Construction projects rely on information, from the outset of a scheme to its conclusion. This CPD, sponsored by Newforma, examine the steps organisations can take to ensure the information they need is at hand

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INTRODUCTION

Construction projects rely on information, from the outset of a scheme to its conclusion. And in an increasingly digital age ensuring access to the right information and at the right time is essential. One solution is a centralised platform to enable all parties to access data, wherever it resides. This CPD will examine the steps organisations can take to ensure the information they need is at hand, is secure and can be accessed by those who need it to support BS1192 (BIM Level 2) compliance.

Why information is important and how it is handled on a construction project

Information is the lifeblood of every commercial construction project. From the initial stages of a scheme through to its conclusion, having the correct information at every step is the only way to ensure you won’t unnecessarily face costly delays and errors. Whether you’re an architect, engineer, or a contractor, organising your information is the first step toward mitigating project risks.

In an increasingly digitalised environment this is not always easy. Information can now not only be found in emails, document and project files, but also in digital blueprints, BIM models or other visualisation files. It can be stored locally on computers, servers, hard-drives, in cloud environments, project rooms, electronic document management systems (EDMS), etc. In other words: it is everywhere.

This is why a recent survey of 350 of senior UK executives in the construction industry named digitalisation and new technologies as one of the five greatest challenges around project risk. And the growing skilled labour shortage, increased project complexity and an increasing number of external project partners will only fuel the need for efficient, large-scale digital workflows.

So how can this information avalanche be handled and risk mitigated in connected, digital environments? Here are five comprehensive pointers to tackling this issue.

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Knowing who did what, when (and sometimes, why) 

It seems to be an obvious requirement, that of being aware of what people are doing, when they do it and why. And yet it is still one of the most common reasons why companies face such a great amount of risk on a day-to-day basis in construction. A lack of knowledge. But then, is it really the case? Let’s take a closer look.

The risk of being sued if something goes wrong generally originates in other parties’ claims that you did not do what you were supposed to do, or did not provide the necessary information. Take the somewhat over-simplified example of a door that needs to be moved a metre to the left of its planned position because it will not open properly. The architect updates the plans and distributes them to everyone on the project, but the contractor claims to never have received the re-jigged documentation and accordingly builds a door that will not open properly. Parties immediately start pointing fingers and placing blame.

On the topic of knowledge, for example the architect might know for a fact that she sent the updated plans to the contractor. She even has her email history that backs her side of the story. But the contractor could still claim that he never received the email. Or that he wasn’t able to download the file.

In other words it is not the knowledge side of things that will mitigate your risk. It is merely your ability to prove what you already know. If the owner of a construction project is dragging you to court you want to be able to present hard-evidence that it was not your fault, but the contractor’s.

So how to do that? Thankfully, there’s a very direct way to mitigate such a risk and be able to disprove such claims. Litigation doesn’t have to be the final phase of every construction project.

If you conduct your business on a platform that facilitates the sharing of information between all parties and their individual systems you will have a clear record of who sent the relevant document, when it was sent, who received it and when it was downloaded.

With a centralised platform there can be no more claims of people failing to receive project information that was sent. These audit trails or history logs not only allow you to track project activities, knowing who did what and when, they also directly mitigate your risk because they allow you and others to understand project and communication context, which is especially important from a legal perspective.

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Managing extended project teams

Construction is a unique field in that it requires many different companies to come together to build something on a one-time basis. Every company involved in a project has its own team – an architectural team, an engineering team and a construction team complete with dozens of subcontractors.

The latter can be hard to manage and control. Binding contracts and legal guidelines provide a solid base, but just looking at the ‘knowledge’ side of things covers only one aspect of the risk involved in working with many different stakeholders and external parties.

According to several studies and industry thought leaders managing extended project teams is one of the biggest sources of the risk to a complex construction project. It is a basic requirement that all participants of big construction schemes are connected in a way that renders communication and collaboration seamless.

But in practical terms this can be extremely complicated. The information flow between different companies and institutions can be traditionally very slow, not least when people are working together for the first time; a familiar situation in construction. The sheer variety of different software, project rooms and data environment makes interconnecting all communication and tasks highly complex.

That is why companies in construction need to find a common denominator; a safety net that brings everything together and catches everyone who risks tripping over the dangers of the information avalanche. This could take the form of a platform that interweaves all information, data and actions related to a project without clashing with established data work-flows and communication channels inside companies or organisations.

With such a centralised platform it becomes a lot easier to communicate certain information to certain parties, get status updates and be on top of everything that is going on.

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Lost documents

It’s an obvious enough observation but avoiding losing documents, information or data is crucial. In the digital era in which we now find ourselves this might not appear at first to be an issue; there will always be a ‘trail’. But there are instances when vital information might not be strictly be lost, but accessing it is difficult.

Consider the following scenario: an architect is leaving his job, mid-way through a multi-year project. He is not working in a connected environment and communicates mainly via email and messenger, stores data in a cloud environment and uses specific planning tools to create models and plans. Before leaving he deletes most of the data or emails he doesn’t deem to be important to his successor. But this assumption proves incorrect and the whole company finds itself looking for a specific piece of information in one of the architect’s former data silos, but its whereabouts are a mystery. A logistical nightmare.

The number of people involved, an ever-increasing pile of project data that amounts to terabytes, makes it nearly impossible to keep track of all communication channels and data storage facilities.

That’s why a centralised environment can provide the functionality needed, avoiding the risk of lost documents, information or data. A system that connects others and keeps track of their activities – and remembers where data and information resides – is able to find data in a matter of seconds and without the risk of losing important details along the way.

However this should not be confused with segregated electronic data management systems and project rooms. Some companies make the mistake in thinking that in order to avoid losing information it has to be moved into a certain project data environment to create a vault, where nothing can get out anymore. But such systems mostly come with major data migration efforts and integration issues that can take up years and years of time to resolve. Additionally, walking away from an EDMS is extremely complicated and comes with the same hassle as the initial integration.

That is why a truly centralised project information management platform has to be non-invasive and still be able to organise all project data in one place. Such a platform does not need to move data. Instead it locates, indexes and references it, while still making it available via intuitive search capacities, provides project context and delivers seamless (data) communication between all parties involved.

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Missed assignments

Having to coordinate mega projects in construction is common. Rising urbanisation demands major investments in cities of all sizes, which brings with it growing project complexity and the need for a more diverse workforce in terms of talent, skill set and experience.

In such a complex work environment it is not enough to just know who is on the team and how they may be ed. You also need to be able to create and assign tasks to specific people and then track to whom those tasks have been assigned, what their current status is, where they are in the process and if jobs have been closed.

Basically, if you don’t know the status of assignments at all times you are creating a situation where mistakes can be made. 

Sorting through the mess of miscommunication can take an inordinate amount of time before the project can move forward. But using a system that allows you to keep track of assignments reduces this, enabling an inside view of what is going on, what is late, and where there are bottlenecks, allowing the avoidance of delays or mistakes that increase project costs.

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Transcription errors

Every team has its own preferred system, but realistically there is no data management product in the world that can be all things to all people on a construction project. Even in an ideal scenario, contractors and engineers are likely to use their own specialised software. The obvious risk here is that the same information won’t be entered into all systems.

One remedy is to manually retype information between two or more systems. The obvious problem with this approach is that manual entry always opens the door to mistakes and omissions. The result can be as simple as a catching the error and manually fixing it, resulting in lost time and effort, or as serious as missing the error altogether and having it percolate through the system, resulting in many additional errors across the project. Progressive architectural, engineering and consultancy firms are adopting systems that help reduce transcription errors and are designed to work with many disparate construction management applications.

As with anything that involves a large amount of information, poor organisation in construction projects can quickly lead to delays and quality assurance issues. These potential problems are only compounded as a project grows – large schemes with several disparate teams that aren’t co-ordinated or co-ordinated effectively face the possibility of exponentially bigger problems.

Information can make or break a building or infrastructure project. Using tools that keep your information organised can help you mitigate some of your biggest risks and ensure your project is a success.

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