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Online Remote Construction Management: Construction Project Case Studies

Kajewski, Stephen L., Weippert, Achim, & Tilley, Paul A. (2003) Online Remote Construction Management: Construction Project Case Studies. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

Abstract

Computer application within construction companies began little more than a decade after the first electronic computer was built (1950s). It seemed like a promising start when breakthrough computer-based project management techniques such as the critical path method (CPM) moved quickly into the construction industry. Now that the construction industry is in its fourth decade of computer applications things have been changing more rapidly (Paulson, 1995).

Construction, unlike many other industries, is heavily fragmented with numerous design firms, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers involved in almost every project. Further, the construction industry is plagued with many problems. Arguably one of the most significant problems presently facing the industry is communication. The industry is characterised by inaccurate and untimely communications that often result in costly delays to the progress of a project, and if current level of international research activities are any guide, information technology (IT) is seen by many as a potential solution to this problem.

Computers can provide unifying modelling, management and communications systems to bring the unique talents of project participants together in a more productive and integrated manner. Paulson (1995) comments that leading consulting and construction firms are increasingly recognising computers as a strategic technology, and it is very probable that these firms will be the ones who will ensure the industry’s success in the future. Despite advances in computing and IT, the construction industry is making insufficient use of transferring project data and information electronically. McCaffer et. al. (1991) argues that data exchange between project participants is still largely undertaken on paper.

The Online Remote Construction Management (ORCM) project - a collaborative research project funded and supported by a number of Australian (Queensland) industry, government and university based project partners - commenced in July 1999 aiming, in general, to develop, trial and/or evaluate IT tools and/or Web-based communication systems on various building and civil construction projects over a two-year period, thereby allowing collaborative design, management and construction to be undertaken between members of a geographically dispersed project consortium. Additionally, the project aimed to demonstrate leadership in facilitating the use of online technologies for the design, management and construction of building and civil construction projects, by identifying and implementing appropriate IT (Web-based) communication solutions that will ultimately: (a) help improve the flow of project communications and to ensure that communications occur in a controlled, timely and less costly manner than would traditionally be the case; (b) ensure that information leakage is kept to an absolute minimum; and thus (c) ensuring that all members of the project consortia are in possession of the most up-to-date and accurate project information.

The ORCM Research Project was jointly funded by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Construction Research Alliance (based at QUT, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia); Queensland Government Information Industries Bureau (IIB) Department of Communication and Information, Local Government, Planning and Sport; Queensland Department of Main Roads (QDMR); and Queensland Department of Public Works (QDPW).

This consolidated report supports the aims and objectives of the various ORCM Queensland University of Technology (QUT) / Industry Partner agreements, and provides a summary of two years of research on five ORCM case study and any benchmark projects between July 1999 and December 2001.

Part A of this report is divided into the following six main sections and is supported by 5 individual case study reports (Part B – Part F):

• SECTION ONE: provides an introduction to the current status of the construction industry and nature of building and civil construction projects; • SECTION TWO: provides a brief outline of the various case study and benchmark projects that were analysed, including: organisational and contract reporting structures; general descriptions of project statistics; etc; • SECTION THREE: a condensed version of two years of ORCM research activities, including summaries of: • various communication tools investigated; site visits and interviews undertaken; • final results and outcomes from analysing project participant responses to a (1) ‘quantitative’ and (2) ‘qualitative’ survey; • types of benchmark data collected, the analysis process undertaken and results; • performance indicator calculations done to help assess the quality of design and documentation for each project; and finally • cost benefit analysis outcomes. • SECTION FOUR: provides a lists of project participant (end-user) ‘Process Improvement Recommendations’ for the implementation and use of the various IT tools and/or Web-based communication systems on the ORCM projects; • SECTION FIVE: identifies a key deliverable of the ORCM Research Project - i.e.: a list of ORCM ‘Best Practice Guidelines’ that are critical in helping ensure successful implementation of IT tools and/or Web-based communication systems and/or processes on current and future geographically dispersed (remote) civil and building construction projects (Figure 5 1): • One System (One Project – One Team – One System): Project participants want to learn to use only one IT tool or Web-based communication system for ease of understanding its capabilities, etc: • System Compatibility: The capabilities and functionality have to be compatible with most other IT products and Web-based communication systems used in the industry – potentially saving overall implementation time, cost, labour, errors, etc. Application of a Web-based communication system must not be a "black box" of information processing. • Ease of Data Entry: Commonality of a Web-based communication system’s access features and ease of data entry is most important. Free access to downloadable and compatible readers and ‘plug-ins’ for common access to data must be provided by IT tool and Web-based communication system developers. Either there is one industry/client wide system or there is a common user interface. • Fully resourced Implementation: Trialling a Web-based communication system (that has not had much exposure to industry participants) should be treated as a ‘special case’ with proper backing, support and experience from developers, implementers and researchers – i.e.: a new IT system should be fully resourced to ensure that all aspects are covered during the early stages of its implementation (e.g.: reliability, capability, etc. of essential project communications). • End User – Prime Focus: The end user is a key factor in gaining advantage from a Web-based communication system. Taking only the type or potential advantages, capabilities, etc of a newly developed IT tool or Web-based communication system into consideration is not enough during implementation. End user needs, expectations, requirements, recommendations, comments, etc must be a prime focus: • User v Quality and Accuracy: The quality and accuracy of any project related communication or information (electronic or paper based) is directly dependant on the user or creator of that piece of information or correspondence (with or without an IT tool) - technology alone is not enough to guarantee improved quality and accuracy of project related communications. • Trust: Implementing a new IT product or Web-based communication system must create a feeling of trust (reliability, relevance, need, etc.) for potential users. • Designed for the Construction Industry by the Construction Industry: Whilst developing a new IT product or Web-based communication system, the end users must be involved from the beginning to ensure a greater chance of successful IT uptake. • Training: Training in the use of a new Web-based communication system is essential. This includes continuous access to a telephonic or online 'Help Desk', regular onsite demonstrations and ‘refresher’ training sessions to ensure continuous learning and understanding of what the system is capable of, as well as recognising and accepting its limitations. • Commitment: All project participants and stakeholders need to be fully committed to using the new IT tool or Web-based communication system, with "buy in" and collaboration at the highest level within participating companies, thereby reassuring and guaranteeing potential users of a ‘corporate commitment’. • IT Driver: Every project should have a ‘driver’ of IT uptake (Superintendent or equivalent), encouraging, supporting and monitoring its application and its use throughout all phases of a project. • Legal Issues: ORCM defined ‘Critical Success Factors’ are susceptible to the current legal status regarding electronic transmissions, the use of electronic signatures, etc. Commitment by both government and industry sectors is required to help develop more innovative strategies to build a stronger and more competitive construction industry. ORCM Committee Members and their organisations have sought legal advice regarding the use of electronic communications on both public and private sector projects. These legal investigations are aimed at strengthening organisational and individual legal status when utilising electronic transactions or communications on building and civil projects. With the introduction of an ‘Electronic Transaction Act’, current legal issues are likely to be strengthened when making use of electronic communications on projects and provide better management of risks such as: • Authenticity: This concerns the source of the communication - does it come from the apparent author? • Integrity: Whether or not the communication received is the same as that sent - has it been altered either in transmission or in storage? • Confidentiality: Controlling the disclosure of and access to the information contained in the communication. • Matters of evidence: This concerns e-communications meeting current evidentiary requirements in a court of law, for example, a handwritten signature. • Matters of jurisdiction: The electronic environment has no physical boundaries, unlike the physical or geographical boundaries of an individual state or country. This means that it may be uncertain which State’s or country’s laws will govern legal disputes about information placed on the Internet, or about commercial transactions made over the Internet (Electronic Transactions Act, 1999).

In general, the outcomes of the Online Remote Construction Management (ORCM) research project were unfortunately not able to be determined quantifiably. Whilst the use of innovative Web-based IT solutions were perceived by many as being convenient, inexpensive, and fast, no matter the distance between team members, it cannot be conclusively determined (from the data collected) whether these Web-based IT solutions positively influenced the nature of communications between the project participants or not.

In summary, the ORCM ‘Best Practice Guidelines’ help reinforce the need for further research and development (R&D) of (a) innovative IT tools and Web-based communication systems, (b) identifying ways to overcome industry cultural ‘barriers’ and ‘modifying’ traditional work ‘habits’; and (c) identifying improved implementation procedures and application opportunities within the construction industry.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 4054
Item Type: Book
Additional Information: This version of the work is posted here with permission of the copyright owner for your personal use only. No further distribution is permitted. For more information about this book please contact the author. Author contact details: s.kajewski@qut.edu.au
Keywords: construction, online remote construction, internet, based project management, ICT
ISBN: 0975049410
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENGINEERING (090000) > CIVIL ENGINEERING (090500) > Construction Engineering (090502)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2003 QUT
Deposited On: 10 May 2006
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2011 03:52

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