Facility owners have historically been left out of the construction project management technology game, as most platforms and tools focused on innovations for contractors, architects and engineers. That trend is changing with the rise and expansion of project management information systems (PMIS) designed specifically for owners. Even so, PMIS usage among owners and contractors has room to improve to facilitate better project execution.

According to a recent study Dodge Data & Analytics conducted in partnership with the Lean Construction Institute and Construction Owners Association of America, 53 percent of owners surveyed utilize a PMIS. In addition, the findings revealed that the majority of owners in both the public and private sectors have already made an investment in time, money and training to adopt this technology. Owners reported they mainly use their PMIS for cost management (82 percent), construction project management (81 percent), capital program management across projects (68 percent) and performance management (66 percent). 

These statistics are important for a few reasons. While just over half of owners surveyed utilize PMIS, a large portion have yet to take advantage of the technology. These owners (and their businesses) are at a disadvantage when it comes to managing data and interacting with outside parties such as contractors. Rather than storing the data in an organized, easily accessible manner, many owners still rely on Microsoft Excel and email, leaving a wide margin for human error and making it much harder to work efficiently with others.

The study also compares a group of best-in-class project owners with their poorer-performing peers. These top-performing owners are far more likely to use PMIS for managing cost on their capital programs. They are almost twice as likely to leverage PMIS for performance reporting. This suggests that some of the biggest gains in results come from cost management.

The Opportunity: BIM
Much more can be done to optimize the relationship between owners and contractors. For those that haven’t focused on integrating contractor concerns into their PMIS usage, one promising area is BIM.

Contractors have traditionally used BIM to speed up and improve the design process, as well as become a lasting digital asset for facility maintenance and operations. The value proposition is pretty simple: Create a 3-D digital representation of the facility so that decisions about scope, approach, planning, coordination and maintenance can be made before physical construction is in place. This holds the potential to save significant cost and time on projects.

For the promise of BIM to be fully utilized, it has to be looked at as a process, not a technology. In practice, roughly 40 percent of contractors currently use some level of BIM on projects. However, most owners are unaware that BIM is being used on their projects. Why is this?

Historically, at least one member of the owner’s team had to become a BIM expert and learn expensive and sophisticated software to operate the model, creating a high barrier of entry that only very large owner organizations had the overhead to absorb. This dynamic limited the collaboration of the model and therefore its value.

Today, new PMIS technology allows facility and asset owners to interact with the model by making it incredibly easy to open and view using a simple browser. Owner-specific tools can make BIM as easy to operate as common mapping tools like Google Earth, leading to a quick and wide adoption.

One of owners’ biggest concerns and contributions to overrun budgets and schedules are late-occurring changes in project scope, which often come up due to the owners’ failure to engage their stakeholders and end users, such as educators and physicians. Whereas construction professionals can interpret a 2-D drawing, other project stakeholders would benefit from receiving a 3-D model that allows them to virtually experience the new facility for themselves.

The Bottom Line: Identify and Integrate
While the construction industry has certainly come a long way toward improving efficiencies, total cooperation between owners and contractors is still a work in progress.

It is ultimately up to owners to take charge and guide the relationship. Owners that don’t have a collaborative PMIS in place are at a disadvantage from the start because this enables parties to work in siloes, wasting time, money and effort.

For owners that are using PMIS, the next step is to proactively work with contractors to identify project goals, potential pitfalls and functionalities for successful project completion. Identify the areas where technology usage can be improved and treat contractors as a member of the team, not an outside consultant. The more owners and contractors work to identify and share tools and processes to address both of their needs, the better equipped everyone is to accomplish projects on time and on budget.

Ron Antevy is president and CEO of e-Builder. For more information, email info@e-builder.net