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Robert E. Woodburn, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: bob_woodburn

Post Number: 67
Registered: 11-2010
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2014 - 02:57 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'm looking for evaluations and recommendations of Submittal Exchange and other systems for managing submittals and other CA phase documents. These have been discussed in a few past threads, but inconclusively.

What other products are available? How do they compare? Has a leader emerged? Are the benefits worth the time and cost to implement them? What caveats would you suggest? Thanks!
Alan Mays, AIA
Senior Member
Username: amays

Post Number: 185
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2014 - 03:20 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Robert, You should look into the costs right off the bat. Some of these systems are expensive and can charge fees for each project on the system. Make sure that you have a budget for them otherwise it is just a pipe dream.

The one I hear of the most is Newforma. You will have to do you own comparison since all have different strengths. What suits you the best is key. FYI, if you think it will work with the contractors or clients software, good luck. I have yet found that one.

This probably doesn't help much, but as with most software for the AEC industry, their isn't much comparisons done or information given. Trial by fire or who your software vendor is aligned with is what gets the most sales.

One final caution. Read the EULAs. They may actually own the rights to your intellectual property if you use them.
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 578
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2014 - 10:35 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I use Newforma and SubmittalExchange currently. I have used many other systems in the past as well.

This is something that can be discussed for hours, so what follows is an exceptionally abbreviated summary of my opinions.

Newforma has two systems that should be evaluated. One is all online, basically cloud based. The other is located on your server and is more of a robust indexing service than a file server. They both allow external collaboration, and have similar, but not the same degree of usability and tool sets. My experiences are with the locally hosted version, called Newforma Project Center.

It will slow you down in many ways, but accelerate other tasks. It is absolutely superb at document distribution and sharing. Managing drawing sets and so forth is wonderful in Newforma. On the CA side, I find logging Submittal and RFI's a very tedious and inflexible process, that is significantly slower than just about any other system that comes to mind. However, it has great inherent power, and the ability to tie any and all correspondence to a given RFI or Submittal is terrific, because as we all know, you WILL go back and have to look at it again. What I find most aggravating about Newforma is that you cannot customize the email templates it produces, and the search function is terrible. Newforma touts its search tools as the best in the industry, but it is completely inferior at finding emails compared to projects filed in Outlook public folders.

Newforma has a number of apps for smartphones and tablets, and they are great apps, and getting better quickly. I don't use the built in PDF editor, because I far prefer Bluebeam, but other than that, Newforma's apps are worthy to consider.

SubmittalExchange is easy to use, and fast. Unlike most extranet programs I have used, SubmittalExchange does not incur a significant administrative penalty cost in terms of time. Their pricing model is also very well suited to the type of industry we are. I would consider SubmittalExchange " mostly harmless" to the A/E with one significant caveat:

Submittals are broken up into more components than they need to be. In the old days, you'd get one or two binders for electrical stuff. Usually one binder for distribution equip (transformers, switchboards, conduit, etc..) and another for lighting. In SubmittalExchange, you could easily have 20 or more submittals, if it's set up that way. The 2004 MonsterFormat numbering system is the principle reason behind this, but still, it's more tedious to get 20 submittals instead of 2!

There are THOUSANDS of ways SubmittalExchange could be better, but it's not terrible now.
Robert E. Woodburn, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: bob_woodburn

Post Number: 71
Registered: 11-2010
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2014 - 01:22 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Thank you, Alan and Nathan. I recently saw the Submittal Exchange online demo, and it seemed to have a more intuitive interface than NewForma, but my experience with NewForma was primarily for filing e-mail. I agree that Outlook seemed better for that. This office also has (but apparently does not use) Buzzsaw, an Autodesk cloud-based product. Any thoughts on that?
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 579
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Friday, May 09, 2014 - 01:26 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I haven't used Buzzsaw in about 4 years. It was slow back then, due to extensive use of Java. Same thing for SubmittalExchange now. I prefer SubmittalExchange, but unlike SubEx, Buzzsaw also works well as a file exchange/repository system. That is is core function actionally, the CA module is an add-on. However, my team uses Box.com or Newforma for file exchange, and SubEx for CA items, unless its a small job then we just use Newforma for everything. Again, these systems are not apples to apples. Newforma is pretty huge in all that it can do, much of it useful to A/E's, unlike something like Prolog or Premivara, ConstructWare, etc...
Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 757
Registered: 01-2003

Posted on Friday, May 09, 2014 - 02:57 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

"[Newforma] is completely inferior at finding emails compared to projects filed in Outlook public folders."

Newforma's search function has one advantage - it will search all files in the entire project, including e-mail, drawings, word processing and spreadsheet files, and so on. That's great if you're trying to find out where something shows up.

However, the e-mail search is not so good, especially if you're working on more than a couple of projects. I keep current project e-mail in Outlook, where I can type in a word or a phrase and instantly find all occurrences in all of my projects. A little maintenance helps, too; I keep only the most recent e-mail in a thread, deleting everything that came before.

Newforma saves every e-mail along the way, so if you have a thread of ten e-mails, it shows all ten in a search. It is smart enough to not save duplicate files saved by different people, but it isn't smart enough to keep only the most recent one.

I don't use the logging feature, but our construction administration people love it. It knows what has been sent to whom, and when. It also knows who has downloaded documents, so the old "I never got it" argument doesn't work anymore. Newforma is able to compare and overlay documents of any format. I once used it to overlay a pdf and a drawing file (don't remember the format), then changed the scales until they lined up. In essence, it's a digital light table.
Robert E. Woodburn, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: bob_woodburn

Post Number: 72
Registered: 11-2010
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2014 - 03:15 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Thanks, Sheldon. We have Newforma and Buzzsaw (and apparently don't use either very much), but don't have Submittal Exchange. It sounds as if Newforma is good for some things, not so good for others, which may be true of all of these systems.

With what we already have, does anyone think SubEx is worth a try? Since it is priced per project, we could try it once or twice without a long-term commitment.
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 580
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Friday, May 09, 2014 - 03:28 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Absolutely, and that is the beauty of SubEx, it's scalable cost based on construction project cost, so it's easy to use per project and not per office or per seat. Just know that you will still want to use Newforma or Box.com or whatever for document distribution of things that are not RFI's or submittals or field reports.
Senior Member
Username: chris_grimm_ccs_scip

Post Number: 255
Registered: 02-2014

Posted on Monday, May 12, 2014 - 12:35 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

When I was using Newforma extensively at a firm, I found email searching greatly improved by taking advantage of how it integrates with Outlook in terms of email subfolders (the full application, not the web interface). You can set up an Outlook custom search folder to look at all the email subfolders (whether they are current items, OR, also you need to add the subfolders you will find in deleted items). So after it files Outlook emails, and puts them into deleted items subfolders, you can still get a complete search of all your emails regardless of their status, in Outlook. It is WAY faster and you can have a 3-line preview if you turn that on, unlike the preview in NF which only gives I think the subject line.

For searching to include other team member's emails, Newforma itself is extremely useful.

For searching across projects, I found it impossible to look for a given spec section by number. It would run the search for hours and not give complete results, so I coded my own way to do that.

NF was very good for tying the correspondence to the submittal like Nathan mentioned, and for searching across a given project's folders like Sheldon said.

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