A team effort

''I was actually looking for a contact database,'' said Toby Adam of Gaunt Francis Architects (GFA). Instead GFA ended up implementing Atvero's information and document management solution, which fulfilled Toby's requirements - and then provided substantially more

GFA are a large, Cardiff and London based architectural practice of over 40 people. The company's projects cover the whole of the country as GFA specialises in designing Retirement Living villages. GFA have completed schemes in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and the Home Counties and, more recently, have finished projects for Audley Retirement Living in Bristol & Malvern.

With projects widely dispersed throughout the country, GFA architects spend a lot of time visiting each of their sites, and to maintain contact with all of the people involved in each of their projects, a dedicated contact database appeared to suit the bill.

GFA was already using several different packages to handle email filing, drawings and documents, but they were all housed in bulky files with separate retrieval systems, some of which needed translating before they could be used. What was critically important to the practice, though, was that with information in separate silos there was no way of easily recovering all of the documents associated with a particular project. You could only go looking for a document if you knew it was there!

Toby said that GFA had already spent a couple of years doing due diligence in their search for a simple document management system, but without success. It was while looking for a contact database at a trade show in London that they came across Atvero, a Project Information Management tool which focuses on Microsoft 365 workflow integration based on SharePoint online, providing a simple but efficient way of retrieving any form of digitally held information. The software is used to manage the full lifecycle of documents and drawings from creation to issue and transmittal, bringing project workflows and software together.

This was a bonus for GFA, as each staff member already has a subscription for Microsoft 365, but they were not using it to its full extent until they implemented Atvero, which then enabled them to maximise the benefits of the service.

Atvero appeals to the basic instincts of architects who, according to Toby, like to be organised. Information retrieval systems are an important office function, and as GFA works totally within a digital environment, it was easy for them to integrate Atvero within their working practices.

In doing so it also forced greater control over the documents by enforcing naming standards - becoming ISO-19650-2 compliant in the process - and building up a detailed history of document versions, as well as access and transmittal information: who did what to which document, and when! Instead of trying to remember if certain documents still existed, Atvero's filter and search capabilities locates all instances of documents and, if requested, the associated information. The time spent in administration and document retrieval is significantly reduced.

As a cloud based SaaS, Atvero is available for GFAs staff on any device, anywhere, providing them with full, mobile access to information using powerful search and filtering. It uses AEC metadata for emails, documents, drawings and any other information - which, incidentally, includes all of the contact information that Toby says they were looking for - but this time it is capable of being linked to any project, any drawing or document and any communication they have had with GFA. There is also an intelligent project email filing and management tool within Atvero supported by an Outlook add-In.

Besides its use of Microsoft 365 workflows and integration with SharePoint, Atvero is primarily aimed at Revit and Autodesk AEC application users. Most of the features that enable its powerful Amazon style filtering and the SharePoint search engine are geared towards Autodesk applications because of their greater ubiquity within the industry. Hence the inclusion of a Revit publishing add-In which allows GFA to publish drawing sheets directly from Revit into Atvero, set status, revision, and classification data, and keep model data consistent with issued information.

In common with many companies across the country, the implementation of Atvero within GFA was impacted by Covid-19. Toby had already introduced the software in some detail to his fellow directors and the rest of the staff before lockdown, as it was important for them to understand the technical attributes of the software and how it would relate to the working practices they had become accustomed to within their office. The launch of the software within the office was to be combined with an upgrading of their compliance systems, using Atvero as the catalyst because it automatically forces a level of compliance into a company's workflow.

During the lockdown, a couple of staff members were tasked with the job of becoming mentors, as they had been using Atvero regularly and were familiar with all aspects of the software. Now, with the possibility of normal working conditions returning for many people, GFA has weekly meetings on Microsoft Teams to iron out any issues that arise from using the software. Currently GFA is in its second phase of launching the software for more of the company's projects.

Although the pandemic has impacted the working practices of many companies, one area has seen unprecedented gains from the pandemic, namely video conferencing. With both Zoom and Microsoft Teams becoming de facto methods of communication for meetings, press launches and conferences, Microsoft Teams has proved particularly beneficial for GFA. They have used it for office meetings, training sessions, and discussions with Atvero, and have taken part in project specific chats with their clients as well as themed group discussions.

As much of the industry will now be totally familiar with Teams, they will know that Atvero's Microsoft based information can be included within any of these chats, and specific project information in its entirety with customers, contractors and any other project member in all-inclusive online project meetings. This is way beyond GFA's previous communication with clients which was limited to emails, with little access to project data, no whiteboarding, or the opportunity to bring all people together on a regular basis.

Paul Daynes, MD of Atvero explained that GFA is one of the company's earlier clients, and as such they had been able to engage with each other in developing the project, providing valuable user feedback and establishing how it works in practice. This enabled Atvero to fine-tune the software and turn it into the comprehensive and highly iterative process it is today.

Both companies met on a weekly basis, and because the software is cloud based Atvero were able to make changes and deploy them rapidly, with all issues and suggestions raised being quickly fixed, evaluated, executed and implemented. Now the software is available as an 'out the box' application, making its use as universal as possible for any type of architectural practice, with only small amounts of configuration required to cater for individual and specific customer requirements.