Construction firm Webcor Builders has selected fellow San Francisco-based firm Box for online document storage and collaboration.
The construction industry is not known for being early adopters of new enterprise-level technology, as CTO Vince Sarubbi admits, but Webcor has taken the plunge after becoming frustrated with the FTP solution the firm was previously using.
This system didn't allow large attachments to be sent between staff, or to third parties - which is a problem in the construction industry, which groans under the weight of the many plans and documents necessary in large projects.
"We needed to upgrade," said Sarubbi, "and the thought of going with Box came to me on a whim, when I saw their ad on a billboard whilst driving.
"I looked them up online, signed up for 20 free accounts, and that grew through word of mouth to 75 overnight."
The Box solution quickly became popular at Webcor, which led Sarubbi to consider his selection more carefully, rather than proceed with the initial whim. He looked at Microsoft SharePoint, but said it was too expensive, especially when compared to the Box solution.
But he wasn't ready to just let Box spread throughout his organisation organically, as it was threatening to do.
"We said ‘time out', it's becoming an enterprise app, so we needed to look at security more carefully. Once we were satisfied, we bought some enterprise accounts and it took off like wildfire.
"The cost for Box was just right. It was embraced internally, and by our subcontractors. We now have 250 users internally, out of a 400-person campus overall. But we have 750 users in total, with all of our subcontractors and other collaborators like architects, engineers, building owners and others," added Sarubbi. "They all use Box to collaborate, sharing everything from small files to huge AutoCAD designs."
While he's had good user feedback overall, there have been some niggles. Some have complained of the speed of uploading multiple small files, although the Box account team have told Sarubbi that they're working on fixing that particular complaint.
"We'd also like to see a server sync product, and we've been asking for that for the past three years. Everything else they've come to the table and solved."
Sarubbi also complained about the assigning engine, which specifies who has the responsibility and authority for documents and sections of documents.
"The assigning engine isn't great, the workflows from a construction perspective are very basic. We want to make sure that whoever you assign a document to actually does something to it," he said.
He added that he is hoping that Box - still a privately owned company - will buy a visualisations firm to add that functionality to its suite.
"We use a third-party visualisations tool, which shows you what's in Box graphically like Windows explorer. I'm waiting for Box to buy them so I don't have to pay for it any more!" he joked.
Of the new features announced at BoxWorks, the firm's annual customer and partner shindig in San Francisco, it was the ability to add meta data to pictures and files to make them more easily searchable that caught Sarubbi's eye.
"Metadata looks really interesting," he said. "I've been looking for a tool where you can take pictures at job sites, tag them, keep them forever, and search them for discovery purposes. Without that you put pictures in a folder and no one knows what it is or why it's there."
The ability to use Box offline, despite it being essentially a SaaS offering, is also key for Webcor.
"If an engineer goes down in a hole, he can pull up drawings and mark up problems, then when he gets back to ground level, everything syncs up. Having that in your hand rather than carrying 30 pounds of drawings that may be out of date is a game changer.
"Any alterations made in field are uploaded to Box then everyone can see them instantly. That reduces error and rework time, because having old plans means you put things in the wrong place, which costs a lot of money."