Have you ever monitored an engineering project on the Internet? Have you ever managed workflow via an online marketplace? My guess is, probably not. Well, like my mother always said, “It’s never to late to be perfect.” Our discussion this month is on workflow. Workflow marketplaces are an hvac engineer’s answer to “the perfect project.”

Workflow Marketplaces

A workflow marketplace provides web-based tracking or collaboration services for complex, iterative, multiparty projects in construction and its sister industries such as hvac. These online areas will generally charge subscriptions but add transaction fees, such as charging an engineer or contractor to print project blueprints. The marketplace’s main purpose is to create an information-sharing network that gives all parties an appropriate view of the project.

When choosing a workflow marketplace, pick one that has a truly integrated project management service: with the ability to tie together all aspects of a project, from bidding straight through to the ribbon cutting. An active marketplace will help reduce recurring risks typically associated with larger projects, such as product delivery, specification sharing, and project penalties. In addition, the marketplace should rapidly improve the time it takes to complete a project. By allowing 24-hr access to project information (through a secure log-on), projects can now be managed from the road, at home, and, in the near future, from a wireless phone or PDA. Engineering firms nationwide have recognized up to a 25% reduction in project costs and duration thanks to the workflow management solution.

The datacentric architecture of some of the more prominent marketplaces comes as a perfect solution for managing multiphase projects, enterprise engagements, and portfolios of projects. In these types of situations, lack of visibility into a project’s status or cumbersome coordination are often impediments to smooth execution. The marketplace can now allow engineering team leaders to manage individual projects, manage a portfolio of projects, and even manage the entire supply chain if so desired.

By allowing immediate delivery of mission-critical information, workflow marketplaces yield access and the ability to exchange information in real time, without waiting for faxes, couriers, or FedEx. Not only does this save thousands of dollars, it also helps prevent missed deadlines, project delays, and costly rework due to miscommunication.

Communication, coordination, and documentation are streamlined when you take advantage of online project management features such as RFIs, submittals, schedules, changeorders, potential changeorders, issues, supplemental instructions, daily reports, meeting minutes, logs, etc.

Worldwide Info Exchange

A Web-based workflow marketplace allows architects, engineers, contractors, and designers to exchange drawings, specifications, and other documents worldwide. Technically, you could manage a project in Australia from your bedroom. I did say technically, not realistically. Many of these sites provide repositories for documents such as CAD drawings. Some even take those drawings, as well as manuals and literature, and burn (backup) them to CD for future integration with the customer’s own facility management systems. Documents such as these are typically viewed through specific “read-only” or “read/write” rules and logic to each workflow document, ensuring data integrity and security.

The one drawback to all of this is the learning curve. Yes, you will need to learn a new online process. Yes, you will need to spend some time training others. Yes, you will need to turn on your computer. Some may not be very accepting to this. All things considered, try to remember this very important fact: the engineering firm the next town over has been managing projects online for over a year now. And you know what? So have their customers.

The two best sites I’ve seen that cater specifically to the workflow management segment are Buzzsaw (www.buzzsaw.com) and their branded management tool called ProjectPoint. Also check out Cephren (www.cephren.com). Their branded project management tool is called ProjectNet.

Around the Web

HVACMall (www.hvacmall.com) was launched (from what I can tell) way back in 1995. However, the site hasn’t changed much since 1998. It is still fairly difficult to navigate and not the prettiest thing in the world to look at. However, the site contains a lengthy events calendar, news and articles, a classified ad section, company search, product search, and a services section. Most of the information seemed like it had been updated quite regularly with a fairly decent influx of information coming in from outside sources. The breakdown of informative areas ranges from association information to human resources information to certification information. Feel free to post a bid or view a bid. The site also contains a glossary of hvac-related terms and says it will be launching several specialized chat rooms shortly.

HVACMall is no masterpiece, but it’s not half bad. At this point, your best bet is to use it as an hvac yellow pages resource.