With the U.S. economy back in full swing, construction spending is at its highest in seven years. Having weathered the past four economic cycles, construction owners are changing the way they want to oversee and manage large programs and projects, and seeing an increasing need for transparency.

In particular, owners are beginning to understand the value of taking the lead in determining the platform and technology they require to be used by all project participants. The reason is the very significant return on their investment.

According to the 2004 Cost Analysis of Inadequate Interoperability in the U.S. Capital Facilities Industry study, if properly designed, these systems save money and time during the building cycle, which is about 20 percent of the life cycle cost. More than 80 percent of a building’s costs occur after it’s constructed. It has been proven that if an owner-centric project management information system (PMIS) is implemented during the building cycle and the information from that phase through closeout is transitioned to maintenance and operations staff, significant recurring annual savings will occur in the operations and maintenance phase of the cycle.

Following are some noteworthy trends regarding large programs with innovative owners implementing PMIS platforms.

Owners are choosing proven software vendors that specialize in project portfolio management specifically tailored to the “owner’s perspective,” which will be around for years to come and has an “open system” with interfaces that allow integration with other software packages.

Owners are relying on special consultants who understand their sector to assist with the implementation of a PMIS. This allows the use of “accelerator packs,” which are prebuilt PMIS components for a given sector, such as education or transportation. Accelerator packs significantly increase the time for deployment while reducing the cost and potential risk of a failed implementation.

Sophisticated owners are considering the entire project life cycle and building in flexibility for future technology advancements.

A significant success factor is the review and rationalization of all processes related to the project’s life cycle in the organization. Without a full review that has been approved by all stakeholders, successful implementation will be challenging.

Program and project control software applications will service a wide range of constituents, each with their own priorities. Understanding the factors involved in achieving these separate goals collectively should be the main focus. From there, interdependencies are easy to spot and are highlighted in a dashboard format, giving users the ability to make good decisions that will positively impact multiple departments.

Business processes should be tested before making holistic changes. Often, program and project managers may not know all the levels of interdependencies for an initiative. This is particularly true for multi-year, multi-layered and complex public agency initiatives, which may be further compounded by compliance regulations. Reconfiguring program control technology platforms is too expensive and time-consuming to perform multiple times. Changes on one or two new projects should be tested before going all in.

Migrating raw data for historical projects to a central data warehouse should be considered. Doing so avoids the cost of migrating it to the program management information system, provides the hub for future application interface, and provides a platform for multi-purpose dashboards and reporting across the entire portfolio.

Technology is finally delivering on the promise of turning data into information for making better decisions, which in turn drives greater transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in the construction industry. 

Yehudi Gaffen is CEO of Gafcon, a program management firm specializing in large-scale education, government and commercial projects. For more information, email gaf@gafcon.com.