A Digital Dashboard for All Phases

Barton Malow Sr. VDC Engineer Steffanie Schrader breaks down the use of dashboards from pursuits to closeout
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“I came onboard to Barton Malow five years ago, and they had already been using them,” says Sr. VDC Engineer Steffanie Schrader. By “them” Steffanie is referring to digital dashboards, a PDF-based document management system concept that has rapidly been gaining momentum within the construction industry. Many firms are using them for closeout and turnover, as the organization of a hyperlinked, digital PDF map is more visually appealing and navigable for owners as an alternative to traditional paper-based O&M packages. “In the past year, I’ve seen our project teams do some really cool stuff with their closeout dashboards in Bluebeam Revu. But you can do so many other things with them that create ease of access for everybody involved, which makes it an extremely valuable tool across the whole project,” explains Schrader. Dashboards allow for document access so that anyone who needs to look at drawings can click through the entire file structure to find anything they need. I don’t feel like there’s anybody on the job who wouldn’t be able to use dashboards.” They are also being used for company branding and standardization.

Top Three Value Propositions for Dashboards:

  • Document Management, Control and Access
  • Standardization and Company Identity
  • Project Turnover, O&M Packages

Dashboard design and creation

“As firms begin to collate project information, I would put the creation and design really into the hands of project engineers because they’re typically supposed to be owning document control,” explains Schrader. Given the project engineer’s scope of duties, they already know where everything is located, and they can also be in charge of making sure it stays organized. “If you have a disorganized engineer, then you have a whole other issue,” says Schrader with a laugh. “As far as who’s using the dashboard, I feel like that’s everybody—including the project engineer.”

Part of the appeal to dashboards is also the relative simplicity to which they can be created. It doesn’t take a CAD degree or coding design knowledge to create a fully functional setup. In fact, something as easy as PowerPoint can be used to create the design, or everything can be done within Revu. “I created all of the aesthetics of the dashboard in PowerPoint, as I don’t have any design background but I know how to use PowerPoint. I put all the pictures in and added all the icons, so when I was ready to go, I just exported them all to PDF and then I just put the hyperlinks on top of it.” The industry-specific markup tools in Revu make the creation of the logistical elements of the dashboard a straight forward process. “I use the markup tools and text tools in Bluebeam [Revu] and then use grouping, order and lock, so I can flatten certain elements and create my hyperlinks over the flattened the text. On some of them, I just drew the box around [items] to get my hyperlinks,” says Schrader.

Four Phases and Use Cases of Dashboards

Pursuits

Client presentations can certainly make a great impression to solidify the project relationship between owners and general contractors. Dashboards can become a visual welcome to explain to owners how the project will be set up. “We can demonstrate software and communications, relevant experience, a site logistics plan, put buttons onto schedules, and map out what is going to be happening. To be honest, I think that the presentation portion is often the least flashy. I mean you could probably really do more with it,” discloses Schrader. “If a repeat client sees a dashboard for more than one project, they know it’s something they can come to expect as part of our package. The customer doesn’t have to search for their content anymore. On our end, we do get project engineers and interns in and out all the time, so it’s nice for them to know exactly where they need to go all the time. And if we can use them throughout the company, then that obviously helps with our cohesiveness.”

Construction

The construction aspect of the dashboards entails document access during the job. ”Things like safety, financial, weather, schedules, and so forth are all things you would see in the document access dashboard. Everything is all there and hyperlinked, and I do use both hyperlinking to a page within the PDF and hyperlinking to go out to a folder structure using Box Drive,” outlines Steffanie. “You can use SharePoint or anything like that to host the links.” Dashboards in this way become much like the layout of your smartphone; you can simply click on the icon or tab for whatever document category or aspect you might need to reference, and the link will take you to the PDF or stored location of the document or file.

Reporting

“Dashboards can help in reporting as well,” explains Steffanie. “Especially for project needs that yield a whole static set of reports that need to be done every week, two weeks, monthly, and then obviously closeout. You can access weekly metrics, weather delays, coordination, and so forth.” This reporting aspect of dashboards can be shared with project stakeholders like clients or architect administrators, which keeps them for having to ask for it. They know that they can always find that information in the dashboard.

Closeout

While turnover has previously resulted in dusty binders and disorganized manuals, dashboards are a great value to the closeout process for owners. A digital PDF with everything you need for turnover and servicing is a much more visually appealing alternative to the previous packages, which are tedious for engineers to compile at the end of a project. Instead, dashboards allow that information to be compiled during the progress of a job, as opposed to just the last two weeks.

Time investment and future value

With just a little bit of up front time and effort, the value of the dashboard across the lifecycle of a job is more than worth it. “If I had all the content ready, I could probably start a dashboard from a blank PDF to having it hyperlinked and done in probably under an hour,” says Steffanie. That minimal time commitment also extends to dashboard maintenance. “Dashboards shouldn’t have to be maintained if they are designed the right way. Say every week you run a new report for the same thing, instead of renaming that report something, it’s always the current report and that way your hyperlink doesn’t have to change. It always goes to the same document and then you don’t have to rework the dashboard at any time unless you want to make a major structural change. That dashboard itself should be static. It’s just the sheets that it’s referencing, which are in file folder locations, are the ones that are going to be changing. As far as maintaining these things go, I don’t think there should be a major investment in time at all.”

The concept of dashboards seems to have really taken hold, so if you are thinking of creating one for your project, it is probably a fairly safe investment towards the future. “I think because PDFs are so easy to use, it’s probably going to take a very long time for that to change. So, I don’t really think we have to worry about dashboards being a flash in the pan because it’s just so much easier for people who are not intimately familiar with the documentation on the job, like a project engineer would be, to access what they need quickly. I’ve seen anybody from the field walk up to a dashboard and click what they need with no instruction needed. So, I see [dashboard] use gaining even more traction. Having all of your project information together in one place. I mean, it’s so efficient. Why would you go back?”