Digital construction technologies – what it takes to succeed

I was delighted to be invited by Aconex to share at the recent 2017 Construction Technology Summit as part of the panel on ‘Best practices in successfully introducing digital construction technologies’.

For a very well attended event, it was exciting to see the changes in play across the industry, and the desire from owners to contractors to consultants to software vendors around tackling the lagging digital technology adoption challenges of the sector. There’s no question that productivity gains are still hampered by a reluctance to change, as shown by McKinsey in one of their 2016 articles.

With these findings in mind, it’s no wonder I most connected with speakers who shared on how to best digitise the construction industry. While there is a lot of talk at the moment about AI, and how to leverage it to drive better outcomes on projects, as Andrew Newsome from Boston Consulting Group pointed out, without (digital) data, AI doesn’t work. The sector’s future is in better capturing digital and structured data, in part so it can leverage these other technologies.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, so here are three takeaways I particularly valued from Andrew Newsome, Kate Nelson (Head of Business Technology & Innovation, LendLease) and Ken Panitz (Principal Methods & Lean, EIC Activities).

1. Projects are good at avoiding new initiatives

Andrew talked about the fact that project and construction managers have numerous challenges on their to-do lists and are focused on delivering their projects. As he suggested, when you consider that a construction project may have a duration of as little as two years, it’s not long enough to generate a strong return on investment from new initiatives…certainly not on its own.

If you want a project to support new initiatives, Andrew’s advice was to:

  • Ensure the initiative is a priority at the highest levels of the company and project org charts
  • Allocate dedicated project resources to support and drive the new initiative

I touched on this in my panel session and discussion with Emma Shipley (CFO, Roberts Pizzarotti). In my experience, the best project outcomes for a new initiative come when there is engagement at both a corporate and project level – in contributing resources and guiding the direction of an initiative. It is critical to truly understand what’s going to make a difference at the coal face for a project when you’re setting up an initiative. At the other end, you need to ensure corporate goals are incorporated so value is generated not only at the project level, but also the corporate level.

2. The right people are essential to supporting change

Having the right people involved in a project can make the difference between success and failure. Kate Nelson summed it up when she spoke of the triple threat, below. These are definitely attributes I seek in the people I try to involve in digital initiatives on projects. As Kate put it, the triple threat is:

  1. Understanding how to use technology: this is self explanatory and essential to being able to evangelise and influence others to adopt new tech.
  2. Understanding engineering: if you’ve walked in the shoes of various key roles on engineering projects, and truly understand their pain and drivers, and can communicate and relate technology as it matters to them on a practical level, you’ve won half the battle. This is much more powerful than just taking someone a piece of tech and showing them how to use it. The value is in helping users know how to apply that tech to benefit their everyday work.
  3. Being an influencer (change agent) with strong IQ and EQ: we often refer to this as winning the hearts and minds of people on a project, meeting people where they are at and inspiring them to buy into the vision of the new initiative you’re introducing. That’s when they are more likely to champion it and become change agents themselves.

3. You need a strategy to speed up digitisation

Ken is championing digital disruption in construction through his role at EIC Activities. He made the point that there is no longer a single application that rules. The future is around flexibility, best of breed applications and the need for easy integration. He went as far as to say he won’t consider a solution without it first having an API. His message to software companies was, “build your API first…don’t have it as an item on your roadmap that’s coming soon”. Ken also shared how, at CIMIC, they are fostering innovation through a strategy of lowering requirements to trying new ideas; embracing that failure is okay; and limiting the investment and time to quickly show potential or fail fast. This is certainly a different approach to traditional big business cases and bureaucratic processes by being much more agile.

Our team’s recent work on the APLNG project with CPB Contractors underscores the importance of these considerations. The project team ultimately transitioned from having 600 paper dockets per day to 95% of those being electronically submitted. We worked with project leaders to address hurdles, like getting individuals to use a mobile device for project processes, getting subcontractors to let go of paper dockets, and getting engineers, supervisors and leading hands to adopt an unfamiliar digital process. We took learnings from a trial roll-out to streamline training and team engagement and it has ultimately been a huge success. Among a range of factors, I really saw the importance of:

  • Strong engagement from project leaders
  • Responsible champions with success linked to their KPIs
  • Consistent and ongoing communication with staff and subcontractors through the change.

In closing, there are learnings already available in the Australian construction sector when it comes to introducing new tech. For project leaders, seek software partners who have been there before and don’t be afraid to ask them for their learnings as well as successes to give you a running start.

Is the construction foreman’s paper diary dead?

Based on projects I’ve been involved with, I’d say the answer to whether the construction foreman’s paper diary is dead, is a resounding…no.

While we’re seeing a growing trend in the desire for electronic diaries and digital workflows, the default is still typically a paper-based system – unless a project’s leaders drive digital. Research conducted by McKinsey suggests the construction industry is second lowest only to agriculture and hunting when it comes to digital uptake.

What’s the purpose of the foreman’s diary?

In Australia alone, the value of avoidable waste from disputes in the construction industry tops $7 billion (see this CRCCI study). That’s an insane figure considering the massive push for efficiencies. One of the keys to avoiding disputes is early notification of issues that may lead to time and cost impacts (see this analysis).

Here enters the foreman’s diary. It’s a key source of what’s happening at the workface and a powerful communication tool for raising issues with project leaders via engineers and project managers who read these records daily.

The foreman’s diary is also a critical tool in the unfortunate circumstance a claim moves into a dispute. That’s because it’s a record of what has happened from the perspective of the client, contractor and subcontractor – recording key facts such as resources on site for the day, work performed, performance observations, key issues and delays, directions given, weather etc. These records support a court assessment regarding the amount that should be paid by one party to another for work delivered.

Why transition to digital?

1. Faster communication and easier search capability

Digital records are available and searchable as soon as they are created. Rather than wait to the end of a day, or the next shift, for a manual, paper report, everything from Events to photos to progress updates are available immediately. This improves communication between a team, enabling earlier identification of issues and faster mitigation…reducing time and cost impacts.

While digital records add immense value during the delivery of a project, if a dispute arises, they also support significant savings by avoiding the need for claims consultants to go through paper records and convert them to digital records. The records are captured as the work is done, meaning they are ready and available from the outset as an as-built record of the project.

2. Better recording consistency with earlier identification of missing records

With paper diaries, missing or poor quality records are not identified until they are actually required, which can be as late as a dispute situation. This is generally because those records are filed in a site office but not used by anyone downstream. This means they’re not that visible to a project team.

A digital foreman’s diary is easily built into the daily and weekly communication processes of a project and is highly visible to everyone, particularly project leaders. Just one benefit is that missing and poor quality record keeping are very quickly picked up.

3. Richer records

Paper diaries typically don’t include photos and GPS-tracked, time-stamped records. It’s true that a picture tells a thousand words. With today’s technology, including smart phones, there is no reason why diaries shouldn’t be supported by rich photos that are tagged to issues, Events, Activities, the work breakdown structure, team commentaries, GIS information and more.

Digital solutions

There are many digital solutions available in the market, from apps as simple as Evernote to specialised construction diary applications.

Naturally, I’m most familiar with Envision’s diary solution. We’ve developed and deployed this across major infrastructure and resources projects. Through this, I’ve seen the content of digital diaries being actively used during delivery – and by many more stakeholders than traditionally possible with paper diaries…in ways you would have never considered. Digital diaries are supporting the daily workflow of:

  • Project engineers
  • Superintendents
  • Construction managers
  • Project managers
  • Commercial managers
  • Contract administrators
  • Planners

To find out more about how Envision can help your site record keeping, check out this video:

Transforming open-book contracting

MPC Group’s use of Envision on its QCLNG contracts, over two years, has transformed into what the team has called an ‘open-book’ approach to contracting.

Over this period, with MPC Group being engaged directly with both QGC and CPB Contractors, MPC Group has continued to deliver a number of gas and water trunklines for the expanding QCLNG infrastructure – using Envision since 2015.

Envision has been the central project management system used by all three levels – client, contractor, subcontractor – creating a central point for delivery team collaboration.

The full suite of Envision’s features have been in play, with a focus on work planning, progress and cost capture, daily diary creation, change management, and ongoing productivity reporting.

Across the two trunklines, in the first year of use alone, Envision supported:

  • 1,062 photos
  • 1,414 user comments
  • 2,236 progress entries
  • 292,500 cost entries (labour and equipment)
  • 842 reports (daily, weekly etc)
  • 1,263 hours saved in reporting efficiency

All parties saw the same data, setting the foundation for a positive, proactive contracting relationship. Highlights from using Envision have included:

  • Central data management
  • Easy reporting compliance
  • Transparent variations
  • Step change in project management
  • Continuous product improvement

A full case study on the project has just been launched and is available here.

TMR MIXr showcases real-time technology advancements

Envision is proudly one of the ‘industry solutions’ presenters at the upcoming Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads TMR MIXr on 28 March 2017, providing insights into the advantages available to projects through real-time field reporting.

Off the back of the inaugural event last year, TMR has opened up the one-day event to a wider range of stakeholders – in TMR’s words, ‘connecting government and industry to opportunities for collaboration, partnerships and problem-solving’.

With web and mobile technology enabling massive improvements in field data capture, transport and other construction projects have the opportunity to dramatically improve the way a project’s schedule, progress, changes and costs are managed.

Yet, the majority of large construction projects in Australia are not realising the full benefits of real-time electronic capture of field-based data.

Readily available technology like Envision is a significant untapped resource and, in our presentation, we will showcase how real-time data management can transform delivery decision-making.

As a Queensland-based innovation and the only software of its kind in Australia, Envision features the latest advancements in change (unplanned event) management, field-based collaboration (comments, photos etc) and real-time reporting.

Our session will show how clients have gained better insight into the real-time health and status of their projects to improve decision-making and performance while achieving savings.

It will also look at:

  • End-to-end capture and reporting of field data
  • Significant advantages available when the common reporting ‘blackout’ (the lag between data inputs and reporting) is removed from projects
  • Gains possible through multi-system integration with BIM, GIS and other platforms.

One of the exciting opportunities through events such as TMR MIXr is collaboration. Envision is live and proven on several projects but is based on continual improvement and ‘fast feedback’, meaning it advances through the insights of clients and their involvement in shaping the evolution of the platform.

We see Envision as a true step change in the delivery phase for transport and other infrastructure projects, with benefits for government, industry and community stakeholders, and look forward to participating in the event.

For more information, visit https://www.ivvy.com/event/MIXr17/home.html

Envision partners with iCURO to showcase resources solutions

With Simon Anthonisz, Managing Director, iCURO

Envision teamed up with workforce management software leader, iCURO, at the 14th PNG Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference in Sydney this month to showcase the latest in project management software for remote projects.

While this multi-billion sector in PNG continues to expand, with several major projects set to come online in the near future, delivery teams are still faced with the demand to achieve more with less.

From managing remote, disparate project teams to commodity price fluctuations to weather and much more, it’s clear that lean principles are the way forward.

Conference presentations featured major mining and oil and gas companies providing updates on existing operations and the progress of upcoming projects.

The mining side was more upbeat, with steady increases in the gold price leading to several existing mines increasing their production this year, and some gearing up for expansion.

A couple of mines that had stalled shared about how they are bringing new projects online in 2017 now that companies and investors are confident their long-term viability is secure.

In the oil and gas space, the success of the PNG LNG project was a major highlight. The 300th export left the port shortly before the conference began, which is a great achievement by co-venture partners ExxonMobil, Oil Search Limited (OSL), Kumul Petroleum Holdings Limited, Santos Limited, JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration and Mineral Resources Development Company Limited (MRDC).

The other big news came from the Total presentation, giving more detail to the recently-announced Papua LNG project, expected to start in late 2017. This will be the second large-scale project for PNG – a great boost for the economy and communities there.

With the drive toward increasingly lean operations, attendees were particularly attracted to iCURO’s automated workflows for managing on-boarding, mobilisation and worksite attendance, alongside Envision’s features that simplify the creation of daily diaries, management of daily costings and capture of unplanned events.

Envision showcased at leading technology summit

Envision joined leading construction technology brands this June to share ideas on advancements and innovations for the construction, infrastructure and facilities management sectors in the decade ahead.

The inaugural Construction Technology Summit 2016 attracted more than 30 Australian construction technology start-ups alongside government, small to medium sized enterprises, and industry representatives and thought leaders, with more than 300 attending.

The conference explored avenues for improving how the wider construction industry can operate in the future, with three streams that looked at:

  • The impacts of big data on smart cities and smart infrastructure
  • How mobile will change the future of field processes
  • How technology will impact efficient investment in, and management of, infrastructure assets

The Envision team, as exhibitors, welcomed the opportunity to talk with construction professionals about the challenges they faced in project delivery, with four key insights coming through.

Improving team collaboration was a common theme, with a clear desire to better use the collective knowledge of construction teams to overcome challenges faster.

While too much data was widely recognised for its potential to overwhelm and even detract from important highlights, people agreed that effective execution and ongoing planning depend on timely information – progress, costs, challenges etc – being available to all.

With the now widespread adoption of technologies such as BIM and GIS, the conference also provided a solid platform to further explore how Envision can complement these technologies during project delivery.

Finally, the growing trend for partnership-based contracts, such as PPPs, was also discussed. They bring a distinct set of benefits and communication challenges compared to more traditional contract styles – something Envision’s multi-stakeholder capability is geared to support.

The summit was a great forum for our team to engage with others in the industry, particularly because of the significant advantages we have seen in streamlining technology integration, working with technology providers to better help our clients optimise work efficiency and certainty.

Extranet Evolution reviews Envision

paul-wilkinson“Envision today is a collaborative project delivery platform for design and construction projects that enables near real-time, site-based capture of project data and the continuous integration of that data into the decision-making process. It gives optimal visibility of a project’s schedule, progress, change and costs – drawing on the latest field information and collaboration among project participants, from field teams to design and construction offices and more – driving faster and more informed decision-making.”For full details of article, please click here.Paul Wilkinson from Extranet Evolution reviewed Envision and some of the newly developed capabilities.

2014 Lean Construction Conference

Ennova partnered with industry leading construction companies to present productivity findings from recent projects at the annual Lean Construction Conference. Ennova showcased results from the recent QCLNG project that demonstrated significant reductions in schedule (timescale) and cost, and an overall improvement of around 30% in labour productivity.

The results were discussed at two sessions:

1. Information Is Power – Eliminating Waste at the Work Facelci-2014-talk
  • Robert Turner – Group Manager, Controls and Planning, Leighton Contractors
  • Hugh Hofmeister – Head of Projects, Ennova

 

 

 

 

lci-2014-workshop2. Workshop: Serious Productivity Gains with Evidence-Based Results
  • Robert Turner – Group Manager, Controls and Planning, Leighton Contractors
  • Hugh Hofmeister – Head of Projects, Ennova;
  • Grant Puttergill – Project Controls Manager, QGC
  • Mark Leader – Project Cost Manager, QGC
  • Chris Barber – Project Services Manager, QGC
Note: The content for these sessions is available through the LCI Australia website or can be downloaded by clicking on the images shown here.