Kloudless Blog

Kloudless Unified APIs enable you to code once and integrate many

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 “intractable 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 In retail, the mom-and-pop stores of half a century ago have been replaced by large-scale modern retailers with global supply chains and increasingly digitized distribution systems and customer-intelligence gathering.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 an Autodesk application to manage an aspect of 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 Picker, we can replicate the look and feel of an application’s file structure so users feel right at home when using our File Picker 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 Autodesk integration in our already powerful Kloudless Storage API. If your application needs to allows its users to access construction project management documents and metadata from Autodesk, you can now use the Kloudless Storage API to access project documents from Autodesk in addition to all of our previously available storage API services. Through the use of our Kloudless File Picker, you can effortlessly allow access to Autodesk 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 Autodesk?

Autodesk is a software company that makes specializes in a bevy of services for the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, and entertainment industries. Autodesk became best known for AutoCAD, but now develops a broad range of software for design, engineering, and entertainment. The company’s Revit line of software for building information modeling is designed to let users explore the planning, construction, and management of a building virtually before it is built.

Their unified construction management software, BIM 360, connects your project teams and data in real-time, from design through construction, supporting informed decision-making and leading to more predictable and profitable outcomes.

In December of 2018, Autodesk successfully acquired PlanGrid, another of the offerings in Kloudless’ new construction connector package. To read more about PlanGrid and our connectors for their service, please read our announcement article on that functionality here.

In the 2018 Construction Technology Report, published by JB Knowledge, multiple Autodesk applications ranked among the top choices across all mobile-based construction management software within 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 Autodesk, we are also happy to announce a new construction connector-focused rollout of functionality in Kloudless by integrating with Procore, PlanGrid and Bluebeam.

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.

When it comes to uploads, all of these the construction apps have upload API endpoints that work in a different ways, with some requiring multiple steps, which need to be handled by Kloudless in order to provide the desired end-user functionality. With Autodesk, there were a few unique issues that our engineers had to overcome so as to reach our aim of full CRUD functionality. One such issue was that Autodesk uses an extra layer of hierarchy in their file structure called “Hubs.” When Kloudless virtualizes each of these layers as folders, some support “POST” endpoints to create that level (e.g. a folder) and some don’t (such as a Hub), so we have a similar concern as noted above with IDs where we need to encode in the type of ID into the ID itself to be able to accurately identify it and which operations are supported on it.

Uploading data to Autodesk is also challenging due to an additional request we have to make. We first get the signed S3 URL to upload a file, and then we make an extra request after the upload to resolve the returned ID to retrieve its full metadata via an extra version. Thankfully, our API framework has been built with cases like this in mind, drastically cutting down the time and effort needed to incorporate functionality that we need that isn’t supported natively by an API.

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.

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 Picker which embeds an iframe into your site with different clickable options for storage integrations. Our File Picker 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 Autodesk into our Kloudless File Picker is to give an end user a visual experience as close as possible to accessing their data or files on Autodesk itself. Essentially, we aim to replicate Autodesk’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, our engineers accomplished exceptional work in building out the Autodesk connectors. With more features coming in the near future, we are excited to be rolling out full CRUD functionality with files and folders on Autodesk.

What do you want to build next?

Like stated above, Kloudless is happy to announce that Autodesk integration is just one piece of our construction connector rollout. We are also glad to report the simultaneous release of support for Procore, Bluebeam and PlanGrid 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 Picker, feel free to email us at hello@kloudless.com


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