When it comes to companies that need access to a multitude of files and documents across all available cloud file storage options, few surpass those in the construction business. From initial blueprints and submittals, to RFIs and photos; document creation and transferral is the backbone of the construction industry.
Hanley Wood, an analytics-driven and construction-focused media firm, recently stated that construction has an “interactable productivity problem,” and identifies the sector as the second-least digitized industry in the U.S., behind only agriculture.
In their article, Reinventing construction through a productivity revolution, The McKinsey Global Institute writes that “Other sectors have transformed themselves and their productivity performance. In retail, the mom-and-pop stores of half a century ago have been replaced by large-scale modern retailers with global supply chains and increasingly digitized distribution systems and customer-intelligence gathering. In manufacturing, lean principles coupled with extensive automation have utterly changed industries.”
In contrast, the construction industry fell into the bottom quartile of profit margins across all major industries. While there is more to this decline than simply a lack of embracing technology, the increased automation of processes and integration of outside complimentary services is integral to the success of modern construction. In order to maximize profits, the construction industry must embrace many of the same methods and techniques that have boosted the manufacturing and food-service industries’ profit-margins. This includes, but is by no means limited to, finding a way to deal with document and file management better.
With so many people involved in every step of a construction job from beginning to end, dealing with the overwhelming amount of files and communication across positions and stages of the process can be overwhelming. If a general contractor, sub-contractor and owner all use different storage services, simply building out the ability to integrate with all of them is a massive undertaking. Generally, a large amount of systems are involved in the process of a construction-based application, and that’s where Kloudless can help to improve an end user’s workflow.
Kloudless enables apps like StructionSite and SmartBid to offer general contractors the ability to pull, push, or sync documents and images between that app and any third-party storage. For example, a general contractor using PlanGrid to manage their project, and Egnyte to store files, can access their data from within StructionSite without StructionSite’s engineers having to individually develop each of those integrations.
The most value in this workflow, especially for smaller companies, is their speed to market. Instead of spending valuable time and resources working on integrations for all of the storage platforms a company’s users may need to improve their workflow across the different tools they use, a developer can integrate with Kloudless and provide their users with all cloud-based file storage services in the time it would take to integrate a single one. Through our Kloudless File Explorer, we can replicate the look and feel of an application’s file structure so users feel right at home when using our File Explorer to prompt the selection of files in cloud storage or other construction apps to pull into the app, or folders to push their files to.
That’s why we here at Kloudless are thrilled to announce the rollout of PlanGrid integration in our already powerful Kloudless Storage API. If your application needs to allows its users to access PlanGrid as their construction project management software, you can now easily allow the integration of all of our previously available storage API services with their PlanGrid file structure. Through the use of our Kloudless File Explorer, you can effortlessly allow access to PlanGrid project data from within your app, in addition to data from Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Egnyte and other cloud storage services.
So what exactly is PlanGrid?
PlanGrid is a cloud-based construction document collaboration software application. The platform conveniently provides real-time updates and seamless file synchronization over Wi-Fi and cellular networks, allowing for access anywhere from the office to the construction site. PlanGrid replaces paper blueprints, brings the benefits of version control to construction teams, and is a collaborative platform for sharing construction information like field markups, progress photos, issues tracking and more.
In the 2018 Construction Technology Report, published by JB Knowledge, PlanGrid ranked among the top choices for all mobile-based construction management software across a multitude of categories.
In the same report, the top file storage and collaboration software choices among construction applications was also presented, with Kloudless providing access to every major storage service provider in our Unified Storage API.
With such direct data pointing to the popularity of our already offered storage API services, it was imperative for us to provide integration for those in the construction sector with our Kloudless Unified Storage API. This helps them to not only cut down on integration costs, but also be able to provide access and functionality to these providers in one consolidated location.
Our engineers have worked hard over the past months to bring you compatibility with many of the most popular construction project management software tools in our Storage API. Alongside PlanGrid, we are also happy to announce a new construction connector-focused rollout of functionality in Kloudless by integrating with Procore, Bluebeam and Autodesk.
Building something special
Our talented engineers here at Kloudless built an API framework for our integrations targeted at Object ID management that expedites the incorporation of new services and platforms into our Unified API. The Kloudless API inherently functions as an abstraction layer for multiple third-party APIs, some RESTful and some not, which make dealing with object IDs tricky in some cases. Keeping track of all of these identifiers can be tricky, so Kloudless dealt with this issue in part by including the attribute of id_type on all Kloudless objects. This allows us to easily keep track of all pertinent IDs for a specified route, which can alleviate much of the headache when dealing with endpoints across multiple APIs. By encoding the necessary identifiers into an abstracted ID that Kloudless returns, our engineers were able to solve the problems presented by the issues above. To read more about the challenges that arise with IDs in a unified API, check out this article from Kloudless CTO, Vinod Chandru, here.
Because of this foresight in architecting our unified API framework, Kloudless can speedily grow our offered services in a short period of time, allowing for new integrations and platforms to be added to our already deep library of APIs in a matter of weeks, as opposed to months.
Li-Hsing Chen, one of our engineers in our Taipei office, was tasked with handling the integration of PlanGrid. Because Kloudless is looking to implement a level of functionality that isn’t core to the PlanGrid product, an initial issue that he ran into was the limitations of creating a new folder at a specified location, a necessary piece of functionality in our aim to provide an application’s end-users with full CRUD support over their files and folders. He created a resourceful workaround by figuring out that the creation of a dummy file at a certain path would trigger the creation of a folder as well. Essentially, when a user wishes to create a folder, we now create a dummy file at that location and then immediately delete the dummy file so that only the desired folder is left in its place. PlanGrid’s API doesn’t need to provide this ability natively, as it isn’t necessary in the platform’s use, but for Kloudless’ purposes, we had to figure out a way to add this service to our code. This is just one of the many imaginative ways that our engineers go about solving the problems of needing functionality for Kloudless that isn’t provided intrinsically in an API.
When it comes to uploads, all of these construction apps have API endpoints that work in a different ways, with some requiring multiple steps. These steps fall to Kloudless to handle behind the scenes. With PlanGrid, uploads are direct to amazon S3 and must abide by their strict signing guidelines regarding parameters and headers, so order matters. To solve this issue, we adjusted the Kloudless upload format surreptitiously to work seamlessly with the upload rules, however no one building on the Kloudless platform needs to change how they go about uploading their files.
In order to provide users with a visual UI-based tool to access their files and documents across cloud-based storage providers, Kloudless provides an open-source JS library called Kloudless File Explorer which embeds an iframe into your site with different clickable options for storage integrations. Our File Explorer speeds up development time by integrating with our Unified API and giving your users a ready-to-use “out of the box” apparatus to access their service of choice.
The main goal for us when incorporating something like PlanGrid into our Kloudless File Explorer is to give an end user a visual experience as close as possible to accessing their data or files on PlanGrid itself. Essentially, we aim to replicate PlanGrid’s look of their file structure in our own UI-tool. Because of that, sometimes our engineers will have to think of unique ways to access a user’s data through the provider’s API and then display it in a different way to the end user.
Working with a short deadline for the creation of these integrations, Li-Hsing accomplished exceptional work in building out the PlanGrid connectors. To read more about Li-Hsing’s developer journey while building out our PlanGrid connector, read his article, Working with Documents via the PlanGrid API, here. With more features coming in the near future, we are excited to be rolling out full CRUD functionality with files and folders on PlanGrid.
What do you want to build next?
Like stated above, Kloudless is happy to announce that PlanGrid integration is just one piece of our construction connector rollout. We are also glad to report the simultaneous release of support for Procore, Autodesk and Bluebeam as well. These platforms make up 4 of the most popular tools when it comes to construction project management and creation software, and as of right now the document and file side are all supported through our Kloudless Unified API, with more metadata to come. We can’t wait to hear all of the ways that our users go about implementing these powerful new tools into their workflow to save them time and money and help them to build a better business flow.
For any additional questions about the Kloudless Storage API or the Kloudless File Explorer, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org