Connecting Construction Project Information
By Andy Kayhanfar, Construction Executive
Open Technology Databases Improve Project Communication, Collaboration and Visibility
The construction industry has been plagued for decades with projects coming in over budget and behind schedule. There are many reasons this happens, but it ultimately comes down to just one thing – a lack of connected information.
Today, gigabytes and even terabytes of data are generated on a project and housed in different systems that do not talk or share information, which creates a closed approach and inhibits collaboration. Data is siloed and only accessible to certain companies, departments or disciplines, which gives each project stakeholder a very limited view into the status of the project as they are making decisions.
To be successful, the construction industry needs to free project data from closed systems. There must be a way to give all project stakeholders access to accurate information within the context of how it applies to the overall project that will empower everyone from owners to engineers to contractors to make timely, fully informed decisions that bring projects in on time and within budget.
INTRODUCING THE OPEN TECHNOLOGY DATABASE
The need for deep visibility into project information across systems and stakeholders has given rise in the construction industry to the open technology database. This approach enables project stakeholders to link the data in their existing software systems and connect that information into one centralized location. Project stakeholders can continue to use and maintain the data in their own systems while still feeding the information to the shared environment, which brings together critical project details, provides context for decisions and makes it easier for all parties to collaborate.
Project stakeholders are now able to connect business data related to estimating, cost control, scheduling, contracts, purchasing, accounting and more. This creates a common data set across the project that can be quickly accessed and can easily be put in the hands of project decision makers.
Innovative companies are taking this connectivity to a new level. They see the potential to use 3D models beyond simply the design aspects of a project and bring them into the activities of construction. Innovators are taking all the project information available in the shared environment and connecting it to the 3D model to create a comprehensive view of the project.
Project stakeholders are then able to see a visual representation of how every aspect of the project comes together and have a true master data environment for the project that can easily be analyzed. This now also opens the possibility of tying model-driven quantities to estimates and budgets, and visualizing how work is packaged and progressing.
Everyone involved in the project now has near limitless views of project performance and can easily see the status of any aspect of the project. Project stakeholders are now on the same page when it comes to project status. This broadened perspective gives them vital context when making decisions, and they can see how their decisions impact the project and more quickly identify any risks.
An open approach to sharing data also creates a more collaborative environment at every stage of the project lifecycle. On a daily basis, project stakeholders can see the true health of the project against all plans and can quickly communicate with each other when issues come up. More importantly, everyone will have access to the same trusted information that they can use as the basis for their discussions.
The comprehensive view of project information not only helps with collaboration, but creates a valuable tool well after the project is completed. Engineers and contractors now have access to one master data environment representing all design and construction activities that can be turned over digitally to the owner of the asset at the end of the project. This “project information model” provides owners with critical information needed to operate and maintain the asset throughout its lifetime, effectively serving as the “digital twin” of the construction project.
Ultimately, an open approach connects all project data together. It gives project stakeholders from engineers to contractors to owners easy access to accurate, timely data that provides a comprehensive view of project status and creates a common ground for communication and collaboration. It puts the project progress into context and gives a transparent view into the project. This approach is changing the way everyone works together on projects and ensures that everyone has the information needed to understand the health of the project, mitigate risk, improve quality and optimize efficiency.
OPEN TECHNOLOGY DATABASES ON THE JOB
For years, the architecture, engineering and construction industries have been looking for ways to digitally bridge the gap between design and construction, which led to creation of building information modeling (BIM) and virtual design and construction (VDC). Open technology databases take these two concepts to a new level in a practical way by bringing together all the data needed and connect design models to construction activities.
With this approach, it is important to think of the model not only as a visual representation (or visual model) of what is going to be constructed, but also the data model to build upon with project information. The model can continually be enriched with various levels of detail from any aspect of the project, as a data set and a visual rendering.
For example, a 3D model for a building would typically contain details on a steel beam, including where it’s located in the building, its dimensions and other specifications. Applying an open database approach to this example, the model would also include all data associated with the steel beam across connected systems. A contractor would then be able to see a rich world of details connected to the beam, such as the delivery date for the steel beam arriving onsite, installation progress, any change orders, inspections and more.
This deeper level of detail can then be analyzed in terms of the overall project. A contractor may notice that the installation work is scheduled and planned for this beam days before it is delivered on the job site and the crane needed for this beam won’t be available for another month. With this connected data, the contractor can quickly discover the project restraints and the related risks, such as a significant schedule delay and inefficient use of resources and work with subcontractors and others to resolve the problem and keep the project on track.
While this information is available today, it is housed in different systems that do not connect to each other in any way. The open technology database completely changes this approach. It enables an environment where all the data comes together for engineers, contractors and owners to take advantage of collectively and individually. It creates a living and breathing repository where all stakeholders see the health of the project at any point in time, creating a single source of truth complete with visual context that inherently improves collaboration and communication.
BEING A MORE VALUED PARTNER TO OWNERS
While open technology databases hold the potential to provide unprecedented visibility into projects, they are also a way for contractors and engineering services firms to provide unique and increased value to owners. This unparalleled visibility, when shared with owners, is a highly valued dimension of the working relationship, creating unprecedented levels of trust and collaboration. Additionally, and no less importantly, the fully enriched database of project information, or master data environment connecting all design and construction activities, can be turned over digitally to the owner at the end of the project for use in operating and maintaining the asset.
Owners are quickly recognizing the power of this open approach for the digital delivery of project information upon completion. HDR used this innovative approach to turn over deliverables on a bridge in New York. On this project, an open technology database was used to digitally deliver hundreds of models authored in the design of the bridge linked to comprehensive as-built project information. This involved hundreds of thousands of automated connections, including those between disparate model elements and project documents, such as as-built drawings, mill certifications, inspection reports, nonconformance reports, daily work reports and construction photos. Through these automated connections between model elements and required project documentation, it is estimated HDR will save approximately 11 man-years of time by project completion.
Open technology databases have tremendous potential to connect all aspects of design and construction on projects. They can give every stakeholder deep visibility into the project with the needed background and context to make informed decisions, and ensure all stakeholders are on the same page and able to easily collaborate.
Now is the perfect time to begin looking at ways to implement an open approach to information sharing on projects to help improve productivity and communications, minimize risks, create trusted relationships among project stakeholders and give everyone a clear view on the health of the project.
It’s time to start building for the future – a future where all project stakeholders have access to the accurate, timely information needed to make fully informed decisions that keep projects on track and prepare for the turnover phase of the project.