Top 5 data challenges for contractors

Contractors often struggle to implement common project management procedures, so it’s little wonder that BIM is a challenge. Jason Ruddle of Elecosoft looks at the top five reasons things go wrong – and one way to get back on track.

Construction has always been information intensive, but the number of information streams is multiplying. Integration means the act or process of creating a whole from the sum of its parts. In construction, this now spans the entirety of operations from collaborative working practices to how information from disparate sources is brought together – a challenge we’ve been helping customers solve for a long time.

For contractors, bringing information about project schedules together with cost and quantities is tricky enough, especially in a profession subject to the unexpected in terms of weather extremes, ground surprises, and planning challenges (not to mention client changes). Helping customers to see ahead and plan their myriad “what if” futures easily has always been important to us. Today, however, they are facing a different challenge.

Thanks to BIM, integrating 3D data is becoming non-negotiable: it is, increasingly, the originating design framework. The goal of better designed, more sustainable and lower cost “digital” buildings is laudable – but the information challenge this creates can be tough to wrestle under control.

Contractors are well aware of the need to comply with BIM protocols in terms of guaranteeing information exchange among other things, yet are often struggling to optimise their own internal models. 

For contractors, enabling a single, integrated view of projects is a vital enabler of the wider aim of BIM to enable an uninterrupted and open information flow. However, contractors are still facing a number of key challenges in doing so. Difficulties they’ve encountered fall into five categories:

  • Significant disconnects exist between the information priorities of organisations and those of project leaders and site managers – and the needs of management can be prioritised above those who need information to manage project delivery.
  • Difficulties in synchronising the reporting by different parties create challenges. This is especially true around the practicalities of constant site progress reporting and the ongoing prevalence of manual reporting, which in turn can lead to inaccuracy and lower trust in reports.
  • Data from different technologies and software solutions forms a tangle that is tough to unravel Cost estimation data is often siloed in spreadsheets and ERP systems, 3D models in CAD design formats and scheduling information in a range of systems, including spreadsheets.
  • The habit of reinventing the wheel is hard to break. There exists much internal variance of process within larger contractors – not all firms have even yet standardised on their project planning and scheduling software.
  • Construction project teams often operate as individual components. They are brought together for extended durations and, lacking standardised systems, often develop their own team practices for information sharing and reporting.

In other words, BIM is forcing standardisation in contractor organisations which aren’t necessarily quite ready either in cultural or IT terms. While we cannot impact the former, better software platforms can go a long way to create standardisation of project views – and, if firms can achieve that, they will be far more easily able to share information with BIM partners.

A central construction data management strategy, which mandates the use of enterprise-wide professional BIM planning tools, may ultimately be the only way to assure that contractors, project managers and on-site construction teams have a consistent and replicable 360-degree view of projects on which they can rest BIM-standard collaborative working practices. 

However, companies already do have the opportunity to integrate the different streams of data to create enhanced project visibility: bringing together data from the 3D model into the master programme and the project schedule, and aligning cost and financial information, into a powerful single 5D system for BIM. In firms that have standardised on our tool in this way, we are seeing steadier progress towards BIM, as well as greater numbers of excellence awards.

To move firms forwards on the road to fully open BIM will take more than culture change. They must enable complete, consistent and accessible construction information management within their own boundaries, before they can hope to share information effectively beyond them.

Jason Ruddle has more than 25 years’ experience in the construction industry delivering key software solutions, products and services to national house builders, contractors and the supply chain. He is managing director of Elecosoft UK, a leading international developer of project, portfolio, resource management and BIM software, including its flagship product, Asta Powerproject.

BIM is forcing standardisation in contractor organisations which aren’t necessarily quite ready either in cultural or IT terms.– Jason Ruddle, Elecosoft

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