Collaboration, Infomobility And The Future Of Construction

Carol Hagen, President, Hagen Business Systems
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Carol Hagen, President, Hagen Business Systems

It’s been said that to get everyone on the same page you need a work space that embodies the lowest common denominator. In construction that tends to be the smallest subcontractor or supplier on a project, but as technology becomes pervasive even the little guy has a smartphone and many are getting tablets for Christmas.

In the past few years the common denominator argument has spawned the success of software products like Bluebeam Revu and Bluebeam Studio. The PDF is still the most common document shared amongst construction teams from electronic plan sets and RFIs to collaborative Studio sessions for design reviews and real-time progress updates.

Marking up documents, making them interactive with hyperlinks, and color-coding the status of punch items helps almost a half million AEC professionals visually improve productivity via PDF. Keeping an owner updated on project completion using visuals including 3D BIM models and photos in a PDF package has become a popular communication and collaboration method. 3D models can be automated for assembly or installation sequencing clarification without the field worker needing a BIM diploma.

Bluebeam has taken the time to develop plugins for BIM, Office, Sharepoint and AutoCAD. Their approach to PDF markups offers a way to export the information via XML or to the more common CSV or PDF formats. Contractors are performing quality assurance updates in real-time with wifi hotspots on the jobsite, eliminating redundant work and keeping the office and field updated.

Communication and collaboration has become easier as connectivity has improved and software developers incorporate new technologies. Video calls between smartphones are common place. Working together on documents is becoming mainstream with Office365’s recent addition of real-time co-authoring in Office Web Apps. Telematics keeps your equipment GPS located and connected.

This is also true for the connected worker making infomobility the new buzzword. At the COMIT Conference 2013 in London, the Chair of the UK Institution of Civil Engineers Information Systems Panel, Phil Jackson stated “It is the information that needs to be mobile.” The challenges today are gathering and analyzing the data, then transforming it to business intelligence (BI). Publishing the data buried inside reports and specifications promises to transform the industry. Access to the BI findings and extrapolating from them for future projects will be used to design, estimate, schedule and build better buildings faster while lowering risk and costs.

Understanding that most workers in construction are visual learners can make it easier to create buy-in from the office and field. At ParWorks, Augmented Reality is mashed together with jobsite photos, and BIM schedules to deliver a 3D virtual visualization capable of relaying materials placed on time (in green) or behind schedule missing components (in red), all through the looking glass of a tablet. Project managers and field superintendants can know daily if they’re ahead or behind without having to read reports or guesstimate percentages of completion. It would set the schedule for the next day and report needed labor allocations. If this data moved seamlessly, it could usurp the need to gather quantities into your construction financial systems. Innovation abounds, so what’s the next big thing and where does it come from?

Construction is said to have 35% waste and technology with process standardization can improve these numbers significantly. This is what Google Genie (aka the Google X project) promises, a dramatic cost savings specifically for tall buildings. After reading hints about Genie in a Globes article, inspiration struck as I googled the inventor on the Google X project, Eli Attia and reviewed his accomplishments. An Architect that is a skyscraper expert, his name is listed in numerous patent submissions that can provide a better explanation of what the Genie application may have in it.

Attia envisions a system of automated design, fabrication, and construction management that he calls Engineered Architecture. Google is promising to deliver this system in 2014 and while there are more details in the patent text and diagrams, much is protected from me mentioning it here by copyright law. You may want to take the time to read the full text of these patents for yourself as there are references to a shared workspace, certifications, mobile access, energy efficiency and what sounds similar to BIM with BI.

An intelligent iterative process combined with big data. Put that together with these other solutions and you can see how fast technology is pushing the construction industry. Paper is not an option and accessibility is paramount to staying competitive, increasing productivity an profitability. It’s an exciting time to work in construction and it promises to never have a dull moment.

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