Using Bluebeam: Real Time Savings—And Much More

From speed of approval to being able to free up storage space for other purposes, going digital can help public sector organisations process building activity more quickly and efficiently than working on physical paper plans ever could.

How is technology transforming construction project workflows? 

The world is rapidly going digital. But while a variety of industries are embracing digital ways of working, construction has been slower to do so. 

As some commentators suggest, for many of those involved in the building business, particularly older workers, digital technology is considered a great unknown rather than something to be embraced as a working concept. 

Such attitudes need to be addressed, because organisations can benefit massively from doing more of their day-to-day tasks digitally, as can other industry stakeholders. 

In a series of articles, Built will look at how different elements of going digital can benefit the public sector when it comes to permitting development plans. 

First we’ll consider how switching from paper to digital project plans can improve submitting, reviewing, amending and approving the necessary applications to get building projects started. 

Embracing digital transformation in public sector planning 

Public sector organisations all over the world provide a range of services to ensure that communities get the most—and the best—out of where they live and work. 

What these services also share worldwide is pressure to do the job with limited resources. Departments are stretched in terms of personnel; money is tight and timetables are even tighter. 

Faster approvals 

When it comes to public sector planning and approvals, local authorities have to juggle countless applications for permissions to build while making sure that submitted plans are examined diligently and with care.  

Inevitably plans change, which impacts delivery schedules. Prompted by this and the need to cut down the length of time it takes to draw up, consider and approve plans, the construction sector has begun transferring physical documentation over into the digital space.  

Where once reams of paper were involved, now digital project plans can be created and, where necessary, altered with just a few keystrokes. The relevant authorities can also confirm such changes online. 

This digital planning process saves time and money. Plans for projects can be created, amended, assessed and approved faster, building work can commence earlier, and with such a process behind it, best quality outcomes can be more likely. 

Space saving 

Several public sector departments in the US and the UK that have switched from physical documentation recognise another benefit of going over to digital project plans.  

Charlie Mendenhall, supervising building inspector for local plan reviews for the county of Merced in California, said prior to transferring to digital he and his colleagues faced two problems. First off, they lacked space to store the department’s paper plans. 

More significantly, they faced a series of delays and inefficiencies resulting from routing plans through four different departments, spread across three buildings, all several miles apart. 

“We had two ways to route plans and they both had drawbacks,” Mendenhall said. “The first was to send a set to each department and have them do their reviews. That resulted in corrections and revisions being sent and received by multiple people and having three or four sets of approved plans which did not match. 

“The procedure used for most of my time here was to keep reviewing until we had an approved set, then move that to the next department, until all departments had finally approved it. It could take anywhere from weeks to months.” 

Before moving to a digital system, Mendenhall’s department had a standard response time of four to eight weeks for the initial review upon submittal. But with Bluebeam that has been reduced to a maximum of 30, and sometimes as few as 14 days, for all departments to have the initial review done and building permit issued or the necessary corrections sent. 

Why public sector planning teams are using Bluebeam 

Christopher “Topher” Barnes, manager of the Development Services Center for the city of Henderson, in southern Nevada just outside Las Vegas, said he thought there might be issues when it came to transferring to Bluebeam from physical plans. 

“We had some plan reviewers who I thought would be slowest to adopt because in the early pilot season they weren’t that keen,” he said. “They really like physical plans, being able to flip through them and to see everything.”  

“But once we gave them the proper screen displays in their offices, they have become quickly accustomed to it. I wouldn’t be able to get those same people to even touch paper now.” 

Meanwhile in Coral Springs, a small city northwest of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Alex Hernandez, chief building official for its Building Department, and his colleagues decided they wanted to provide digital project plans for customers who were working remotely after the outbreak of COVID-19, and opted to use Bluebeam Revu.  

“When COVID-19 hit, most of our permits were being completed on paper and we had to come up with a quick solution,” Hernandez said. “Paper plans needed to be physically routed to several different departments, sometimes taking 15 days to complete a round of reviews.  

“Bluebeam has allowed us to reduce that review time down to five days. With Bluebeam every department can review the plans at the same time.” 

Hernandez said the switch to digital has greatly reduced the amount of time his department spends on reviewing, scanning and storing plans. “Time is money in the construction industry, so our electronic plan review has become very popular with our customers. We’re currently at nearly 80% electronic in terms of plan reviews, which is a great position to be in, given we issue approximately 10,000 permits a year,” he adds. 

Beyond saving the hassle and time having to work with paper documents, using a digital system such as Bluebeam also rewards users by making any changes much easier to carry out. 

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council in south Wales wanted to develop a new, state-of-the-art bus terminal facility next to the railway station, one that would be a modern, high-quality transport hub, fit for the future.  

It would form the first piece of the strategic town centre master plan and act as a catalyst for regional mobility and connectivity to boost the town’s redevelopment. 

Bluebeam’s Design Review came into its own by allowing the project partners to mark up and collaborate on the same documents in real time and remotely, meaning the team could communicate project data better, with customised, in-depth annotations and allowed them to cut design review times in half. 

Digitise plan reviews, approvals and more with Bluebeam today 

These public sector organisations have made the switch to digital project plans and seen the benefits which can be achieved. For details on how switching to digital could help your organisation with smoother workflows, click here

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