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AEC firms struggle with data management, engineers told

Don Wall
AEC firms struggle with data management, engineers told
DON WALL — ACEC president and CEO John Gamble (right) served as moderator for a panel discussion on big data at the recent ACEC conference held in Ottawa. Panellists were Brian Furr of BST Global (left) and Aaron Kivett of Newforma.

The Architectural, Engineering and Construction sector remains woefully inefficient when it comes to dealing with the mounds of data stakeholders are accumulating in all phases of their operations.

That’s the conclusion of a 2019 report from BST Global titled The State of the AEC Project Lifecycle. BST development director for strategic accounts Brian Furr reviewed the report during a panel discussion on The Challenges and Rewards of Big Data at the recent Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada conference held in Ottawa and joined Aaron Kivett, technical manager for strategic partnerships for Newforma, in proposing data management solutions.

Project documentation has spiked in recent years with much more data created, but the BST report found that most firms still use simple spreadsheets, accessible to one person at a time, to track work. One result of the inefficiencies is that the profitability of AEC firms is falling further and further behind others, with fewer than 15 per cent of AEC firms reporting double-digit growth.

“It is easier and easier to make all of this data,” Kivett said during the Oct. 28 session. “Drone technology has enabled an explosion in video capture for projects, photos, point clouds — the amount of data that exists on a project today has grown exponentially.

“Since we were founded in 2004, we have seen a 65-times increase in the average size of projects on disk.”

Furr said inefficiencies and “poor visibility” are at the source of problems plaguing the processes of most AEC firms.

“Some of the challenges include poor resource utilization, impaired project performance, a lack of insight into their earlier work and limited collaboration and access within their teams,” he said.

The BST report was published in March after a year of work. Researchers polled AEC executives in 84 countries about project management through five stages of a project lifecycle: bidding, planning, execution, resource management and portfolio management.

The findings found significant inefficiencies at all stages:

  • after a successful bid, 100 per cent of respondents reported using data from the bid in preparing the project plan. But 70 per cent of the firms reported having to re-enter their bid data, including the work breakdown structure, resources, estimated fees and other data, into their project management tool;
  • in almost all cases, the collaboration and document storage functions are disconnected from the project management system. “This makes the gathering of project status updates by the project manager particularly difficult, with approximately 90 per cent of respondents reporting they must manually gather status updates from team members,” the report states;
  • dealing with change orders, if the responsibilities of a project team member changes, in 90 per cent of the cases the new tasks are conveyed verbally; and
  • resource managers are typically asked to do their jobs despite, the report says, fewer than 25 per cent of them having access to real-time resource allocation and utilization data when scheduling team members; and less than 15 per cent of respondents indicated resource managers had access to online collaboration tools.

Furr said firms stated their priority goals as being reduced revenue leakage, increased client satisfaction, delivering projects on time and on budget, maximizing billable employee utilization and increased profit margins. Increasing efficiencies through better project data management strategies can assist firms in reaching each of those goals, he said.

Kivett pointed out firms are paying people good money to create all of today’s project data, with, for example, copies of the evolution of a project contained in folders or emails that are located somewhere in the firm’s data sources, and major decisions hinging on the data — but the solutions sometimes cannot be found.

“The problem is finding that needle in the haystack. How do you find what you need out of this data?” Kivett asked.

Kivett’s firm advocates for finding solutions through programs that provide faster organization and searching of project data, better access to data across the resource spectrum and increased visibility of the relationship between project items, all leading to optimized workflows.

Furr said there are many great work tools in the marketplace and firms are making the appropriate investments on tools to execute different phases of a project.


Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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