Construction Collaboration. Cloud Collaboration in Civil Engineering.
One of the most pivotal factors for a successful realization of any project is construction collaboration and communication in general. Larger projects require extensive project teams with different responsibilities, including engineers, architects, consultants, and other, more specialized ones. Working on a massive project is tough, but it’s also possible to greatly decrease the number of potential problems thanks to regular communication efforts.
It’s not just about aesthetics, either. The creation of a highly collaborative project team allows for the improvement of multiple different parameters when it comes to the outcome of a project, from both the aesthetic and the functional perspectives. That being said, improvements to the construction collaboration process on any project can quickly improve the different stages of the project realization, not just the design phase.
Before collaboration in construction industry (traditional model)
Construction projects have always had an understanding and acceptance of challenges and adversity. Delays, disputes, and conflicts are common in this kind of environment with the construction team being forced to compete with others to get a reasonable profit for themselves.
Simultaneously, progress is greatly influenced by poor coordination between different parties and incomplete information in design drawings. In turn, this causes the owner to slow the cash flow into the project, causing even more troubles and delays. This can place subcontractors in uncomfortable positions and leave them not being treated as equal partners while reducing trust between team members.
All of these problems and issues are more noticeable when all participants are expected to deliver a product with a high level of quality and in a specific time frame. The lack of trust and equality between them can significantly influence the outcome. This is why the industry needed a collaborative environment to solve these issues for construction teams. However, it is much easier said than done.
Origins of the construction collaboration
The term “collaboration” can be traced back to two Latin words: “work” and “with”, representing the shared interest/effort of a group of contributors, each of them working in their own way towards achieving one shared goal. However, changes in the construction industry when it comes to collaboration are fairly recent, though.
An Australian software company Aconex originally intended to promote design information sharing by developing building information management software. That same company is credited for coining two specific terms in 2001: “constructive collaboration” and “construction collaboration software”. Shortly after, six vendors from the UK created the NCCTP (Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers) in 2003, attempting to promote the usage of collaboration software in the AEC industry (Architecture, Engineering, Construction).
To this day, Aconex remains one of the primary suppliers of that specific software. Since the creation of the term “constructive collaboration”, the concept quickly expanded from what started as document and/or tool-sharing. Nowadays, collaboration is referred to as a non-adversarial relationship between different members of the construction team with the principles of equal sharing of both risk and reward.
The “construction collaboration technology”, on the other hand, is an application used to allow for effective sharing of various pieces of information related to the project between different participants of the said project. It’s not uncommon for this kind of software to work as a web-based SaaS platform.
It’s possible to summarize all of the different features and characteristics of a construction collaboration software in the four following groups:
- Communication – handling feedback, file publication, management, and other matters.
- Interaction with CAD-based drawings – including actions like sharing, viewing, and working with these drawings.
- Organization – user administration, information control, security rules, and so on.
- Management – describes the ability to manage different workflows, teams, projects, standards, and such.
The software for collaboration in the construction industry
Facilitating and improving your collaboration efforts in the construction industry is possible via various cloud-based tools. Meeting in person for each of the owner/designer team meetings is not always possible, and virtual meeting technologies can replace personal meetings in most cases. This includes not just video conferencing, but also screen sharing, virtual whiteboards, shared workspace, and so on. Here are three of the main types of collaboration-improving tools that exist today.
- Collaborative Project Management Software. Our first example of cloud collaboration in the construction industry is represented by services like Procore, Expedition, Viewpoint, and others. These are cloud-based collaborative construction management software systems, and all of them can be accessed from the web, making the usage of these systems convenient in almost any situation. These services are capable of delivering digital project information – one of the most common uses for all of them. The differences are in the pricing, customer services, feature lists, the extent of personal customization, and so on.
- File-Sharing Services. File sharing is another side of a successful cloud collaboration in civil engineering. Services like SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. have already evolved far beyond the original purpose of sharing files over the net. Now, these services can even be considered collaboration platforms, to some degree, even though each has unique storage limits, security levels, file-sharing rules, and so on.
- BIM Software. BIM is a software process that allows for collaboration between multiple different disciplines among the teams involved with the project. BIM’s capabilities include conceptualization and virtual construction of the project before physical building begins. Modeling capabilities are also interchangeable, allowing for collaboration between different disciplines in real-time, including MEP designers, architects, structural designers, and so on. There’s also the ability to detect clashes between different parts of the project’s conceptual model, alerting various parties about the said problem, the ability to minimize waste on-site by knowing exactly how much materials you’ll need for your entire project before the construction phase, and so much more than that.
In the perfect world, cloud collaboration in the construction industry would all project team members to contribute to the overall goal of the project based on their own capabilities and knowledge.
Typical problems with the construction collaboration
Unfortunately, the perfect world situations are far from ordinary, and the construction industry itself suffers from a lot of long-term problems that have been plaguing it for several decades, at the very least.
- Common reworks for already finished buildings. It’s not uncommon for reworks to consume from 7% to 15% of the overall project budget, and the general rework rates are as high as 30% of the total number of projects in general. The main reason for this is the lack of communication between different departments and teams inside of one project. For example, failing to e a clash between parts of a building or between different MEP systems before it’s too late.
- A surprisingly low digitization rate for the whole industry. Based on McKinsey’s index of digitization, the construction industry in the US is one of the least digitized, among many different parameters (that being said, the study’s been conducted in 2015, and the construction industry has seen a lot of improvements in this field since then, especially thanks to the mass adoption of BIM software and various complementary platforms/appliances).
- Massive waste production rates. Information from Eurostat shows that the building sector is accountable for about 34.7% of the total waste in Europe. The main reason for this is the lack of collaboration, hence reworks, and the lack of software that could calculate the exact amount of materials needed as early as the design stage.
- Productivity problems. The name speaks for itself; the construction industry has seen a steady decrease in the overall productivity and efficiency rates when it comes to regular workers from year to year. Productivity in construction has seen a steady decline by about 0.3% each year for the last several years, and the only region that has productivity growth is the US with 0.1% or less growth rate.
As unlikely as it might seem, it’s also possible to improve on several of these problems simultaneously by tackling the collaboration and communication problem together.
Improving the construction collaboration
It’s important to mention that you can’t improve your construction collaboration results by merely implementing a specific software piece and doing nothing with it.
It’s essential to integrate not just people, but also tools and appliances into your work process to achieve far greater results than before. Collaboration as a process is capable of improving the results throughout all four of the construction stages if applied correctly. Now we’ll go over four of the main steps to better collaboration in your construction projects.
- Implement a unified data source. It’s not uncommon for project managers in legacy companies to spend almost half of their work day collecting information from different sources and writing status/progress reports for higher-ups. This often leads to human errors, mistakes, and even legal disputes. This is a problem that can be fixed by having one unified data source that different teams have access to, making it a single source of up-to-date information that you can use whenever you need.
- Utilize data from the field. Standardization is one thing that you’ll have to work on yourself until the industry comes up with a standard system for construction after the introduction of BIM. Basically, it’s possible to improve on both your current and future projects by utilizing the information collected from your own previous projects. For example, you can see which tactic works and which doesn’t, compare KPIs, and so much more than that.
- Take advantage of construction-specialized tools. There’s a reason why Excel spreadsheets and WhatsApp notifications are not enough for complete construction project coverage nowadays, and it’s tied with both the amount of information transferred and the way it is shown, too. Only industry-specific tools are capable of providing you with a complete picture of the current state of the project so that you can avoid making uninformed decisions. An example of construction-specific software for these purposes is a BIM platform.
- Quality management and project planning as one. Tying in your safety and quality processes with the master schedule is another sensible decision, although you’ll still need a designated collaboration tool to resolve problems as fast as possible and not after some time so that it won’t get any worse at the end of the project.
Constructive collaboration is the first step towards a better industry in general, and an easier job for your own company, improving trust and far more interaction between different teams and companies.
However, this also implies that you need both construction-specific tools and a unified source of information so that you can have a complete picture of everything going on on the site. This helps with accumulating feedback in order to reduce downtime, preventing costly mistakes, and, as a result, increasing your own profits.