Enhancing Planning & Contracting Stages to Maximize Use of Technology Across All Stakeholders
Travis Voss, Technology Manager for Mechanical, Inc and member of the Construction Progression Coalition (CPC)
We’ve all heard it. Construction is going through or poised to go through a digital transformation. It’s time to get onboard and digitize our processes. Many construction companies and vendors have done just that by injecting the industry with new tools to aid in the transition and leverage the power of the data we generate. All of this data should make us more agile, transparent, and efficient.
This thrust of new technology options has resulted in multiple data silos, and not just between AECO project teams. Individual organizations are also struggling to connect data silos between internal departments.
As someone who comes from outside of the construction industry, this always leaves me with the same question, why?
There are several underlying reasons we can point to for this silo-ing of data and I am sure most of us have heard them so often we get rather cynical about them. One aspect that is now getting more attention is the planning and contracting.
Part of my role with Mechanical, Inc is to continually review the construction technology landscape and engage in tools and software where it makes sense to our business. One of the common themes in this process is the statement my colleagues will make or I will make to the prospective vendor is: I think it’s a great solution, but it wouldn’t get utilized because we’re dictated by the project to use ‘X’ so this would just create more work for us.
This points to a paradigm in the industry that, especially as a subcontractor, I feel needs to shift. Each stakeholder of the project should be able to use the tools and systems that allow it to operate at their highest level of performance without the burden of specific programs, tools, or devices dictated being to them by a GC or Owner.
The amount of collaboration and cooperation required by all parties to construct a building is extremely underestimated by those outside the industry. The process is also fraught with risk and executed at low margins, which can produce the incentive to tightly control every step of the process to ensure proper levels of CYA. At the end of the day, this is what causes inefficiency and slows down projects.
Look at the time it takes to reply to an RFI. Again, we’ve all seen the data that calls out the inefficiency of the current process. What if we could all work in the systems and with the tools that make our companies hum at the highest level of effectiveness and efficiency? What if there weren’t pages of paper or pdf documents to slog through to get information or approvals? What if there was an open exchange of data between all stakeholders? What if we could work on projects where incentive was to perform at your highest, rather than the status quo. How much faster and better would the project go?
When I look at enterprise technology solutions as a subcontractor, I use the following criteria to rate their ‘feasibility’ in the real-world that we work in. I want software that has open APIs. I want my data to flow freely through my company AND I prefer to work with partners that won’t require me to enter data into my system and then into theirs. I want contracts structured in a manner where WHAT data is required to be shared, the structure of the data is defined, and easy entry point is provided to enable the quick and seamless sharing of data. These are the features I care most about today.
The mission behind CPCoalition and our aligned efforts between technology and industry to define Common Data Exchange (CDX) certifications at the critical collaboration points. If each partner in the project agrees to use integrations that have been CDX certified, each stakeholder company can operate with their own dataset in the environment best suited for their company. Legacy systems may only be able to certify standard file exports like PDF or IFC, while more sophisticated cloud solutions can be certified as a CDX platforms that can create collaboration ‘sessions’ based on project specific CDX profiles that mirror the project’s contract requirements for RFIs or Submittals. CDX certified integrations not only eliminate the redundant data entry problem, they can also allow other stakeholders to check and verify the data which is pertinent to them.
We are going through a digital transformation and it is happening fast. There’s going to be even more venture capital being poured into the tech side of it as companies ramp up to help with that transformation and provide tools we’ll require. We’re poised at an important moment in this process. We need to lean on the vendors, and each other, to form this new paradigm to enhance the sharing and transparency so we can close the productivity gap, make up for reduction in workforce, and keep up with the forecasted demand.