Systemates’ Projectmates software lets owners manage the complete lifecycle of a building.
By Chris Kelsch
While the construction industry has seen robust growth in recent years, it is still known as a laggard in one key area: state of the art technology. According to some industry surveys, some construction firms are using paper-based processes that can be described as archaic. It appears the image of project managers running around with documents rolled up in tubes is not a cliché, but a fact of life.
Systemates Inc., on the other hand, has already begun to take aim at modernizing the industry with its Projectmates software, a sophisticated, cloud-based construction program management platform. Nicole Countryman, director of sales for Projectmates, notes that Systemates was started by those with major experience in the building industry. “Systemates was founded in 1995 by two AIA-certified architects,” Countryman says. “Once the Internet became popular, we started using that as a platform and eventually launched Projectmates 1.0 in 2000.”
Roots in Ownership
One of those founders was Varsha Bhave, current president of Systemates Inc./Projectmates. Prior to launching her career in technology, she had worked with several municipalities as a city planner before eventually joining the city of Arlington, Texas, as a statistical analyst and long-range senior planner. While working for that city, she made great strides in automating the creation of performance reports for the city’s construction projects, while also managing the city’s impact fee program (fees assessed to developments for infrastructure enhancements related to the development).
Bhave’s extensive experience with capital project development combined with her web application development techniques gave birth to the underlying ideas for using web-based technologies to manage the complex process of construction management. Because she was a city planner herself, it’s easy to see why Projectmates is designed more for owners, as opposed to some platforms that are designed for general contractors. The needs of owners and real estate developers are unique, as both need to manage a multitude of complex capital construction programs that run into the billions. In fact, the company was initially commissioned to create a web-based collaboration tool for Continental Airlines’ offshore project.
The initial project proved successful, as Projectmates was requested to provide more than 100 construction and planning project extranet sites within two years. Since then, the company has continued to update the software as the needs of the marketplace have changed, rolling out new updates between one and two times a year. With its most current release, version 15.5, Projectmates now features more than 40 different modules. “We are always looking ahead,” Countryman notes. “We have always been product-focused, and we continue to enhance the product’s capability and functionality.”
A Focus on Clients
One of the reasons Projectmates has been so successful with clients is because it uses and values their input to a very high degree. Projectmates has a long-standing reputation for partnering with clients to develop the software in house using their technical expertise. Throughout its history, client demand has led to the enhancement of many features, including more robust budget tracking. For example, a single-site location such as a retail store can contain separate budgets for remodels and other special projects, which gives owners full visibility into a property’s financial history.
Another benefit for owners is the ability to customize reports. “You can really get into the nitty gritty,” Countryman explains. “As an owner, let’s say you wanted to see what you spent on concrete in Texas during a certain year. You can attach graphs and charts on your own reporting dashboard.”
While many software programs provide reporting capabilities, Countryman notes Projectmates sets itself apart with a key feature. “Our platform is deployed on a private cloud server,” Countryman explains. “It can either be run by SaaS software or a company’s IT department or even a vendor can run the software.” It provides the scalability and cost savings of a SaaS model with the data control and customization of an on-premise solution.
The idea is to provide customers with a white-label enterprise software that wraps around customers’ current processes to accommodate their needs. Because Projectmates provides a private cloud-based server, users can eliminate a lot of IT infrastructure and realize significant cost savings. Projectmates hosts the server, provides the updates and provides training for users on the owners’ side. “We truly intend to partner with customers,” Countryman says. “We want to create workflows and modules where they are a part of the process, and not at the mercy of a vendor.”
While Projectmates really strives to take the lead on allowing users to collaborate, it has also led the way with its focus on mobility. “Mobility has been a huge focus of ours,” Countryman says. “Especially with people in the field, we want to make sure they have the ability to access all project information (drawings, specs, financials) and complete tasks like checking of punch list, schedule list, create RFI’s or upload photos of the site progress.” Projectmates was one of the first in the industry to launch a mobile version of its software in 2005, suitable for Palm Pilot and Blackberry devices. When the mobile industry standard became Apple and Android, Projectmates launched mobile apps that leveraged the native capabilities of the devices.
With the release of the latest Projectmates mobile app, the company continues to build on its mobile-friendly platform providing mark up and annotation tools. With the version of Projectmates mobile, utilizing native push notifications, the user can go directly to the assigned task without having to log into the app or desktop version to complete the task.
In addition to these alerts or “push notifications,” users also have the ability to take part in a discussion forum. Forums are one of the simplest, most effective ways to communicate without the hassle of long-running email correspondence. Users can also access documents from smartphones, mark them up, and upload them back into Projectmates from other cloud services.
As any IT professional will likely point out, the largest focus within the software industry is cybersecurity, or the prevention of theft of vital information from outside threats. Recognizing this threat, Projectmates has taken major steps to ensure it offers a secure platform. In 2015, Systemates successfully completed the SSAE 16 compliance. Through months of rigorous third-party audits, Projectmates software reached a new level of credibility, giving its clients confidence about the controls in place over system operations.
Continuing its quest for a secure platform, in 2016 Systemates completed an eight-month strict evaluation process and became SOC 2 Type II certified. SOC is an internationally recognized auditing standard for security compliance, and its audits include everything from financial strength and longevity of the company to firewall security and disaster recovery capabilities, as well as ensuring security compliance for all employees. The SOC 2 Type II report has become paramount to owners dealing with capital construction projects that need to manage multiple moving parts.
With this certification – which must be kept up yearly – Projectmates software clients are assured data is stored in protected locations with secure encryption. “In essence, it ensures all clients and users of Projectmates that their physical server (where their data is stored) is safe and secure as well as the Systemates employees who access it” Countryman says.
With a robust, stable and secure platform, as well as the willingness to listen to client suggestions, it becomes easy to see how Projectmates has grown to become a leader in project management software. With its diverse list of functions, the software is easily applicable across a variety of industries. So far the software has been used on over 100,000 projects to date, ranging from government to healthcare to education, commercial and retail.
Of course, every time Projectmates adds a client, it adds another voice to those who make suggestions on how to improve it. “We’re always looking ahead, trying to update and enhance the software,” Countryman says. “But while we’re enhancing and upgrading, we always want to make sure it is easy to use.”