Attend almost any AEC industry conference or seminar where construction collaboration technologies are discussed and you will usually hear something to the effect that successful collaboration is 80% about people and processes and only 20% about the technologies involved (in my book, I even ventured that the balance could be more like 90/10). This type of guidance helps explain to potential users that they cannot expect an electronic solution to be some kind of ‘magic bullet’ – that they will also need to look at their own attitudes and behaviours and the practices and protocols they employ in communicating within the team. Similar messages are also being conveyed in other market sectors, it seems.
Last week, I read an AEC Cadalyst article, New Technology Drives Corporate Upgrade, which described how implementing Expesite’s web-based project management solution in US restaurant operator VICORP “was simple compared to the internal changes the company required at a deeper level”. Company spokesman Frank Scherer said:
“The rollout was a major paradigm shift for some people. … So many people needed to be involved and get onboard with the changes; yet there were people who refused to change. … Since the process was now transparent, people were being held accountable. That sounds like a bad thing, but it was actually good. There was no hiding the fact if something wasn’t going according to plan. It prevented a lot of problems.”
According to the article, Scherer thinks the challenges in implementing new technology are more common than most people realise, particularly the companies selling the technology (as I’ve said, this is already recognised by most vendors in the UK AEC collaboration space). Scherer recommends that any company looking to incorporate new technology should spend time up-front to evaluate how the process will work: “It sounds so simple to buy software and implement; but for an organization that has done it one way for decades, it’s much more complex than that.”
The AEC Cadalyst article then discussed another Expesite implementation, by US retail developer RetailWorks. Here a key issue was getting some third party development partners to use the system: “like anything it takes work to get people up and running”.
The same type of lesson is also being learnt in the manufacturing sector, according to another interesting Cadalyst article: PLM Strategies — Putting People and Processes before Technology. Discussing 3D Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) technologies, the article quotes David Prawel, a 3D software expert and founder of consulting firm Longview Advisors:
“To implement effective PLM, companies need to think about people, supporting processes, supported by technology. Too much software is acquired before core business processes and workflows are thoroughly understood, synchronized, and standardized.”
Substitute ‘extranets’ or ‘construction collaboration’ for PLM in the above quote and the message is clear. This is an important message for the AEC sector, particularly as it moves towards the embrace of building information modelling (BIM). Yet another AEC Cadalyst article, BIM Dos and Don’ts, even starts with the observation:
“When it comes to moving from 2D design to full-fledged building information modeling (BIM), the necessary technology, process, and workflow changes affect almost every aspect of design.”