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Collaboration in a digital age: Why SharePoint Online is an opportunity that can’t be ignored in the AEC sector



At the heart of design and construction projects is an imperative for effective and secure collaboration. The digital revolution has seen the development of cloud-based tools that provide the opportunity for unprecedented online collaboration in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction sector (AEC) and associated improvements to workflows, information management and security. One such tool is Microsoft SharePoint Online, part of the Office 365 suite.

SharePoint Online has been built with collaboration at its heart. External collaboration is supported at multiple levels, from entire project sites down to individual folders and even files. Security is maintained when collaborating both with other users of Office 365 through Azure business to business services, or with solutions outside of the Microsoft environment such as Google’s G-Suite

Audit trails of document uploads and edits are provided, as well as notifications to users when information changes. Microsoft partners with many third-party software houses to provide better integration with their tools. Of particular interest to the AEC sector are the integrations with Autodesk’s tools. DWG drawing files can now be previewed within SharePoint/OneDrive without having any Autodesk tools installed. The files can also be edited in place with the AutoCAD web edition. Storing information online within Office 365 and Azure brings additional benefits. Files are stored in multiple geographic locations making them very durable and highly available when compared to a single on-premise storage location. (Information can be requested to be limited to specific geographic areas for regulatory or performance requirements too). All versions of a file can be kept along with the audit trail of who modified or deleted it. Office 365 tenancies on Enterprise level plans can take that to a whole different level by employing Azure’s data governance tools, providing industry leading data loss protection and implementation of data retention policies.

These systems are integrated into the Azure security platform based around Active Directory for close integration with on-premise services. Azure Active Directory also offers enhancements like Multi Factor Authentication and Conditional Access to provide the security needed in today’s online world. Again, Azure security is built to enable secure collaboration with other organisations.

SharePoint Online can deliver many benefits and efficiencies information management and collaboration, however it is important to remember that it is a generalised solution. As the AEC sector has a particular way of working, codified both informally formally through British and international (ISO) standards and require a large number of organisations and stakeholders exchanging thousands of documents and files in a variety of formats. To fully exploit the benefits of SharePoint Online for AEC projects, other cloud-based tools which integrate with SharePoint must also be utilised.

Finally, with SharePoint Online, files have moved to the cloud in the same way that email did with Exchange Online so files can be shared, accessed and edited wherever and whenever.

With so much to gain and powerful tools now easily accessible through SharePoint there has never been a better time for the design and construction industry to embrace the full extent of Microsoft technology to support companies' digital transformation journies.