In today’s construction marketplace, both architect/engineer project teams and in-house owner teams are slowly embracing cloud service technologies and solutions to provide access — via phones, tablets and the cloud — to project documents, models, and plans, to leverage 3D data while aiding in the execution of safety, quality, and workflow controls.
It is less costly to buy a subscription to a cloud service than host a network server and purchase the needed storage space. The construction industry is on the very edge of new technological breakthroughs and adopting cloud service technology and solutions allows project teams to steer the direction, improve the protocols, and reap the benefits, long-term, of closer, more informed collaboration.
For in-house owners, the challenge is using the platform as it is intended, as they have concerns about sharing too much data because cloud services are a collaborative model. Project managers — whether with designers or in-house teams — who use the technology only for file sharing will discover significant other advantages within all their platform such as allowing all stakeholders to see the project as a whole and track information required for project completion and success.
Another obstacle for owners is related to the short-term ROI. With cloud technology, owners do not necessarily see a significant ROI immediately as teams take time to learn how to operate their new system. Realizing the time needed for integration means patience while learning and relying on communication with vendor resources. Owners can navigate through the initial lack of ROI on a collaborative software with others, whether it’s designers in the project team, construction peers or contacts at the platform.
The Path Forward
To move forward successfully garner the benefits of cloud services, stakeholders should develop standards specific to their organizations. A committee or core group can accomplish this, developing standards and training the staff accordingly. While training on the platform is obviously required, more important is training specific to the user, regardless of the size of the company. With customized, specific standards in place and being followed, the entire process goes more smoothly.
Another key to the successful integration of these technologies is corporate leaders keeping in mind that engineers, designers, and construction project managers are analytical thinkers. Civil engineers are taught historical references, to dig, and find a vintage marker. They are visual learners who want to continue using foundation methods and are not necessarily inclined to swift change. Corporate leaders understand the need to adapt to survive, thus the need to work with the analytical thinkers. With standards in place, corporate can successfully present changes to the analytical thinkers (operations) in a way they can understand and apply to their work. The information must be specifically applied to job duties, not merely platform training.
Keep it Simple and Iterate Again and Again
Identify small changes and avoid big changes. Pinpoint two or three key areas in the project execution process earmarked for change and make small incremental changes, iterating on those changes until the ideal process is fleshed out. Despite COVID-19, the construction business has grown exponentially with most companies at max capacity productivity rate, making it crucial to “keep it simple” with very few changes. Drastic change can slow the process, thus with a digital transformation, starting with the bare minimum and scaling up can deliver successful deployment of new technology.
Identifying processes that definitely need change can be challenging. However, with a select core team of operations managers (project managers, designers, and engineers) — those working in the trenches — identifying such processes can be accomplished successfully. This select core team can review every roll out and process and identigy those that need change or improvement. They can discuss the whys, the pros and cons of each, fleshing out the processes which would be too much in the timeframe desired.
Marketplace Trends Driving Technology
Emerging trends in the market are poised to make cloud services more powerful and beneficial for A/E as well as in-house teams.
One such trend is the removal of the “middleman,” allowing for greater transparency into project progress. Transparency allows all project team members easy access to project information, including the stage of the project, how money is being spent, and ways to cut costs. Middleware, as a bottleneck, is removed, and everyone on the team gains access, making the process easier for insights, suggestions, and comments.
When implementing cloud services, it is important to understand that techniques and workflows will be affected, but the end goal is to allow everyone to work more collaboratively. With cloud services, it is easy to see areas which need internal overhaul first in order to deliver the desired external collaborative experience desired. For project teams, removing the “middleman” offers a number of benefits including significantly reducing numerous hours wasted uploading and downloading information from legacy FTP sites and large company information systems developed over many years.
For owners and stakeholders, cloud services offer a number of benefits in addition to transparency. Rather than the traditional 2D pdf — which requires markups, pictures, and the like — clients see model progress and enjoy design review, the ability to comment and share information rapidly. The technology allows ease in locating a drawing, dropping a pin, and exposing the issue halting construction, thus speeding up response time on priority issues, and providing true transparency allowing owners and stakeholders to see what they are paying for. Laser scan cloud services use reality capture with 3D cloud modeling, permitting an architect or engineer to overlay the model on top of the site and quickly see potential problems before breaking ground, such as a wall that isn’t parallel or a design model that won’t work because of imperfections in building materials. Owners and stakeholders quickly appreciate the value of cloud service technology which allows for file sharing and greater ease of access to information. True transparency — no middleman — with enhanced productivity and quality control.
Justin Lipsey is a project VDC / BIM specialist at SSOE Group, a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management. Justin deeply understands end-user and client needs within the framework of technology and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.