How AEC Firms Can Go Paperless

Sophia Bernazzani

Sophia Bernazzani | September 2, 2020

The initiative for organizations to go paperless has been around since 1978 when the Environmental Protection Agency realized that the average office generates two pounds of paper products each day. Now, over 40 years later, this initiative is still going strong in many industries. Understandably, for historically paper-heavy industries like architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) this shift toward paperless business operations has been slower moving than most. 

But you know what they say, there is no time like the present. And considering “the present” includes the COVID-19 pandemic and a global shift to remote work across industries, AEC firms have never been more reliant on virtual tools and therefore have never been more prepared to go paperless.

This initiative for AEC firms to go paperless is being piloted by the Division of the State Architect (DSA). They are working with HMC Architects to figure the best way to green-ify how they do business and increase their overall efficiency by utilizing document management, project management, and remote collaboration tools.

“It’s exciting to see agencies taking this paperless possibility so seriously,” says Pasqual Gutierrez, AIA, HMC’s director of architecture. “It’s a great combination of sustainable ambition and effective problem-solving.”

The DSA’s goal is to remove paper waste and waste created by printing by electronically filing all administrative documents, and have all documents— including plan checks, DSA comments, and markups— created and transmitted electronically to entirely eliminate printing. With the right software and virtual tools for construction and engineering firms in place, the dream of a paperless future for AEC firms can soon become a reality of the present.

Document Management Software for AEC

The first step toward paperless AEC firms is the digitization of documents. By nature, AEC firms generate a large document volume. The documents produced are often lengthy and complex, leading them to be difficult to internally search and retain. While relying on document management software is a step toward a paperless company, it will also be a more digitallysecure document solution and user-friendly choice for high-performing AEC firms. Document management software allows AEC workers to access, search, edit, and transmit documents securely. 

Popular document management software for AEC firms include:

ImageSite

Cloud-based and user-friendly, ImageSite is document management software that uses HTML5 technology for simple installation— enabling AEC employees to begin using the system with very little previous training (making it an ideal system for firms that have found themselves to be newly-remote due to COVID-19). If you choose to utilize ImageSite to bring your organization into its paperless future, you will be choosing to create and track transmitted documents simply and quickly, reducing the opportunity for errors while sharing critical documents in real-time. 

Other benefits of using ImageSite include:

  • Documents are stored and managed in shared network drives for easy cloud-based access
  • Firms have full control over who can access and modify documents at the project, folder, file, user, and metadata level, allowing you to share files with external teams, third part vendors, and clients
  • Users are able to maintain file retention and archive schedules for company-wide secure record management
  • Digital signatures can be assigned to prevent changes to documents, when when the document has been distributed to external parties

Comindware

Favored by AEC industries and beyond since its founding in 2010, Comindware is a trusted and secure document tracking software. In addition to aiding your firm on its quest to become paperless, Comindware allows you to collaborate right within documents like proposals and quotes, streamlines your approval process, and reduces your operating expenses. Comidware offers a 30-day trial period for your organization so you can test out all of their paperless document control benefits before committing to their software, benefits that include:

  • Automatic revision control that allows users to access the most recent version of all documents quickly and without difficulty
  • Centralized data, so all your documents are stored in one location without the need for soft or hard backup copies
  • Minimized cost due to the removal of need for physical storage of documents and the time saved thanks to the user-friendly platform
  • Quality management across the board thanks to Comidware’s integrated system

Project Management Software for AEC

Now that you have implemented document management software into your organization in an effort to go paperless, what other sources of paper can you digitize? Project management software has long been utilized by AEC firms around the world, and became a necessity when COVID-19 work from home orders forced firms to quickly adopt remote work best practices. In addition to project management software being a necessary virtual collaboration tool, it is also the next step in bringing your company one step closer to its purely paperless future. Think of AEC project management software as replacing or supplementing on-site check-ins, project tracking kept on a whiteboard or an Excel file that needs to be manually updated, and any other project management that exists in a physical location or one individual’s hard drive or desktop. 

The best project management software includes built-in documentation and record keeping tools, to ensure your teams can collaborate securely and efficiently from a distance— without generating any paper. 

Popular project management software for AEC firms include:

Procore

This US-based construction project management software company has helped firms drastically increase their project efficiency and accountability since its release in 2003. Thanks to Procore’s real time data, trusted centralized location and user-friendly formatting, your firm can minimize project risks and delays from a safe distance and without using paper. Additionally, the Procore mobile app ensures that everyone with a hand in the project can access it no matter where they are. In addition to being a paperless project management tool, other benefits of Procore include:

  • Their suite of project management tools is award-winning, and expansive enough to meet any of your needs
  • All project stakeholders have access to shared information, which leads to a more trusting and streamlined form of communication
  • Heightened project visibility and instantly updated information logs help you to avoid unwanted project surprises 
  • The software is user-friendly, so employes who have trepidation about transitioning to a paperless system won’t get left behind

Linkd

“The easy, modern, flexible, and visual way to manage AEC projects and organize anything, trusted by companies and people from all over the world,” Linkd, founded in 2016, is a young project management software built for the future of AEC firms. Designed to optimize remote productivity and to cut down on waste, Linkd uses AI technology to study your data and generate results with graphs, charts, and status updates for each of your ongoing projects. Linkd is widely used by construction, real estate, and manufacturing clients who prioritize user-friendly remote collaboration. In addition to being a paperless project management tool, other benefits of Linkd include:

 

  • Thanks to their email archiving tool, you can continue working on any platforms you are already comfortable with while Linkd gathers your project conversations to archive for future reference
  • Linkd can be accessed on any device to accommodate your employee’s work-from-anywhere lifestyle
  • Linkd’s unlimited requesting, approval, and change of contract software keeps your connected with anyone inside or outside of your organization
  • By partnering with a Gantt tool, Linkd allows you to adjust your schedule while keeping employees notified with real-time updates

Digital Notetaking and Sketching Apps for AEC

The last step in shifting your organization into a completely paperless future is digitizing all notetaking and sketching. It is understandable for this step to be met with some hesitation with more old-school team members who are more comfortable putting a pencil to paper to draft sketches and take notes at job-sites. The good news is, when you choose the right tech tools and apps, the digitization of notetaking and sketching will feel just as natural— while contributing to your firm's paperless initiative.

The most popular digital notetaking and sketching apps for AEC firms, which are all compatible with the smartphone or tablet of your choosing, include:

Digital Notetaking Apps for AEC Firms

Evernote: The classic notetaking app that has evolved to be so much more, Evernote integrated across all devices to optimize your opportunity for capturing your thoughts and images in one centralized spot.

Noteshelf: With a pleasuring and intuitive interface, Noteshelf allows you to have multiple digital notebooks running at the same time, so your project load can continue growing at any rate. You can record audio notes, convert handwritten notes to digital files, mark up PDFs, and sync this app with your Apple Watch. It’s perfect for a foreman or team lead who needs to keep track of project notes online.

Penultimate: This award-winning digital handwriting app combines the natural feel of putting a pen to paper with the electronic power of Evernote’s sync and search paper. Your handwriting will be effortlessly transferred to your device, becoming intuitive and accessible in the process.

Sketching Apps

Tayasui Sketches: By providing multiple style and pen options, Tayasui Sketches makes it clear that they prioritize their users’ sketching needs. With both a free and pro version, you can test out all Tayasui Sketches has to offer before committing to the platform for your future of digital sketching.

Moleskin Flow: As the digital cousin in the Moleskin notebook family, Moleskin Flow brings your familiarity and comfort with sketching into the virtual sphere. With multiple features beyond sketching available to you and the ability to work in multiple notebooks within a single app, Moleskin Flow is as user-friendly as sketching apps come.

Morpholio Trace: The idea for this app came from simply digitizing a roll of old school tracing paper, but Morpholio Trace has evolved into so much more. Both a sketching and designing tool, and complete with some unique architectural designing tools, Morpholio Trace is built to hold even your most abstract sketch ideas—online.

If you’re going paperless, why not go conference phone-less while you’re at it?

Architecture, engineering, and construction firms have recently been relying on conference calls to replace in-person huddles and project check-ins. Without being able to see one another face-to-face, body language can be missed and calls can be less productive when people don’t know who is speaking. Remote tech tools like the Meeting Owl show everyone on the project site and broadcast clear audio and video to those working from home or external stakeholders. 

When AEC firms utilize these digital tools, software options, and apps, a paperless reality not only feels like an option, but as the natural new normal. Need more convincing? To see how other AEC firms are using tech to stay connected, click here.

meeting owl for construction with construction tools