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  • 31 July 2018 13:45

Activating content services to manage construction projects

Today’s challenges for the construction industry are multifaceted. Businesses face rising energy prices, stringent regulatory requirements and an increased focus on health and safety.

More than in most other industries, there is the added concern of ‘lost knowledge’, with experienced staff literally building on many years of on-site training and know-how. Construction requires a range of very specific skillsets, and operatives who are experienced in working with diverse and often potentially hazardous materials and conditions. To safeguard against losing that experience and to pass it on to others in the organisation, it is important to prepare and capture critical knowledge, therefore maintaining continuity and minimising risk to operations.

As capital-intensive businesses with large-scale and expensive projects, construction companies continue to search for ways to improve their rate of success and minimise risks. The larger the construction project, the greater the number of stakeholders involved and the more complex the types of communication and business processes required throughout the life of the project. Effective and efficient collaboration among property owners and construction vendors is critical to reduce costs, improve the quality of decisions and minimise rework.

Typically, any industry that relies heavily on project management skillsets will want to:

1. Simplify and standardise information creation and data capture processes throughout the organisation

2. Improve users' ability to correctly capture context and actively manage the life cycle of content

3. Improve access to, and control of all document-based assets for all staff, key alliance partners and contractors

Bringing order to the chaos

Managing the flow of information and the complexity of large capital projects can be a daunting task. Capital projects have tens of thousands of associated documents, including hundreds of contracts, production reports, engineering drawings and many other electronic and physical records that continue to be created at a fast pace.

Businesses that have a methodology in place for tracking, capturing, accessing and managing the flow of information will be in a better position to avoid unnecessary expenditures, reduce risks and avoid the incurred costs of locating or recreating information when the project moves from the construction phase to being operational. In many organisations today, paper-based processes are used for capturing, routing and reviewing the information and data associated with projects. But if the project manager does not have access to the most up to date contracts, or if the most recent drawings or other documentation is not readily available for review, the adverse impact can influence the timelines, quality and cost of the project. The relationship between the flow of information and the cost of the project is very tightly related.

Ensuring the latest revision of every drawing is critical when communicating with dispersed and varied members of the engineering and construction team.

Information held within an enterprise content management (ECM) solution can solve many of the knowledge and process challenges faced by construction companies, allowing focus on specific tasks, mitigating project risks, managing key documentation and communication, leveraging past experiences and enabling collaboration. The ECM sits at the core of a sophisticated content services solution, which incorporates services such as automation and collaboration tools.

Integrated work and information flows When considering a construction project, several issues need to be addressed, including:

• Bid package creation and management

• Online, secure contract negotiations

• Integration with back office financial systems

• Scope change management

• Vendor performance management

• Drawing and transmittal management

• Records management

• Reporting

Organisations adopting an ECM system are able to access and manage documents and records on capital projects throughout the full lifecycle, helping project teams streamline operations and procedures. Integrated software applications, including solutions for building and managing contracts, email and electronic records management and automatic workflow technologies, directly impact the costs associated with building and delivering a capital project.

Fast access to the correct information is critical for a number of reasons. On a macro level, it helps answer any questions about the project that may have come up from management and board members, in a fast and efficient manner. Instant access to critical information can help mitigate many of the risks associated with a project, as well as provide quick insights to help avoid legal or regulatory consequences. Instant access to information also helps workers respond to a scope change, ensuring they are equipped to make the right decisions.

When information is captured and stored in a central electronic repository through the life of the project, the owner can determine which records to keep, what data to transfer to the operational team for day-to-day use and what information can be deleted once the project is complete. Records Management applications empower users to apply records disposition according to organisational policies, ensuring regulatory compliance and reducing the risks associated with audit and litigation. If it’s a new casino complex for example, versus a new bridge on a highway, it would require two different records retention and disposition policies.

ECM in Action

An example of a data-intensive process that would benefit from a centralised approach to ECM is the creation and management of contracts.

Organisations can use ECM tools to automate contract creation and amendments. A key benefit of an ECM-based contract management solution is that it eliminates duplication. The solution can extract the key variable data contained within contracts and automatically upload the appropriate parts of that data to back-end systems, such as ERPs, CRMs and other finance systems - without any manual intervention. Scope changes to contracts can be automatically updated within ERP systems very quickly, ensuring timely vendor payment.

Remember your people

Another key element to consider in any ECM deployment is the cultural change inherent in such exercises. Standard structures, formatting and cataloguing often replace the myriad of former silo-specific practices. It can be a massive change in the way people work, the way they have to think about the content and the information they are creating.

Deploying an ECM is about creating an environment where people are empowered by better information and communication right across the board. Processes that were once labour-intensive become automated, documentation is immediately accessible, and visibility across workflows reduces risk and allows for better decision-making.

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