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Put your thinking cap on: Information and knowledge management in the construction industry

Peter Caulfield
Put your thinking cap on: Information and knowledge management in the construction industry

Just as important as what we think is how we think.

Making sense of the world, including the busy, complex world of construction, requires sorting ideas into different categories, where they can be understood and remembered.

Categorization is fundamental to all our important mental processes, such as language, inference, decision-making, planning and prediction.

Russell Dunn, a construction project manager in Australia, says the distinction between two of the construction industry’s most valuable categories — information and knowledge — is not always clear.

In his article Effective Knowledge Transfer on a Construction Project, Dunn writes the difference needs to be plain whenever work packages are transferred within a project team, such as when someone leaves a project or when responsibilities are reassigned.

Because construction sites are a hectic combination of detailed planning and last-minute changes, there are a host of complex interactions between stakeholders that need to be recorded and remembered.

If a project’s key knowledge bearer leaves, the remaining team members need to carry on without missing a beat.

Dunn writes there are sometimes problems with handovers.

“Information and knowledge need to be differentiated when (evaluating) the importance of a team member’s tacit knowledge that has been obtained from in-depth involvement and association with a particular work package.

“When attempting a handover of a complex work package, context and purpose are key elements that must be explicitly conveyed in order for the receiving peer to achieve empowerment with actionable knowledge and the capacity to act.”

Dunn says a project team needs to develop the right tools and policies “to optimize a smooth and effective transition, while mitigating the adverse effects of lost project knowledge due to poor knowledge transfer practices.”

Construction adviser Mark Taylor says there are a number of ways a handover can go wrong.

“For example, a design team uses its collective knowledge to put a building design or project together,” he says. “But then it has to rely on the translation of that knowledge into useful data (information) that a contractor has to be able to interpret and then use their own knowledge to decipher and plan the work.”

Taylor says some contracting methods are particularly useful for facilitating knowledge transfer.

“Construction management, design-build and the ultimate, IPD (Integrated Project Delivery), all facilitate the various parties who are going to be involved in a project sitting around a table together as the project develops, allowing them all to share their own knowledge to help the overall process,” he says.

Taylor says construction information, on the other hand, is best collected and transmitted by digital technology in the form of BIM (Building Information Modeling) or VDC (Virtual Design and Construction).

“It’s probably the most efficient way of collating and sharing the data,” he says. “Knowledge is trickier, because it takes time to develop it through personal and collective experience.”

Taylor says that in eight or nine months the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the digital jump in construction that normally would have taken five years.

“It’s forced us to use other ways to collect and transmit information and turn it into collective knowledge,” he says.

Darin Hughes, president of Scott Construction Group, says the pandemic has led to a major shift to working digitally and remotely at Scott.

“We’ve been dabbling in BIM for the past five years, but in the future it will be an important part of all our projects,” Hughes says. “BIM is a big upfront investment, but it can be scaled up and down to projects of all sizes. It enables us to store all the information we need in one central place where it is accessible to everyone who needs it.”

Some digital information and dissemination technologies are so complex that their operation should be left to specialists.

Eric Saczuk, an instructor in geomatics engineering at the BC Institute of Technology and a long-time drone pilot, says unmanned aerial vehicle technology is becoming more powerful and more complex.

“To acquire quality data is not a simple process,” says Saczuk. “Being a drone expert is part pilot, which is the easy part, and part geomatics expert, which is the hard part.”

Saczuk says the application of drone technology to the information-gathering task and converting the individual pixels into a useful model is challenging for the average person.

“It takes specialized knowledge and experience,” he says. “It’s hard to build drone capacity in-house. It’s better to contract it out to professionals who are experts and who know what they’re doing.”

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