At this point, the online plan room has become more than just accessing information online to the average user. In addition to posting project information and details, digital services have been developed with advanced communication tools, reporting logs and security features that enable a customer to track plan-room activity such as users’ interests, orders and profiles. Also, customizing the services to the individual user preferences, providing more specific permissions-based accessible user rights, and managing, controlling and searching project documents are all being developed with more robust options that can be administered at the reprographer level as well as the user level.
While the online plan room for the reprographer began largely as a means of information dissemination, it is now a tool that affects the entire project life cycle for each project team member, thus involving a more intricate role of the reprographer than ever before.
Are print providers using plan rooms to the best of their capabilities? If not, how can they be used better?
Magenheim: Most reprographers are using the plan rooms to maintain an old-school business model of print-for-pay. Most in the repro industry are not training their customers to pay for the value of digital documents combined with the related services that a plan room can provide. One solution is a subscription-based plan room with a monthly charge based on the number of drawings and a ceiling on the number of downloads. I’ve found that once a contractor understands the benefits associated with an online plan room, he’s more than willing to pay the monthly subscription fee.
Rowe: Print providers will not be successful until they quit trying to protect the printing! Customers don’t like it and it’s the wrong way to keep business. We saw the color labs try the same tactic years ago—provide the best solution, control the information because you have the best solution. With today’s pricing being so brutal, the profit derived from printing is marginal. Without digital fees, our companies will become extinct. There are pockets of success, but they are the exception not the rule.
Stickney: There are huge portions of our customer base that still don’t use online plan rooms at all, or certainly not to their full capacity. Repro firms need to be doing a better job marketing the benefits of these tools to their customers to help increase adoption. In some ways, the recessionary environment is the ideal time to do so—our clients need to do more with less, and that’s the foundational value of any digital app.
Schoonover: Not all print providers are using online plan rooms. For those who are, there are certainly varied levels of knowledge and skill sets to implement this type of technology, due to the varied complexity of online plan rooms available. One of the most important attributes to optimizing plan room resources and revenue streams is to assess the needs of the customer and the market trends accurately. However, in every market, key opportunities exist to simply reduce your customer’s headaches resulting from the daily administrative tasks of maintaining and distributing hard copy and electronic information. Maintaining, or providing the tools to maintain, digital address books, plan holders and bidders lists, current plan sets, and user activity, at a minimum, reduces the customer’s liability, stress, clerical needs and overhead costs, and time spent answering questions.
Can you provide a specific example of someone using a plan room to the best of its ability?
Magenheim: As contractors begin to understand what capabilities are available they begin to broaden its use. For instance, they and their subs can view drawings anyplace that they have access to a web browser. They can use tablet PCs to email red-lines and edits to work crews. In this way, the plan room becomes more than just a substitute for a paper drawing. It becomes integrated into the daily workflow of the construction team.
On-site tablet PCs are the biggest growth opportunity. Our plan room—with its thin client viewer—is uniquely suited as a companion product to ruggedized tablet PCs together with cheap cellular data plans. With modern-day demands for green construction, an IDEAL PlanRoom can help contractors meet their green requirements.
Rowe: I can provide about 102 clients who routinely use our technology to mange project information. McDonald’s, Turner Construction, HCA Hospitals, Skanska, and JE Dunn have found great value in our solution, and we proudly charge for our solutions. We currently have one project in house that will generate double six-figures upon completion. Why? Because we handle a myriad of pieces of document information that is required on a project, not just plans and specs. In fact, those pieces are the easiest to handle. MySmartPlans currently has over 6,000 users nationwide.