Several innovative companies in the field of project controls have come together at an event (organised by Phil Shatz) at the Little Ships Club by the River Thames in London. Presentations are scheduled by InEight BASIS, ShapeDo, Aphex, Sablono, BuildSafe, Turbo Chart, Resolex, BuiltIntelligence, Chase, and Th3rdCurve. I will be live-blogging from the event this afternoon.
(2.05pm GMT) – Dr Dan Patterson (InEight) has focused on project controls for past 20 years, and believes most projects fail due to poor planning, not poor execution. BASIS is a planning assistant, sitting alongside existing tools such as Primavera P6 or MS Project, complementing critical path management (CPM). It uses “augmented intelligence” – BASIS makes suggestions as users develop the planning process – and then “Human intelligence” – where team members apply their opinions as markups to the plan which are then subject to discussion and consensus development. Patterson talked about BASIS’s context-aware inference engine, plan templating, and normalising knowledge using tags, and machine learning. Collaboration with field experts is enabled via a simple scorecard which registers whether individuals buy-in or push-back against the plan.
(2.15pm GMT) – Tony Llewellyn of Resolex presented about optimising complex construction projects, focusing on behavioural theory as well as technology. Project Intelligence combines social, technical and commercial elements, he says – “it’s important not to forget about the people (who don’t always behave in a rational, sensible manner).” Llewellyn talked about the importance of early warning signals (EWSs) – signals or indicators of future developments – which organisations are often very poor at identifying, or optimistically believe will sort themselves out. There are few mechanisms to identify EWSs – so Resolex’s tool RADAR is used to help identify issues using a web-based questionnaire created specifically for each project, and which is usually deployed at monthly intervals. It creates a safe environment to provide feedback, and lets organisations take action before issues turn into crises.
(2.30pm GMT) – Carlos Adams presented Aphex Planner (a platform I covered in May 2018), describing industry issues and the recommendations of the Farmer report Modernise or Die. We have to innovate, Adams says, but do it within existing practices, encourage lean thinking, have tools that are simple to use and which provide actionable data, and which treat users as customers. Aphex Planner, based on Last Planner thinking, aims to help make users lives easier, to deliver project efficiencies, and to provide companies with insightful data. Aphex identified that most current short-term planning methods are inefficient, relying on tools that aren’t fit for purpose. Adams did a rapid presentation of the platform – the latest release, with new features, was pushed out today, he said – and includes tools to manage resources such as construction plant, and reporting dashboards. Positive testimonials from Network Rail, Hinkley Point and HS2 were shared.
(3pm GMT) – Lukas Olbrich presented on behalf of the Berlin-based construction progress monitoring vendor Sablono (which I’ve seen exhibited at Digital Construction Week in recent years), founded in 2013. Like Aphex’s Adams, Sablono is born out of frustration that many construction folk still tend towards pen, paper and sticky notes rather than technology. Project management remains focused on time, quality and budget – mainly using spreadsheets and Gantt charts, but new technology can help us, Olbrich says. Sablono aims to help project supply chains know what they need to do next. The platform shows different levels of programmes, long and short range, and provides real-time reporting dashboards covering tens, even 100s, of thousands of activities (a Mace project in Greenwich, southeast London, had 150,000 interdependent and overlapping activities, for example). Project insights that used to take seven days could now be gained in a few hours; team meetings dropped from 40 minutes to 15 minutes (YouTube video – updated 6 June 2021).
(3.15pm GMT) – BuildSafe is a mobile tool for safe and efficient construction projects, said founder and COO Sam Jaeger (former Textura Europe executive Paul Bamforth is currently an advisor; post). It is a Swedish company established in 2015, and aims to involve all parts of the supply chain in gathering data to solve problems on site so they don’t affect productivity. Sweden’s high tax regime encourages businesses to become more efficient and improve their margins, Jaeger says, and BuildSafe focuses on field issues – the three Ps: people, process (“our processes are killing us whilst creating little or no value”) and purpose. The platform comprises a web platform and a user-friendly mobile app used to report observations, risks and accidents in the field. Ambitiously, it was first deployed on the £600m Urban Escape project in central Stockholm – it was used by 300 people; there were around 120 inspections every month, risks were reduced on average by 80%, and improved reporting to the whole supply chain – all achieved by creation of 250,000 data points.
(3.30pm GMT) – Russell Johnson presented Turbo-Chart – pitched as the efficient solution for Time-Location charts (aka Time-Chainage charts) – and used an early example from the Empire State Building’s construction to explain the principles. Turbo-Chart connects an image/location of a linear project (a high-rise building, pipeline, metro tunnel, highway, railway, etc) and relates that to a schedule (imported, for example, from Primavera P6 or MS Project). Johnson did a very rapid live demonstration, importing a schedule from P6 with some custom code, and then showed one he’d started earlier. Changes in P6 are replicated into the Turbo-Chart; data can also be pasted in from Excel; different charts can also be compared.
(3.50pm GMT) – Th3rdCurve is a new company, founded in 2018, which is developing a project control simulation platform. It was presented by CEO and co-founder Niall Faris (who has background in finance software), who started the company alongside senior engineers with experience on major London tunnel projects including Crossrail, HS2, and, in particular, Thames Tideway. The company’s mission is to deliver “investment confidence by unlocking organisational capability.” The company’s services are: business transformation, project services, controls systems delivery and controls training. Partnering with Prendo, Th3rdCurve has developed SCHOLA – a simulation tool that helps anyone working in a project environment embed good management practice, Faris said.
(4.30pm GMT) – NEC contract expert Glenn Hide and Nathan Lambert of OnDemand Software presented FastDraft / Built Intelligence, an administration tool for drafting and managing NEC contracts. The platform is used to administer contracts (not just NEC, but also FIDIC, JCT). The site offers a portal presenting a series of ‘register’ modules delivering elements of a contract, and is automatically updated as contract processes are instigated, progressed and completed. Like CEMAR (September 2017 post; since acquired by think project!), it adopts a look and feel resembling paper-based notifications. Status reports can be exported (eg as Excel spreadsheets). The platform is not just about contract compliance, Lambert says, it also prompts users to provide context for contract change notifications, while “contractor’s assumptions” regarding risks can also be captured. The platform, Hide said, deliberately excludes “general communications” to keep teams focused on contract processes, embraces the whole supply chain, and is priced competitively to encourage wide adoption.
(4.45pm GMT) – David Dunning of Chase Management Services didn’t have a polished product to promote but had a concept to share, focused on meetings management, on what he called “governance technologies” to avoid nasty surprises. He said these can be avoided by taking three steps: 1) listening with confidence (he cited a meeting feedback and monitoring tool, MeetingQuality, that might help with this); 2) sorting out the data (as this involves collating data from multiple future-facing systems, he has set up a group, the P3M Data Club to create an open reporting framework); and 3) “operationalising governance” (he likes Microsoft’s Teams product, and believes it can be applied to a project board’s governance). This prompted some discussion of virtual programme board meetings.
(5.20pm GMT) – Ari Isaacs presented the ShapeDo proposition which I have seen evolve from change control (June 2017) to dispute resolution (April 2018). ShapeDo doesn’t sit comfortably in any conventional software category (eg document management), Isaacs said. Software can potentially undertake key human interactions as well as established processes, he says (thought it may be difficult to sell solutions that replace their users, he admits). Design information (40% of data exchanged) is often a reflection of much wider project understanding, but information exchange is often reliant on manual interpretation and action – ShapeDo helps automate change detection, reports on who has reviewed documentation and when, and efficiently identifies changes between versions of information. Such changes can then be used to generate notifications of new bills of quantities, for example. 20-40% improvements in design and QS efficiency can be achieved, Isaacs said – “we got through 3000 drawings in two days – it was phenomenal,” said a ShapeDo user in the room. The ShapeDo technology is capable of being applied to BIM, but Isaacs doesn’t think the industry is ready to use this yet – most design is in BIM, but a lot of construction is managed using smart 2D.
Update (16 January 2019) – Further details of future events are on the Glimpse of the Future website. Next project controls event is on 12 February, with a BIM event to follow on 5 March – both in London. Phil Shatz is also taking the event to other locations too.