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Information Coordination Across Stakeholders for Seamless Project Delivery
- Kalyan Vaidyanathan, Nadhi Information Technologies
Managing construction projects is getting more demanding in the past few years. Projects are getting more complex, timelines are tightening, and client expectations are increasing. Gone are the days when projects can be managed with existing PM tools, Excel spreadsheets, and paper based mechanisms. Today's Projects need processes and technology solutions that enable seamless information flow to all the key stakeholders of the project. This article attempts to address how to achieve seamless information flow with the help of technology and process.
In today's construction projects, the number of services (trades) that goes into a project are increasing and along with that the number of stakeholders who are needed to come together to deliver a project is also increasing. See Figure 1 for a construction supply chain in a typical project today. In this Figure, money flows downstream from the owner and goods flow upstream (with value added services provided at each step of the way) by suppliers. But in order to effectively manage the project delivery, each stakeholder exchanges information with every other stakeholder. This information exchange today happens in mixed media i.e. electronic and non-electronic and in multiple formats i.e.pdf, xls, emails, SMS, phone calls etc.. Is this information exchange seamless? Is it timely? Is it reliably communicated to all (other) impacted stakeholders so that there is visibility across the chain on the flow of materials and resources (labor) leading to reliability on the delivery schedule (date)? An honest assessment will indicate that the answer is typically NO and this is the biggest challenge
Whether we like to admit or not, projects are mainly managed in spreadsheets. Scheduling and planning software are used more for after the fact reporting rather than for upfront planning and managing the project. Information is available with multiple stakeholders and usually reside in multiple systems with these stakeholders. Information sharing is manual, on-demand, and is tailored to suit the messenger and hence inaccurate. Planning is very short-sighted, month-onmonth and driven more by cost and revenue considerations than by time considerations. There are no tools to help with medium to long term decision making. There are also no tools available to collect data in a structured manner to make analytical decisions based on past performance and use it to correlate future performance. The business processes and poor interoperability between existing systems mean information flow is inefficient and costing projects in the form of time and cost overruns. In spite of all these issues we see hope in the emerging trends in both business process and in technology. Let us look at them.
Evolution of Business process
Lean construction as a concept has been evolving and maturing for the past nearly 20 years. Lean construction was first introduced by Glenn Ballard and Gregory Howell (Howell and Ballard 1994, Ballard 2000), it has evolved, thanks to the academic research and practical implementations that have gone on around the world. Companies wanting to adopt and apply lean principles have to have a long term perspective in mind and consistent application of the principles through the various parts of the organization to derive benefits. The core idea behind lean is to eliminate waste and create collaboration through the supply chain network. The recent logical extension of the application of lean principles to contracts has led to the evolution of relational contracting and integrated project delivery (IPD) (http://www.consensusdocs.org) as a contracting model. IPD is a team based contracting model wherein all the key stakeholders in a project work on a common economic incentive model, with open book accounting that puts the project's interest as the common interest for all. The team agree to deliver the project for a certain cost and time and share the gains and pains of missing the cost and time deliveries.
Evolution of Technology landscape
With respect to construction technologies, there are three evolving trends that are of interest.
1. Building information model (BIM) solutions allow for all the stakeholders to collaborate with each other more easily to detect clashes between services (say electrical and plumbing for instance). It also allows for consultants to specify material specifications within the drawings that can be more easily taken by material suppliers.
2. Evolution of mobile technologies in delivering information to the construction project stakeholders on a mobile platform is of great value rather than stakeholders accessing it from their desktops (or laptops).
3. Delivery of solutions on the cloud rather than each stakeholder installing applications on their own hardware.
Combine all three technologies and the technology landscape for the future will emerge. Intelligent models developed on BIM platforms that are deployed on the cloud such that all the stakeholders from consultants to suppliers can access and collaborate. Besides, the information can be accessed anytime and anywhere on mobile devices. This will lead to decision making in a more holistic manner (understanding impact of engineering decisions on construction schedule, procurement delays in construction schedule etc.) and will also allow decision making on the basics of analytics. This should lead to both process and technology driven maturity in better management of the CSC(Construction Supply Chain?).
Delivering construction projects on-time and under budget is typically a huge challenge. With changing industry dynamics, complex and bigger projects with lots of stakeholders, the problem has been exacerbated in recent times. Stakeholders should realize that for seamless project delivery, information flow has to be seamless, reliable, and delivered to all those impacted across the supply chain. To deliver projects reliably, processes and technology solutions need to be rethought. Construction projects today are about managing the information flow in the CSC (Construction Supply Chain?) and need of process and technology solutions that provide those capabilities. The degree to which individual stakeholders adapt to these changing environs will determine the success of these construction projects..