Alberta Construction Magazine

e-project administration system brings construction projects up to speed
By Janet Mowers
A former construction project manager with a passion for computers and electronics is bringing the industry up to speed with high-tech communications solutions. Roger Rendek of Edmonton has refined CAISNet, a project administration and management tool, that is streamlining communication among team members and providing an audit trail—for everything from drawings to change orders.

Dermot O’Neill of Wood O’Neill O’Neill Architects Ltd. readily admits that he was impressed from the beginning with Rendek’s CAISNet. “He knew what the issues of communication were,” said O’Neill. “He started to address some of our needs right off the bat.”

Rendek’s construction roots run deep. His family has been in the general contractor business for three generations. He worked for his father Joe when he ran a general construction company for years in Edmonton—Rendek Construction.

In an industry where companies have tight profit margins and many have been burned by fly-by-nighters, his background is reassuring. O’Neill worked with Rendek, when he was a project manager.

Nine years later, Wood O’Neill O’Neill uses CAISNet for virtually all its project planning and designs. On the construction side, the firm uses CAISNet for about 50 to 60 per cent of its projects.

“It’s growing,” states Leonard Davidchuk, computer systems administrator with Wood O’Neill O’Neill. “As we move into new projects we’re getting some of the same contractors. They’re used to it and are expecting that kind of service from us. There are contractors joining in because they see the benefit of it.”

CAISNet provides a data bank or super-organized and accurate filing system for a project—for various members of a construction project team through its electronic communications and e-mail system. Drawings, e-mail correspondence, meeting minutes, and change orders can all be posted to the appropriate folder so that everyone who is required to see the information gets it. It is instantaneous. There is no time lag, unlike regular mail.

“Electronic communications saves us a tremendous amount of money in the way of couriers and fax down time,” explains Victor Kozak, one of the principals of Stephens Kozak Carr and Brown Architects. The firm is a long-time CAISNet client.

Gone is the cumbersome, tedious process of standing guard at the fax machine, manually sending out several copies of different documents.

CAISNet is also much more secure than regular e-mail mail.

O’Neill can count on one hand the number of outside, nuisance e-mails that he has received—over a period of eight or nine years with CAISNet. He adds that is quite a feat. Junk mail is commonly sent through regular systems. But the biggest concern are viruses that can wreak incredible havoc with computer data. They are sent through e-mail.

Travel time and expenses are also reduced with CAISNet. “You can work with teams of consultants anywhere around the world and use CAISNet to communicate with consultants down the street,” states O’Neill.

Davidchuk adds that it is possible to log into CAISNet and open files from practically anywhere—from home, on site if you have access to a computer, or from a client’s office.

CAISNet date- and time-stamps all project correspondence. It records who received the information and when it was received as well as opened. Regular e-mail does not do this.

There is no passing the buck with this system—for anyone.

Plus, it eliminates the confusion that a barrage of paper can cause. “The problem with just having drawings floating around in your office is you don’t always know if the set of drawings you are looking at is the latest one unless you go out and try to find every other drawing that’s in the office and compare them.

“But you can always go back to CAISNet and check the project folder to make sure you’ve downloaded the latest set of drawings that have been circulated,” explains Kozak. In other words, everyone is working from the same page or drawing.

Even incoming faxes and computer voice are converted to e-mail with the CAISNet system. This ensures a more complete project audit trail.

He adds that CAISNet is seamless with high-speed Internet connections. Some clients are more remote and do not have e-mail or Internet capability.

“It puts a bit of a crimp in it,” states Kozak.

“To anyone who does have access to the Internet, CAISNet works excellently.”

Various folders are set up with different levels of access. Files are sent to only the people who need to see them.

Everyone from the building owner to the general contractor, the various consultants, and trades can be included in the system.

There is one trick people have to remember. They have to check the project directory to stay in the loop.

If there is project information waiting for someone, once that person enters CAISNet he will see a little red flag indicating that there is e-mail.

Often consultants will post drawings at regular intervals so they are prompted to check for the latest work.

O’Neill stresses that though features have been added along the way, it has been done without compromising the user-friendliness of the system.

“Roger has done a great job in recognizing how to keep things simple. That’s important for us as the end user. We have enough issues to deal with. We don’t need headaches—working with the computer. It’s got to be streamlined and simple.”

The largest project Wood O’Neill O’Neill, has used CAISNet for is the expansion and renovation of the Edmonton International Airport, which began in 1996 and is expected to wrap up in 2003, with the central hall addition. CAISNet is being used among the consultants for design purposes.

He notes that the firm exchanged drawings during the various design stages with a Vancouver consultant once a week through CAISNet. There was no anxious waiting for drawings to arrive through the mail or by fax.

CAISNet also includes a project calender where everything from meetings to contractor deadlines can be posted.

“It’s a great management tool. That’s what we need for projects that are complex and take a long time to complete,” states O’Neill. He adds that CAISNet works equally well for smaller projects such as school renovations.

O’Neill adds that CAISNet ends up saving all the construction project members’ money. Efficiencies that are gained mean freed-up time. He notes that it is hard to quantify the savings, but he has no doubt that everyone gains with the system. And these days, time is at a particularly high premium.

After a project is completed, a CD-ROM can be burned so that there is permanent record of the whole history. If an issue arises about a portion of a project, there is a correspondence trail.

The CD-ROM can also be used as a reference for future additions to the project—such as the addition of two more classrooms to a school.

CAISNet has more than 1,000 clients and is growing. The majority of clients are drawn from Alberta, but it is starting to make inroads in Ontario and the United States.

So far CAISNet has linked team members in just over 200 construction projects.
Since CAISNet relies on the Internet Rendek Communications Inc. has established a unique CAISNet Internet bundle program through its preferred Internet service providers: Telus, Sprint, Shaw, OA Internet, and Group Telecom. This makes bundling of the entire range of Internet access possible with CAISNet. Recently, a new two-way broadband high-speed satellite connection was added to CAISNet offerings to service locations throughout North America.

Too often there is a lot of big hype with high-tech solutions. And with the big hype comes big dollars and nagging questions.

“These days there are so many systems that come and go. CAISNet has withstood the test of time. It continues to be user-friendly. It continues to be consistent and reliable,” states O’Neill, adding it is affordable.