Taking data to the next level
By Jacob StollerConstruction Software
Data might be the new oil, but to realize its value, people and processes have to change.
Thanks to the wide proliferation of construction apps, most people in the industry have experienced at least a taste of how technology can eliminate administrative steps, reduce uncertainty, and share key information. Local deployments of these apps only scratch the surface, however. The real potential will only be achieved when the technology is deployed widely across the business.
“When we look at the evolution of BIM or construction technology, it’s not just a technology, and it’s not just a process,” says Hammad Chaudhry, national director of digital project delivery, digital and data engineering, at EllisDon. “It’s a technology in a process. So essentially, it’s a way of doing business.”
The technology is ready for the task. Advanced data collection methods — cameras, drones, IoT sensors — are widely available, and virtual BIM models now support embedded content so that users can easily access it. Getting to the point where the entire business runs on digital platforms, however, will require a quantum leap. “The question now is ‘how we get the technology properly integrated across all types of projects?’” says Chaudhry.
This transformation can’t happen in a vacuum. All stakeholders will have to share the workload of inputting data, and this effort will require changes in the traditional roles that designers, GCs, subcontractors, and owners play during the lifecycle of a project.
“Once we have a graphical model in place, we need to now focus on the data that’s embedded inside the model,” says Steve Rollo, national BIM/VDC manager at Graham Construction and Engineering. “It’s a garbage in, garbage out scenario, and time and effort needs to go into injecting that information. But that’s difficult when you’re trying to use new technologies in a project with traditional timelines and processes. Instead, we need to plan for a heavier front load of a project, which isn’t traditionally done when it comes to resourcing.”
“Every stakeholder has to be part of the process, which means additional meetings and planning,” says Daniel Doherty, manager of integrated construction Technology at PCL Construction. “And if it’s not driven by a client, how do we offset the costs of better planning on our side? Right now, we’re limited to what we can do within our contractual arrangement.”
One of the systemic barriers is that the low-bid format for awarding contracts precludes the kind of collaboration that’s required.
“Anytime there’s value engineering, or anything that happens after bringing the trades on board, we still have to step back and do all the rework,” says Doherty. “Whereas with a more cooperative contract, we can bring these experts on early and change the process around the technology, not change the technology around the process.”
Another challenge is that many contracts are still paper based.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is that our standardized processes, like our CCDC [Canadian Construction Documents Committee] contracts, are not formatted for the technology that we have,” says Doherty. “So, we change our digital information into paper because that’s what we’re contractually obligated to do. Every time we do that, we’re putting another roadblock into the consistent and effective use of technology.”
Other nations have forged ahead with digital standards, creating an environment where contractors can make the investment in digitizing their core processes.
“In terms of mandating standards, U.K., Australia, Singapore, the Netherlands, have all gone forward leaps and bounds ahead of Canada,” says Doherty. “I think the Canadian government is waiting for the private sector to just sort of make it happen. But it’s a cultural shift, so we need some incentive there.”
Doherty hopes that educating owners will help move the needle forward.
“We’re looking to educate owners on why they should be driving these types of processes,” he says, “and the value of information deliverables that they should be building into contracts as we learn how to be most efficient with the technology, as it’s evolving at breakneck speed.”
“Nobody knows fully where all this is headed,” says Chaudhry, “but in terms of the projects that we’re seeing, there’s more of an evolution for clients to want to have a structure or framework around procuring and asking for work though BIM models. There’s also a bit more of a focus on the lifecycle aspect in terms of the model that’s handed over, whether that’s for as-built documentation or for facility maintenance, or something like that. So that’s more of a tangible sign that things are evolving, and we’re seeing that across all different industries and segments.”
Jacob Stoller is principal of StollerStrategies. Send comments to email@example.com.