WINCHESTER, Va. – Technology is continually evolving and helping Middle East District employees do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. Having a workforce located on separate continents that plans and manages projects simultaneously presents some difficult, sometimes unique, challenges.
ProjectWise is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-mandated computer program providing a centralized location for the sharing and storage of project data. It's used by team members in all locations within the Middle East District's area of responsibility.
On average, a file sharing process between the district and its field-based personnel could take between eight and 16 hours to upload to a file sharing site, and then the same amount of time for downloading. When the offices are working with an eight- to nine-hour time difference, this can be problematic, explained Joyce Rudy, the district's CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) system manager.
With ProjectWise, when a request comes in, a server is opened and a file can be immediately dragged and dropped in to the designated folder. As soon as it is there, the requesting party can instantly access it. No downloading is necessary in this new process.
Rudy and Brian Helm, also a CADD manager here, took on the positions of ProjectWise managers and points of contact four years ago for the Middle East District. During that time, they have deployed approximately 30 servers to the district's field offices, as well as to the Afghanistan districts, for ProjectWise implementation.
The program provides a great benefit for projects being done in the field to avoid loss of any information due to the turnover rate, according to Rudy. In the past, if a person worked on a project and saved it to his or her local drive, work then became inaccessible if the person left. Now, when someone opens a file in ProjectWise, it will save to their local drive temporarily for fast access due to latency. When the document is closed, however, it checks the file back in on the server, and an updated version becomes accessible to others.
"ProjectWise does not replace the Resident Management System," said Rudy. "It just replaces the local drive that you would use as your workable drive." RMS provides the method for USACE resident engineers and field staff to plan, schedule and control all aspects of construction.
When a user opens a file on ProjectWise, the file is checked out to them. This allows the system to keep historical data on files and lets users know who has worked on a project.
The Middle East District was selected as USACE's test site for the first year of the program to see how the software could enhance project sharing in the Middle East. About 46 Corps offices are now using ProjectWise, but Middle East District is the first to use it for all projects in the Engineering Branch. ProjectWise is also available for use by every discipline and office at the district.
ProjectWise is simple to use, and files from any program can be saved on the ProjectWise system, including Word documents, drawings, files, emails, and project photos.
"If you can use Windows Explorer, you can use ProjectWise," said Helm. "It is more powerful and even easier to use than SharePoint, which is not conducive to project sharing, and it doesn't have the file size limitation that exists in SharePoint."
The system is secure as well, which is a critical feature for government acquisitions and projects. Helm or Rudy must create accounts before an individual can gain access. Users may only access specific projects that apply to them.
Templates have been created to help organize all projects and are easily searchable through the metadata. Each ProjectWise server is built to the exact same standard to make it easy and understandable for all users. Helm sets up the server, and Rudy personalizes and provides ProjectWise training for each office using the program.
ProjectWise also allows projects and supporting information to easily be reused if a similar project is needed again, explained Rudy. If specifics are needed for a new project, the system can be searched and previous project files can be copied into the new project folder for use.
Helm and Rudy encourage all offices to give ProjectWise a try, because it is a useful tool that enables district employees to work closely and easily with other offices, both locally and overseas. "Think how [ProjectWise] will make your life easier," said Rudy.