«EXPERIENCES OF EDM USAGE IN CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS SUBMITTED: April 2005 REVISED: January 2006 PUBLISHED: April 2006 at ...»
EXPERIENCES OF EDM USAGE IN CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS
SUBMITTED: April 2005
REVISED: January 2006
PUBLISHED: April 2006 at http://itcon.org/2006/09/
EDITOR: K. Ruikar
Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration, Helsinki, Finland
Bo-Christer Björk, Prof. dr.
Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration, Helsinki, Finland
SUMMARY: In the past few years the fastest growing e-business application in construction has been the use of electronic document management systems (often also called project extranets and project webs). This paper first outlines the historical developments of the adoption such systems, and then discusses results from some earlier research. The key issues in taking EDM systems into use are no longer technical or cost-related, but are rather related to business models and psychology. Initial results from an on-going case study with end users of an EDM system in a large construction project are reported. The key results are that users cannot be treated as a homogeneous group but differ considerably in attitudes towards the system, based on previous EDM experience, differing roles in the construction project (designer, contractor, subcontractor) and usage pattern.
KEYWORDS: EDM system, construction, E-business.
1. INTRODUCTION The construction industry has a vast potential for the uptake of e-business (Anumba and Ruikar 2002), (Mohammed and Stewart 2003). There are, however, several barriers for rapid uptake, including the fragmented nature of the industry and psychological resistance to change. A central one is the local nature of the industry where global competition plays a minor role, which means that companies invest very little into new technology and process development. The pressures to take IT and the Internet into effective use for the data interchange between the different partners in the supply chain has thus been low, compared to other industries (i.e. the production of cars or mobile phones). One of the areas in which a considerable uptake of e-business has taken place in recent years is the use of document management for construction projects, using Internet solutions. This has been achieved with very low investments into new technology by the companies themselves, since a commercial supply of such services by ASP third parties has emerged. This article takes a closer look at the uptake of this type of e-business, and reports on results from a case study in the Finnish construction industry to illustrate the developments.
The effective management of the vast amount of information needed to design, construct and maintain buildings is a formidable challenge. The impact on overall construction costs of out-of date, missing or contradictory information, causing delays, mistakes and expensive re-building, is well known both to practitioners and researchers (Alshawi and Ingirige 2003). Today the widespread availability of personal computers and the “information superhighway” created by the Internet provide the necessary infrastructure for efficient computeraided document management.
Construction documents have not undergone major changes since the middle of the 20th century. Plan drawings, sections and elevations, bills of quantities, specifications etc. look much the same as decades earlier. The technology for producing, managing, duplicating and distributing such documents has, however, undergone a number of fundamental changes.
The first important step was the introduction of photocopying in the 60’s, which significantly lowered the cost for duplicating information. This development spawned a great number of dedicated copying firms, which handle the large sizes typically needed in the construction industry in a cost-efficient way.
ITcon Vol. 11 (2006), Hjelt and Björk, pg. 113 The second wave of technological innovation occurred during the 80’s and involved the proliferation of personal computing. Even before the emergence of the PC some larger design consultancies used minicomputer-based CAD-systems, but it was the affordable applications like Autocad that started to raise the share of CADproduced drawings dramatically towards the late 80’s. The production of documents was of course also greatly facilitated by word-processing and spreadsheet software. The transfer of the information was, however, still mainly done as paper copies in the mail or using couriers. At best diskettes were personally handed out so that the receiver could reuse the information in digital form.
The fax became a popular data transfer method in a very short time during the 80’s. It spread as fast as the Internet or mobile phones some years later, due to the network economics of this type of innovations, where its value to the individual users becomes bigger for each new user who joins the network. The fax was superior for handling offers, quick changes, and small-scale graphics, but not good for large drawings and absolutely useless for reuse of the data in digital form at the receiving end.
In the late 80’s and early part of the 90’s, computer networking, both in the form of local area networks, as well as using point-to-point bilateral lines and modem dial-up, made possible the use of document management systems for project documentation. The effort to set up point-to-point connections and of teaching the personnel involved how to use the systems often offset the potential benefits and the use in the construction industry was limited to isolated pilot projects only (for instance JM-Bygg in Sweden).
Since around 1995 the widespread use of the Internet also in the construction industry has radically enhanced the possibilities for data transfer and management. The key characteristic of integrated document management is that only one master copy of each document is kept somewhere on a server and that it is possible to search for the required document using some classification or meta-information. Also within this category there are several options. Early systems tended to be customised applications, where a copy of the application needed to be installed on each workstation that was using the system. The last few years the trend has been towards solutions based on Internet technology where all that is needed is a standard web client and passwords.
FIG. 1: The evolution of construction document management methods over the last decades The current situation in the construction industry is that a mixture of different generation methods is used for managing the documents (Fig. 1). Hardly any documents are today produced by hand, but many are still transferred by printing them out and sending them to the other parties by mail or couriers, often using copying companies as intermediaries. A slightly more sophisticated method is that documents are produced digitally and transferred digitally as e-mail attachments. In terms of document management, this offers only minor improvements over the earlier paper dominated situation since finding a document in another person’s personal ITcon Vol. 11 (2006), Hjelt and Björk, pg. 114 computer may be even more difficult than in his shelves. Retrieving a document may often as a last resort require asking a person to deliver it. On the other hand it enables the receiving party to continue working on the same document in electronic form, which is a significant improvement.
In the last few years the use of EDM systems has been the fastest growing IT-application in construction. The barriers to EDM systems were significantly lowered by the shift from expensive and often complex software, which needed to be installed on the computers of all project participants, to subscription-based software which is located on servers only and used through ordinary web browsers. At the same time a clear trend has been away from in-house solutions, typically provided by one of the dominating project participants such as the architect or the main contractor, towards outsourcing of document management to third party application service providers.
On the level of the industry as a whole there have been a number of recent general studies of IT usage. The most comprehensive study has been the Swedish IT-barometer study which has been carried out twice in 1997 and 2000, and amongst the different technologies studied included questions about the use of document management systems (Samuelson 2002). The same survey has also been conducted with a more restricted sample in Finland and Denmark (Howard at al 1998). According to the study in the year 2000 around 47 % of Swedish architects worked in a company where an EDM system had been used in at least one project, whereas the figure for contractors was much lower, 16 %.
In a later study in Finland the overall use of systems was studied using a different methodology (Bäckblom et al 2002). An existing commercial database of on-going Finnish construction projects was used as a starting point to establish a stratified sample of projects of different sizes. Key personnel from 100 projects were interviewed concerning the use (or non-use) of EDM systems in their project using telephone interviews. The overall result concerning use of EDM systems as a function of project size showed that whereas none of the small projects ( than 8,5 million Euros) in the sample used an EDM system the penetration was almost 50 % among projects 16,5 million Euros).
The latest empirical findings concerning EDM use in Finland were obtained in a case study survey with the EDM users in the Kamppi Center project. The results showed that roughly 60 % of the individual architects and other designers, had earlier EDM experience, whereas the figures for project management where around 40 and 20 %. Although not directly comparable with the results from the earlier studies the figures indicate a significant increase in EDM usage.
2. EDM SYSTEM FUNCTIONALITYSystems on the market differ in technical functionality. In a study conducted by VTT in Finland the features of EDM systems on the market were systematically studied, comparing them with the requirements of companies (Luedke et al 2001). A questionnaire was sent out to document management companies in both the Nordic
countries and the USA and 18 companies provided detailed answers. Features found in most systems included:
• a main retrieval mechanism based on either hierarchical folders or metadata, • handling of revisions and change management, • viewing of CAD-files using special purpose software.
Features found in only a few systems were for example:
• electronic authentication of user identity (i.e. smart cards), • full text search capability.
Also others have studied system features with rather similar results (Hartvig 2000), (Nitithamyong and Skibniewski 2004).
Only one of these features will in the following be discussed more in detail, namely the main search and retrieval capability. An efficient but at the same time user-friendly search mechanism is quite central to the success of a document management system.
A larger construction project may eventually result in the production of tens of thousands of documents and a system must provide users with some easy to use method to find the appropriate document. For example in the Kamppi Center project, which will be discussed later in this paper, there were more than 16000 uploaded documents in the system, used by 249 individual users from 94 different companies.
ITcon Vol. 11 (2006), Hjelt and Björk, pg. 115 Technically there are several ways in which document retrieval can be facilitated (Löwnertz 1998). One option would be to use full text search. This works much the same as the general web search engines and the results are equally unpredictable. An additional difficulty is that drawings are a very important document category in the construction industry and are difficult to include in such searches. Recently some systems have appeared on the market which claims to offer the capability for searching for text strings inside the DWG-files used for drawings.
The two currently mostly used options are using a hierarchical folder structure or using metadata as a basis for searches. The hierarchical folder structure is very easy to understand for end users, since it works exactly the same way as the folder structure in the Windows operating system. It also resembles the ways construction professionals have traditionally classified and archived paper documents. The drawback of this is that usually one particular view on the total document base is enforced. In many systems the folder structure has been predetermined by the system vendor, whereas other systems allow the users quite a lot of freedom in creating a folder structure of their own. Less common is a solution which allows two or more alternative folder structures superimposed on the same documents.
This latter multiple solution is in fact a step in the direction towards meta data based search. By meta data (or reference data) we mean certain pieces of information which describe essential attributes of a document as a whole. In metadata based systems the data is placed separately from the documents in a database, which provides versatility for automated searching which the hierarchical folder structure doesn’t have. For instance the information given about the literature references in the references section of this paper is meta data. Such metadata enables other researchers or practitioners to retrieve the document through library services.