Needed: a new NCCTP standard: how to account for extranet ‘traffic’

In addition to vendors’ reluctance to release accurate and realistic statistics relating to their user bases (see recent posts here and here), I also find it difficult to get a clear handle on how much user activity each construction collaboration technology vendor is managing. Let’s take a couple of topical examples.

First, a recent Aconex release says: “In just 18 months, Aconex has managed more than 500,000 mail and document transmittals between 1,600 users on London’s White City development” (a £600 million project for contractor Multiplex).

Second, Cadweb continues to publicise huge numbers on its website. At 7am this morning Cadweb was hosting over four million items (2,104,928 drawings, and 1,984,382 other items “Including: Schedules, Comment files, Specifications, Messages, etc…”) relating to 180 projects. Its Football Pitch Report says this equates to a pile of paper 2,398 metres high or 35.5 Nelson’s Columns.

Clearly, there are massive differences arising from how each vendor is calculating the volume of documentation managed by its system. To put it into context, if Cadweb had just eight projects the size of White City, it would now be hosting just as many items as its current 180 schemes put together.

As I have previously written (see ‘Statistics, statistics’, 27 September 2005), the main discrepancy arises because Cadweb’s drawing total relates to the total number of drawing copies, whereas other vendors might count each file once only regardless of how many individuals it is issued to. BIW, for example, suggests there are eight people on an average issue list. Other vendors remain silent on the issue. Maybe they don’t want their numbers to look insignificant compared to their competitors; maybe they don’t have the system reporting tools to collate such statistics; or maybe they are reluctant to indulge in a statistical battle where each vendor applies different approaches.

What is needed is a standard way for the construction collaboration technology vendors to calculate the volume of activity their systems are handling, so that meaningful comparisons can be made. Perhaps this is something for the NCCTP to consider?

This brings me to one final point arising from the Aconex news release. It claims that “nearly 40% of all new construction projects in the UK, valued at over £10 million, are now using a project collaboration system… This compares to less than 5% just 3 years ago.” Its source is “Compagnia independent analysis”.

Short-lived e-business consultancy Compagnia, led by Mike Halsall, produced its report on the UK AEC collaboration sector in 2003, so I think Aconex has based its claim on a projection made some three years ago. Since then – see chapter two of my book – the IT Construction Forum 2004 survey suggested that 43% of projects were using project extranets. However, that finding is now around 18 months old; we really should be looking to gather more up-to-date evidence of take-up.

As a vendors’ organisation, therefore, the NCCTP should be looking to promote the technologies backed up by:

  • solid evidence of the benefits of the technology (research is due to be undertaken in 2006, I’m pleased to say)
  • clear statistics (calculated in a clear, consistent and unambiguous way) about the total user base and the traffic through the various members’ systems
  • up-to-date figures on the extent to which construction collaboration technologies have been adopted in the UK AEC market (perhaps it’s time for the IT Construction Forum to repeat its industry survey)

On the second point in particular, I appreciate there may be some commercial sensitivities about each vendor’s user base, etc, but surely the CIRIA secretariat (or some other independent) could be trusted to verify and collate the figures and then aggregate the data so that we have some impressive overall numbers that the NCCTP could use to underline the key role the technologies now play in today’s AEC market.

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  1. […] published during the previous 12 months are also useful indicators of recent system use. See also Needed: a new NCCTP standard: how to account for extranet ‘traffic’ and Statistics, […]

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