By Nick Harris
Here at Cadline we decided some time ago to move away from traditional on-premise IT infrastructure to online cloud services. As you may expect of a technology consulting organisation with people and offices across the UK and northern Europe, agility and great communication are core to our success. Moving our email, messaging and file sharing services to Microsoft Office 365 seemed an obvious choice when we started planning our next major IT infrastructure upgrade. Why maintain our own mail and data servers running Microsoft server technology when we could offload the whole availability and security burden back to Microsoft at a very reasonable price.
That decision has proven to be the right one and the additional capabilities for collaboration that we now have access to have demonstrably improved our efficiency and productivity. One of the key benefits of subscribing to software services like Office 365 is that it is constantly improving. Features are added and refined in such a way that upgrades are unobtrusive, there is no need for large IT deployment projects.
Office 365 did have one feature that was disappointing when we first implemented. Where file sharing services like Box, Dropbox and WeTransfer were making the sharing of large files or folders of files very easy, Microsoft was not. They had SharePoint for online business sharing and OneDrive for personal sharing but the two didn’t work together well. The change notifications were limited and the offline availability was poor. To work easily with cloud hosted file data, you have to make the connection between the computer or tablet and the cloud storage service. Up until the beginning of last year the established providers had the superior products until Microsoft upped its game. Now OneDrive and SharePoint are closely connected and the desktop interface works seamlessly. I work in folders within my main desktop File Explorer and everything I do is synchronised with the Microsoft Cloud and any other devices that I use to view and edit files. I am even able to share a file from OneDrive online by right-clicking on the file in Explorer.
This has revolutionised the way we work. Data is backed up as I create it and we can share work instantly for comment and approval. One of the most exciting products that Microsoft has released is called Flow. It is a service that monitors your data and, based on a rule set you define, will route your files or send a notification to a third party. For example, I have a folder which I use to share files for a particular project. I have set up Microsoft Flow to monitor that folder and, when new files are added an email is sent to a couple of my colleagues, including a link to the file in the body of the email which they can click on and view the file. For more information about Flow, use the link below.
Autodesk has an equivalent desktop to cloud synchronisation service which is an equally powerful facility for sharing project data. Where Office 365 is optimised for Office documents, services like BIM 360 Team and Fusion 360 are much more suited to collaborating on design files. The Autodesk Desktop Connector has a relatively low-key launch and if you were not already using Autodesk’s collaboration services then you are unlikely to have heard of it. In the same way as Microsoft OneDrive, it has the potential to change the way designers and engineers work and collaborate.
Almost all of Autodesk’s core design software takes advantage of the concept of file linking. When a designer is working on a collaborative project they will often link another designers file into their own as a reference. They will develop their own design in the context of the overall project and this is the same approach used in AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor and AutoCAD Civil 3D. Currently one designer will release the file to be linked using email or another collaborative portal. It is downloaded and referenced but will almost always be instantly out of date because the project will have progressed and the file updated. With the desktop connector you link to a file that appears to reside on the user’s local computer but now it is constantly synchronised with the source designer’s version via the Autodesk cloud collaboration service. It is easy to see how communication can be streamlined and project times reduced with this new service. It is available to anyone who subscribes to a valid Autodesk collaboration service. You can see all the different Microsoft and Autodesk collaboration services that I connect to right from within the File Explorer in the image below.
To learn more about the Autodesk Desktop Connector click on the link below.