Why AEC Firms Struggle with SharePoint and OneDrive (And What They Can Do About It)

The AEC industry is notoriously reliant on data - data that is housed in documents that support design through initial bid response and project build to post occupancy.  Project teams employ everything from traditional Microsoft word documents and excel spreadsheets to extremely large industry specific files such as BIM, CAD, RVT, DWG, as well as point cloud data generated by 3D laser scanners and LiDAR - just to name a few. So where should a firm turn when it comes to storing and sharing their most critical intellectual property?  

For many, the default is SharePoint and OneDrive. After all, if you are using Microsoft 365, it’s free, right? Yes and no. (More on this shortly).

Based on conversations with dozens of AEC firms who have made the switch from SharePoint and OneDrive as their file solution, this blog post explains why these solutions are not viable as a modern file server for design and construction firms (and why Egnyte is).

But first, let’s be clear about one thing: we are not advocating getting rid of SharePoint. That would be foolish. While SharePoint does store files, its real value is as a collaboration tool for work groups. As such, it offers some features that are not available with traditional file servers such as document libraries, surveys, calendars, timers, wikis, and more. It’s also a backend repository for Microsoft Teams and OneDrive for document management. 

What we do recommend is that, if you are in the business of ensuring that projects run smoothly and an assortment of stakeholders can reliably find and access working documents, you should not try to force-fit SharePoint into a file server solution. No product is great at all things for all types of users, and the types of documents in AEC that need to be located, shared and collaborated on - very often push SharePoint beyond its limits.

Here are two of the most common complaints we’ve heard from AEC companies who have tried using SharePoint and OneDrive as their core file systems before coming to Egnyte looking for a better solution.

Poor User Experience

SharePoint’s file structure is accessed from within individual Microsoft products and via a browser, but there is no familiar “drive letter” experience of a traditional file server.  Day-to-day project files may reside in many different locations including OneDrive, Teams, and SharePoint sites, creating a scenario in which files are accessed via different menus and user interfaces, often frustrating users and creating resistance to adoption.

SharePoint’s environment uses a web model and is built in terms of “sites”. However, a collection of sites is limited to 25 TB of data. Project teams working with large digital files and multiple versions can easily exceed this limit, which may or may not generate a warning message to the user, but certainly causes degradation in behavior. When these limits are exceeded, no new files can be created, no existing files can be edited, and no data can be moved within the collection - often bringing the project to a halt. To resolve the problem, IT admins must figure out how to split the content among new site collections, which also means that end users must now travel to different sites and site collections to access different folders and files after they have been relocated.

Management Complexity and Cost

Setting up a SharePoint instance is relatively easy, but can become very complex very quickly because it lacks a centralized approach to managing the volume of site and site collection repositories that spawn from SharePoint sites, Teams, and OneDrive. These document libraries and the sites they are housed in quickly grow out of control and use different levels of menus that are accessed from multiple views and portals. Knowing where the right setting, portal, or script requirement is requires deep knowledge and certification of IT teams. 

If individual project teams have different requirements, configuration suddenly becomes very tedious as individual sites must be set up to support different teams. This approach means that the data owners themselves have very limited controls over permissions and capabilities for users on the project.  Instead, IT is called in even for minor changes to existing configurations.  This, in turn, adds additional overhead costs for IT resources that are often under-estimated until deployed in production.

For AEC firms who remain on-premises, most environments require six servers spread across different locations to deliver the required performance. While SharePoint gives users access control, much of this control is lost or becomes too complex to manage with the various levels of access that can be granted for Teams, OneDrive, and SharePoint. Logging and auditing these multiple instances often require custom PowerShell scripting to identify activity.

The bottom line is that SharePoint has many features for making collaboration between project teams and clients effective including: integrations with familiar Office tools, support for co-editing in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and sharing large files with external clients and project stakeholders. 

However, Egnyte has all these capabilities too, only without the complexity and cost constraints noted above. Don’t take our word for it. Contact us for a complimentary “Proof Of Concept” trial and see for yourself.

To learn more, visit: https://www.egnyte.com/solutions/construction-engineering

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Joëlle Colosi

Joelle is Egnyte's Product Marketing leader for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry.

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