Pushing Productivity With a Dot-com That Delivers

Peter Coffee: Autodesk assimilates Buzzsaw coordination tools to speed construction--and save some trees.

What about cutting project design time by 30 percent, cutting project documentation costs in half, and paying for the system that achieves these results in less than two years? All while completing 140 facility renovations with a team that used to do 20 projects in the same length of time? Do I have your attention?

Having started my working life as a civil engineer, I have a few worry lines that testify to the hardships of connecting the abstract to the (literally) concrete. The world of engineering drawings and schedules somehow has to flange up with the realities of getting materials on site, getting craft labor deployed, and dealing with the surprises that are always in the direction of making things take longer and cost more. Communication bottlenecks--the drawing not approved, the change order not authorized--can be the devastating difference between prompt action and delay.

In an all-too-rare example of a dot-com business model that had actual substance, Buzzsaw.com was founded in 1999 as an application service provider offering 24-by-7 access to project documents, maintaining audit trails for discussions and decisions with e-mail push notifications to affected parties. I spoke last week with Paul Cox, design controller for UK company Safeway Stores plc., who evaluated six other products in search of a project communication framework to support an ambitious renovation plan: "Within weeks of beginning our trials, it was obvious which system wed be running with," he told me. "The key thing that sold Buzzsaw to us was absolute ease of use. Keep it simple, make it available to anyone with a Windows PC. If you could use the Windows Explorer, you could use Buzzsaw." It was Cox whose experience furnished the figures with which I opened this letter.

Another high-profile user, the hotel chain of Wyndham International, puts its experience with Buzzsaw in especially vivid terms: "Theres a whole forest of trees that wasnt cut down in the last year and a half," according to Wyndham regional director of capital projects John Campbell, because Buzzsaw eliminated so much document reproduction and distribution.

Early last year, Buzzsaw was acquired by Autodesk, maker of the ubiquitous AutoCAD and related products for engineering and manufacturing productivity. I spoke with Amar Hanspal, senior director of engineering at Autodesk Building Collaboration Services, the new home of the Buzzsaw technology. "Our customers are seeing ROI in the range of 370 percent," he asserted, citing a study of 52 user organizations that was performed for the company by Hurwitz Group. He added, "The concepts behind the dot-com era were sound: Weve translated them into real success with real customers and real ROI."

I always feel a certain twinge of satisfaction when I see Autodesk living up to my expectations, which date back to the first memo that I ever wrote to recommend a piece of PC software in 1984. An engineering manager asked our newly created desktop-computing support department at The Aerospace Corporation to recommend a CAD application: something that could replace costly dedicated workstations with cheaper and more mobile Compaq luggables. I recommended a new but promising product, from a startup called Autodesk: The product, of course, was the first release of AutoCAD, which I liked for its open file format that seemed to pave the way for a host of data-integration opportunities.

I envisioned other programs generating drawings as their output, and files of drawings being used directly as input to engineering or project management applications. I always feel a sense of vindication, therefore, when I see these synergies still emerging in new ways, almost 20 years later, to yield compelling benefits.

Its even more interesting to see the virtues that launched the PC revolution combining with the core strengths of the dot-com model, stripping both technologies of their hype and fusing their potential into something that no real-world enterprise should ignore.

Tell me whats killing too many trees around your company