Constructing a digital future with Aconex

Steve Brant outlines how collaboration technology is being used to overcome inefficient data management in the construction industry.

The construction industry is one of the most paper heavy of industries. On a typical mid-sized commercial or infrastructure project, hundreds of thousands of drawings, documents and correspondence items will be exchanged between a network of builders, project managers, architects, engineers and subcontractors.

Whether building an apartment block or office tower, a highway or power station, this flow of information is the lifeblood of the project. The fragmented nature of the industry makes timely, accurate exchange of data central to a project’s success.

If a builder doesn’t receive a drawing on time, or is sent the wrong version, what happens? Delays, disputes, expensive reworks, and even the possibility of legal action - all in all, a heavy price to pay for inefficient document management.

Since information management is such an integral part of a construction project, you’d assume that the industry would be at the forefront of adopting the latest tools and technologies to manage their data. However, this is not always the case. The vast majority of construction projects still use a combination of paper documents, fax, email and in-house systems to manage project information.

These tools are relatively adequate in a single enterprise environment, when only dealing with internal team members; however they are completely insufficient for the collaborative, multi-organisation environment of a project. The common outcome is that companies become information silos, where project members can neither find what they need, nor share what they have.

As well as slowing down the flow of information, this can also lead to crucial data not being captured, as well as miscommunication between team members. Of more concern, in these litigious times, is that these tools often provide no audit trail of what’s been committed to and agreed. All of this reduces project efficiency and increases firms’ exposure to risk.

Moving the industry online

This largely explains why uptake of project collaboration systems has increased so rapidly over the past few years – on average doubling over the past five years. These secure, web-based systems – which are independent of any one project participant – allow all project members (the architect, builder, subcontractor, etc.) to access, distribute, track and store their documents and correspondence using a single, common platform.

At any time and from any location, project members can instantly access exactly what they need, using a secure login. Documents stored on the system can be transmitted to other project members and then the status of reviews and approvals can be tracked.

What can this mean in practice? For a start, for construction firms there are no more expensive print bills, no more waiting for drawings to reach other parties, no more time wasted searching for files, and no more lost documents. The time and bottom-line savings can be significant. As an example, the main contractor on a large-scale commercial project recently reported that they saved $550,000 in print costs by using a collaboration system, and also cut document review times by 15%.

Although these figures are impressive, companies often find that the most significant benefit of using a collaboration system is something more long-term and less tangible: risk reduction.
With collaboration systems, all data is securely archived and cannot be deleted or accessed by unauthorised personnel.

Throughout a project, the systems maintain an audit trail of ‘who did what and when’ to provide transparency and accountability. Changes to drawings and other documents are clearly tracked and dated so that there is always a clear, single version of the truth. To identify bottlenecks, project managers can instantly view reports of overdue items – again reducing the possibility of disputes and delays.

Most importantly, collaboration systems hold project information on a neutral, independent platform. This creates a level playing field where no party has more control over the other. This, as much as anything, drives adoption and usage, and supports open collaboration between companies.