard Projects at the click of a button, mark-up that document, then save it and see the new version in Synergy. All you have to do then is share that to your project portal. Collaboration — between products and teams — in action.

The birth of Drawboard Projects — of the (AEC) people, for the (AEC) people

As Drawboard’s user base grew, their interactions with users grew and their learning deepened.

Rowan said Drawboard learnt quite a lot from everybody, but in particular the architectural, engineering and construction design (AEC) space.

“They loved the fact that they could just pick up the pen and do what they had otherwise always done, except that it’s digital,” he said.

“But, through talking to customers, we learnt there was still a big problem around being able to actually collaborate and that’s where Drawboard Projects was born. As a cloud collaboration product.

“Being a cloud-based system it needs to be able to integrate with existing systems. It is not a stand-alone document management tool, so it has to integrate with those and fit within those workflows. What’s become very clear from our users is that Drawboard Projects is a work-in-progress tool — for everyone on the project at every stage of the project.”

Integration, transparency and speed — go team!

Ensuring Drawboard Projects worked seamlessly into existing systems and exchanged data with integrations was top priority for Drawboard — they understood that these concerns were central to customers using the software. Streamlining processes while increasing accessibility remains key for Drawboard Projects’ ongoing development.

Drawboard uses APIs to integrate with the AEC industry’s most used software.

Rowan says, “we integrate with Procore and Synergy. We’ve recently released an installation with Aconex and we’re working through Autodesk integrations at the moment, too.

“One of the things we’re most excited about is the direct integration from Revit to publish drawings straight into a Drawboard Projects project — this turns Drawboard Projects into the quick feedback loop for designs to go out, get feedback, and get iterated on very quickly — we’re shortening the feedback cycle.”

Drawboard Projects’ mission — striking out waste

The Drawboard Projects mission is laser focused — effectively eliminate physical and digital waste from the design and construction team process.

We’ve all seen it, and some of us still work in it — offices littered with printing. Inefficiencies and cluttered systems borne of ye olde methods not quite evolved into the new. Drawings reaching a project member whose tech use isn’t what you’d call savvy. That teammate needing to print and markup drawings on paper, scan them, re-upload them to a server for next stage revisions, version control hell, lost documents, reams of bin-ready printing, etcetera.

“You walk onto a site or you walk into a studio and there’s paper everywhere,” Rowan says.

“There are people working in silos created by different technology providers — making the jump from one to another mid-process has traditionally been quite difficult.

“If there’s no common language to fall back on, people fall back on printing. And when you’re printing, you’re doing a lot of work to share that information with others. Hence there’s a lot of waste over time and digital waste as well.

“We want to lift the industry as far as the technology can take us and move it away from printing and paper and scanning, while also providing a really beautiful, pleasant experience as far as the actual software is concerned.

“We know collaboration only really happens when everybody’s using the right technology, so we want to make sure it’s accessible to everyone in the industry.”

The importance of AEC-specific software

“Industry-specific software is definitely important” Rowan says.

“If you give someone a pen and a report, they know what to do. They highlight the report, they make notes, they take it in, they share that, it’s fine. When it comes to this industry, there are very specific needs and specific workloads that need to be accounted for.

“But from a software point of view, architects have different needs to engineers, which are different to contractors. But they all have problems collaborating and they all, generally, mark things up with a pen on paper. Ensuring those sort of fundamentals are right for everybody on a project is a challenge and it’s something we’re actively engaging the AEC industry on to find that balance.

“We know this is the commonality — the pen drawing on PDF. We’re creating a way to communicate that and do so with the real-time frequency that’s necessary.”

AEC design technology — hitting it out of the park and into the future

Rowan’s passion about the topic of collaborative AEC technologies is honestly rather catching. We’re also really excited about it here at Total Synergy. So what’s holding the industry back from this bright, cloud-collab future?

“I’m really happy that the industry is pushing towards integrations,” Rowan says.

“This means people can get access to best-in-class technologies they want to use, the things that work best for them. This way it ensures what they do actually fits and works with the other technologies that other people are using — that everybody’s speaking a common language.

“I do think there’s still a long way to go for this industry to really move forward. And I don’t necessarily think it’s a matter of making the technology more advanced or more powerful. I think part of it is making it more accessible.

“We need to think more about people on the ground who are actually doing a lot of the work and who are the ones who have to resort to printing.”

We hear you Rowan. Collaboration means easily integrated systems that everyone can access. Everywhere. Drawboard’s certainly bringing that to the AEC game… and the crowd is cheering.

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