by Chad Schafer
Director, ITI Products Construction Management
The management of a construction project requires a significant amount of documentation and communication between project stakeholders (owner, contractors, consultants, suppliers, etc.). Traditionally, this has been a paper-heavy process. With the amount of paper and personnel from different organizations involved, documentation often gets lost, and when everyone is not working with the same information, delays are common. Additionally, the many organizations involved have project information stored in different systems with no easy way to communicate with other project stakeholders. In an era of instant communication and a growing tech savvy population, these processes are quickly becoming obsolete.
In The Innovators Dilemma, Clayton Christianson coined the term “disruptive innovation” which is defined as something that creates a new market and value network while disrupting an existing market and replacing an earlier technology. Today, in the Information Age, there are more disruptive innovations than ever, and they are affecting the construction industry and how business is done. They can be rolled up into the emerging term ‘e-Construction.’
FHWA has an e-Construction initiative which is rooted in their ‘Everyday Counts’ initiatives. The intent of these initiatives is to make construction projects more efficient and shorten the time for completion through the use of technologies and innovative processes. You can specifically trace e-Construction to the ‘Everyday Counts 2’ initiative which focused on geo-spatial collaboration and 3D engineered models for construction. In August of 2014, FHWA announced its ‘Everyday Counts 3’ initiatives, which have a focus on “Efficiency Through Technology and Collaboration”. Within this initiative, e-Construction is defined:
FHWA defines e-Construction as the collection, review, approval and distribution of construction contract documents in a paperless environment. Key concepts with e-Construction are:
- Electronically capturing construction data
- Electronic submission of construction documentation
- Increased use of mobile devices
- Increased automation of document review and approval
- Use of electronic signatures by all parties
- Secure document and workflow management accessible to all stakeholders on any device
There are some other key elements of e-Construction, such as using LiDAR based data, adding schedule and cost to the 3D model, and machine grading control for the contractors, to name a few. It’s important to understand that while no one vendor, or product/ service can address an organization’s e-Construction program as a whole, many vendors can significantly contribute.
Many products and services offered by Info Tech can help an organization with its e-Construction goals. As an example, the Doc Express service for paperless contracting addresses many of the key concepts of e-Construction. It was specifically designed to allow all project stakeholders to electronically share construction documents with a secure workflow. It’s also mobile accessible, so can be accessed in the field and on a number of mobile devices.
Along with the electronic document capturing, the e-Construction trend is also really focusing on better interoperability of applications used to manage a construction project. A project’s lifecycle looks something like this:
Planning – Conceptual Design – Detailed Design – Procurement – Construction with As Builts – Maintenance
Different vendors and systems are used in all of these phases, but much of the data captured is related and needs to be shared. It not only needs to be shared from phase to phase, it also needs to be shared with project stakeholders to ensure everyone is working with the same information. As an example, the contractor and owner may be capturing essentially the same data in different systems and making decisions based on an incomplete set of information.
There will always be different systems and vendors due to the needs of the varying businesses involved in a project, however common data and information needs to be shared and readily accessible to all. The project team needs to have access to a “single source of truth” instead of relying on disparate systems, to increase everyone’s knowledge, and ultimately lead to better decision making. Due to the different stakeholders and needs of a project, different systems may be used, and a one size fits all model will not be practical. For example, a $250 million design build project will require a different system than a $250,000 resurfacing project being managed by the same owner.
Today, Michigan, Florida, Iowa, Utah and West Virginia are leaders in moving forward with e-Construction initiatives, and many others are following along. FHWA has funding available to assist.
Some key points to remember are:
- Sharing of data and collaboration by all stakeholders is essential. To accomplish this, product interoperability will be needed.
- Mobile is a growing trend and more and more apps will be created for use in the field.
- Electronic construction documents need to be easily accessible by all stakeholders with workflow management, moving away from paper.
- 3D design is key with project data flowing from planning to maintenance
Less than a decade ago, none of this would be possible. I believe that e-Construction is the quintessential disruptive innovation, and Info Tech products and services can play a key role in an organization’s successful transition.