Security, accountability, and cloud access: Can you really have it all?

I’ve heard countless stories of conversations between project engineers and IT professionals who can’t come to an agreement on the level of security needed to protect their data while making it more accessible—not only externally, but also internally. 

April 03, 2014 |
Sasha Reed

Photo: patrisyu via

With all the talk today of collaboration and information sharing, conversations are quickly turning from the benefits of the cloud to questions regarding how to address security concerns. Security and tech are pretty hot topics, even outside of the AEC space. It seems you can’t turn on the news without hearing about some sort of security breach. 

In the AEC world, large-scale security breaches aren’t as much of a concern as are finding ways to improve information sharing while maintaining accountability. Even as technological advancements are implemented on active projects, allowing more team members to collaborate openly, project contracts still determine the final say in defining roles, responsibilities and, most importantly, liabilities.

What does this mean exactly? Well, as technology is blurring the lines of responsibility on your current project, someone still needs to be held responsible for final sign off.  

I’ve heard countless stories of conversations between Project Engineers and IT professionals who can’t come to an agreement on the level of security needed to protect their data while making it more accessible—not only externally, but also internally. In order to help firms find the right balance between collaboration and accountability, many technology solutions offer security options designed to help you find the right fit.  

Having been a fly on the wall for many of these conversations, I’ve come up with a list of questions to start the conversation and ultimately help you define your needs. 

Are you able to control information sharing with project team members today, both internal and external?  

  • You may find that email provides a sufficient level of security and authentication for CYA.  However, if you’re looking to track your documents better while still allowing access for both internal and external team members, a Document Management System (DMS) may be the better path.

Who do you need input from, and when?  

  • Does everyone need to access project documents at the same time, or separately?  A simple cloud depository or local server can offer controlled access to many.  However, a DMS can offer further control by implementing structured workflows, making it easier to move documents through the review process.   

What type of device will the team access information on – laptop, tablet, iPad, smartphone?  

  • Knowing that files may be accessed on a mobile device may help you determine how to create and organize your files. Do you want collated digital drawing sets, or separately saved single sheet files for easier access on a mobile device? Will you need access to project documents while offline as well? You will want to make sure there is an offline/syncing capability so information isn’t lost when your Internet connection is. 

How will you track approvals and final sign off? 

  • Since you’re no longer signing physical paper, will a replication of a wet signature suffice or do you need a digital signature?
    • Rather than signing and scanning your signature, wet signatures can be easily replicated using a vector-based PDF markup.  If you have an iPad, tablet PC or stylus, use the “Pen” to draw your signature on a PDF.
    • If you choose digital signatures, think carefully about when in the process to require them. Requiring them too soon will inhibit your ability to collaborate.
      • Will the signatures be used for internal sign off only?
        • A Windows-based certificate for all signers should suffice.
      • Will the signatures be required with external collaborators?
        • You may want to look into third-party verification services for digital signatures.

How will you store your project documents for easy reference by owner/maintenance teams after the project is complete?  

  • Many GCs are leveraging hyperlinks to make navigable digital drawings sets. You may want to put some thought into standardizing file naming conventions so that linked files remain intact at handover.
  • In addition to storing digital files on a hard drive, some teams are storing all linked project documents in the cloud, providing greater mobility for FM teams moving forward.

This list is just a beginner’s guide to ease into the longer conversation about security. What questions have you asked yourself to better define your collaboration/security needs?  

Editor's note: This is sponsored content. Text and images were provided by the sponsor company. 

Sasha Reed | Digital COM
Bluebeam Software

About the Author: Sasha Reed has over 12 years of experience working directly in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) market. As VP of Strategic Alliances at Bluebeam Software, Sasha interacts directly with AEC leaders to better understand the long-range goals of the industry and help align Bluebeam’s technology partnerships. In addition, Sasha is acting Chair of the Construction PDF Coalition.  The purpose of the Coalition is to establish Guidelines to provide Architects, Engineers, Constructors and Owners (AECO) with a common framework in which to create and maintain Construction PDF Documents. Sasha has been featured as the keynote speaker at the 2014 Bentley Florida User Group and spoken at numerous industry events including the American Institute of Architects’ DesignDC Conference, NTI Danish BIM Conference, the International Highway Engineering Exchange Program and the International Facilities Management Association Conference. Sasha has also contributed articles to numerous national publications and authors the Digital Com blog for Building Design + Construction magazine. Before Bluebeam, Sasha was a Project Manager for M3, a Herman Miller dealer, where she learned ?rsthand the challenges faced by the AEC industry from project conception to completion. 

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