Fighting fragmentation

Reaping the benefits of standardized construction management information
Richard Sappé

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry remains highly fragmented, and even with preferred vendor programs, each project features a new blend of players. This fragmentation hinders development of standardized processes for an integrated capital asset supply chain based on effective and efficient collaboration. Project risk avoidance, rather than maximizing the lifecycle value of a capital asset, remains the paradigm for the majority of the AEC industry. And especially during an economic downturn in the industry, players tend to adopt a hunker-down approach that further reduces efficiency and productivity on project delivery, and takes the focus away from enhancing capital asset value.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Water System Improvement Program
Product application
Construction management information system improves control, efficiency, and productivity of more than 86 projects across seven counties.

However, a small but growing community of owners, contractors, and engineering/design firms have begun integrating project stakeholders, project processes, and project technology to help improve project productivity and long-term capital asset value. These organizations are leading the charge in highly collaborative delivery methodologies such as integrated project delivery and efficiency-maximizing lean construction, and in adopting AEC-specific and highly collaborative technology solutions for virtual design and construction and integrated program management.

To eliminate silos of people, process, and information, these organizations focus on collaboration, standardization, and integration, and trade an antagonistic project delivery model of risk shedding for a collaborative project delivery model driven by project success metrics. A holistic application technology strategy plays a critical role in this, as technology should break down the silos of information and data, enable effective collaboration, provide specific AEC functionality across the full project lifecycle, and provide scalability from the project level to the enterprise level.

One example of an organization embracing these forward-thinking principles is the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC;, a department of the city and county of San Francisco that provides water to both city and regional customers, and wastewater and municipal power services to San Francisco. To manage a $4.6 billion Water System Improvement Program (WSIP), one of the largest water infrastructure programs in the nation and the largest infrastructure program ever undertaken by the city of San Francisco, SFPUC created a construction management information system (CMIS).

SFPUC—€™s CMIS is a system of standardized business processes that are tailored to the WSIP organization for primary contract management by all staff, contractors, and consultants. By integrating processes, it allows all parties to collaborate on submittals, RFIs, meeting minutes, quality assurance inspection reports, correspondence/document control, drawing control, punch lists, non-compliance notices, environmental compliance reporting, change management, tracking pending cost of change orders, and applications for payment. With standardized business processes in place, SFPUC has been able to improve the control, efficiency, and productivity of more than 86 projects across seven counties that are focused on repairing, replacing, and seismically upgrading the San Francisco Bay Area system—€™s aging pipelines, tunnels, reservoirs, pump stations, storage tanks, and dams.

As shown in the SFPUC example, one key to successful project delivery is the earliest possible collaboration across stakeholders during project delivery. This requires that project stakeholders share information from their respective areas of expertise as completely and as early as possible. An organization—€™s technology strategy must therefore take into account not only specific functional requirements, but also the requirements of the entire project delivery lifecycle. The complete AEC solution environment extends across all aspects of the capital delivery lifecycle, including funding and budgeting, design, estimating and scheduling, resource management, construction management, procurement, and accounting. A technology strategy must take into account this complete solution environment, even in those instances where the use of a particular technology is minimal.

Also, to maximize project productivity and capital asset value, it is important to understand clearly the potential impacts of project decisions before making them. The key to achieving this is through early and continuous information sharing during pre-construction and construction, application-driven analysis of project forecasts, and continuous monitoring of project- and facility-performance metrics. Therefore, it is important to understand clearly which data from differing functional areas reside in which systems. Based on this understanding, it is possible to identify which systems contribute to the collaboration requirements within and across organizations, and which integration approaches can best serve the needs of the project team as a whole.

In addition to considering the complete AEC solution environment, the scalability of AEC technology becomes critical. Deploying new technology and collaboration systems for each project simply does not scale, and it quickly becomes a costly and administrative headache.

Therefore, an organization—€™s technology strategy should aim to pursue scalable systems that can:

  • grow from a project level to a program or enterprise level within the organization;
  • readily integrate with the systems of a diverse array of outside stakeholders; and
  • maintain cross-project and stakeholder data integrity and security.

Technologies that can scale across projects and organizations provide greater transparency and efficiency. They also form the foundation for effective collaboration through data and access security and easier system administration.

Interoperability of application technology also is crucial to supporting enhanced collaboration and productivity and eliminating the costs of double data entry and data errors. Ready interoperability between key AEC technologies provides for greater accuracy of information, streamlined internal processes, elimination of rework, and also a lower total cost of technology ownership for each firm. To achieve interoperability, AEC technology strategies must look beyond file compatibility and import/export mechanisms. This approach is functionally limited, saps valuable time and resources, and does not meet the needs of highly collaborative projects. While document and file management and control will remain a key component of project delivery technology, interoperability shifts the focus toward data integration strategies to cut out import/export and file management steps.

Leading AEC technology vendors now offer out-of-the-box integrations between AEC solutions, including integrations to and from other vendors—€™ solutions. The benefits of out-of-the-box integrations are ease-of-use and implementation, greater applicability across project stakeholders, speed of implementation for new projects/systems, and a lower total cost of ownership, since the vendor maintains the integration rather than the user. The limitation of out-of-the-box integration is the scope of solutions a given vendor considers and for which it develops out-of-the-box integrations.

A current industry movement with great promise is standards-based interoperability. Several organizations —€” such as FIATECH ( and the National Institute of Building Sciences—€™ buildingSMART alliance ( —€” are working in close collaboration with AEC firms, owners, and technology vendors to develop and publish standards for interoperability specific to the capital asset lifecycle, including all facets of capital asset project delivery. Interoperability standards will provide a single means for any application to share and integrate relevant data across project phases and disciplines.

Richard Sappé is engineering and construction industry strategist for Oracle—€™s Primavera Global Business Unit.

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