The power of collaboration in product development

A lot of my time is focused on how teams collaborate during design and construction of new buildings and other assets, and it is easy to forget that collaboration should extend throughout the supply chain, including the manufacturers of many of the components that are used in our projects.

On his PLM and Profitability blog at Manufacturing Business Technology, Jim Brown talks about the top five principles for successful product development revealed by a recent Aberdeen Group report. Best-in-Class manufacturers are apparently:

  • Over three times as likely as average companies to support cross-departmental collaboration
  • Over twice as likely to give third parties direct access to design data
  • About twice as likely to provide visualization of design data to non-engineering organizations
  • Almost twice as likely to store design data in a central location
  • Almost twice as likely to share engineering information with manufacturing digitally (no printed drawings)

From the perspective of someone focused on collaboration technology provision, the fourth point – about sharing design data centrally – demonstrates how ICT solutions can enable superior performance. And the fifth strongly suggests where the construction industry needs to go – towards adoption of integrated building information modelling (BIM), embracing complete supply chains.

BIM was a topic central to discussions yesterday at an ICT and automation workshop I attended at BERR in London yesterday (a follow-up to the scoping study that I helped produce in 2007 – see post). Held in BERR’s impressive Futurefocus complex, a dozen people, including two representatives of technology providers, worked hard to identify future research needs.

A recurring theme throughout both the initial study and yesterday’s workshop was the need to link technological developments with appropriate changes in people and processes. New hardware and software, faster telecoms links and more software standards alone will not resolve industry problems. In many cases, organisations throughout the supply chain – while potentially convinced of the value of collaboration – still have concerns about risk, liability, intellectual property, and training/education that make them cautious. There is also a fundamental need to demonstrate and communicate the business case for BIM, particularly to UK clients and construction supply chain businesses that have, so far, ignored or overlooked the evidence emerging in the USA and Scandinavia.

Just as reports like the Aberdeen Group’s can identify the advantages of collaboration, we need clear and unequivocal statements on the benefits of BIM that will help persuade clients and supply chains that they need to start investing money, time and people in this more collaborative technology – and in making the equally necessary changes to procurement routes, contracts, insurance, IP, management, education, etc.

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