FAQ: How Collaborative Technologies Can Help in Construction Projects

Are collaborative technologies helpful for contractors?

Yes — every day, collaborative construction management systems are accelerating project delivery and helping contractors work more efficiently while minimizing the risks they face. Having a centralized system that connects the design and construction teams to the accurate, up-to-date data they need throughout the lifecycle of the project not only fosters communication, but it also helps identify potential problems and eliminate mistakes, thus potentially increasing profitability.

In traditional construction projects, encountering problems in the field can result in weeks of downtime for contractors as engineers and designers work out a solution. With collaborative technologies, conflicts between systems can be identified in pre-construction meetings, and if problems arise in the construction phase, they can be resolved quickly; in many cases, the trades can get their call to action in the same day the problem is identified.

A construction management system must be “the single source of truth” to work most effectively. Everyone accessing the data must be sure they are obtaining the same information that everyone else is using. The best systems ensure that the entire construction project team is working from the correct version of documents and plans, ideally providing access to all of the data at any time from any location.

What types of collaborative technologies are out there, and what do they do?

There are several types of collaborative technologies, from the most basic to automated, cloud-based construction management sofware specifically tailored for the needs of contractors and construction project teams, such as Autodesk BIM 360.

With traditional construction methods, information was ofen lost between the architect and the contractors and the trades installing the equipment. Contractors ofen did not get the design data they desired or got it too late in the game to optimize eficiency. Collaborative technology encourages a bridge between design and construction and maintains it through the lifecycle of the project. Many contractors prefer to use this sofware because they have direct access to what the design team is looking at, and it encourages communication between all members of the project team.

In earlier versions of collaborative systems, such as FTP sites, parties downloading files or sharing them via email could easily find themselves working from outdated versions of project documents. In optimal collaborative systems, a shared database of project information resides within the ecosystem, and all stakeholders can access the data anywhere, anytime. Automated systems can record activities at the site, provide visibility for any possible risks associated with the project, and alert responsible parties when a problem arises. This poses numerous benefits for contractors.

First, as soon as there is an issue, everyone who needs to know is up-to-date and can begin dealing with it before people arrive at the site, thus minimizing downtime and eliminating wasted trips. Issues in the field can be resolved swifly—or better yet, identified before they occur. Potential problems are ofen identified using collaborative technologies in coordination meetings, which make them much more eficient and productive than they used to be. Technology also ensures installation errors and punch list items get documented and the appropriate parties are notified. All of the information and associated activities are tracked.

Numbers and metrics come to life to spot problems and identify root causes. Optimal technologies can identify risks—safety issues, added costs, schedule delays—and make trends visible in easily digestible reports with bar graphs and pie charts. As soon as changes are recorded, metrics are updated. Reports are automatically sent to key people, keeping them up to date on how they are performing.

The model can even be taken to the site to ensure accuracy. For example, BIM 360 tools interface with Robotic Total Station equipment, which tracks a participant’s location on the site to let them know where they should drop a pin for items including forms for concrete, hangers for ductwork, and penetrations through walls, for example.

How do collaborative technologies impact costs?

Initial costs for construction management software typically include a license fee for each user. Most implementation experts also recommend services that provide guidance, planning, training, and consulting to ensure new users get off on the right foot.