Huddle Eases Collaborative Critical Path For Engineering Firm WSPJuly 08, 2014
by Archana Venkatraman
WSP UK, part of the global engineering consultancy, has selected cloud-based service Huddle to allow its engineers, design teams and architects to share project data securely and collaborate regardless of their location.
“We had legacy collaboration systems, as well as email and FTP,” Frank McLeod, director and UK head of project technology at WSP told Computer Weekly. However, sharing data via these internal systems led to silos, version control issues, confusion and inefficiencies.
The IT team wanted a service that would help hundreds of WSP’s engineers, model-developers and architects as well as consultants, suppliers and clients to work together remotely on project content – including large federated 3D models and Microsoft Office files – in a secure, central environment.
WSP has around 17,000 employees in more than 300 offices across 35 countries. Often never meeting face to face, its teams of engineers, planners, project managers, technicians, environmental experts and other external specialists frequently work together on engineering projects.
“WSP’s projects and teams’ skills simply don’t recognise geographical boundaries, so it is vital that everyone – regardless of where they are – can securely access the information they need,” McLeod said.
The IT team decided to centralise all the technology associated with its operations.
“But we also wanted to get technology out of way – we wanted a collaboration system that would be seamless, quick and easy to use,” McLeod said. “This is because it is very important for WSP for the adoption of the tool to yield benefits.”
Within the construction sector, it’s often contractors who deploy a collaboration tool when they come on board a project, he explained. “Such systems are usually quite complex, born out of the construction industry and targeted towards managers rather than designers.”
There is also typically a mass of information and data that has already been generated prior to the contractor getting involved, so the WSP IT team wanted a tool intuitive enough for everyone involved in a project to use from the outset and that would enable collaboration “within and across our firewall”, McLeod added. The team turned to the cloud-based collaboration service Huddle.
Users located inside and outside of a corporate firewall can use Huddle to store, access, share, sync and work on files. Huddle is a “true cloud” service because it is pure software as a service, and its secure public version is multi-tenant.
Since January this year, Huddle has replaced WSP’s legacy collaboration systems to ensure that all the user data is structured, coordinated and managed effectively.
“The cloud collaboration strategy is working for us,” said McLeod. He told the story of one WSP engineer working on a landmark City construction project in its final stages and had to make available data about it, the building style, lease type etc, to interested parties. “The engineer called me and was wondering how he could make it all available securely and on time to his audience. I created the system on Huddle as we spoke.
“That amazed him. And to me, it means our easy-to-use cloud strategy is working.”
But why Huddle? McLeod considered several other cloud-based collaborative technologies. “It was the best fit for our needs,” he said. It had also been used by WSP UK previously on an earlier project. “But we continue looking at other tools and keep pushing Huddle to deliver more.”
WSP is also using Huddle as a strategic service to encourage its employees to move to the cloud.
Currently, there are two key camps of WSP users – projects and teams. “Projects are live commissions for our clients,” said McLeod. “Huddle helps us to host and manage between 50 and 60 live projects, involving clients, external project management teams, engineers and specialists.”
For instance, he added, it is being used by WSP engineers for a project around a new international airport. “For this project, we have people in our Basingtoke, San Francisco, New York, London, Delhi and Dubai offices all working together on the same content. Everyone involved in the project uses Huddle for their own programmes.
“But with full audit trails and version controls, Huddle looks to save us a significant amount of time searching for the correct version of files, sifting through inboxes and trying to share content externally. Tens of thousands of drawings and AutoCAD files are now instantly accessible to people anywhere in the world.”
While most WSP staff use Huddle via laptops and desktops, McLeod also wanted it to work on smartphone and tablet devices. “Collaboration or productivity must not stop just because you are on the move,” he said. “By the end of this summer, I anticipate more than 2,000 WSP staff including engineers will be using the tool.”
WSP is now working to extend Huddle usage beyond just content and collaboration to more content creation and authoring in the cloud.
“Professional services firms are generating a wealth of content across numerous projects daily and sharing all of this information securely and in a timely manner with the people who need it is a real challenge,” said Alastair Mitchell, chief executive of Huddle.