Identify Roadblocks to Effective Collaboration
As digital solutions continue to expand in the AEC industry, building relationships and trust by sharing information more freely across firm boundaries is imperative for all project stakeholders. New research conducted by Newforma, the Dodge Construction Network and the Construction Progress Coalition, presented in “Finding Common Ground: The Future of Project Information Management,” clearly indicates the industry must change its basic assumptions about sharing critical project information.
In “Finding Common Ground,” AEC professionals report continuing challenges to informed decision-making and successful external collaboration, despite advances in digital solutions available for managing project information.
The main themes that emerge in the report include the following.
Team members cannot find the information needed to make informed decisions
Respondents across the survey, including architects, engineers and contractors, ranked finding the information they need as a top challenge.
The report reveals that critical project decision information is often exchanged through unstructured formats such as email and meeting minutes. Where data is stored and how it is organized, including file structures and naming conventions, also contribute to this challenge.
Firms are still struggling with collaborating and sharing information externally
Many respondents say that they do not receive complete and clear information on time. Half of the architect respondents report contractors using a platform that requires manual data entry. Project decisions sent via email may also be a contributing factor to incomplete, untimely and unclear communication across project teams.
Additionally, the lack of transparency among stakeholders contributes to issues with sharing information externally. Sharing information introduces risk, which can reduce a firm’s commitment to transparent communications across a project. Further, sharing model data is complicated by software license issues as well as concerns about model data and liability.
“As the industry moves into more user type licensing, assigned licensing, or cloud-based licensing, it becomes more problematic because companies are having to purchase licenses in order to collaborate with the system that we use,” said one participant in the report’s roundtable discussion with AEC thought leaders and decision-makers.
Even with the cloud, team members are still uploading and downloading information
Respondents are making technology investments in the cloud with the primary business goal of improving team collaboration. However, it appears that AEC professionals have multiple clouds that still require uploading and downloading information between clouds.
As cloud solutions and system integrations with open APIs increase, less manual effort to transfer information among platforms is required. But the industry is still challenged with each party needing a specific software solution that is not addressed by other platforms. More than one-third of respondents report difficulties with managing current versions of documents.
Finding where in the project life cycle issues related to sharing information are occurring can help teams pinpoint where to focus improvement efforts. When it comes to sharing information, roundtable participants named the handover from design to construction as the most challenging point in the project.
Although the construction phase ranked highest overall (42%), 45% of engineering respondents ranked the planning and design phase as the most difficult phase for sharing information. Given that engineering firms must coordinate with architectural firms for model development, this response is not unexpected.
Architects (47%) and contractors (40%) are more likely to find the construction phase to be difficult, while contractors also cite the pre-construction phase as challenging (35%). This is not surprising, given the significant amount of interaction and sharing that needs to occur between the design team and construction team prior to construction.
Not all barriers are technology related. Roundtable participants were open in sharing that there are still issues with trust between parties.
The risk associated with how information will be used can affect a firm’s willingness to share that information. As a result, sharing information such as models early in the process, when the model is still under development, may be viewed as a liability.
“How do we all come to the table and really build out a holistic process that’s going to work both for the designers, general contractors and our stakeholders, such as our vendors and subcontractors, all the way up the pipeline to our owner?” one roundtable participant asked. “There’s a lot of complexities in the process.”
A key question for project teams is whether there is more risk associated with sharing information early and often in the process or with holding back information that other project team members may need to get up to speed quicker.
“One of the challenges is the transparency issue between designers and builders,” a contractor participant from the roundtable said. “Whenever we go into the modeling component, it’s here’s our model, and your assets, and you are liable for anything that’s wrong in the model that we might have messed up. Which is fine. We’ll take on that risk.”
Setting expectations on how the model data will be used if it is shared early in the design process may ease these concerns. Openness with teams on how information will be used also creates a level of transparency that builds trust.
“It is not only trust, but it’s also expectations,” said another roundtable participant. “If you know at the beginning of the job that I’m handing this over to the contractor and I’m handing it over to the owner, you know that there are certain aspects that have to be in alignment with their expectations of how they’re going to use it,” according to Finding common ground: A common sense approach.
Having a comprehensive strategy for managing project information will certainly help firms focus on the information workflows that most impact collaboration and sharing. A comprehensive strategy for managing project information is about people, process and technology. This is cliché; however, many organizations have invested in technology and are not recognizing a return on their investment.
Many of the challenges that construction industry professionals face today are process related. Not being able to find information to make better decisions, and delays in getting accurate and timely information out to external team members can be attributed to flaws in existing workflow processes.
This year’s finding reveals that a lack of standard processes for managing project information results in a lack of consistency from one project to the next, loss of productivity due to manual administrative tasks, and increased learning curves as staff members transition projects.
Standard processes can be as simple as establishing a consistent way to save project information across the organization. Regardless of the project, standards or rules for storing and saving project information can reduce the amount of wasted time teams spend trying to find information.
It is difficult to implement change, particularly in today’s fast-paced construction environment. There are many factors to consider for effective project information management, but by focusing on improving the common pain points, all project stakeholders benefit.