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University of Alaska Fairbanks Adopts Aconex Platform to Manage US$245-Million Project

Aconex Limited, provider of a leading cloud collaboration platform for the global construction industry, today announced that the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has adopted the Aconex platform to manage information and processes for a US$245-million project to upgrade the institution's 50-year-old power plant.

The new plant will include a new 240,000 lb/hr boiler that will generate up to 17 megawatts of power and an extraction steam turbine that will provide enough steam to heat 3 million square feet of academic buildings, research facilities and housing.

Successful, on-time completion of the project is essential to Alaska's economic health. UAF provides Alaskans with critical educational and workforce development services and is ranked in the top 150 of the nearly 700 U.S. academic institutions that conduct research. It is also a founding member of the University of the Arctic, a consortium of colleges, universities and research institutions dedicated to building strong education and research networks that address the needs of the circumpolar North, including an understanding of climate change.

UAF's day-to-day activities are dependent on the aging Atkinson Heat and Power Plant. Two cracks were recently discovered in the existing boilers, raising the specter of a catastrophic outage. Nearly every facility on the Fairbanks campus would suffer damage if the boilers were to fail in the winter, and billions of dollars in state infrastructure would be affected.

All Project Information Organized and Accessible on Single, Cloud-based Platform
Michael Ruckhaus, senior project manager at UAF, was determined to keep every phase of the power plant upgrade on track. He was also concerned that the university's existing project management tools would fall short of the project requirements. The university had never before used a project-wide collaboration platform, such as Aconex. Instead, it had relied on a mixture of FTP sites and stand-alone systems for handling submittals and documenting requests for information (RFIs). The new power plant was twice as large as any capital project ever undertaken by the university, and the sheer volume of project documents had the potential to overwhelm the existing solutions.

According to Mr. Ruckhaus, the university selected Aconex because of its excellent reputation as the leading platform for managing information and processes across large capital projects. "If document management gets out of control, you can lose your grip on the project," he explained. "If people can't find the documents they need, every process takes longer than it should. This creates unnecessary risk that can have a ripple effect on the schedule and the budget."

Aligning a Team from Alaska to Washington, Ohio and Japan
Aconex offered other advantages beyond document control that surpassed other construction management tools. As a neutral, cloud-based platform, Aconex provides security and control to all stakeholders, enabling them to share information that will increase the productivity of the entire team. Project files of all types and sizes, including multidimensional models, can be readily accessed regardless of whether a team member is in the office or on the project site, in Alaska or on another continent. This is particularly helpful to UAF, which awarded the construction package to a joint venture with offices in Anchorage, Alaska and Bellingham, Washington. Major vendors are located in Ohio and Japan.

In addition to managing documents, Aconex ensures that all project-related correspondence is located in one place and is available to team members when they need it. "The sorting and searching capabilities of Aconex Mail are pretty slick," Mr. Ruckhaus said. "With Aconex Mail, I can quickly find what I am looking for."

More Efficient Design Reviews
Mr. Ruckhaus said Aconex proved its worth during the design phase of the project earlier this year. UAF had previously used spreadsheets to gather feedback on designs that were shared using another program. The process was laborious and time-consuming. With Aconex, the drawings and mark-ups are reviewed using an online viewer. All of the comments are in one place, so each reviewer can read what others have written. Instead of describing a design item in words, a team member can zoom in and circle the relevant portion of a drawing. As a result, there is no question about which detail of the design is being referenced. "With Aconex, our meetings are very productive and to the point," Mr. Ruckhaus said.

The project has also benefited from the Aconex platform's drag-and-drop workflows. These automated processes keep things moving in every phase of the project. During the design phase, team members gained immediate insight into where a document was in the review process, and individuals were reminded of items that were due each time they logged in. "Aconex is like a virtual manager of people," Mr. Ruckhaus said.

Simpler Way to Handle Complex RFIs
The site for the new plant is currently being prepared for construction, and Mr. Ruckhaus expects additional efficiency gains as the next phase of the project gets underway. In previous projects, RFIs were handled by an in-house system. It was adequate for basic queries, but complex requests became hard to follow. With Aconex, RFIs will be handled as a separate category in Aconex Mail. Every step of the process will be transparent. "Resolving an RFI is easier if you can see the whole thread, particularly if a new person is getting involved," Mr. Ruckhaus said.

Unlike installed document management systems purchased with seat licenses, Aconex offers unlimited usage, data and support to scale with the project. New members of the project team can jump on at no extra cost and quickly familiarize themselves with the documents and decisions that have preceded them. "Whoever needs to use Aconex for the project can," Mr. Ruckhaus said. "That was a big deal for us."

Though the project is still in its early phases, Mr. Ruckhaus said Aconex has already exceeded his expectations. While some members of the project team were reluctant to learn a new system, they quickly warmed up to the Aconex platform. "The more time they spend on Aconex, the more they understand it, and the more enthusiastic they become," Mr. Ruckhaus said.


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