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September 20, 2007
Products like Expedition and Prolog lead the construction industry in assisting contractors document and track items such as submittals, correspondence and changes. First developed for the DOS environment, they eventually made their way to Web-based applications, where they allow data to be shared with multiple team members, thus reducing project costs and creating better efficiencies.
Though these original systems were mainly contractor-centric, project collaboration Web tools that support the needs of owners and designers have become more prevalent only in the past four to five years.
Issues surrounding security expressed by the design community delayed acceptance and use of these systems. While issues and concerns have been addressed, acceptance and use is still sporadic.
With the majority of design firms and owners having Web sites, the use of file transfer protocol, or FTP sites, has become popular for transferring drawing files, specifications and other project documentations. Web-based project management and collaboration software applications provide much more functionality.
Project management collaboration Web tools bring together design, construction, budget and operation management aspects into a single virtual location that can be accessed from anywhere. In essence, these sites are designed to improve communication between all of the parties involved in the delivery of a construction project.
Access can be password controlled, not only for the Web site, but also for links within the Web site. Security issues from the past have been addressed, thus providing designers (primarily) assurance that intellectual property won’t be pirated.
These sites provide space for collaboration during design, answering questions during the bid period, and managing the construction installation and delivery process. With advances in computer and communication technology, these tools are available to those who seek to improve their project delivery.
Commercial Web collaboration tools are available from multiple software vendors, and are being used by local firms to assist in the management of their projects in the educational field as well as in other industries.
Additionally, there are more custom applications that have been developed and put to use by owners and designers in the region to address specific needs and functional desires. The systems in use by local districts and designers improve collaboration between design teams, construction staff and project management staff. They also offer version control, reduced data transit times, improved management and oversight of projects from a distance, and improved efficiency.
There are notable differences between management software tools developed primarily for the construction industry and those used by owners and architects.
Both products offer tools for correspondence management as well as for documenting other submittals, such as requests for information and shop drawings. Software for owners and designers offer opportunities to share design documents, such as drawings and specifications, and provide document version control capabilities.
Additionally, some custom applications for owners can track project costs and other financial information.
Benefits for schools
While not unique to school construction, school projects can benefit from use of such management tools.
Administrative costs are reduced, and the ability to recall documents is improved. When used during construction, there is a single document storage area for all project-related documentation, which eliminates confusion or disputes about when documents were submitted or returned.
Having a tool that provides immediate feedback and notification when a submittal is due will reduce claims for delays due to inaction.
Additionally, these systems provide an alternative storage system for project documentation.
While documents such as pay applications, contracts and change orders generally still require hard copies with wet signatures, the bulk of the remainder of project documentation, both during design or construction, can be stored electronically and retrieved as necessary.
All the documentation associated with multimillion-dollar projects can be stored on a CD or a DVD and filed away for easy retrieval. Also, should a project end in dispute, retrieving documents to build or support the case is much easier when using Web-based project management software. With requirements for sustainable designs in our educational facilities, it’s more than reasonable to expect our design and construction professionals to lead by example in caring for our resources.
The Internet with access from virtually anywhere allows a project team member or executive to maintain communication and stay connected to the project during critical periods. While not advocating that we should be inexorably tied to our projects or computers, there are times when a member of the project team must be off site and yet have access to project documentation.
These tools improve our efficiency and effectiveness as a management and execution team.
Randy Barber is a principal at Olympic Associates Co., leading its construction support services group. He has been involved in the planning and delivery of educational projects for more than 12 years.