A relatively new player in the Australian market, UK based Union Square is positioned as an alternative information management solution for practices specialising in the built environment. Architects in particular are reporting tangible benefits from the system, with practices including Scott Carver, Designinc, Peddle Thorp, Fulton Trotter, Johnson Pilton Walker, Nettleton Tribe and TKD having adopted it. AB spoke to Rodney Paesler, Managing Director of Scott Carver, about the operational and cultural improvements gained from implementing Union Square.
Scott Carver is a Sydney based practice offering urban design, architecture, landscape architecture and interior architecture services. It operates throughout Australia and internationally to deliver a broad spectrum of projects spanning the civic, commercial, hospitality, public domain, residential, retail, sports, and tourism markets.
Just under three years ago Scott Carver identified the need for a solution to meet its requirement for a comprehensive document management and workflow system that would improve productivity and enhance collaboration.
Managing Director Rodney Paesler confirms the company already had an ERP System in place but had always been on the lookout for ways to improve on its existing solution. A seminar run by Union Square, demonstrating the benefits experienced by an existing user of the system, proved the catalyst for change.
He says a number of factors allayed any concerns with implementing a system from a relatively new player in the Australian market.
‘Union Square clearly had an international track record as a leader in comprehensive practice management solutions for architects, so its credibility wasn’t in question. What struck me about the system, aside from its all-encompassing reach, was in the areas of document management and customer relationship management or CRM.’
‘Prior to implementing Union Square, we’d been using a project accounting system which was great for time management, invoicing and forecasting. However while this worked effectively in terms of productivity, there was one major issue with it, which was that it really only worked for the business leaders, around 10 to 12 individuals in a company that at the time numbered around 50 staff [Scott Carver has since grown to around 70 staff].’
‘By contrast, Union Square’s cloud-enabled interface is used by all members of the practice, from receptionists and administrators to senior management. In particular, the document management capability is highly fluid and intuitive to use for our designers. As a design practice our documentation output is considerable, easily around four gigabytes a day, and spans anything from invoices to high res photos and complex graphics. Union Square can easily handle those volumes, and its image-friendly interface is a plus in a design environment.’
‘The fact that the system can easily collate and present all data from invoices to imagery relating to a particular project is also a great benefit in terms of customer relationship management. It has transformed how we use technology from a transactional to a relational approach, enhancing the way we deal with customers.’
‘We’re also able to use the system for marketing purposes. For example if we’re planning an event targeting a certain sector of the industry; we can easily pull all relevant contacts together to form the guest list. Or if we want to market to a specific segment, say age care developers in the Brisbane area, we can mine the relevant information to pull an EDM campaign together.’
Rollout and customer support
Rollout of the system was a major project entailing the transfer of around 10 years’ of data encompassing around half a million hours of work and $90 million of transactions. The practice pre-planned for three months prior to implementation and did around one month of testing before the system went live.
‘Throughout this we had full support from Union Square to ensure the process was expedited smoothly. Since implementation, Union Square’s help desk support has been highly effective; they’ve also worked with us to tune the system to suit our particular needs.
Clear productivity gains
At the time of the implementation Rodney knew that he needed to justify the cost of such a major investment. ‘At that time, with 50 employees, I calculated that Union Square could save five minutes a day for each person in the company, which would equate to $150,000 charging time per annum. In assessing the current benefits of the system in a company that now numbers 70 employees, I’d say hours and days are being saved rather than minutes, and productivity turnover per person is up 10 to 15 per cent on what it was previously.’
A solid business case
‘By implementing Union Square we’ve saved time and productivity across the whole office,’ he adds. ‘The system has also reduced pressure on project leaders by making all information relevant to a given project easily accessible to all employees. It has really improved the way the practice implements a project, from design and concept through to building, by enhancing all aspects of the process, from document sharing, to collation of external contacts, to resource planning and project management. It has also made forecasting and planning much easier. I use it to forecast and resource-plan a couple of years in advance. I can plan future revenue streams and future costs and the resources required. The forecasts can then be transformed into invoices when it’s time to bill the client.’
Positive uptake by employees
Rodney says the Scott Carver practice has readily embraced Union Square, which has enhanced intra-practice cooperation.
‘For young architects it’s a really natural and fluid way to manage their work and while senior staff may have occasionally needed some initial guidance, overall they’ve found the system empowering. A real plus is that there is no ‘clean up’ or filing required at the end of each project as Union Square intuitively keeps files organised and items can easily be searched by key words or attributes. It’s really a ‘set and forget’ approach that allows you to easily organise data, manage work flow, focus on the project and move on to the next thing.’
He describes Union Square as a comprehensive management system for forward-thinking design practices. More than that, he notes that its ability to support building information modelling (BIM) workflows has enhanced Scott Carver’s working culture.
‘As someone who really believes in the power of technology to improve productivity, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Union Square to any architecture and design practice with a commitment to collaboration and innovation.’