The new construction collaboration era

I am due to speak next Tuesday, 30 March at the Collaboration Cafe symposium at the Building Centre in London. The event is one of the final contributions to an ongoing research project being undertaken by Slider Studio and funded by the Technology Strategy Board. As I’ve previously mentioned, this has involved the development of a prototype web-based design and creative review application, StickyWorld (which is now available in private beta, and I am testing in relation to a client’s website project).

It promises to be an interesting event, not least because I think we are at something of a transition in what we have tended to call “construction collaboration”.

Having worked for a construction collaboration technology vendor for ten years, I spent a lot of time preaching the virtues of online tools (‘extranets’) that allowed project team members to share documents and drawings. But it is apparent that many users still tend to use these web-based platforms mainly for file-sharing. In effect, they are little more than electronic filing cabinets. Little genuine collaboration is taking place through use of these systems, partly because the applications don’t really promote the requisite changes in people and processes within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector.

But over the past decade, we have seen the emergence of alternative types of technologies that do foster collaboration and information sharing, and which aren’t document-centric. Wikis, blogs, RSS and social networking platforms, for example, have helped personalise individual communications to an unprecedented extent – helping people collaborate online – and the overlap into business-to-business use is accelerating. This process is also being fostered by growing use of mobile devices which potentially allow individuals to access key information and manage interactions anywhere – with perhaps the data tailored to their precise location and to the people to whom they are communicating.

The abstraction away from document-focused communications could also increase, I think, because – in the built environment sector we will be starting to move towards model-based design practices. Instead of being reliant upon 2D drawings and documents, increasingly design will rely upon BIM, building information modelling (not just 3D, but also allowing time, cost and other dimensions to be assessed – so called nD). And as building owners and operators begin to look more closely at how their built asset data will be used to manage and maintain the facility in a society increasingly challenged by climate change, there will also be a growing focus on the interface between people and the built environment.

These are some of the themes I will be touching upon when I speak next week, and I hope some readers of this blog might be stimulated to come along and participate in the discussions.

1 comment

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    • Jasper on 31 March 2010 at 8:28 pm
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    I read your note with interest. I agree that the promising concept of an online hub of information exhange has, in reality, become a store for electronic documents and not much more.

    A huge opportunity has been missed by vendors in the Construction Collaboration space. Back in 2000, audiences listening to the idea of a collaboration tool were internet virgins. Today with the burgeoning popularity of social networking and mobile communications, audiences are usually more advanced than those talking regarding what they want from an online tool. As a result, many of the providers have been caught short.

    Construction Project Extranets have evolved into systems that focus on site based activity.. They have also evolved into systems that have an appeal to a limited portion of the supply chain, namely contractors. This leaves everybody else doubtful about the value that these systems bring to the enterprise over and above drawing management.

    Nobody has produced a system in the AEC sector that engages the whole team, nobody has produced a system that is “fun” to use. The systems are dry, like looking at the screen of a database. The problem with this is that there is a missed opportunity to promote true collaboration in all it’s forms. What could be a communication tool becomes, in reality, a data dump. People who could be looking forward to logging in, seldom login unless they have to.

    The system needs to provide the teams with an obvious value such as is demonstrated through a mobile phone or an email account. With extranets that value is there as a concept but unfortunately it is still only a concept. At Gleeds we are trying to make the concept a reality.

    Steve Jobs described Microsoft products as “tacky” and anybody who has used a Macintosh computer will instantly understand what he means by that – the tackiness is multi-faceted and runs deep in the Microsoft product. In my view, the Macintosh version of the Extranet is still elusive, to produce that somebody will have to approach this market with passion and a creative energy that understands PEOPLE. That person will produce the iPhone moment in the Construction Collaboration space.

    I’ll try to come to the speech.


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