Envision: building construction transparency

Envision is winning new infrastructure customers, and its data-centric approach fits with data-driven visions of the future of the industry currently known as construction.

Envision logoEnvision is expanding its reach into civil engineering projects, and even reaching outside its Australasian heartland. The Brisbane, Australia-based field construction data platform is now being used extensively on road, rail and tunnel projects, says co-founder and head of engineering Adrian Smith, while Australian customers have taken the technology to their projects in places including Papua New Guinea and even Mongolia.

Launched in 2010 (see May 2011 post), Envision set out to simplify construction management, adopting a mobile-first Software-as-a-Service approach, integrating mobile devices with 3D, scheduling and time management tools, and applying lean thinking. The Australian engineering and infrastructure contractor Downer Group was an early adopter, and the former Leighton group, CIMIC, soon followed (see January 2016 post), using Envision on major liquid natural gas facilities and other natural resources projects.

However, the business has also won enterprise customers involved in a string of major road and rail infrastructure projects, particularly in eastern Australia, Smith said, and has been marketing itself as a field-based construction delivery platform, connecting project leaders with real-time insights and providing “unparalleled visibility of project performance”:

“Envision was used by CPB Contractors to help deliver Stage 2 of the Gold Coast light rail project, a vital part of the infrastructure for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and helped reassure the client on progress and cost projections. It is being used on a four-year, Au$400m project to add a second runway at Brisbane Airport, and on the Sydney and Melbourne Metro projects. And in Papua New Guinea, Clough is deploying Envision on a power station at Port Moresby – field data can be quickly gathered on site, and relayed back to Clough’s experts in earned value management (EVM), saving costly manpower resources.”

In an Envision case study about Port Moresby power station, Clough operations manager Geoff Scott says: “The technology allows us to run with leaner project teams. We now have improved quality and frequency of communications.”

Envision: data not document management

Envision marketing chief Kirk Kulbe, formerly at design giants Bentley, Intergraph and Autodesk (on left in photo below, with Adrian Smith) underlined that the platform is not about document management:

Envision's Kirk Kulbe and Adrian Smith

“The core strength of platforms such as Aconex is document management, or latterly building information modelling, BIM, and related communications. We don’t compete with systems like Aconex and ProCore – we complement them. We are all about the data, giving a clear line of sight on what is happening in the field, so that teams have real-time or next day reports on whether the project is on course in terms of progress and cost. Envision captures data close to the user, in place, in time, and about the people doing the work. This kind of operational data is distinct from that captured in building information models.”

However, Envision can also be used to track design progress. The Melbourne Metro project had been using Envision to track the progress of design, and the associated earned value of design deliverables, Smith said.

Having  recently written an Envision blog post – “The ‘good oil’ on construction data” – Smith expanded on the theme, saying Envision is more about project controls.

“Design information is great when you are visualising what will be constructed, but once you are working on a live project, you also need a dashboard showing live information about how construction is progressing. Too often, tools like [Hexagon’s] Ecosys or [ARES’s] Prism are used to collate end-of-month data. We provide data immediately or, at the latest, next day – showing exactly what was achieved yesterday. We record both physical progress and labour, plant and material resource quantities and costs; so we can calculate daily progress and daily cost, and use EVM to show the daily value achieved.”

Envision construction dataBy capturing and centralising data in a consistent way, Envision “de-risks” projects, avoiding common problems arising from over-reliance on spreadsheets, with different professionals compiling different data in different ways. In his blog post, Smith highlights research showing that over 90% of spreadsheets contained errors and 23% contained serious errors. Being data-driven avoids reliance on anecdotes or gut feel; objectively gathered data provides a sounder basis for decision-making, he says.

Productivity and transparency

Compared to other industries, productivity in construction across most developed economies has effectively flat-lined for the past 25 years, hampered by an often-adversarial culture, disjointed procurement processes, fragmented project team and industry structures, low levels of investment in technology and R&D, and other issues. Mark Farmer’s 2016 report on the UK construction sector, “Modernise or Die”, highlights these and other symptoms of a broken industry model, and the Australian market shares many of the same challenges.

Smith feels data-driven decision-making can be used to help alleviate some of these issues: “The name Envision suggests transparency,” he says, “and by providing a consistent dashboard to all stakeholders, you can help to create a more collaborative culture.”

The Farmer Report provided additional momentum to ongoing efforts to improve UK construction, as I wrote in August 2018 (Don’t just digitise. Rethink construction). Short-term adversarial business models are being rejected in favour of longer-term business relationships founded on collaborative processes and behaviours; government is shifting from lowest price tendering to demanding best whole life value; and, rather than seeking bespoke project solutions, industry clients are looking at greater standardisation and increased use of offsite manufacturing techniques.

Digital Built Britain diagramIn July 2018, the Construction Leadership Council published its “Procuring for Value” report, advocating procurement based on delivery of best whole-life value and performance, with a strong focus on measuring and rewarding good asset and supplier performance. Related initiatives such as Digital Built Britain and the ICE’s Project 13 also urge digital transformation of the industry currently known as construction, and some of the UK industry’s largest customers are increasingly looking for suppliers who can work digitally. The industry has to move beyond document and file-based thinking and make data the new normal, but it will not just be about digital thinking – it will be about rethinking construction as a whole.

Data-centric project delivery practices, such as those encouraged by Envision, have to form part of the future of the sector. Smith has set out some guiding principles for improving data maturity, including:

  • Capture [data] electronically close in person, place and time
  • Align how the project performance is to be measured with the financial system
  • Use reference codes/identifiers/geolocation for resources (people, equipment, materials, companies) to allow easy cross-referencing
  • Express data in self-describing formats where possible
  • Exchange data in neutral file formats – avoid proprietary file formats
  • Agree a “source of truth” for core data like budgets, people, equipment, …
  • Convert data into information and drive decision making.

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