Building Bahrain

The island of Bahrain is growing rapidly, thanks to some major property projects and the technology that is being used to support them. Daniel Stanton takes a look at developments.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  September 30, 2006

With so many luxury building developments underway in Bahrain, the processes behind the building work need to be carefully managed. As with so many other industries, IT is being used to help cut out inefficiencies and improve delivery.

Atkins, the property designers behind Manama's World Trade Centre, currently nearing completion, and the Durrat Al Bahrain development, has worldwide operations, so tends to use the same IT systems in each of its offices, with slight customisations from country to country.

"In any project you have certain needs, so it's just a small adjustment to whatever we have, mainly," says Mohammed Darwish, IT officer at Atkins Bahrain.

"Worldwide, we have a standard of HP products, so almost everything is HP: servers and a lot of switches, so it's mostly HP hardware."

The company uses some software solutions which are developed in-house, including a document management solution. Darwish says: "We developed a lot of programmes internally, like controlling the documents through a programme called Document Control.

"It uses a hierarchical structure. So from the beginning you have limited access but when you go inside the folder, access depends on which department and which user - for example, if he's a draughtsman or if he's a senior architect.

"It's a basic thing, but it really helps how we are managing the data inside the server, how the responsibilities are distributed between each department and how they are maintaining their files."

The Atkins office in Bahrain has an IT team of four, who are mainly involved in support, and also have responsibility for some of the technical duties at the company's branches in Qatar and Kuwait.

"We mainly do the support, network, and of course everything related to connecting the three offices together, so maintaining all this connectivity and maintaining this unified network," says Darwish. "And of course the development of the Document Control application is with us in Bahrain. I'm not aware if they are using it outside the Middle East, but it's kind of a standard that we are developing inside. Because it's become a good programme and a basic programme that we can organise our things within, people like it, so it has started to be used in Dubai, Doha and close by.

"We are building the same programme up to their needs outside, but it's the same structure, same idea. Sometimes very, very big projects may require a higher capacity of storage for this programme; some others are small projects but they have lots of correspondence. We can amend the programme depending on the project. But the idea and the style are the same."

The Bahrain office has also implemented a wireless network to connect its various sites within the country. "These projects are in different places and we need to maintain some connectivity and control of the network, so they are connected to the main office through wireless connection," explains Darwish. "For example Durrat Al Bahrain is 60km away from the main office."

The wireless network has been in place for approximately seven months. Before that, the sites were connected by leased lines from Batelco, but these were not ideal for the operation when large documents like architectural drawings need to be sent between offices.

"We looked for a more available solution because wireless can support higher bandwidth and higher speed as well, so we could run more applications through that," says Darwish. "For example, we can connect them with the internet, connect them with emails, all through wireless, and they can access some of the files in the office itself. All coming projects will be done through wireless to be connected with the main office." Workers outside the main office are able to link to the network using either a desktop or laptop, meaning that they can spend less time travelling to headquarters.

Bahrain's landscape and climate posed some problems when looking for a suitable wireless solution. As an island, the country has particularly high humidity, even more so than other Gulf states. "These units are outside, so some of them are affected by the humidity, some of them are affected by the wind. That took time for us to find something that is not affected by that," says Darwish.

"At last we found something that works on a radio frequency, not a laser connection."

Another major development in Bahrain is also making use of IT to ensure that the project runs smoothly. Riffa Views will occupy an area of 23 million square feet and will include 900 luxury villas, an international school, commercial and recreational facilities. Arcapita, the bank behind it, implemented Sage Accpac's customer relationship management (CRM) software in June 2005, during the early days of the project. "It took six to eight weeks to implement, so it has been in place from late August," says Yasser Abdulla, managing director, Riffa Views.

"We did market research of the similar systems available and Sage was chosen as the most suitable one by our IT people. That was based on the features that it has and the helping customer relations, and the minimum time of customisation that was required.

"We wanted a system that let us standardise up to the level of standards available in the market. That's why it was a suitable fit for us for this kind of development.

"We are using the CRM as well as our accounting software, Accpac, which is another tool that has helped us very well from the very beginning. The modules we got, we're very pleased with. You can think less about them and just concentrate on your focus, on your core business."

He adds: "One of the most important benefits for Riffa Views is the immediate availability of customer and prospect information to authorised staff to respond quickly and accurately to any queries. Through the Sage Accpac CRM system, all property account managers at Riffa Views have relevant project information available to them on-screen.

This includes information of the various phases of the development, area sizes, prices and design styles. In addition, the history of all the communication with a customer is stored in the system for review, and financial transactions integrated to Sage Accpac ERP."

Abdulla believes that technology plays an important role in reaching out to new customers, and need not complicate business processes. "IT, if it's properly managed and it doesn't give you headaches in the beginning, can be a major tool of reaching your customers and scheduling, especially something like Sage accounts software," says Abdulla.

“It's a powerful tool in the communication that you get with your clients, both existing and potential clients, and the way that you can manage the scheduling and meetings and follow ups."

Arcapita is also planning to use Sage Accpac's CRM campaign management to run targeted marketing campaigns and measure return on marketing investment.

The Lulu Tourism Company, which is behind Bahrain's US$1.2 billion Lulu Island development, recently signed a deal with Aconex for its online information management service. The company implemented Aconex's document management and control system in June to allow it to better organise and access project information. Everyone working on the project can now access documents such as plans, drawings and correspondence by going online and typing key words into a search engine. The system is expected to save time spent looking for documents and costs related to printing. Hopefully, it will also reduce the risk to the developer arising from information loss and contractual disputes.

"The major benefits for our clients are firstly, they will save costs because they are moving documents over the web - it is a lot more efficient than couriering them, particularly when you have got consultants spread across the world," says Leigh Jasper, Aconex managing director. "The second thing is it increases productivity on the project so that the people on the projects - the document controllers, the project managers - don't have to spend heaps of time trying to find information." This can be a particular difficulty when multiple contractors are involved in a project.

"We have consultants in Bahrain, Dubai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur. Melbourne, Spain and the UK," says Spencer Wylie, Lulu Island project manager for Davis Langdon & Seah International, a construction and property consultancy. "Everyone can access it and it's real time so everybody can access the system at any time. Whenever they're online, the system's online, 24 hours a day.

"The system's two-fold. One part is that it's a mail system, so you can issue memos, emails, instructions, meeting notices, all of that sort of thing, and it's a mail tracking system. It's fully recorded: you send an email, and anybody who reads that email is tracked at any point, so you can search to make sure that everybody's seen it. Each organisation has maybe 20 users within the organisation and you need that one point of contact. Everyone has free access to all of the information, if they want them to have it. Obviously you can make that confidential if you need to."

The system is also used to store documentation involved with the project and share it with business users. "You upload drawings, documents, cost plans, all of that sort of specification, all of those kinds of things, onto the system and they're registered," says Wylie. "The first upload is revision zero. Every time you upload again it automatically renumbers and renames the document, and tracks the changes as well, so you can look at revision one, two, three, four, five at the click of a button, rather than going to a drawing file and pulling up drawings. It's all in one place so you can look, and it's all linked as well through the system. It shows you exactly who's made the change, when the changes were made, who's looked at it, who's reviewed it, if it's been approved or not approved, that sort of thing."

Before moving to Aconex's hosted system, Davis Langdon used the industry standard system of document transmittals, using hard copies and soft copies, which were very demanding of bandwidth. "There's so much information flying about on the system," says Wylie. "Last month on Aconex we had 6,300 mail transactions. We transmitted nearly 3,000 documents to 14 organisations and we're storing 18,000 megabytes of information on their system now. We've got a total number of 7,300 controlled documents on there, and that was last month alone. So if you can imagine you're trying to upload that all through your email system…"

The data stored on Aconex's servers is held in Dubai and backed up every second at two other locations, ensuring reliability. Any maintenance is timed to avoid Middle East business hours.

"The payment in terms of the money that the client is spending developing this project is absolutely minimal," says Wylie. "The time saved for the client and the client's team far outweighs the cost that Aconex charges. In download time of drawings alone you would make the money up in a month, quite easily. I would say it repays itself almost immediately."

The only slight downside is for the engineers and architects who need to spend time uploading the documents so that others can access them, but Wylie believes that this minor inconvenience is far outweighed by the time savings created by cutting out unnecessary duplication and improving transparency of communication, something that is essential in a project of this scale. "There are 14 different organisations involved at the moment and that will only grow as the project progresses," he says.

Architects are also catered for by Graphisoft's Archicad 10, which uses 3-D to simulate the way a real building is constructed. Not only does it allow them to run various lifecycle performance analyses, use interactive schedules and extract accurate estimations from the model, but it also provides a useful display tool when clients want to know how the finished building will look.

AtOne, a Bahrain-based company in the Al Moayed Group, is the official regional provider of Graphisoft products, which also covers other parts of the construction process. Its Virtual Construction software is intended to transform everything from pre-construction planning and estimating to work performed on site. The solution suite of technologies uses 3-D modelling, together with schedule and cost, to provide accurate estimating quantities and to analyse alternative construction sequences. By utilising the system, entire construction teams can be kept informed of the cost and scheduling of a project by automatically updating the entire process, ultimately keeping projects on time and on budget.

Procurement is one part of the construction process that can always benefit from being tightened, whether it is the delivery of materials or the recruitment of staff.

William Rowe, general manager of Gulf Tradanet, an e-business and portal provider headquartered in Bahrain, says that e-procurement can help streamline many of the processes involved in a construction project. "The supply and delivery of components could be linked in electronically if you had the right kind of systems, making sure that you always had the particular products that you needed on hand at the right time in the process," he says. "You don't want to be storing giant girders and tonnes of equipment a week or two in advance and you definitely do not want them a week or two late, you want them delivered on the day you're going to use them."

There are further possibilities that can also simplify processes, Rowe explains. "I've worked on a couple of projects with construction, trying to link in e-procurement with some of these major projects, so as they reach particular phases in the build the systems themselves will automatically place the orders and track the orders," he says. "A project manager would be able to click on an area of a plan and find out the logistics status of those particular components. It was four years ago and was fairly advanced at the time, taking those CAD designs and linking in XML tags and linking those through to an ordering process." He adds: "It was leading to delivery drivers having hand-held devices in their cabs which would enable the buyer and the supplier to track deliveries and orders, so if they're waiting for some key components they can see where it is and if it's been delivered. It will give them much better control of where their components are and when they need them in the construction process. It's about using technology to fine-tune the just-in-time process, so no one is waiting. It's all about getting things in the right order and at the right time just when you need to use them."

Gulf Tradanet is operated on behalf of the Federation of GCC Chamber of Commerce and facilitates the real time exchange of information and transactions between trading partners inside and outside the region in an interactive environment which aims to create cost savings and increased efficiency.

"Companies will be able to buy and sell goods online and electronically process all documents associated with the transaction. This service bridges the technology gap that exists among companies of different sizes,” says Rowe.

The company provides portals for all industries, and recently launched an online recruitment service called www.Mihnati.com, a name that means ‘my career’ in Arabic. This could make life easier for both employers and employees.

It seems that IT can help improve almost every part of the property development business, from modelling to marketing. Bahrain is a good example of a Middle East country that is enhancing one of its key industries through innovative use of technology to enhance and streamline processes. In doing so, it is building for the future.

“We can amend the programme depending on the project. But the idea and the style is the same.”

“Each organisation has maybe 20 users within the organisation and you need that one point of contact.”

“In download time of drawings alone you would make the money up in a month, quite easily. I would say it repays itself almost immediately.”

“It’s about using technology to fine-tune the just-in-time process, so no one is waiting. It’s all about getting things in the right order and at the right time just when you need to use them.”

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