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Sat 1 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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The license to construct

It reduces overheads, cuts down on the time spent working on a project and saves costs on the job site. Shikha Mishra finds out how IT software is changing the way the construction industry operates in the Middle East.

It reduces overheads, cuts down on the time spent working on a project and saves costs on the job site. Shikha Mishra finds out how IT software is changing the way the construction industry operates in the Middle East.

With the mega and not-so-mega projects being announced daily in the Middle East, the use of construction software from conceptualising and designing to budgeting costs has become essential.

There are numerous benefits to using construction software, as it brings in speed and accuracy to the construction process.

The longer duration of mega projects also means that there is inevitably a continuous turnover of people, and so there need to be effective mechanisms in place to support continuity of information. - Leigh Jasper, CEO, Aconex.

As the construction industry in the Middle East matures, Leigh Jasper, CEO of Aconex, says that developers and contractors in the Middle East are turning to software technology for all their project needs.

"Over the past five years, projects in the UAE have been quick to adopt our system and we're now seeing mega projects of a similar scale being undertaken in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Villamar and Reef Island in Bahrain, for example, are developments that are using our software. We also recently signed a deal to support the construction of 30 universities across Saudi Arabia - there are very few markets in the world where construction like this is going on," Jasper says.

"Over the next 12 months, we're expecting to see more joint ventures, as firms look to pool resources and spread their risk. This will be good news for us, as our system is often used as a central collaborative platform between parties."According to Jasper, in some cases, IT construction software can be used to defend claims during a construction-related dispute.

"Whereas initially clients tend to use online information management systems to cut down on the time and cost associated with using paper documents, more and more clients are telling us that, particularly in large-scale projects, the greatest benefit to them is that these systems reduce their exposure to risk," says Jasper.

"In this area, the value of systems like Aconex is really two-fold: they can prevent disputes in the first place and, if the case escalates, they can be used to categorically support claims.

Most companies in the industry have outgrown their existing systems or currently use systems that cannot address current business requirements. - Venkat Raghavan, general manager, Al-Futtaim Technologies.

"For example, because our system keeps an audit trail that tracks ‘who did what and when' on a project, clients are able to prove when they sent drawings, whether the documents were received and what actions were taken. With all parties using a single system to manage their information, you get a single version of the truth. It is surprising how quickly disputes can be diffused when that is the case.

"If the issue escalates, the system contains a complete archive of all documents and correspondence items that have been accumulated during the project, so files can be easily retrieved and used to support claims."

 With the construction industry growing phenomenally over the past few years in terms of projects size, companies are looking at implementing technologies that can service their needs and cut down on paper-work and time.

According to Venkat Raghavan, general manager, Al-Futtaim Technologies, "most companies in the industry have outgrown their existing systems or currently use systems that cannot address current business requirements."To expand Al-Futtaim Technologies' offering for the construction sector, the company recently partnered with WennSoft - a Microsoft partner that develops and services business solutions for the heavy construction industry.

The advantage of WennSoft solutions is that since it is a Microsoft product, customers find its user interface and features familiar and easy to use.

"We have received tremendous interest from the construction sector in the UAE and are currently in discussions with a few of them. We certainly believe companies in the region will have to embrace technological advancement to meet the growing challenges faced by the industry," says Raghavan.

With old contracts and new prices, contractors have to walk a tight-rope to manage and stick to budgets. - Shabbir Zirapury of EZware Technologies.

With the giant scale and complexity of mega projects, and the involvement of a large number of people and organisations, there is a greater need for effective communication and collaboration within the sector.

"Some of the mega projects we're servicing, like Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Metro and the Lagoons, involve thousands of people, from hundreds of organisations that are based across several countries. The volume of information they generate and need to share is staggering. Organisations working on Yas Island, for example, store about 100,000 documents a month on our system - can you imagine trying to manage that using paper documents?" asks Jasper.

"The longer duration of mega projects also means that there is inevitably a continuous turnover of people, and so there need to be effective mechanisms in place to support continuity of information. It can really put the brakes on things if key people leave a project and take their information with them. Our system prevents this happening by ensuring all files are stored in a central place where they can be accessed by the organisation that created them."

"We invest a great deal in improving overall robustness, scalability and performance of our system so that it can cope with the demands of these projects. We're also developing configurable features like more advanced access rights to information that reflect the multiple layers of management in large organisations."

"Just as important as the technology is the customer service and support you provide around your product. A key strategy of ours has been to establish a network of support offices around the world so that, no matter where project participants are located, we're able to train and support them.

 "With mounting costs and shortage of resources, costs on a project need to be controlled. UAE-based EZware Technologies are among the leaders in ERP (enterprise resource planning) software in the region.

"The company recently added on additional options to its software such as budgeting and cost control to its software for the construction industry - EZ Business Solutions.

"With old contracts and new prices, contractors have to walk a tight-rope to manage and stick to budgets. The system now allows them to create a budget, ability to track all the resources, which allows them to make controlled decisions at the start of a project instead of the end," says Shabbir Zirapury of EZware Technologies.

"Our system can be integrated laterally or vertically into a project. We are very strong in the functionalities of the business. According to our client feedback, our competition is Oracle or SAP,  and even those softwares don't have all the modules that we do. Our software is extremely strong especially in the construction sector," he says.

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