A greater data facilitator

Christopher Sell talks to Paul Jenkins, associate, EC Harris, about the advantages of web-based collaborative systems.
A greater data facilitator
By Christopher Sell
Sat 03 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

Christopher Sell talks to Paul Jenkins, associate, EC Harris, about the advantages of web-based collaborative systems.

What technologies are you talking of bringing to the region in particular?

We are using web-based collaborative technologies, cost management systems and project management systems. This enables project managers to check how projects are performing; whether they're delivering on time, for example. We see technology as an enabler rather than a controller. This enables our clients to use technology to bring best advantage and value in the market place.

What are the advantages of that?

We are delivering common sense, and you use technology to do that. In the UAE, where paper is prevalent in construction, key information can be left on desks. The technologies we provide allows head office to understand the latest progress and have access to information that they would normally have to phone their project offices for, or even wait to get delivered.

So it's about streamlining the process?

Absolutely; it is being proactive rather than reactive and, usually, the technology enables you to do that. Everybody now uses the web; it's a key source of information.

But what exactly does having a ‘web-based project management tool' mean?

If you look at the project management process, which has access to information, key milestones, cost and understanding how that is progressing through the project life cycle. Cost managers need to provide up-to-date information to the commercial managers, who then need to escalate that up to key decision makers in management. That process may well take a number of days to provide in a consistent format. What we are doing is trying to provide a standard format for management to dictate and have the information at their fingertips.

We are keen on the web environment and through a central repository where that is stored, information can be backed up more easily. And it should be emphasised that access to information can make you more profitable, provided it is done properly.

Will this trigger a greater uptake?

It is a natural progression. The local business, EC Harris International, has grown significantly; we see that as a continuing trend. Therefore, with the sheer volume of personnel and projects clearly visible, you cannot do that manually. You need technology to help.

So at what stage is this technology rolled out?

We are using web-based collaborative technology on our projects in Central Market, Abu Dhabi, for example. That enables us to develop web-based forms to implement key processes in the project, such as change requests, drawing submittals, or checking by designers. So if you have a dispersed design team, say in the UK, or US, it is much easier. This is a more controlled way of ensuring this process is followed through properly. People's email in-boxes are overloaded on a regular basis. We are trying to introduce a shift whereby you develop these project-centric solutions.

Is EC Harris a one-off in this respect?

I wouldn't say we are unique; we are bringing a solution which has been used in the US and Europe, and I would say that is a proven track record.

Can you quantify how much more effective this approach is?

It is very difficult with these solutions and I have been in this collaborative arena for seven to eight years. But if you look at the white papers, they state three, five or eight percent of total construction costs can be saved, just by being more efficient.

Realistically, you need to put controls in place to enable projects to follow the same process. So it is important to follow a robust methodology.

So, are people receptive, then?

It is a mixture. There's an element that sees the benefits of the technology, while there's also an element who'll take more persuading. Many people see this as a generational issue, where the next generation will be more savvy and comfortable with it. We are moving to a project-focused environment so you need to provide a solution that the entire project can work on.

Are people going to be held back if they don't adopt such technology?

Personally, I think it leaves them more at risk, but realistically people are still more comfortable looking at paper. But we can look to reduce that and use of this technology, combining that with actions, responsibilities, deliveries, could act as a trigger point.

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