With ever more complex construction projects, and more geographically dispersed virtual teams, technology is becoming an integral part of building projects today. Virtual design and construction (VDC) means that it is essential to be able to communicate effectively at every stage of an architectural project. No longer do teams have to gather around the same table for workshops. Interactive whiteboards are now the bridge that traverses the geographical gap between stakeholders in projects, and facilitates engagement, whether participants are on-site, at headquarters in a meeting room, or even overseas.
The technology enables architects to share project information in a highly interactive and visual manner. They can annotate on most programs with a pen or their finger, and then wipe off with the side of their fist. They can engage multiple stakeholders, offering real time collaboration opportunities at key points in the design process. They can walk clients through a building, moving doors and walls in real time, based on feedback, and delivering a truly responsive 3-D client experience.
Indeed, architects today are using interactive whiteboards in the field, in their offices for training, in meeting rooms to communicate with clients, and everywhere in between. Staff members are engaging through their iPads and smartphones, feeding into the process where previously they would have been somewhat alienated and out of touch.
It is clear that the richness of communication and collaboration available through interactive whiteboard technology makes for a more effective process in virtual teams. However, the technology is equally as useful when deployed in meeting rooms to facilitate brainstorming, problem-solving and design solutions. Smart boards can be integrated with 3-D CAD and other architectural files, through utilisation of design software, to create a compelling canvas on which teams can work.
Let’s take a look at how some architects in the UK, and around the world, have deployed interactive whiteboards in order to help them to achieve their goals.
This UK company works with the construction industry to model buildings in a virtual environment, before they move on to site. Managing director David Robinson explains that they work with multidisciplinary teams, often forming quite tight knit silos, and bring them all to the design process. They work with structural engineers, architects, services engineers, builders and tradespeople.
The company was always looking for ways to save their clients time and money. By utilising smart board technology they have enabled stakeholders to engage at the point in the project at which they are required. Project members and outside contractors can dial into meetings from their iPhones and tablets without the need to travel to a meeting physically and invest the best part of a day to provide their input. Wherever they are, they can make their comments and annotations, feeding into the overall project.
David Robinson says that smart boards have added massive value to their organisation, by bringing efficiency to the process of collaboration in the design and architectural process. Whereas stakeholders used to have to work on complex red line drawings, they can now work through interactive whiteboard documents and have everything saved and emailed to everyone in the team in an instant. This increases engagement, efficiency and facilitates a better end result.
CADDS Group is a multidisciplinary drafting and design consultancy in Australia. They use smart boards and design software to drive the collaboration in their building information modelling projects.
The use of the technology brings all of their information into one place. Technical queries, PDFs, project plans, and human capital resources are all integrated through a central portal, meaning tremendous working efficiency throughout the process.
Typically, the company works on projects with different design centres, as well as remote design groups and stakeholders. The principal office for project management, design and engineering design is in Perth. Drawings and modelling is centred in the Manila office. With such a dispersed business model the company requires smart boards to facilitate the engagement and collaboration required to reach integrated and comprehensive design solutions.
The system that CADDS Group has put in place means that all drawings and information is updated in real time and therefore workflow is seamless. The processes that have been established mean there is minimal risk of error when a building project moves to site.
Without the improved speed of communication, greater engagement between project members, faster, more integrated design solutions, and the ability to work virtually, provided by interactive whiteboards, the company would be far less effective, and probably unable to deliver the type of service they do to their clients.
GEC Architecture integrated smart boards and conferencing software into their organisation in order to facilitate increased service for their clients. Ken Cartier, lead architect and partner within the company, explains how their clients can now engage with high definition, complex architectural drawings, and collaborate throughout the design process. This enables a more productive environment, ensuring client feedback and buy in to every key decision.
According to the company, the investment in the technology was paid back through a single architectural project.
Interestingly, the processes of communication and collaboration between team members and with clients have improved engagement, speed of communication, quality conformance and even the safety of projects when they move on to site. Crucially, GEC Architecture has found that their clients are more satisfied with the end results, and that repeat business has increased.
The benefits of interactive whiteboards in the architectural industry have been highlighted by studies at Stanford University. Their white paper entitled “User Maturity and Benefits Achieved Through The Use Of Smart Board Technologies in Collaboration Sessions” pinpointed the greatest benefits in the areas of improved customer collaboration, increased productivity, enhanced efficiency and cost saving.
In an industry where getting the drawings and design decisions right is mission-critical, engagement of stakeholders must be efficient and collaborative, and the means of communication must be accessible. As more projects become Virtual Design focused, in response to shifting work trends and a need for companies to save time and money, it will be hard for companies that don’t embrace this technology to compete in the ever more complex and demanding architectural industry.