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5 Problems With Online Collaboration and Document Management Tools in Construction Industry

Online Collaboration and Document Management Cloud solutions for construction industry are everywhere these days.

Here are three lists of Apps and Cloud tools for Document Control and Inspections that are on the market at the moment:

7 Cloud-based collaborative solutions for construction industry

9 Apps for inspections on Site

7 More Apps for inspections on site

Also, a quick look on Paul Wilkinson’s Extranet Evolution will probably tell you this is a booming and very dynamic market at the moment.

However, there are still some major obstacles that , in my opinion hold this market back .

Here’s a list of all these problems that probably show that the products and the industry haven’t matured yet (which is normal considering the “age” of this market):

1. Partial Collaboration means…No Collaboration

The most common scenario in a construction project is when a Client or Project Manager is using an online SaS tool and he is then actually forcing the Contractor(s) to use this tool for submitting construction documents, design drawings or any other contractual documentation (correspondence, RFIs, claims, warnings, payments etc).

However, the Contractor has many internal documents that cannot be stored in a tool that obviously doesn’t control.

Result: there have to be 2 systems.

One for all the documents that have to go to the Client for approval (or information) and one for all the documents that the Contractor is managing (including the ones that go to the Client).

Finally, the same documents have to be uploaded twice on 2 (sometimes even 3 if there are more parties involved…) different databases which causes:
– waste of time and resources
– people on site don’t know where to refer to (sometimes the Client doesn’t give sufficient number of User Accounts for his tool because usually – every additional user costs money and as a standard practice only the Contractor’s Doc.Controllers are given few accounts just to submit documents)
– mistakes while duplicating the entries (yes…people do mistakes when they have to do the same task twice)
– and obviously at the end of the day the fancy collaboration tool is only serving the Client or basically the stakeholder who has paid for it which in reality means…no collaboration overall!

Things could also get a lot worse if there are several designers who may use different tools for uploading design documents/drawings.

2. Need For Speed

Having a fancy online tool that takes ages to load documents or perform a search query is like having a Ferrari without tyres= useless and impractical…

Network speed is a big issue in many projects. Especially for isolated and remote construction projects. But to be honest this is becoming less of a problem.

The other major issue is loading speeds from the cloud that should also be minimized.

YouTube has become so successful because videos load almost instantly and there is a lot of -behind the scenes- work by Google to achieve that.

What’s the point if it takes 10 minutes over 3G, 4G or even WiFi to load a single drawing or upload a photo?

It’s a major factor that companies who build SaS tools should take into account and continuously improve over time.

3. Changes halfway through the lifecycle of a Project

Scenario: A Client has just awarded a new project to a Contractor and all the tendering documents have been submitted and managed through Tool A. The project starts and is going well. After some months, the Client decides to change the system/tool (for any reason) and immigrate all the data to Tool B.

Result: waste of time and resources, mess, confusion, delays, frustration etc

The Document Management System of a project has to be established since the tendering phase of a project.

There is absolutely nothing wrong on changing systems and evolving to something better. But we shouldn’t expect people and organizations to be able to adopt that easily. It sounds strange but these are big changes for the people in a project. In other industries, when things like that change, there are many months and sometimes years of transition periods which in construction industry is probably out of discussion.It’s in human nature not to trust easily any new tools on the job (especially in construction industry) so these things should be planned well in advance.

Apart from this, it is also a big waste of resources if planned and implemented poorly and it would probably create more problems and confusion than what it would solve.

4. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” , Leonardo Da Vinci

Nature, Life and… Engineers don’t like complex things. They want reliable, fast and simple solutions. If they cannot find quickly the information they need, they will finally find another way around. Because they have to.

The other way around is usually called “Windows Explorer/Network Shared Drive” , E-mail, Phone call, pen/paper or WeTransfer-type solutions.

Old fashioned you said?

No! Just simple and reliable…

It doesn’t really matter if a Project or a company is using the most amazing tool in the market. If people haven’t spent time (before the project starts) to set it up, organize it and adjust it to the needs of the specific project/organization (and also keep on organizing and maintaining it) then nobody will ever use it in the real world when the clock in a project is ticking and things have to be done…ASAP. And this is something that even Senior Management in construction industry should also understand and not expect any new tool to work automatically from day 1 becasue we…just bought it! We need to put (and keep) resources on that tool, to make it work for our benefit.

5. Windows ’95

I find it extremely dissatisfying when in 2014 there are still solutions in the market that remind me of Windows 95: ugly and so visually old-fashioned …!

I am not saying companies should hire Johnny Ive to make their products more aesthetically pleasing (although that could help too…) but it’s really hurting my eyes when I see solutions that resemble MS Access Databases of a college student in the mid 90′s…

Facebook, Apple and Google are not where they are because they provided solutions that only work and solve problems, but they also made them look pretty. In a market that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago and it now becomes very competitive and dynamic, things like beautiful design and visually pleasing solutions could make all the difference.

There is no doubt we will see some amazing solutions coming out within the next years (some are probably already out there…) but in my opinion the market and…most importantly the industry haven’t matured yet.

We are getting there!

So, what’s your opinion?

Is there something that really annoys you with today’s online Collaboration or Document Control Software Tools for construction industry?
What would you really like to see that you haven’t seen up to now  in the available tools?

Drop us a comment and let us know!

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Pavlos Inglesis
I am a Chartered Civil Engineer (CEng-MICE) and a Chartered Quality Professional (MCQI CQP) working in the construction industry for about 20 years. My specialty is Quality Control and Quality Assurance Management in Construction Projects. I have worked on projects in the Middle East, and Greece and am now based in the UK.

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