Commercial architecture design firms regularly impact how customers perceive and experience brands, even beyond the visual aesthetic of a storefront or store section. These firms are responsible for the interior flow and facades of some of the most popular American companies that reach consumers worldwide. After all, a well-executed design builds a memorable customer experience and an efficient flow for foot traffic, both impacting client expectations for sales and customer retention.
PM Design Group, a young and thriving architecture and engineering firm with north of 160 employees in 13 offices across the United States, handles national rollouts for some of the most recognizable restaurants, big box chain retail stores, banks, and grocery stores.
“We do traditional major new construction, big renovations, and a lot of high-volume, small renovations to different clients across the country,” said Carl Nelson, Senior Project Manager at PM Design Group.
"We do it all. It's always more appealing for a client to hire one [firm] to do it all."
—Carl Nelson, PM Design Group
From these major, high-profile projects arises a need to stay innovative, nimble, and on the vanguard of advancements in technology. PM Design Group embraces and promotes innovation in an industry that often sticks to traditional, familiar process workflows and software platforms specific to design.
When Nelson started at the firm, key technology solutions for managing their multi-faceted projects were off-the-shelf solutions. While teams at the firm were conducting surveys, typically with standard and sometime higher-resolution 360-degree cameras, then following up with 2D drawings and 3D modeling, managing their high volume of site photos had become cumbersome.
Process improvements impact customers
It can be a challenge to shift how organizations do work in any industry, even if that change is being led by a team of innovators. Fortunately for Nelson’s team, PM Design Group encourages employees to explore innovative ways to solve process challenges. Nelson found that his firm already had a license for Egnyte, a software as a service platform (SaaS) for securely storing collaborative content, but it was barely being used.
Nelson also learned that Egnyte seamlessly integrates with Smartsheet, so he and his team could easily attach their image files stored in Egnyte to the sheets he had them use in Smartsheet to manage projects. He set up their workflows through Smartsheet and had his team attach Egnyte files to a project row or sheet, so team members as well as external stakeholders — including clients — could instantly access and review site photos.
“We're working on hundreds and thousands of stores at a time. We have an assembly-line-type process, which kind of rolls through different internal teams and clients.”
—Carl Nelson, PM Design Group
Using AutoCAD on company-owned tablet devices, workers survey the site and take around twelve basic 360-degree photos during their walkthroughs. In addition to the more affordable 360-degree cameras, the firm has recently adopted higher resolution cameras that enable them to map 360-degree walkthroughs of sites, similar to a Google Street View or software for real estate walkthroughs.
Once a survey is completed, they convert and upload the digital images into Egnyte. Within the platform, they have hundreds to thousands of folders of digital photos for large scale projects. Next, PM Design Group’s drafting team takes the images and draw up initial plans for the design. After the phase is complete comes an internal QA process for designs, managed through Smartsheet.
Managing large-scale projects requires constant visibility and agility, which Nelson’s team can provide with Smartsheet. In addition to making clients more confident in the firm’s project execution, the integration between Egnyte and Smartsheet has major benefits for his team.
Nelson estimates that in addition to time savings, his team is 10 to 20 percent more productive using Smartsheet and Egnyte.
“[Smartsheet] helps our bottom line. If we are more productive, we are more profitable,” Nelson said.
The integration has cut in half the time Nelson spent managing large programs and large-scale projects. Instead of manually managing processes, Nelson has more time to focus on strategic thinking and managing the development of his team, which leads to increased quality and alignment across the firm.
In addition, since the photos and plans are accessed multiple times by clients as well, “we save lots of clicks for lots of different people,” Nelson says. Having direct access to these files in Smartsheet, both PM Design Group and their clients get time back that would normally be spent on follow-up emails and phone calls.
The president of one client company “knows that Smartsheet has done a bunch of cool things and it's working,” says Nelson. “He says ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’”