Is online collaboration more than just a one click wonder?

As high-rise buildings across the region become the norm, so do the mountains of paperwork associated with major construction projects. But help may be just a mouse click away, as Leigh Jasper, managing director, Aconex explains.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  August 19, 2006

|~|134int200.gif|~|Jasper: “We have found the need for control over information and collaboration particularly important for clients in the fast-growth centres of the GCC.”|~|What is prompting the surge in demand for project collaboration software?

Demand is being driven by two key factors: firstly, the construction industry’s recognition that traditional information management processes are not efficient enough to manage the volume of information on modern projects; and secondly, the availability of practical, easy-to-use technology that addresses these issues.

When you consider that large-scale construction projects often generate millions of documents and pieces of correspondence that need to be shared between hundreds of people, in different countries, then effective information management becomes vital in order to complete a project on time and within budget.

Traditionally, project teams have used a combination of paper documents: email, FTP sites, fax and couriers to communicate information. However, these processes are manual, expensive, time consuming, and open to human error. They also invariably lead to each organisation using its own individual systems and becoming an ‘island’ of information.

Because of this, an increasing number of projects are using an online collaboration solution to streamline communication and facilitate collaboration. Online collaboration solutions replace the traditional processes of information exchange by storing all project information — including drawings, documentation and correspondence — online in a single, secure site.

What are the main benefits of using online collaboration?

It allows authorised project team members to view, track, share and archive their information from any location, at any time, using nothing more than a computer, web-browser and internet connection.

In practice, this leads to reduced costs, improved productivity and reduced risk. Cost savings are achieved as less money is spent on postage and couriers, printing, travelling and meetings. The streamlined communication means that the project is also less likely to overrun.

Productivity is improved through having information available centrally where it can be accessed instantly. There is also improved communication through the supply chain with dispersed teams working better together.

Project collaboration solutions also help to reduce risk. Project managers can generate status reports in seconds that identify issues early before they can impact schedule or budget. They also eliminate the chance of information loss, and its audit trail details ‘who did what, and when’, meaning fewer claims due to inaccurate or out-of-date information, and a reduced risk of litigation.

Is Aconex seeing a growing client base within the GCC?

Yes, uptake of the Aconex solution in the Middle East tripled last year. We expect it to triple again this year, so the trend is very strong in the region.

Aconex initially based itself in Dubai, where we are currently servicing projects such as Burj Residences, The Index Building and the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Having built a strong foundation in Dubai we are now servicing projects across the GCC, including the US $1.2 billion (BD452 million) Lulu Island development in Bahrain and the W Doha Hotel & Residences in Qatar.

What sets Aconex systems apart from the competition?

A commitment to providing the highest standard of customer service and an extensive global network of offices that can provide on-the-ground support to any project.

We believe that successful implementation of our solution is not just down to the technology but also to do with the people and how they use our service. Because of this, we provide unlimited training and round-the-clock support to all project team members to ensure that everyone is confident using the system.

Another key differentiator is our global network. We currently service more than 25,000 companies across 30 countries and now have offices across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

A good example of how this benefits projects is a gas field we’re working on in India. The project is using Aconex to improve collaboration between project teams across five continents. With dozens of companies from the UAE, the UK, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and the US involved.

The level of communication and collaboration required on this project would be nearly impossible to achieve without an online collaboration solution and, because of our global reach, we are able to provide on-the-ground training and continued support to every single project team. To our knowledge, no other company can provide this localised service.

What are the approximate costs for using this type of software?

Aconex is priced according to the size, duration and complexity of the project — with access to the system charged as an affordable monthly fee. This puts it in the same spend category as many other services brought in at the start of any project.

This amount is often made back in administrative cost savings alone — and that’s before factoring in the increased productivity, reduced risk and shorter project timelines.

With collaboration solutions, no additional software is required and there is no complicated set-up, so projects can be up and using the system within hours.

Do you have any new product launches plan-ned for the near future?

Next month will see the launch of a new version of our Workflows module, which fast-tracks standard approval processes and enables project managers to monitor project progress in real time.

This cuts down on the delays caused by waiting for standard approvals on drawings or plans, and improves project managers’ ability to oversee multiple projects at one time.
Due to our growth in the Middle East and Asia, we are soon going to be providing more localised versions of our solution. Aconex is currently available in English and Chinese, and we are planning for Arabic, Korean and Japanese versions.

We recently upgraded our document viewer — now Aconex users (e.g. project managers, engineers, consultants) can meet online and mark-up or annotate a drawing together.

While doing this, they can see each other’s comments and discuss changes using an instant messaging facility. The result is that geographically dispersed project partners can collaborate together in real-time, at any time, drastically speeding up the drawing review cycle.

The new viewer also has a ‘file compare’ function that highlights the changes to drawings side-by-side on the same screen. This function opens two files in separate windows and then shows the additions and deletions in a third window —
further streamlining the design review process.||**||

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