One of the characteristic features of construction industry is late adoption of information and communication technologies. Nowadays, software for preparing 2D drawings and bookkeeping software are perhaps the only widely used in the industry. Other advanced but extremely useful tools like 3D, 4D modeling, web-based project management, automation of resources management, planning etc, are used very rarely, and if used then incidentally. In this report there will be covered problems and perspectives of using ICT in construction industry, discovered the techniques of using ICT in different spheres of construction, and shown the ways of implementation of ICT techniques in the industry.
The development and growth of construction industry is impossible without technological and organizational improvements and innovations. In this sense the ICT technologies is nowadays the most important part of construction industry development. ICT technologies has been already successfully used in other industries and proved their effectiveness through reducing costs and increasing competitiveness (Marsh et al 2000).
At the same time the level of ICT technologies utilization remains relatively low in the construction industry (Woksepp and Olofsson 2007).
According to the study about the usage of ICT in European construction industry (InPro internal report D2, 2007), the construction projects lack ICT tools, especially at the early stages of project development. The problem is that construction companies are aware about the benefits and effectiveness of using ICT technologies, but the cost of investment for fulfilling such system upgrade and adopting new technologies prohibits implementing ICT in the sphere. Among other problems there is the lack of knowledge about the possibilities of ICT technologies, limitations of software functionality and previous unsuccessful experience of implementing ICT into project organizations.
In the industry that suffers from low profits it is very difficult to justify the ICT investments (Alshavi et al 2003), moreover, such investments are often regarded as consumption rather than capital expenditure (Irani et al 2002). Besides, construction companies often do not realize the importance of ICT investments evaluation (Willcocks et al 1997).
In construction industry the ICT technologies can be effectively used to reduce overall project cost by automating management and communication in almost all the spheres of construction process, to improve quality and operational efficiency of an organization, to reduce project time and increase profits (Gunasekaran et al 2001). The successful implementation of ICT will result in sustainable competitive advantage (Powell et al 1997, Henderson et al 1999), better customer service, marketing, project control etc.
Regarding the spheres of construction process where ICT technologies need to be used, there can be emphasized the following: data handling, circulation and management; resource management and effective planning; design, visual project approval and assessment of effectiveness; errors elimination at the starting production stages.
Thus, having different ICT tools and knowing the spheres of implementation, we can develop effective ways of using these tools to automate and rationalize the construction processes that are still often performed manually and uneffectively. The possible techniques that can be used are described below.
The main advantage of computer aided design is the ability to edit the drawings composed with CAD tools. Users can manipulate lines, rectangles, circles and text, copy, delete, scale mirror and rotate objects. CAD programs have already largely replaced the drawing board at the production stage with the fast spread of information technologies. Another advantage of software CAD tools is the ability to save project drawings on different stages of their development, giving various project versions for later study. Nowadays the most widespread used CAD program for composing construction drawings is AutoCAD. Other CAD programs are also used: ArchiCAD, FastCAD, Microstation etc.
Among 3D visualization tools there can be singled out the widespread 3D Studio. Other professional construction tools include: ATEAN, CARGASW (climatic energy design), CALCULUX (lighting and building services design), CYPE INGENIEROS S.A. (structural design), DUCTSIZE (water and electricity net design), and COSMOS (finite elements analysis).
Project costing management is one of the most important parts of construction process. Having a successful construction project first of all presupposes prior cost estimations performed accurately by the contractors and subcontractors. The advantages of using specialized software for cost estimation are evident. Firstly, the software can easily be integrated with databases of different project costs: materials, labor, equipment etc. This way allows avoiding data re-entering and possible errors. Besides, computer based software can contain large amount of information about the use of resources, productivity and expenditures, thus performing precise calculations and representing well organized results in a neat form. Among the software packages developed for project cost estimation for construction industry there can be singled out the following: ITEC, ARQ, FBS-Estimator, Esti-Mate, GO, Presto, Manifest. All of them allow keeping track of project expenditures and making accurate estimations. Among other software there are programs that can help to compute and measure quantities, areas, lengths etc. of objects contained in specifications.
Project management is impossible without proper planning and resources management. Managers can use computer based programs for planning, evaluating options, adopting and fulfilling the most efficient operation of construction. Software packages like Microsoft Project, Power Project, Primavera, has already gained widespread use. For planning and scheduling detailed construction activities there also such programs as JobMaster, Presto Control, Gest and ICON. They are specialized in tracking the internal processes during the construction phase.
Site operation simulation programs can emulate what happens in a real construction site by representing workers, machines and materials, and computing the cycle of each step taking into consideration many uncertain factors (Paulson 1995)
The construction process presupposes that huge amount of information is being generated, circulated between professionals and consumed by them. The types of such information may be: cost analysis, site survey, design drawings, e-mails, correspondence, different documents, computer files and fax. Enhancing project management process definitely needs the creation of a special environment for integrating these forms of information. Electronic Document Management Systems can give control and easy access to project information, thus greatly improving the quality of construction process.
In the lifecycle of the project a lot of information is updated, modified and consulted. This information is generated by the tools and software for planning, cost estimation etc. Document Management Systems should comprise all the information throughout the lifecycle.
Document Management Systems provide effective information flow between three categories of information:
1. Project specific information (available only to project participants): contracts, correspondence, drawings, specifications, client requests
2. General information (available to everybody and applicable to any project): manufacturer’s catalogues, practical and experience notes, regulations etc. Nowadays this information is usually web-based
3. Organization specific information (available only to company members): financial records of the company, manufacturing techniques etc. The way of internal sharing of this information depends on the company – databases, paper based stores, private document management systems etc.
To improve the communication between the participants of construction process (among partners, between partners and the project management), the Electronic Document Management Systems can be linked to Web Based Project Management Systems, which perform project coordination, scheduling etc.
Web Based Project Management
Another efficient tool for document and communication management in construction projects are Web Based Project Management Systems (WPMS). The idea of WPMS is creating the unified system for document management where all the documentation for the project would be electronic, located on the secure server and accessible for project participants via internet. In other words, this is a web-based system for storing and managing project information and improving collaboration between the teams working on the project.
“The goal of collaboration has always been the same: get things done better, faster and cheaper by bringing together the variety of resources and harnessing their collective knowledge and abilities. Effective collaboration improves productivity, streamlines and optimizes decision-making, and helps to capture valuable intellectual property.” (Ball 2004)
The benefits of using WPMS have been studied by Price Waterhouse Coopers, and the effectiveness of WPMS has been experienced by early adopters (Price Waterhouse Coopers 2002). In this study there is also stated that the overall use of such tools by engineers, architects and general contractors is still in the infancy. Meanwhile, owners, subcontractors and developers are even more slower in the adoptions of such techniques.
Current benefits of WPMS are the following:
Improved communication process, removal of former communication barriers.
Reduction of overall costs and time spent on the project
Improved project control. All the actions and changes are recorded, monitored and audited
Request for Information (RFI), specifications clarification and change orders response time reduced
Improved access to information
Reduced risk and potential errors
Speaking about the functionality, there may be emphasized the following elements of WPMS:
Document management: online multiple file sharing system, text search, possibility of downloading and uploading documents
Project collaboration: tools for realizing team communications (e.g. SMS, e-mail messaging), real time discussion groups, event planning
Security: secure access to data server for different user levels, firewall and virus protection
Technology: support of different technologies, such as WAP, PDA, MAC, different browsers etc.
Among the services that are used in WPMS there can be identified the following:
Electronic marketplaces: used for performing product catalogue management, auctions and providing transaction functionalities between two or more companies. There is also an ability to fulfill project management in construction e-marketplaces
Information portals: offer classified links to other sites with different necessary information. The only benefit of these portals is instant visibility of information updates
Enterprise portals: company-centered, offer transaction functionality and information delivery for stakeholders of the company, can also contain project management features
Introduction into organization
The process of integration of ICT techniques into the organization needs special attention. The technological improvements can be costly for organization and in the majority of cases demand restructuring the production process.
Firstly, the introduction of techniques described above demands a sufficient number of trained specialists ready to use them. The lack of such specialists can be compensated by using e-learning programs and raising ICT skill level within the sector. Thus the need of making these technologies more accessible is evident and the problem can be solved by providing appropriate qualified training for future users.
Besides the preparation for using ICT, there must also be developed the efficient research system of ICT investment evaluation. The company that decides to make investment in ICT must ensure that there is a proper method for determining or measuring the return on the investment and the influence of using the technologies on the organizational process. The use of ICT inevitably leads to restructuring and reorganization of processes, and the company must be ready to such changes. Developing such methods of evaluation will give the company a better view on whether the benefits of implementations are worth investing money into them.
Regarding the technical side of the issue and especially the relations between the techniques described above, the issue of integration and standardizing of formats and implementation processes becomes more urgent. Nowadays there are numerous software developers producing a wide range of quality products for enhancing construction processes. The downside of such a variety is that they use different data formats not compatible with each other. Due to this problem there increased the awareness of the need of integrating construction processes. This subsequently leaded to creation of special research centres around the globe, e.g. Construction Industry Institute in the USA, ConstructIT in
United Kingdom, CITA in Ireland and VTT in Finland. The solid platform for integration have been provided with the development of object oriented programming, project data modeling technologies and databases systems (Sun and Bakis 2000). Currently the standards of software integration are being developed by the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI) (Sun and Howard 2004).
In practice, the efficient way of implementing ICT in the construction process may be the following:
Utilizing the traditional software tools for working with information, visualizing etc., that are effective by themselves but each of them capturing only one dimension of production process. These specific tools must be integrated for effective use
The effectiveness and functionality of the traditional tools would increase with the ability to share the information between the participants through data exchange tools
The information from all the project tools can be collected into overall project databases by special software. It can improve project management and facilitate reports creating and solving problems
Thus, the information within the project that has been integrated by special information aggregating software, can further be clearly represented and inter-linked
Innovative analytical technologies can provide integration of data dimensions within the project, giving the possibility to apply visualization and manipulation actions on the integrated data views
Information aggregators can also provide different informational views on the project. Thus there can be singled out the most widely used views of the participants throughout the project and the common perspective can be defined. This way all the participants will have the possibility to analyze their own views and improve them for better tasks fulfilling
Informational aggregators will also allow setting the inter-relationships between views and analyze the information by using visualization techniques. Besides, the relevant information can also be found by following these inter-relations between views and tools used
The complete picture of ICT implementation presupposes using integrated models for providing analysis and simulation. In this case the scheduling software can be used, 4D CAD systems allowing to get the 3D view on the project in time perspective (Fischer 2002) and organizational simulations. These tools can be effectively used to partially automate the management of the project.
ICT technologies potential for development of construction industry is great and undisputable. ICT tools for specific spheres of construction process are already used by the most part of construction companies. The further development presupposes the integration of existing technologies that are currently used and introduction of the new innovative tools. Such a need was caused by current state of construction industry that lags behind information and communication technologies development. The improvement can be made in the spheres of document management, visualization, project management, project costing management, web based project management and other spheres.
A wide range of quality software and technologies is already available and the models of their effective implementation are being developed.
The success of implementing new technologies depends on proper investments evaluations, analysis of ICT implementation effectiveness and preparation of qualified specialists ready to use new technologies.
The benefits of implementing new ICT techniques are reduction of project costs, lifecycle shortening, reduction of total time spent on project realization, automation of numerous processes, rationalization of resources use and the reduced risk of errors at all production stages.
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