Collaboration is the future of construction – here’s why

By Thomas Phang – Area Director, Trimble Solutions South East Asia (SEA)

The future is clear – at least as far as technology is concerned. If there is one thing that everyone can agree on, it is that technology will shape and impact our future of living, work and the economy. The next decade of human progress will unsurprisingly continue to be driven by innovation, but the next stage will see more collaborative digital experiences taking centre stage in most – if not all – industries. This could not be more imperative in “legacy” industries such as construction, which have naturally been more resistant to change. The common school of thought is, “why fix what isn’t broken?” But in the digital age, these industries - as important as they may be - will be left severely handicapped if they do not progress along with technology.

In its simplest definition, a nation’s growth can be measured by its skyscrapers and the underlying construction industry. One of the trends that have been on the rise in Malaysia is the adoption of Industrialised Building System or IBS for short. The Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) reported that Malaysia’s private sector adoption of IBS is currently estimated to be 35%, on track to achieve its target of 50% by 2020. But IBS is only half the story – for a holistic transformation to take place, improved productivity, and work and cost efficiency, need to be happen end-to-end.

Technology provides a truly collaborative platform

From the conceptual stage to design, from fabrication to construction, collaboration is key. Architects, engineers, site managers, contractors, etc. all play a critical role in making the project a success. However, with so many stakeholders involved at different stages of construction, it can become a real challenge to keep everyone on the same page at all times. Let’s be frank: if you are a property developer in today’s economic environment, with a huge investment at stake, there is very little margin for error. That makes it essential that you get it right the first time. Technology provides the perfect answer for this need. When you build collaboration into the entirety of the workflow process, you connect the right people to the right data, at the right time – minimizing delays, wastage and miscommunication.

Here are three considerations when deciding on the right technology solution for collaboration:

1. Share and collaborate easily, securely

For many businesses today, data is a new currency. The importance of data security cannot be overstated, more so in construction projects as they require discretion. And when it comes to the cloud platform, there is always concern about data security or the system uptime, and whether the cloud has what it takes to handle both. Remember the various stakeholders involved in the entire end-to-end process? The more participants in a project, the higher the security risk and the more crucial it is to have minimal or no downtime. Access control and information security become priorities, but these issues should be left to IT experts so you have time to focus on what matters – running the business.

Recommendation: Choose a technology that is always on, always available – built from the ground up with data security in mind. The solution needs to be an open and flexible platform that enables you to quickly build, deploy, scale, and manage applications across a network of datacentres – be in locally or globally. Data transferred should be encrypted and stored with the highest security protocols, but also allow for synchronization over the Internet. Also, when building a team, bringing the right people together matters regardless of their location. You will want a solution that grants full control over access to the data, only allowing the right people with the right access, to the right data. When things get busy, you have the option of scaling up and flexibly managing teams, bringing in additional people where needed.

2. Keep on schedule and on budget

Lastly, there is no escape from the bottom line – at the end of the day it all boils down to numbers. Every penny counts and every second saved means reduced costs. From large enterprises to mid-sized organizations – but more so for small firms – having the right technology can mean the difference between business growth and closure!

Recommendation: Consider a solution that requires minimal installation, setup and administration, or the need to spend on additional hardware. For small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia, this means opening doors to more business opportunities beyond the domestic market, at little to no cost. A good case study would be DNA Detailing & BIM LLC, a two-person firm in the US. Both owners work from different places and time zones, so it was tough in the beginning with the conventional way of working – VPN connections and zipping and emailing work to each other. Eventually, they decided on a technology solution that allows them to work efficiently together on the same projects at the same time, regardless of their locations or time zones. A low-cost collaboration solution reduces the risks for start-ups and SMEs as there is no need for a huge upfront investment in an office or IT back-end; just connecting laptops via the Internet puts a new entrepreneur in business!

3. Work anytime, anywhere – uninterrupted

Sharing and collaborating online at work is nothing new, but having a reliable Internet connection isn’t always the case. This is not uncommon in emerging markets such as Malaysia where Internet speeds may vary from location to location, or even be unavailable. For stakeholders traveling to city outskirts or coastal towns for projects and where the Internet connection is sketchy, this could hamper collaboration efforts.

Recommendation: Look for a technology that allows work to continue uninterrupted even without an Internet connection, better still when it provides a free trial period for multiple users so there is no risk of an upfront commitment. For example, Tekla Model Sharing is the only sharing technology with a patented workflow, enabling the different stakeholders to work offline on the same building model at the same time, but still ensuring non-conflicting change management. It saves time and because just the changes made are shared when syncing, only a tiny amount of data is transferred, which even the slowest Internet connection can manage.