It’s a challenge to keep clients involved and engaged on grand-scale commercial architecture projects that span years and involve multiple stakeholders. The longtime status quo of architecture was to loop in clients only during meetings and over email, leaving potential collaboration opportunities untapped.
Perkins + Will envisioned a digital app that would lend transparency to the day-to-day progress of large-scale projects and give clients a more active role. In just six weeks, Perkins + Will brought that dream app to life on Box Platform. Now, teams can collaborate, clients can interact with project documentation, and visual details of a project are available in real time on any device.
Thanks to the Blueprint app, clients now have deeper transparency into project stages and are able to collaborate on ideas proactively, leading to better designs. By centralizing all their project-related content on Box, internal teams, external partners, and clients are all privy to the same rich library of information, greatly enhancing collaboration all around. And Perkins + Will has a powerful selling point when pitching their experience to new clients.
Perkins + Will is a leading global architecture and design firm responsible for some of the world's most noteworthy commercial properties, including the National Center for Civic and Human Rights in Atlanta and the Albion Library in Toronto. From museums to international airports to hospital campuses, the projects are highly complex and can take years to complete. Perkins + Will employs more than 2,000 employees in over 20 offices, and every project involves dozens if not hundreds of stakeholders. “There are multifaceted ecosystems of players,” says Chief Information Officer Murali Selvaraj, “including architects, structural engineers, lighting consultants, and more. All of them somehow come together for 10 years to make a building happen.”
An astounding volume of critical content is generated during this time. From sharing budgets and project plans to architectural designs and construction photos, hundreds of documents, images, and videos are exchanged over the span of each project. Much of this content requires input, approvals, and collaboration at every step.
Amid the hectic project management process, keeping clients updated and fully informed from afar was a standing challenge. Clients wanted more transparency and communication. The Perkins + Will IT team dreamed of a completely new kind of client experience — simple, streamlined, immersive, and utterly collaborative. It would allow project teams to share inspiration and provide feedback in the flow of work. “In addition to designing the best spaces and buildings for clients,” Selvaraj wondered, “could we provide the right digital experience to a client?”
For this, Perkins + Will needed a technology partner. In the summer of 2016, Selvaraj met with Box to learn more about how Box could help Perkins + Will securely share and collaborate on their project content in the cloud.
“Most existing solutions are focused on making the construction process more efficient. We needed a more simple solution to put in front of clients.”
Murali Selvaraj, Chief Information Officer, Perkins + Will
Redesigning the concept of the client experience
“Our clients are very interested in design, and how they can see the design go from concept to finished product,” says Chris Howland, User Experience Lead, Perkins + Will. What he and Selvaraj imagined was an app they could put in front of the dean of a medical school or the chancellor of a university to give an impressive view into the project at any point, from kickoff to completion. The app would allow clients to view schedules, budgets, architectural designs, and photos and videos from the construction site — all in a simple app on their iPhone.
This application, built on Box Platform, became the aptly titled Blueprint. Using it, clients get instant insight into what stage each project is in and whether it’s on track. A running app feed shows new images that have been uploaded, docs that need attention, and other current information. Clients can self-serve to a rendering of a design or a floor plan, and comment on files right within the app. They can even upload snapshots and draw quick sketches to illustrate flashes of brilliance, sudden ideas, and inspiration. When they do, the entire team receives a notification and can respond in the feed. This interface creates a fluid, enabled dialog between clients and all the stakeholders of the project.
The app also includes a full contact list of project team members. Clients can push a button to reach an architect or the managing director of the project right from the app.
While all of this content is stored on Box, customers already familiar with using Box don’t recognize the experience on a superficial level, because it’s entirely whitelabeled to look and feel like a Perkins + Will interface. They don’t have to log into a Box account to view files, for instance. Instead, “they have a unified experience with us,” says Howland.
“The really fun part about this app is having our clients interact with us and share their ideas.”
Chris Howland, User Experience Lead, Perkins + Will
The technology dream team of best-of-breed apps
“We’re not a technology firm. We’re a design firm,” says Selvaraj. “We have great imaginations. From a technology standpoint, we want to focus on the core, which is imagining the right client experience. We’re really not good at building digital products beyond that.”
Perkins + Will had a lot of help building the Blueprint app. The in-house team came up with the concept, but a development team at consulting company Cognizant brought it to life on Box Platform. Box Platform dramatically simplified the development process and acts as the content backbone of the entire application. The app is hosted on Amazon Web Services and takes advantage of core integrations with Auth0 for authentication and user management, Autodesk Forge for CAD rendering, Adobe Sign for eSignature on important documents, and SendGrid for sending transactional emails throughout the process.
Best of all, the entire app went from idea to execution in just six weeks. By taking advantage of Cognizant’s development expertise and the content capabilities of Box Platform, Perkins + Will could focus resources on designing an incredible, tailored user experience instead of rebuilding a content management system from scratch. Now, using Box Platform’s preview services, Perkins + Will is able to display interactive views for more than 120 different file types in the app with just a few API calls.
“We use best-in-class players for content management. For security, we use Okta. And we’ve brought in a bunch of ecosystem players to stitch all of these together. We do the design. Everyone else does the work.”
Murali Selvaraj, Chief Information Officer, Perkins + Will
Secure, centralized content with versatile application
With multiple projects and many employees and clients in the mix, Perkins + Will needed to feel confident about their content governance in the cloud. Security was of utmost consideration when choosing a content platform, as all the information about a project needed to be protected and governed to cover litigation risk. The keen focus Box allowed on secure, compliant storage meant that Perkins + Will could trust that their information was protected, allowing them to focus on building an app that was engaging and immersive for clients.
Apart from using Box Platform to build the Blueprint app, the team also licensed Box as the Cloud Content Management and collaboration platform for the entire company. That means that the Blueprint app is built on the same content platform that employees now use every day. Architects using the Box web and mobile apps can easily share and collaborate on content with clients while the clients access that same information using Blueprint.
Building on that vision for the future of content
Today, Blueprint displays documents, images, and HD videos, but soon the app will support 360-degree photos and videos and virtual reality content. Immersive technology will be a big push for Perkins + Will in the near future, giving the client a deeper experience of the project plan beyond 2D blueprints and renderings. They’re currently looking at virtual reality solutions and have even built a small VR app with the help of the Box team.
“A lot of what gets clients excited is the experience of the space that we’re designing for them,” Delvaraj says. “The more experience we provide, the more engaged the client gets in the design process.”
Ultimately, because Perkins + Will is now able to engage both clients and internal stakeholders so closely in the design process, more exciting and visionary architecture is in the works.
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