With paper-based management on a major building project, the construction data can be spread out in multiple sites and offices and with different individuals. It can easily go unrecorded or be entirely lost. Maybe some assets are not registered, and the management of multiple sections of the development is very complex and difficult to do in a coherent way.
With a digital solution, every part of the process is simplified and made more efficient. All the construction data is recorded onsite, easily submitted via the mobile app, and then stored securely in the cloud.
The data from all the different sources is gathered in one central location – it can then be used as a comprehensive source to report all the way up the chain to executive level. And the more data that is gathered, the better the reporting and the greater the insights.
A feature of large construction projects now is the digital recording of information into ‘data lakes’ – where data sets from all sorts of different sources on the project are feeding into a single platform. There, they can be integrated together and analysed. This gives everything a traceability, it allows for more insights, and it helps you to quickly solve any issues that may arise.
“Digital solutions will help you with the fast resolution of issues,” says Zutec project manager Thomas Heery. “You can raise issues fast and you can resolve them fast. And, as a result of this, it actually should improve safety, quality and time on a project.”
“You get a degree of confidence and trust,” says fellow project manager Gemma Hawes, “that what you’re reporting from all of this data is accurate and reflects exactly what’s going on onsite. If you can put all of that data into one place, and allow people to draw down from that, it means that at any one time, everyone is always working with the latest piece of information.”
One ground-breaking aspect of the digitalisation of construction data is the use of building information modelling (BIM) software.
BIM software uses data from the designers, architects, contractors and other stakeholders and creates a 3D virtual version of a facility before it’s actually physically built. This modelling can help to greatly reduce uncertainty, it can improve safety and, crucially, it gives you the opportunity to spot and solve problems before they have the chance to arise in the real world.
BIM makes it possible to identify potential clashes between the design and the construction or operation of the building, meaning the work onsite runs more smoothly and there is no requirement for adjustments that might risk below-par operation of the building once it’s finished. The reduction of problems also means a reduction of over-runs in terms of time and budget and the risks that come with those.
As well as reducing problems, BIM can also make a site safer for workers. It can produce visual safety evaluations and risk analysis with detailed reports of conditions for workers onsite – a very useful tool for new teams coming onto a job. And it allows for greater sequential planning, which means just-in-time delivery of materials and therefore a more efficient and safer work environment for all.
“Every developer who’s building anything from council houses to skyscrapers should have a digital handover solution,” says Thomas Heery. “If your digital handover solution is set up from the start, you can save a lot of money when it comes to your maintenance at handover.”
As the accumulation of construction data is ingrained in the building of the project, there’s no requirement for a huge administrative task to bring it all together at the end – that work is already complete. With all the information gathered in the one easily accessible place, the final package of data can then be passed to the owner so that it can be used by the facility managers in the operation of the finished structure – they know exactly what’s in their building, how it should work and how to maintain it.
And the handover process happens much faster. “The days in construction when you finished a building and the documents came six months later are long gone. Everything has been sped up,” says Gemma Hawes.
“There’s an awful lot of money tied up in that real estate and the owner need to start paying back as quickly as possible. Therefore, the owners need to be moving people in, they need to be sure that they can get them in safely, get those buildings operating, and so they need to be speeding that whole process up. So, this leisurely way that documents and forms got sent and letters were written… that’s all gone.”
Part of the way handovers are sped up is that data is being handed over continuously through the project.
“With the advent of the digital tools that we have, we’ve got handover going on practically all the while,” says Gemma. “You’ve got spaces within buildings that get handed over from one trade to the next. Sometimes the buildings themselves are not all handed over in one go.
“They have what is called sectional completion. So, there will be portions of that building which will be handed over to the client early, so that maybe a fit-out company can come in to start doing their work. There’s no paper filing handed over to someone who’s coming in to carry out a fit-out. You give them a packet of information electronically, and they can work away and get their design going.
“What you don’t want is to have a space handed over to a company and then someone has to come back in and undo all of their work, because something had been forgotten.”