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How to contain the project data explosion

Steven Brant
October 31, 2012

Even five years ago, the volume of data in the construction industry was tiny compared to what exists on a project today. Technology and software advances have rapidly made it easier than ever to produce and exchange information with internal teams and external project partners.

This has created an explosion in the volume of data companies need to manage, store and track. Why does this matter? A study by Sam Mohamed and Rodney Stewart, An empirical investigation of users’ perceptions of web-based communication on a construction project (2003), found that 66% of construction problems were caused by poor information management or team communication.

For many, this will come as little surprise. The timely exchange of information has always been the lifeblood of construction projects: for a project to be delivered to schedule, the right information needs to get to the right people at the right time.

However, right now, there are two major trends making this more challenging: the volume of data being generated and—driven by building information modelling—the size of that data.

Drowning in project data

Even on a mid-sized commercial or residential project, typically more than 100,000 drawings, documents and correspondence items will be created and exchanged between team members. On a major infrastructure, power or hospitality development, this number can easily top 500,000.

The sheer volume of this data creates more challenges for companies and their projects: Can project members quickly access the information they need? Can managers identify bottlenecks in the drawing review process, or view which requests for information are outstanding? Failure to answer these questions can lead to costly delays.

The challenge is well illustrated by Rakesh Yadav, vice president (Legal & Commercial) at Delhi Airport Metro Express Ltd. On the recent Delhi Airport Metro Express project, a 22.7-kilometre, 6-station line linking Indira Gandhi International Airport to New Delhi city centre, some 430 project team members exchanged more than 550,000 documents and correspondence items.

Yadav says: “On previous projects, we have found version control a major challenge. We had instances where the design team couldn’t access the latest version, and a consultant would be sitting with a version that was old. Also, on this project, a lot of our suppliers were based internationally—Spain, Germany, Hong Kong—and so effectively collaborating across such a dispersed team was a significant challenge.”

Adding to the complexity is that each organisation is likely to have its own internal systems and processes for managing and sharing information. The result is often that files get lost or misplaced; disputes arise over ‘who did what and when’; and people lose track of review and approval statuses.

A project manager on India’s largest coal-fired power project, Mundra UMPP, highlights this: “For the first few months of the project, we used a combination of FTP [file transfer protocol] systems, hard copies and email to communicate. This meant that our important data was stored across multiple locations, which in turn, made searching for corresponding files and responses difficult and very slow.”

It isn’t difficult to see how, over a project’s duration, this can impact team efficiency and, in turn, schedule. However, now it’s not just the volume of information that can cause headaches, it’s also the size of that data.

Can your systems handle BIM?

An area that is creating an information explosion in the construction industry is the movement toward building information modelling (BIM).

According to a McGraw-Hill report, The Business Value of BIM: Getting Building Information Modeling to the Bottom Line, nearly 50% of the industry in the USA now uses BIM, 20% of non-users plan to adopt it within two years, and current BIM users plan significant increases in usage. All signs point to this trend being replicated in India and other markets.

Steven Brant
Steven Brant is the general manager, Australia and New Zealand, of Aconex, the world’s largest provider of online collaboration solutions to the construction and engineering industries.
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