Death of the Blue Print

blue print, BarkerBlue, San Mateo, San Francisco, PlanGrid, DPR Construction, Jay Paul Co., Transbay Transit Center
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BarkerBlue transforms its business to coordinate an expanding digital universe of construction documentation


By Robert Carlsen

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]inding a profitable niche in the modern world of reprography (the reproduction of graphics), San Mateo-based BarkerBlue has gone beyond the cloud and into a more personal relationship with the architecture, engineering and construction community.

Nineteenth century blueprint technology was overtaken by digital building information modeling products in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Project team members are now able to communicate among themselves on design, construction and operational aspects in real time. Technical drawings not only can be displayed on desktops and laptops, but on iPads and other mobile devices. Which brings us to the latest evolution of BarkerBlue, a provider of document management, digital imaging and display printing services.

This past October, BarkerBlue entered a strategic alliance with another blueprint technology provider, San Francisco-based PlanGrid, which developed a cloud-based mobile app for iPads. One example of the alliance involves a DPR Construction project in the South Bay, where BarkerBlue is managing the contractor’s PlanGrid portal.

[quote]”That’s where we come in, the guys in the center who make sure the same version gets to all information sites.” Gene Klein, BarkerBlue CEO[/quote]

“They are indexing, versioning, uploading and hyperlinking the plans for ease of use and tracking,” said Ted van der Linden, DPR’s director of sustainability. BarkerBlue’s value is its “keen knowledge and understanding of our business and the way we work with our clients, architects and subcontractors,” he said. “They have very experienced digital asset managers, which are the backbone of the type of service they provide.”

IMG_7267 copyThe secret to BarkerBlue’s success is the human touch behind the software and the technology, said CEO Gene Klein. Other cloud collaboration and storage sites, such as Box, Dropbox, Projectwise and Newforma, don’t have human oversight.

“The integrity of the data and its critical doppelganger, metadata, is completely dependent on the skill and accuracy of everyone on the project who uploads to the sites,” he said. With multiple collaborators, there is almost no change of everyone maintaining identical taxonomy and accuracy across multiple team members to multiple repositories.

“That’s where we come in, the guys in the center who make sure the same version gets to all information sites,” he said.

In just about every release of drawings and specifications, there are multiple errors in image justification, spelling, missing sheets, misnamed sheets or other aspects. Left uncorrected, those mistakes amplify and carry a great risk that cost time and money. Klein cited a recent McGraw-Hill report that the cost of building from the wrong set of plans comes close to $20 billion annually in the U.S. construction market.

“We know there is a lot of bidding and building off the wrong plans, because we are so often asked for an audit trail on who has seen or downloaded documents,” Klein said. “It is essentially litigation support, but we really head off litigation because we produce proof that the sub or contractor actually did or did not view and interact with the drawings in question. The McGraw-Hill number, in our opinion, will get even bigger, because there are now more silos of information, disconnected from each other and not containing the same metadata or versioning protocols.”

BarkerBlue, whose operations are housed in an enormous former roller skating arena just off Highway 101 in San Mateo, Calif., was founded in 1961 by Jerry Barker. Klein’s family bought the company in 1976 when he was a freshman at Stanford. He worked summers at the firm and then joined the company full-time after his graduation in 1979. Reflecting the march of technology through the years, the company was renamed Barker Blueprint & Photographic Co., BarkerBlue Reprographics, BarkerBlue Digital Imaging and, finally, just plain BarkerBlue. Klein is currently the sole owner. Under him work 12 digital asset managers, one full-time workflow consultant, five customer service staff members, two IT directors, an AEC production staff of 14, and a logistics and delivery staff of 10. Compared to an unmanned cloud, which would include a help desk somewhere in the United States and “lots of programmers,” Klein said BarkerBlue’s primary focus is on service, not technology.

John Roach, BarkerBlue’s general manager, described the company as a specialist in organizing, versioning and fulfillment, in either digital or hard-copy format, of documents used during live construction. The company also hosts information on existing buildings, including drawings, specifications, operations and maintenance manuals, warranties and native BIM or CAD files. Project documents that BarkerBlue scans and organizes include print drawings, requests for information, permits, submittals, budgets, spec books, meeting minutes, floor plans and site photos and videos.

“Documents hosted within our custom-branded DFS web portals can then be accessed by various parties and everything is fully tracked,” said Roach. The firm’s capacity as a digital hub, hosting the area’s AT&T OC12 fiber internet rack in its server room, expands with a dedicated DS3 connection to the internet that offers 100MB per second of transfer speed for outside users. That means an end user could download 500 full-size, 30-inch-by-42-inch drawings in 10 minutes, depending on their download speed, according to Konstantin Koshelev, director of digital assets.

Each user needs a unique log-in and password, as well as passwords specific to each project within the web portal.

“We also have the ability to limit what end users see once logged in via hierarchical permissions,” Koshelev said. “We conduct regular onsite and offsite backups for information stored in our system, which uses SSL and code signing certificates.”

BarkerBlue hasn’t completely given up physical images. Its other specialty is digital imaging and display graphics for interiors or exteriors of museums, retailers and office buildings. For example, on Jay Paul Co.’s 181 Fremont project, a 54-story multiuse tower now under construction adjacent to the San Francisco Transbay Transit Center, contractors had to remove some trees along a backside fence. BarkerBlue was brought in to create a realistic image of the former trees and the fence along the same wall that will be visible from the offices.

Photography by Laura Kudritzki

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