Since 2013, the Construction PDF Coalition has grown from a handful of frustrated GCs into a grassroots movement driven by the shared pains felt between design, build, inspect, and operate (DBIO) professionals looking to optimize digital handoffs. By capturing and sharing best practices from these digital pioneers, we hope to transform digital practices, as opposed to disrupting them.  

There’s confusion impacting the digital progression of the AEC industry: Industry software giants like Autodesk, Trimble and Nemetschek are battling one another for market share of the “connected BIM” utopia, and their marketing sometimes clouds the vision.

During the Product Keynote at Autodesk’s 2016 user conference, Chief Product Officer Amar Hanspar displayed a lack of respect for the digital collaboration challenges faced by AEC professionals. In addition to a bold claim that Autodesk’s latest cloud BIM solution would solve the previous challenges with BIM collaboration because “the data automagically reconfigures itself for the work you are about to do,” Hanspar really lost touch when he casually referred to PDF drawings as “smelly” despite the fact that PDF data loss is most often the result of poor design authoring workflows inside Autodesk products like Revit and AutoCAD than an issue with the PDF format itself.

In a follow-up tweet exchange Hanspar offered to retract the adjective, but not the claim.

The last thing this industry needs is for DBIO professionals to be mislead by promises that technology alone will solve our barriers to collaboration.

The search for a solution

As a project engineer for Skanska USA in 2012, Kyle Hughes experienced first-hand the benefits of managing a “paperless jobsite.”  Traditional document control duties often took him an entire Saturday to “slip-sheet” the current paper sets of full-size drawings. But after discovering the batch tool workflows that PDF-based document management system Bluebeam Revu had recently released, Hughes found he could automate both the slip-sheet and detail hyperlinking process with a single, click of a mouse.

Yet, it was while sharing his newfound PDF drawing management process with other project teams inside Skanska, that Hughes found that not all PDF drawing sets behaved the same way. Frustrated and confused, Hughes reached out to Sasha Reed, then director of account services at Bluebeam, to look for a solution.

Reed had heard of similar PDF quality issues from several other large GCs facing the same challenge, and together they decided to propose a meeting of the minds.

The first in-person meeting of the CPCoalition was held in July 2013 in Los Angeles. A dozen or so GCs came together from across the U.S. to share PDF drawing best practices and lessons learned. After the one-day discussion, it became clear the next meeting would not be productive without designers’ perspectives.

A year later, the GC veterans were asked to invite any designers they knew who would understand the shared pain-points from a different perspective. The collaborative debate between designers and builders produced eye-opening discoveries that led to the publication of PDF Guidelines for Construction, Version I.

The coalition then focused on promoting awareness and adoption of project-level PDF standards through partnerships with other industry organizations, including ConsensusDocs, AGC BIMForum, and the buildingSmart Alliance (bSa).

We sought to drive a message that our goal is open-source collaboration, not PDF domination, and we are not trying to derail development of other standards, such as the Industry Foundation Class.

Regardless of the BIM or CAD authoring tool used—Revit, AutoCAD, Microstation, VectorWorks, ArchiCAD, etc.—maintaining the reliability between 2D and 3D project data is a critical step to digital collaboration. While the IFC file format is currently the industry standard for construction and operations data handover, it does not have a 2D drawing viewer.

The CPCoalition believes that PDF and IFC can simultaneously serve different purposes for different project stakeholders, but only when produced from the same “single source of truth.”

Ever since Adobe relinquished the rights to the PDF file format to the International Standards Organization (ISO) in 2008, PDF has become the de facto file format for both digital collaboration and document security across a wide range of industries. We use the analogy of Google Maps and Google Earth to explain, because each serves a different purpose but both are based on the same underlying data.

The CPCoalition has caught the attention of technology firms like Autodesk, Procore, PlanGrid and others. With an ability to influence the development priority and integration strategy between industry standard design and collaboration tools, we see an opportunity to develop a different kind of relationship with the DBIO software industry.

Same vision, new approach

The CPCoalition recently filed with the Internal Revenue Service to become a 501c3 non-profit organization with the purpose of helping DBIO professionals maximize digital collaboration through grassroots education and knowledge sharing. Since we remain agnostic about technology platforms and data standards, we allow (and encourage) the transparent review and feedback of current technology. We believe that the democratization of best practices among the practitioners who are implementing them will provide the greatest value to our DBIO members.  

Also, as of now the CPCoalition is rebranded “The Construction Progress Coalition.” While our current focus still is focused on the PDF Guidelines for Construction for now, this new title better fits with the broader vision we originally defined in 2014:

“To maximize the quality and efficiency of digital handoffs through collaborative guidelines by an adaptive and open-source approach.”

This small but significant step recognizes that our purpose, is, in fact, to continue to address the grassroots collaboration challenges faced by our Design, Build, Inspect, and Operate (DBIO) professionals, and not any single issue.

Learn more about opportunities to support our cause at

Nathan C. Wood is founder and chief enabling officer at technology integrator, SpectrumAEC which supports the digital transformation of AEC organizations and design-build teams. He also is president of the Construction Progress Coalition.