A new dawn in construction technology emerges, as innovators clear a path for adoption.
The future of construction technology has arrived. Amid a changing competitive landscape in construction that has claimed more than its fair share of good quality construction organizations throughout the past few years, the future looks bright, driven in part by changing philosophies associated with technology adoption from an industry that has long ago shaken the stigma of being considered a tech laggard.
Today marks a new dawn in the way construction uses technology. Driven around concepts like cloud computing, mobility, collaboration, and connectivity, IT departments in construction have made concerted efforts to change the game.
In many regards, this future of technology is being driven on multiple fronts. Technology trends come and go, but the ones that prove worthy of long-term investment are those that can meet the primary business objectives of the organization. A report released earlier this year by technology analyst firm Gartner, www.gartner.com, Stamford, Conn., says top business priorities for IT should include the abilit y to increase enterprise growth, attract and retain new clients, reduce enterprise costs, and create new products and services. Construction companies have embraced such trends and are matching key technology systems and strategies with the aforementioned objectives.
Turning to the 28 companies that have taken home a 2012 Constructech Vision Award, these are the organizations that are leading this charge by firing on all cylinders. A group of forward-thinking builders, contractors, and corporate owners brave enough to set the tone for this evolution demonstrate the power of such technology transformation, complete with the quantifiable results needed to make others in the market stand up and take notice.
These organizations demonstrate what can be done with technology today. They are the visionaries that will continue to take this market to the next level by being able to not only influence the use of technology within their own companies, but extend such benefits out to partners across the project. Owners are driving change across their teams; general contractors are extending the benefits out to subcontractor partners, and vice versa; and homebuilders are shaking the down market by developing systems that can fill voids not met by any offthe- shelf system.
The honors achieved by these companies have been validated by an independent panel of industry analysts, consultants, and educators. This list includes Ed Anderson of Lean Implementation Services of Florida; Christian Burger of Burger Consulting Group; Robert Cox of Purdue University; Mark Federle of Marquette University; Clay Goser of Symphony; Carol Hagen of Hagen Business Systems; Julian Kang of Texas A&M University; Jim Kissane of The Fruition Group; Anoop Sattineni of Auburn University; Bob Stewart of Construction Change Partners; and Bill White of IUPUI (Purdue University).
It takes a little something more to lead the next generation of technology adoption in construction. With great responsibility comes great reward. As the industry readies itself for the future, these 28 companies will take charge. After all, they have seen the future of tech adoption, and it looks very rewarding.
Gold: Vista Projects Limited
This privately held, full-service engineering and procurement company provides technical engineering solutions and construction support to energy producers in Western Canada. Operating in the oil sands and conventional oil and gas sectors, the scope of work conducted at Vista Projects Ltd., ranges from grassroots-level designs all the way up to mega-projects.
The company, which has a staff of more than 300 professionals, recently underwent an internal review to identify any areas within its operations where process and information-management processes could improve project delivery for clients. This evaluation identified a number of opportunities that could help both with reducing project risk and improving company efficiency. Among such areas were automating as many administrative tasks as possible, creating an effective quality assurance model, and boosting realtime client engagement and collaboration, among others.
In order to address such a high-level task, Vista Projects Ltd., turned to a single technology solution for document control, document viewing, workflow automation, and correspondence management. This would replace the two separate technology solutions previously being used for information management.
Enter Aconex, www.aconex.com, San Bruno, Calif., with its online collaboration platform that would help address all the aforementioned issues, including addressing each risk, challenge, and liability. In addition, the Aconex platform has been able to replace the two older systems. Seeing that the Aconex solution is deployed in a SaaS (software- as-a-service) model meant the company could eliminate the upfront costs and avoid deployment challenges.
The technology would help Vista define and arrange the new/revised workflows across each of its clients’ projects. This would ultimately help drive more efficient projectmanagement processes, such as the ability to fast-track project start-up processes, which could typically take months. The technology has adjusted the process by sending what it calls an “Aconex mail” to the new team member to indicate formal kickoff of a project, and includes things such as all project data necessary to begin work. Seeing that the data transmission is on a neutral platform, correspondence details are captured and tagged on the system for all parties to be used as a schedule reference. This also means all of the documentation needed is easily shared with other team members instantly.
Results have been impressive. Fast-tracking the project start-up process has cut six months off of the prep time required for each member of a project team to install and train on the technology, and then beginning to send out documentation for project kickoff. In addition, automated document control and data management have cut times significantly. Having a collaborative engineering review and project QA (quality assurance) process has improved review cycles and QA processes. Compliance and handover documentation processes have been shortened, and the data uploading and version control process timeline cut. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. Vista Projects Ltd., has found success in working with a common, Web-based platform that has helped get both its house, and the work of outside parties, in order and with quantifiable results.
BUILDER/GC COMMERCIAL: MORE THAN $500 MILLION
Gold: Graham Group
Founded in 1926, when Peter Graham and Sons began building railways for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Graham Group has evolved throughout the years and expanded its focus on government construction, schools, hospitals, and even the energy market, among others. With staffing levels exceeding 1,000 and annual revenues approaching $2 billion, Graham makes it a priority to focus on client needs and diversifying services.
The company recently completed one of British Columbia’s largest PPP (public-private partnership) developments to date, the $432 million expansion of Kelowna General Hospital and Vernon Jubilee Hospital. The project, which is built to LEED Gold standards, is comprised of a new 358,000-sq. ft. ambulatory care tower, which includes a new emergency department, general clinics area, surgical services, short-stay beds, and a rooftop helipad; a 36,000-sq.ft. Clinical Academic Campus for the University of British Columbia; and a 229,000-sq.ft. diagnostic and treatment building.
The project, which was completed seven months ahead of schedule, by Jan. 11, 2012, was subject to intense public scrutiny meaning there was great emphasis to stay on schedule and remain in compliance with information-management requirements. Also important is the fact that: Like any PPP contract, this agreement required an equal commitment and accountability from each project party.
Of course this included many challenges for the entire project team, not the least being the ability to access critical information from more than 90 companies and 700 separate individuals.
Addressing the information and process management challenges, risks, and liabilities meant Graham needed technology and process measures that could be used across the entire project team. A software search ultimately led the company to choose Aconex, www.aconex.com, San Bruno, Calif. Once configured and deployed, this SaaS (softwareas-a-service) platform addressed many of the challenges inherent in a complex design-build environment.
For example, bidding. Traditionally the bidding process requires Graham Group to keep many hard copies and facilitate a cumbersome document distribution and approval process. FTP sites proved to be underwhelming for the company. Using the Aconex online collaboration platform Graham was able to manage, send, and receive the bid documentation, and build workflow steps to drive the bid process with internal stakeholders. This allowed Graham Group to eliminate the steps required to print and mail packages, as well as create and maintain FTP sites.
With the Aconex online-collaboration solution, each bidder has instant access via the Web to materials sent to them. In all, use of the Aconex platform reduced the tendering process by six days per package, on average.
This is merely a sample of how Graham Group leveraged the technology on this project. From streamlining project start-up to helping better comply with data security and controls and even reducing the number of drawings and documents on jobs, the onlinecollaboration platform has proved to be a transformative technology for this Canadian construction company in more ways than one.
BUILDER/GC RESIDENTIAL: LESS THAN $5 MILLION
Silver: E.M. Rose
Earning a reputation as one of the finest custom builders in the United States is no easy feat. Yet, E.M. Rose carries this distinction with honor, and it’s safe to say that no client would argue with this label being applied to this Connecticut-based builder.
Its target projects are those designed by the select few architects that earn commissions from only the most discerning clients. It is only through the thorough execution of an architect’s intent that E.M. Rose can carry forth as one of the finest custom builders. Since its inception in 1994, E.M. Rose has ensured it clients are well informed throughout the building process, and considers this to be a key component to ensuring complete customer satisfaction.
Perhaps most germane to this mission is the fact Eric Rose, owner, E.M. Rose, has long embraced an approach to information management and cooperative work with clients through the use of only the very best in information technology. So unique is this penchant for only using the very best in information technology that it has often led the builder away from jumping on the bandwagon with some of the latest trends in construction software.
For example, the builder rejected the idea that it needed to be online, considering it to be a problem. Instead, it insisted on working with a platform that would allow it to do everything it needed no matter what. Turning away from off-the-shelf software, which according to the builder includes products that apply to everyone meaning the systems are often unable to handle the volume of information and level of detail needed for high-end residential, E.M. Rose decided to build its own solution.
It turned to IBM Lotus Notes as its platform, liking the fact that it is open source, has access to open code, and contains a vast international community of users and development. The program it built using this technology works without reserve, allowing the builder to work online or offline. In simple terms, the builder can turn on a computer, start the application, and do everything expected while disconnected, and then once the computer is connected, all data gets updated. The program, called “Project Framework,” includes contract management in administration, document management, details of a specific project, information regarding materials owned and rented, risk management, and insurance. According to the builder, this helps raise its knowledge limitations by bringing past experience to future projects, allowing it to benefit from every piece of work. This is key in the high-end custom residential market where in order to be competitive a builder must demonstrate the ability to think creatively, be a problem solver, and above all else, make architects’ visions come to life.
This is where technology rises to the challenge, helping it handle common tasks, like contracts, samples, communication, and managing documents, in a more streamlined manner. This means more time is spent on actual construction.
CORPORATE OWNER: HEALTHCARE
Silver: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Los Angeles, Calif.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles provides more than 93,000 children with pediatric healthcare in an environment that is designed with their needs in mind. Also, it is one of the first and largest pediatric hospitals in Southern California.
The organization recently built a new 460,000-sq.ft., pavilion that includes 317 new beds and an emergency department and trauma center. With construction nearly complete, the department of Facilities Design and Construction needed to prepare the facility and staff for occupancy. This included the ability to efficiently manage the transition and logistics for the staff to relocate 197 acute and critically ill children from the existing hospital to the new location.
In order to enable this, the construction team worked closely with hospital staff to begin creating a transition plan. Technology was critical in supporting the construction and occupancy planning. The project participants used tablet PCs to manage the issues and ensure each room was built as planned. FreightTrain from HTS (Healthcare Technical Services), www.freighttrain.com, Los Angeles, Calif., translates databases with punchlist information into a format that can be accessed online.
With the technology, the hospital conducted meetings where it was able to generate reports and metrics. The software also produces custom-colorized floor plans that display the status of the work in the field using colors to demonstrate percentage complete for each area that was tracked. With all the issues and metrics in one database, the team was able to forecast completion dates and resolve issues quickly.
Also, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles used the technology to develop reports to create transition plans while also detailing the workflow, including maps with various paths of travel, specific spaces important to workflow, placement of hospital equipment, fire and life safety equipment, and building access for staff, patients, and family.
Multiple time studies were conducted to produce minute-by-minute logistical plans for moving patients. The findings helped make the decision to relocate all patients in one day using four simultaneous routes, and ensure one main connection corridor did not become impacted. The move also included a place for families to gather as loved ones were relocated; visitors were also able to receive information that included the exact timeframe a patient would be moving.
When the day came to move the patients, the technology ensured a safe move of 197 patients within eight hours. Being able to relocate patients in one day resulted in significant savings in terms of staff resources.
Team Award: Kaiser Permanente
Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente provides high-quality, affordable healthcare services to 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Kaiser’s in-house design and construction team—NFS (National Facilities Services)—manages one of the largest healthcare building programs in the United States with a 10-year construction budget of $22 billion. The group also develops and uses intelligent technology to improve and support the design and construction of its large complex construction projects.
Kaiser Permanente is currently managing the construction of multiple hospital medical centers, including four in California: Fontana, Oakland, San Leandro, and Redwood City. The challenge? Managing the projects, which involves many regulatory agencies, hundreds of people, and thousands of documents and spreadsheets—all within a unique contractual environment. Different contract agreements were used to manage construction costs. Fontana followed a CRFF (cost reimbursable fixed fee) incentive-based contract, while the other locations used the more common GMP design-assist project contract. How did Kaiser Permanente manage all the documents and contract data? Through the use of technology.
Enter CAMS (Construction Analysis & Management System). The software tracks subcontractor SOV (schedule of values) using CSI Master Format and sets a target quantity and fixed unit cost for each sub and work type. The system also stores invoice costs and quantities, which allows users to create projected final costs for each work type. Also, with CAMS, the team is able to track budgets and contracts, match change order to SOVs, access drawings, and generate documents.
In addition to CAMS, Kaiser Permanente also uses FreightTrain from HTS (Healthcare Technical Services), www.freighttrain.com, Los Angeles, Calif. The technology is used to monitor the inspection success rate of each prime subcontractor as well as manage outstanding issues, the architectural punchlist, and commissioning deliverables.
CAMS and FreightTrain have allowed the owner to realize a number of benefits. For example, the combination of the technology allows Kaiser to mitigate risks and control contract and cost issues with all projects. The system collects data, and management can track change orders, expected values, and negotiated savings. Managers can also automatically generate projected final costs for each work type and generate detailed subcontractor report cards and analytics.
Kaiser Permanente has high standards for its subcontractors. For example, it has established a 90% inspection success rate for all subs. On one project, when contractors fell below the metric, they were required to implement corrective action to increase onsite quality until they were back at a 90% success rate. This has led to an inspection success rate of 98% for more than 8,800 inspections.
The organization has also seen significant ROI (return on investment) since implementing the tech on the projects. Fontana is currently on track to complete construction nearly eight months ahead of the original schedule and $120 million under budget. The schedule completion and cost improvements for the other locations will be documented as the projects approach completion in 2014.