A research project organised by CM, in partnership with Newforma, asked what role digital technology and improved information management can play in boosting industry efficiency. Will Mann reviews the findings.
Improved information management is regarded as central to delivering the government’s digital built Britain goals – yet construction is currently showing limited ambition in using data and digital technology to improve its efficiency.
That was the broad finding of an industry survey organised by CM in partnership with project information management (PIM) software firm Newforma.
It is apparent that data management innovations such as collaborative platforms and file sharing are not widely used to support project development and collaboration. Just 17% of respondents report that new technology is used by over three-quarters of their organisation, while almost half say the tools are used by less than 25% of their workforce.
This is partly due to challenges in the integration of digital tools in an organisation, with 49% of respondents blaming a lack of existing digital skills in the workforce.
“The lack of adoption of new technology remains below efficiency levels expected by the industry bodies,” says Paul Daynes, regional director with Newforma. “This deficiency is further compounded by 38% saying they lack the skills to integrate digital tools. Platform technology choices would seem to be a factor if internal skills are not available.”
While 36% use a PIM or document management system (DMS) which they are happy with, 17% are unhappy with their systems’ effectiveness and some 43% do not use any system at all.
“This is a good indicator that information is not accessible by those who need it and that information is not distributed enough to support collaborative working,” says Daynes. “Where project information exists in a variety of silos, and is not held in a DMS, the consequence is clear; collaborative working is restricted across organisations.”
Respondents were also asked about their data storage platforms. On-premise servers remain the most used data storage system (59%) with only 22% using hosted cloud or common data environments (CDE).
Daynes observes: “The construction industry has seen firms suffering notable consequences from flawed information management strategies in the past few years. In the wake of the failure of the contractor Carillion – and access to asset data post Carillion’s collapse – questions of where data is stored has become commonplace.
“After the Grenfell Tower disaster, finding other assets that were fitted with the ill-fated cladding has also raised issues over searching for information across multiple projects held in platforms that are single project focused.”
He adds: “We may be witnessing a paradigm shift away from hosted-cloud or common data environments. It will be interesting to monitor whether this is a trend or phenomenon given the requirements of BIM Level 2.”
Information sharing is still dominated by email, with 68% of respondents saying it the common means of sharing data on projects. Only 12% of ad hoc file transfers are shared.
“The biggest driver of information sharing on construction projects comes from traditional sources,” notes Daynes. “Though email use remains high for communication it should also be viewed as another source of information that should be held in context to all other project data. Additionally, maintaining audit trails of what information is shared across all project-related data is key to resolving disputes.”
Interestingly, 34% of respondents see movement of data into a configured cloud environment as the best approach to managing information – the most popular choice – though a quarter recognise that keeping data in expert systems connected together could also be an effective approach.
Daynes says: “One may predict a more connected environment will become the norm, where data is held in expert systems of choice whether cloud- or on domain-based.”
The risks of ineffective data management for their organisations are identified by all respondents. Over a third say the biggest risk is not being able to readily find related information, while 22% cite project performance, 15% say it simply wastes time and 13% worry about a lack of an audit trail to support disputes.
Barriers to collaboration
Finally, the survey asked what the main barriers are to effective collaboration on projects. Nearly 40% report that technology is not being adopted across all project stakeholders, effectively restricting collaboration.
Almost a quarter report a reluctance to evolve from traditional working practices, and one in five blame a lack of education of platforms available to deal with the information explosion on projects.
“To exploit the next generation of technology and become competitive on a global scale, the UK construction industry must find a way to manage the basics with greater consistency,” says Daynes. “Efficiency-boosting project information management tools that connect seamlessly across all existing systems can simplify the information discovery process, and in turn ensure the collaboration of project stakeholders.”
This article is produced in association with