Moaning architects? (3)

Since my last post on this topic, I have had an invitation to attend the next meeting of the CICA major architects IT group in early November, along with Duncan Mactear of 4Projects. Should be an interesting opportunity to hear why architects don’t feel construction collaboration technologies are yielding the benefits we often claim for them.

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CICA annual convention

No posts yesterday; I was at the CICA annual convention in London. The turnout wasn’t great – around 30 or so, including speakers – but most attendees managed to stay to the very end of the day. This was no mean achievement for an all-day event on a Friday, and a lot of credit must go to the organisers for giving over half of the day to a facilitated workshop run by David Stitt. David managed to keep our interest going by encouraging group and syndicate working, plus brain-storming supported by some graphical software.

Another factor might have been that we didn’t experience ‘slow death by PowerPoint’. Two of the speakers dispensed with PowerPoint altogether. Andrew Bowles of Sheppard Robson spoke well with the aid of just a few notes on cards, while Arup‘s Henrik Kiertzner spoke provocatively and without notes at all  (by contrast, another speaker gave a presentation that only fleetingly resembled that shown in his handout – which exasperated a few delegates, I think).

I was pleased that the event also featured praise for the PIX Protocol (something that will be discussed in the workshops at the forthcoming NCCTP conference in November – I did a quick plug for the event, and my book, just after lunch), and didn’t get hung up on the technology alone – indeed, there was wide recognition that it’s not technology that’s hampering our efforts, but the slowness of effecting change in people and processes.

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Avanti reality check for extranets (2)

Towards the end of yesterday’s CICA annual convention, I met Mervyn Richards, one of the leading figures on the Avanti project (see 22 September post). He gave me a bit of background to the somewhat negative comment (about extranets and their workflow handling capabilities) made at last month’s CE members convention. Apparently, the comment was not a generalisation, but an anecdote based on use of a particular system (certainly not BIW Information Channel). Mervyn hadn’t been able to challenge the assertion since his own first-hand experience of construction collaboration technologies was now out-of-date (however, Mervyn is now going to come down to BIW’s Woking office to see the latest version of our software).

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Irritating marketing email

I received an unsolicited email from AMT3D offering what sounded like an interesting solution which would enable architects and developers to demonstrate to planners, etc, exactly what their new schemes will look like within the existing 3D urban environment. The email tempted me:

A demo of the Leeds pilot project can be obtained via:

However, there was no demo – just a photo of the equipment used, and an email link to request a demo. Why not link to an exciting image or short video giving me some idea of the product’s capabilities?

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Collaborate via blog or wiki?

Since my post about the Construction Computing Show, there has been a meeting of the NCCTP marketing group at which the event was discussed, followed by a steady flow of emails and attachments about the NCCTP stand layout, etc, between the five participants. Perhaps we should have practiced what we preach and used a collaboration application to coordinate our work?

Even if we could agree which provider’s solution to use (and get over allowing competitors access to one of the systems), I think a construction collaboration solution would have been overkill for this mini-project. But what about using blogs or wikis to develop and share our ideas? (BTW: earlier today, I recommended a couple of explanations from – see blogging and wikis – to introduce the concepts to a couple of colleagues).

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Teleworking: motivation factors

Following on from my last post, the same article quotes a Citrix study which reveals strong support for the idea that flexible working will deliver greater productivity and a more motivated workforce, though it admits opposition to remote working often relates to the perceived death of ‘the office culture’ and the breakdown of teamwork rather than concerns over security. "Other respondents were more worried about a lack of motivation if they weren’t under the watchful eye of their bosses."

Having worked from home for much of the past eight years, I have never needed a boss keeping an eye on me to keep me motivated (deadlines are often motivation enough). Regular trips into the office to hot-desk, or arranging off-site meetings with colleagues at mutually convenient locations and times, help keep me in touch with ‘the office’ and other members of my team, as do a steady stream of telephone chats, emailed jokes, etc.

Maybe the ‘watchful eye’ comment reflects bosses‘ insecurities? Perhaps they like to think their staff can’t be trusted to work unless they are keeping en eye on them?

Again, perhaps our modern extranet technologies can help in this respect too. While I hope there are few ‘Big Brothers’ out there, I know that managers can use the reporting tools embedded in many collaboration applications to monitor their employees’ work. But let’s not get precious about staff working nine-to-five (some of my most productive and/or creative periods are late-night sessions in front of the computer). Unless an individual’s homeworking requires them to be in constant telephone, web or email contact, why not trust them to work at a time that best suits them so long as the work is undertaken to the required quality and by the specified deadline?

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Teleworking secure?

Further to my post about teleworking (6 October), I read today in that increased levels of home working may jeopardise security. The article, ‘Flexibility boom presents security challenge‘, quotes Ross Paul from Websense: "If employees are taking their laptops home and surfing the web in their own time they could have almost anything on there from Trojans to spyware to keyloggers." Companies who have spent years securing their perimeters are now in danger of undoing all their hard work if they don’t put in place education and solutions for dealing with portable media and remote working, he warned.

At least when it comes to today’s remotely hosted project extranet solutions, there is no danger of companies’ perimeters being breached. Their project data is already being securely hosted outside their firewalls, and most hosting environments have sophisticated measures in place to prevent upload or download of security hazards such as Trojans.

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Construction Computing Show

The Construction Computing Show at the Barbican in London is now less than a month away. I will be co-presenting a seminar on the first day (9 November at 12.45pm) with an NCCTP colleague, Duncan Mactear from 4Projects, on the topic "Making Collaboration Pay". The NCCTP will also have a stand at the event as part of its effort to educate the UK construction industry about ‘project extranets’. In light of my recent experience at PropIT, I hope this event is well attended.

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Not THE Paul Wilkinson?

Since my book was published, some people have remarked upon the existence of other authors called Paul Wilkinson, most notably the illustrious Professor Paul Wilkinson of St Andrew’s University School of International Relations. As far as I know he is no relation (and nor is the former professional footballer of the same name, now reserve team coach at Cardiff City), and I should not be confused with the archaeologist Dr Paul Wilkinson of the Kent Archaeological Field School who wrote a book to accompany a BBC documentary about Pompeii (while Googling our name, I did, however, notice that one of the latter’s colleagues in a Study Group for Roman Pottery goes by the name of Robert Philpott – almost the same name as Rob Phillpot, one of the leading figures at Ozzie extranet vendor Aconex).

Looking on today, I found that books by the other PWs currently rank ahead of mine. The Professor has two books – 91,326 and 46,971 in the Amazon sales rank – while Dr PW’s Pompeii is ranked 76,057. My book ranks a humble 138,231st (though an improvement on the 175,000+ it was a couple of weeks ago). Mind you, Dr PW’s archaeological surveying text book is ranked 930,063 – it makes you wonder just how extensive the Amazon sales rank is!

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Being too innovative

Outside of the ‘project extranet’ field, I have witnessed at close hand the introduction to the market of a new software-based project analysis and planning methodology, but (perhaps as with any new technology that doesn’t fit into an existing market category) take-up has been slow. I was therefore struck by an article by Joel Orr – who is in a similar position, with Kollabnet – in Machine Design. In it, Joel suggests innovation can expose apparent weaknesses within an organisation: "corporate executives have difficulty believing that someone else’s innovation might bring about double-digit improvements in their own business". He goes on:

Innovation is an unnatural act. It induces fear, unmitigated by the promise of great gains in productivity. The fear is fear of personal loss – prestige; power; respect. The promises are of gains for the organization, not for the individual.

In short, we need to somehow override individual’s concerns about their own status, power, rewards, etc. What might help would be a new organisational focus on the good of the team, the department, the company…. In the collaboration sphere, for example, it makes little sense for organisations to reward individuals solely on the basis of each one’s own achievements as opposed to how successfully they have collaborated with others. In my book, I suggest:

"managers could amend employee job descriptions to emphasise team performance and, while accepting there is still room for individual brilliance, place less emphasis on individual achievement alone. … Collaborative working should be rewarded, thus motivating and incentivising employees to change their attitudes and behaviours….

"Business process legacy can also inhibit effective collaboration. Organisations may be tempted simply to carry on doing things the way they always did – ignoring the danger that, by doing so, they will always get what they always got. Instead, they may need to challenge accepted processes and thinking. Where collaboration tools are applied in organisations that do not encourage collaborative processes, it is not surprising that the tools may appear to fail."

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