For more than a decade, architects have used CAD programs to draw and adjust home plans. But, for the most part, until recently, those files stayed stuck in their computers. When it came time to share the drawings and plans, the bulky pages were printed, rolled inside a tube, and then couriered–an expensive and time-consuming process.
The size of CAD data files, and the lack of standardization of computer programs among architects and other designers, made sharing files from computer to computer problematic. However, a number of new software packages have emerged that allow home plans to flow from architect to engineer to builder to trade contractors without hitting paper, saving both time and money.
"We are going to recoup our money, probably this year," says Lisa Bouyer, a business systems analyst at Standard Pacific who has been rolling out Buzzsaw to the company's 26 divisions.
Buzzsaw is probably the most common architectural file-handling program being adopted by big builders because it's owned by Autodesk, makers of the CAD software architects use the most. It provides centralized online storage of plans and allows users to mark up plans, make notes, and then send out notification of changes.
Improving communications has been a major Buzzsaw achievement at Technical Olympic USA, says Jeff Lothian, the vice president of product development. "It's probably the biggest challenge all builders have," he says. "We sub out all our work, so not only do we have to communicate internally with all our associates, but with the rest of the world as well; architects, structural engineers, our trade base, everybody."
Buzzsaw is helping TOUSA stay on the same page with all the players. "We use it so our trade base can access the plans they want at any given moment," Lothian says. "Associates can look at any of the plans and provide feedback in a different fashion. The site allows us to do mark ups online–move a door two feet, make a note of this, post it on Buzzsaw, and everybody is notified."
He admits, "there are some drawbacks." Chief among them is getting less sophisticated trade partners educated and comfortable with using the system. "We've overcome most of those obstacles," he says.
While Buzzsaw is providing solutions for some builders, other products are also filling the niche need for software to handle building plans.
David Weekley Homes uses Buzzsaw in some of its divisions, but others use a much less sophisticated, and also less expensive, software program called SwiftView to handle its plans. "This is not a data warehouse per se (as Buzzsaw is), but you can use it to send plans electronically and they, in turn, can print and review the plans and so forth," says Bill Justus, Weekley's vice president of supply chain services. SwiftView is a one-time cost, he says.
Some builders might not need a system as involved and sophisticated as Buzzsaw, he says. Before making a commitment to buying software or choosing a particular system, "You have to make sure what it is you are trying to accomplish. ... And then try to attach a price tag and a cost analysis to fulfilling each one of those individual needs," Justus says.
EZ Cyber Meetings
Those looking for a way to collaborate online in real time on projects involving architectural plans, might check out eZmeeting, a new product developed by Alexandria, La.–based Sigma Design. Charlie White, CEO, developed the software as a side business to his design and construction and his real estate management companies so that clients, construction superintendents, trades, and other parties involved in a design could all literally be on the same page online, often eliminating the need for face-to-face meetings.
The eZ software is available for free at www.ezmeeting.com, but there is a $99 monthly fee to use the conferencing function. Users joining the online conference can view all types of computer files–subdivision plans, photographs, detailed drawings–and mark them up with notes and arrows as everybody watches in real time. The meeting can also be saved for future reference. There are plans to add a tool that allows users to measure spaces on plans as well.
"For me, it gives me the ability to make rapid decisions, which is literally worth thousands of dollars a day," White says.
Options Online started as an online catalog of options offered by builders. Buyers could browse the catalog and choose features, which would be placed on a digital floor plan of the home. The buyer also could access the site to look at his home. The company's purchasing department could use the digital floor plan to order the extras. The on-site workers could look at the plan to see what was supposed to be included on the house and where to put them. The escrow department could use it to figure out house pricing. And company management could generate reports that would show what features were selling well where.
"We are going to end up with an end-to-end operating system for builders," says Mike Moore, president. "Everything but accounting." Options Online charges the builder a fee for storing the information for each home unit.
Outsourced to Outhouse
Outhouse, a company that drafts construction documents, renderings, and animation and creates 3-D elevation renderings for builders, has developed Contrado, a software program that allows builders to collaborate on files via the Internet.
The software also includes an electronic bidding module that allows Outhouses' customers to bid-out projects via the Internet.
"It was designed to be a less expensive and simpler version of Buzzsaw," says Steve Evans, Outhouse's marketing director. Outhouse prefers to offer that module as a free add-on for its other builder services rather than sell it. Richmond American is one of its clients.