Yesterday, I attended a breakfast briefing at London’s Building Centre organised by BIW Technologies. The Woking, UK-based construction collaboration technology vendor has been holding a series of early morning meetings to tell existing and prospective customers about its NEC3 contract management capabilities (echoing the efforts of its rival NEC Licensed Content Provider, 4Projects, in August). This event, focused on the NEC Engineering and Construction Contract, attracted 20 people (including me).
Senior account manager Duncan Kneller (disclosure: a colleague from my time at BIW, 2000-2009) delivered the presentation, which started with a brief overview of the company acquired by German provider conject last December (the combined group now claims annual revenues of €17m, employs 170 people and invests €1m in R&D per annum) and background on its commercial and contract management capabilities, which have been in continuous development since the mid-2000s. This is therefore a more mature solution than 4Projects’, and it showed occasionally during the presentation.
BIW’s NEC management platform can be delivered as a stand-alone Software-as-a-Service solution (with risk management, change control and reporting now augmented by official NEC guidance notes and flowcharts), or can be integrated with the core BIW collaboration platform so that “works information” can be presented to provide documents and drawings giving context to the various issues raised during contract management. Duncan showed how users can complete proformas and issue them to other parties under the contract; we then saw through the reporting tools how changes might have an impact on the contract sum and forecast final costs, and how project managers could monitor contract compliance.
The BIW NEC3 solution has been deployed on numerous projects (Duncan showed two slides each with about 20 organisation; I did notice many familiar names associated with other collaboration vendors, but – of course – many consultants and contractors work with multiple vendors), and we heard anecdotes from several projects, some dating back to BIW’s first NEC implementations such as St John’s College, Cambridge, others more recent or ongoing, such as Cambridgeshire County Council, Connect Plus, ISG or South West Water. The all-important return on investment question included a Cambridgeshire County Council saving of £150,000 per year, while Parsons Brinckerhoff had estimated a saving of over £140,000 on administration costs, from using the BIW system.
Set-up of the system depended on the extent to which the standard NEC contract had been amended customised, but rarely took longer than 2-3 weeks; ISG’s system for delivery of the 2012 Olympic velodrome was apparently deployed in just eight days. Costs vary depending on whether customers require the stand-alone NEC solution or NEC plus works information, and the type of project (renovation of a historical building, we were told, is likely to stimulate far more notices than delivery of a highway project).
Duncan presented the BIW system ‘live’ with information being uploaded and downloaded to the net via the Building Centre’s wifi. The BIW NEC landing page he showed included a handful of standard widgets: a project information box, a task overview (traffic light-style red, amber and green reporting icons are used to denote the action status of tasks), project calendar, and photographs. Showing the set-up configured for a main contractor, he then navigated between tabs for home, works information, main contract ECC, and sub-contract.
Completing pro-formas was straightforward, with mandatory sub-fields changing according to the data entered in main fields, and – in case of doubt – there were links to the relevant contract clauses and to the flow-charts (if required). Standard forms, such as Early Warning Notices, are automatically numbered by the system to avoid any future ambiguity among users, and there were numerous reporting tools to record and track the status of different workflow processes.
Given that many project teams have tended to use Excel spreadsheets for contract administration purposes, Duncan showed how data could be quickly generated and automatically exported to Excel, with some fields colour-coded according to the impacts of project events on, say, the contract cost or the programme. Someone asked if all the programme impacts were aggregated to extend the contract period, but Duncan said that would depend on whether the issue was on the critical path (as with most SaaS construction collaboration platforms, there was no dynamic link to scheduling tools such as Primavera or Asta PowerProject).
Contract performance could also be monitored by way of pie-charts and bar-charts. As with 4Projects, I didn’t think these were as well presented as in Sypro Management’s interface (see Sypro updates NEC3 interface), but Duncan said ongoing product development would see improvements to the reporting functionality, more dashboard-type views (including ones for mobile devices), and better integration between the application and the supporting flowcharts.
Alongside its contract management functionality, BIW has a more wide-ranging and detailed project Financial Control module, and Duncan briefly showed how users of the latter would be able to see the cost impacts of NEC changes (he also, I think, hinted at imminent release of BIW commercial management module).