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Data: A key component propelling construction collaboration

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Col-lab-o-ra-tion: The action of working with someone to produce or create something.

That’s the standard definition of collaboration, according to Google. Apply this term to construction companies, however, and I would argue the definition is missing one important element. A better description, in my opinion, would read something like this:

The action of working with someone to produce or create something through the exchange of data.

Collaboration means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Sharing information efficiently is one way to look at it. Why? Just consider the thousands of details that need to pass between individuals both within a construction company, as well as between various companies, to successfully build a project.

A growing construction trend

There’s no doubt that improving project collaboration is a growing industry-wide effort among contractors. In fact, according to a recent industry survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) and Sage, 78% of construction firms use some form of collaborative project delivery. Design-build, by far, leads the way with 61% of contractors employing this method. Thirty-nine percent of contractors embrace design-assist practices. Public-private partnerships and integrated project delivery are also in use, but to a much lesser extent.

Technology’s role

What’s driving this newfound interest in collaboration? Technology that enables more efficient data exchange is one key factor because it now makes it possible for construction firms to better collaborate. And, as a result, contractors are seeing the value in that teamwork. Project owners are also noticing how collaboration can deliver a higher-quality project within budget and schedule—which makes collaboration a powerful marketing message for contractors.

BIM and more

When one thinks of construction collaboration technology, the first thing that comes to mind is building information modeling (BIM). An electronic model is one way for the building team to exchange data to determine a design’s constructability, effective cost scenarios, and appropriate resource scheduling—all prior to the start of construction.

But construction collaboration is much more than BIM. It involves the movement of data between hundreds of individuals who play a part in the successful completion of the project—from those with boots on the construction site, to those that support the project back at the office. Here are just a few examples of how various technology is making data exchange much easier and, therefore, facilitating greater collaboration:

  • Keeping the project team in sync: Today’s cloud-based collaboration platforms make it much more convenient for general contractors and construction managers to distribute, share, approve, and track all project-related information online. Everyone has the latest plans and instructions to assure they are all working in concert.
  • Streamlining the RFI process: New software features are cutting steps from time-consuming construction workflows. For example, you can now create an RFI, send the request, and receive a reply—all from one RFI page.
  • Connecting the field and office: Mobile construction software is improving communication between field and office staff. Information that once required a call or trip back to the office is now readily available to superintendents and project managers on their mobile devices. And employee time, units in place, work orders and other information captured in the field now flows automatically back to accounting and service management staff.
  • Teaming up to solve billing problems: Online payment hubs are making it easier for contracting parties to collaborate on billing. Payments can be prepared, submitted, validated and approved online and in real-time. This eliminates the need for spreadsheet reconciliation, email trails, and phone calls.
  • Improving the handling of lien waivers between companies: Technology can automatically send lien waivers out for electronic signature and trigger instant payment to subcontractors once the waiver has been signed.
  • Enabling customers: Customer portals allow property managers to request HVAC and other maintenance services online, automatically generating a work order for the contractor, who can then quickly dispatch a technician.

Data standards for better collaboration

At a broader level, the Construction Progress Coalition (CPC) is hoping to transform collaboration between design, build, inspect and operate (DBIO) professionals through a common data exchange. With these standards in place, DBIO professionals can select the technology solutions most effective for them while being able to share data with others using different applications. It is the ultimate technical scenario for collaborative data exchange. (Check out the CPC’s latest report “Transforming the RFI” to see how the organization is helping to tackle the collaboration challenge.)

One more thought

Of course, greater data sharing comes with certain risk. Make sure that any mobile and cloud-based technology you adopt has reliable security measures, such as two-factor authentication and third-party security audits. And put a security plan in place that takes into consideration the new collaborative, information-sharing environment now available to you.