Time for technology

by Peter Hedlund

With squeezed margins and tighter control required on projects, technologies that can reduce costs, enhance productivity and manage risk are more valuable than ever. Collaboration technology – web-based systems for managing documents and correspondence on construction projects – are an example of this and there is a strong demand for these solutions in the current climate.

This is largely because collaboration technology supports three key areas that assist project delivery, particularly in a challenging environment: cost reduction, time savings and risk management. By breaking down these three components, it’s clear to see how this technology can deliver substantial benefits at both the project and organisational level.
Costs reduction

Although nearly all documents are created electronically, the construction industry has traditionally relied on using hard copies for their distribution. Even a medium sized project will generate around 500,000 documents during its lifecycle. That’s 500,000 documents that need to be printed, couriered and stored, not to mention the man-hours needed to file, retrieve and distribute the information. This all equates to very high administrative costs.

When applied to a large-scale commercial or infrastructure development, these figures are often much higher. A billion dollar development, for example, will often generate more than 2 million drawings and documents. In line with this, the cost of managing this volume of information is extremely high.

By managing documents electronically using a web-based system, companies can quickly and drastically reduce these costs. A collaboration system enables team members to store files, drawings, reports and other documents in a central repository. Within a few clicks, documents can be distributed over the system to project members, regardless of geography or time zone.

A project manager recently told me that, by using a collaboration tool, he reduced his printing costs by 80% and independent research, conducted by consultancy firm Ernst & Young, indicated that companies can save at least 1.1% of the total project value by using an online collaboration tool. We’ve also heard that, factoring in the fewer administrative staff required, this figure is often closer to 2%, which on large-scale projects can represent massive savings.

Time savings

Projects in the Gulf often involve organis-ations from around the world and require extensive collaboration between parties. To give an example, the Yas Island development in Abu Dhabi involves organisations from 19 countries, and project members are exchanging around 100,000 documents and mails each month.

Trying to communicate on this scale using tools such as paper documents, enterprise-based systems and email is highly inefficient and costs projects time. A study by Coopers Lybrand and PC Magazine in the US found that professionals spend around 15% of their time reading information, but up to 50% looking for it.

With a collaboration system, any document or mail stored on the system can be quickly retrieved using powerful search capabilities. This means that, instead of wasting time trying to find the file they need, project members spend their time on more productive tasks.

Risk management

Whereas previously projects may have implemented a collaboration system for the time and cost savings, there is now a much greater weight being put on the technology’s risk management benefits.

Collaboration systems provide several features that mitigate companies’ exposure to commercial and legal risks. A core feature of these systems is that throughout a project’s lifecycle, they maintain an audit trail of every transaction – essentially a record of ‘who did what and when’. This minimises the risk of disputes as there is a ‘set-in-stone’ account of what has been committed to and communicated.

In a climate where many consultants and contractors are having their margins squeezed, there have been reports of firms looking to recoup revenues from claims. With collaboration systems, changes to plans and drawings are clearly tracked and dated, providing accountability and a comprehensive history. There is guaranteed delivery of information sent and clients have a clear, single version of the truth.

Having a complete history of project data can also be of immense value after practical completion of a project, enabling operators and those responsible for defects liability to have direct access to all the data they require – from where electrical cables and gas pipes are positioned to the specifications of window panes and lighting fixtures. We have heard some horror stories about this data being missing, and new fit-out contractors drilling into live utility cables – suffice to say, having the correct version of the data required can be worth its weight in gold.

Although there is obviously no silver bullet for the current challenges facing projects, there are technologies such as online collaboration systems that can make things easier and support successful delivery.

Construction week

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