- By providing a user-friendly, familiar environment
- By reducing the need for administrative overhead
- By streamlining change orders, RFIs and document management
“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” Gen. Eisenhower’s famous maxim on the essential value of planning for success on the battlefield has clear parallels for success on the job site. Assurance that all the latest information is up to date and centrally located makes getting the right information in the right hands quickly, possible. Changes may be as unpredictable as much as they are inevitable, so mechanisms must be in place for accurate tracking and subsequent action. Like battle, having the most powerful weaponry in the hands of the best-trained forces goes a long way to securing victory.
Project management software is one of those weapons. While it can be an incredible process enabler, there are hundreds of construction software packages and suppliers vying for your attention with competing claims on how good they are or how easy they are to work with. Rather than wait for a downturn or, worse yet, a crisis to force you into a rushing a decision, planning to be in the position to improve is key.
Your Data Organized
With 35+ years’ experience, VPO is unique construction project management solution working from a strong foundation. We realized early on that our clients’ project information was not being organized successfully for collaborative use. Many project team members were storing vital documents in disparate places–on a file server, their desktop, an FTP site, in email. . . on cocktail napkins!
And the challenge we found even more interesting was that project information didn’t only need to be shared logically among people on an internal project team. It was often external collaborators whose project information required the most re-organization.
We’ve found that a go-with-what-you-know approach works very well. By leveraging leading Cloud-based solutions in Microsoft 365, and combining them with our project management expertise and content, we’re a scalable project management solution that works for small, fast-paced projects as well as for large, complex projects–and for a combination of both. We’re able to deploy VPO quickly by using proven content that can be customized for the client and enhanced over time to develop a system that is truly built for the customer.
First, let’s be clear about what Microsoft 365 is. It's not just the desktop applications like Outlook, Word, and Excel. It is also Microsoft’s managed services for hosted email, file sharing, online meetings, and more. If your company is using Microsoft 365, then we can simply install VPO within your company’s Microsoft 365 environment. That way, your users will be able to sign in to VPO using the same credentials as for accessing their email.
With VPO, we provide a subscription of Microsoft 365 for each end user. If you already subscribe to a Microsoft 365 plan that includes Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive and Teams, then we discount our fee. With Microsoft 365, it's your data. You own it. You control it. Moreover, it is yours to take with you if you decide to leave the service.
Because we're in Microsoft 365, you'll have access to an online browser-based experience and a mobile-friendly experience from your other devices. VPO enables sharing project information and documentation securely with architects, engineers, vendors, and the client team. We handle administration and support for you, and Microsoft takes every precaution to make sure your environment is secure and compliant.
After receiving notice to proceed, we schedule a kickoff meeting to learn about your unique team and project, so we can determine the features and customization needed, as well as permissions for your internal and external users. You'll have a single point of contact who is responsible for setting up and configuring your project site. We turn over the new project to you to review, and we deliver training to the project team. The training is role-based and focused on how each person on your team will use VPO.
We deliver our training session in an online meeting which is recorded live for you, and it usually takes about an hour. We may deliver multiple training sessions to groups of users like the Owner, Architect, and Contractors. This way, we can teach each group how to use VPO from their specific perspective. You can watch your training session at any time, as many times as you'd like–and that's especially helpful for when you start using VPO on your own for the first time.
Features for Construction Managers
You need a system that will work for your team and your clients. That’s why we’ve designed our most critical features to be an asset to not only construction managers, but to the clients whom you’re driven to keep happy, organized, and successful.
Change orders can be a project killer. With VPO, it’s simple to initiate a Change Order Request (COR) and a Request for Proposal (RFP). For instance, the Owner may request a proposal from a Contractor for a possible change. An Architect or a Construction Manager will usually manage the routing process to the Contractor. With everyone on the same construction management system, the initiator of the request can complete a simple form with details, and assign a Contractor as the Ball-in-Court. When this happens, an automatic email notification is sent to the Contractor, providing information about the request. The Contractor reviews the request directly from their email, prepares a proposal, attaches it to the PCO, and changes the Ball-in-Court contact. Another automatic email notification tells the Owner that the PCO has been answered.
If the Owner decides to proceed with the Change Order, they can simply status the COR to an approved Change Order in VPO, attach a formal Change Order document generated from their accounting system, and assign the Ball-in-Court contact as the Contractor. This streamlined step gives automatic notification to the Contractor to begin work on the revised plan. The Contractor can automatically notify their Subcontractors of the Change Order in just the same way in VPO so that everyone is working to the same scope. And at every step, you’ll have full documentation and an audit trail with date and timestamp data.
It's also critical to stay on top of Requests for Information (RFIs) in real time; otherwise RFIs go unanswered, which creates major delays on your project. Having the whole team–office workers and those in the field–on the same Web-based construction management system facilitates centralized communications for everyone involved in submitting and responding to RFIs.
Whenever team members submit RFIs on the project, the person or group identified as the Ball-in-Court contact automatically receives an email notification. The email message includes a description of the RFI that’s easy to view, and which allows you to consider the question right from your email. The Ball-in-Court contact might be able to provide a quick answer and return it, or they might need input from another team member. By simply reassigning the Ball-in-Court to another contact on the team, they can direct it to the appropriate person next-in-line to evaluate and respond. By managing the RFI process electronically, your team has an audit trail with date and timestamp information on any changes made by any user of the system. If there’s ever a claim or a dispute on the project, you will know who said what, when, and you'll have a single project record for the item.
With VPO, all project documents can be stored in the Cloud and accessed from multiple devices like a PC, Mac, tablet, or smartphone. Because VPO is built in Microsoft 365, our customers leverage out-of-the-box functionality for document management. This includes editing Microsoft 365-suite documents right from your browser and mobile devices using apps OneDrive. By storing your documents in VPO, you'll have enterprise-search capabilities that will comb through the contents of a document, not just the title–including searching PDF documents, regardless of whether or not OCR is used in the file.
And every time a user edits a Microsoft 365 document, a new version is created in the background. This allows you to keep track of each time someone makes a change to a document. If you don’t approve an update that another team member made, you can simply revert back to a previous version–assuming you have the appropriate permissions.
Take It From One Who Knows
Paul Buckley, P.E., is the Managing Director of Anser Advisory, which recently acquired SIMPLUS Management Corp. Paul worked closely with VPO on SIMPLUS's project management prior to the acquisition. SIMPLUS provided professional program, project, and construction management services to governmental agencies and to architect/engineering/construction firms working on large capital improvement projects throughout southern California. He has been providing project and construction management services for multimillion-dollar projects for more than 25 years. The contract value on SIMPLUS’ building, bridge, harbor, roadway, utility, and airport projects ranged from $1 million to more than $50 million.
“With VPO, SIMPLUS is more productive,” Buckley said. “We do more with less people, take on more work, and make more money. It’s also been a tool that our clients have embraced, making them more productive.”
When PDFs were sent to SIMPLUS via Outlook or email, in order to get them into our tracking systems, they had to be printed, scanned and tagged with a unique identifier on that electronic document. Then they were filed in Explorer in a file structure. Reporting of logs didn’t exist. Reports were created manually, which took additional manpower by a dedicated admin.
“We used to have one person populating Excel spreadsheets or Word docs in preparation for a meeting. Now we're processing submittals and doing our own reviews. We're updating fields, which are going into the reporting logs. We reduce response times with ball-in-court and due date tracking. Again, it's capturing real-time data that we don't have to collate and present in a different manner. Today, with VPO, there’s no longer a clerical function and reports are automatically generated.
“Other systems out there are enterprise solutions. You have to have a full-time staff person to administer it. An entire IT department has to setup securities, whether it’s one project or 10 projects. Just the cost to implement something like that is astronomical," Buckley said.
When it comes to support, Buckley said that if any tweaks would need to be made to those big-box software products, they would be told that those changes would need to be implemented in the next rollout. “With VPO, we’re doing things our way. We don’t have to adapt our processes.
“VPO administers the system for us, unlike their competition - where you’d need a full-time person to administer it at a $100,000 salary. That doesn’t include the third-party integrator who has to set up workflows. When they leave you’re faced with rolling out projects, custom forms, and reports; training every consultant; continuing to update, maintain and monitor the data; and resolving issues.
“Our staff is spending much less time on the clerical functions, and they're able to use this as a tool to really get things done and be more productive. It doesn't take their entire day. It's not something that I have to push to an admin, because I’m empowered to do it right while I'm in it. So, it's saving - saving a ton of time and money.”