From engineers to contractors, designers to builders, a huge number of individuals must join forces to bring a construction project into being. Despite this, only 34% of construction companies in the UK work together on due diligence processes. This failure to cooperate on standard practices, such as supplier prequalification and verification, creates a combined cost to the industry of £32m a year, highlighting the need to improve collaboration across the industry.
It falls to a construction project manager to orchestrate the collaboration of multiple parties, a task that can be made much easier with new technologies. Simply sharing information between all parties on a project via a central hub could prevent the duplication that leads to such needless expense, with efficiency-savings to be made too. Here’s how a single vision can create more effective construction projects.
Identifying the need for collaboration
Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport is a great example of what can happen when different parties in a construction project work in isolation.
Construction near to Berlin’s city centre began in 2006, and the new airport was originally due to open in 2011. Instead, the project faced problems from the outset, and analysis of these issues have since put a lack of communication between the many stakeholders firmly at the top of the list. Former Berlin mayor and project sponsor, Klaus Wowereit, has been accused of hiding growing issues even as they worsened, something that wouldn’t be possible if all stakeholders are working from the same version of project progress.
To date, the overdue and over-budget Berlin Airport build has racked up costs of €7.9 billion and counting, far more than the projected budget of €5.4 billion. Although this can’t be attributed solely to miscommunication, it’s fair to say that solid information sharing processes could have avoided at some of this time and cost expense.
New methods for effective construction collaboration
Traditionally, and even sometimes despite their best efforts, construction firms have struggled to achieve smooth information and resource sharing between parties working together on a build, due to the sector’s soften fragmented nature. A large number of individual contracts and competition over delivery can help to create an ‘adversarial’ working environment in which firms are pitched against each other, rather than as team members working towards a common goal.
Today though, digitisation within the construction industry is creating new systems and processes for collaboration. Augmented Reality, or AR as it’s often called, is one example, designed to enable construction teams to visualise building designs and experiment with digitally-rendered ‘virtual’ solutions before anything is constructed in reality. Adding virtual elements to existing site plans via an information sharing platform allows all parties to troubleshoot designs before construction starts, pre-empt any problems and agree on alternative plans. With GPS tracking and a device capable of overlaying digital images on what’s really there, AR can even be used to transmit a live visual feed to stakeholders based anywhere in the world. Those on site can move around it in real-time and gauge how new additions, conversions or renovations construction will impact the existing building.
Technologies like AR can be shared across teams through centralised information systems, such as those that use Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM facilitates the collaborative management of an entire construction project lifecycle from start to finish. A BIM system acts as a data hub for a project, so that progress can be checked quickly and easily against plans and timeframes. Crucially, BIM also acts as an information sharing platform, so that everyone involved can monitor workflows as they happen, pre-empt issues that may cause delays or extra expense, and maintain effective lines of communication, even when stakeholders are based in different countries or time zones.
In the UK, all centrally-procured government projects have delivered through BIM Level 2 since 2016, and its success has been such that there are now plans to introduce BIM Level 3 throughout the national sector.
Uptake amongst construction firms is on the rise, as are the success stories. Water infrastructure company Stantec Treatment used BIM to manage its £40m project on the Minworth Thermal Hydrolysis Plant, successfully linking more than 20 supply chain partners and reporting a £5m cost reduction it attributes to digital delivery.
The implications of technology in construction management
Understanding the potential for innovative applications, such as BIM, to revolutionise collaboration on construction projects is key for a career in modern construction project management.
As these technologies become more prevalent across the industry, those who can critically analyse the ability to streamline collective operations will find themselves at a professional advantage. What’s more, with its digital delivery accessible from anywhere in the world, gaining this knowledge via an online course like ours can help to deepen an understanding of remote collaborative working even further.
Our Online MSc in Construction Project Management is designed to foster an awareness of the role technology plays in creating a single project vision, as well as a wealth of other career-boosting skills you can put to work in your construction role. If you feel that this course could help you better-integrate technology and collaboration into your construction career moving forward, fill in our online form to find out more.