Piling Canada

Construction Data Management

How data is the foundation for pile engineering
September 2020

With COVID-19 ravaging through the world, a new norm has emerged that affects every corner of the old way of living. Everyone is adjusting and surviving, but emerging stronger is not so easy to tackle or always possible. The construction industry in general has been slow to innovate for decades, with a growth in productivity of just one per cent and large risks, combined with this unprecedented disruption, the time to lead is now.

Construction is lagging historically

Much research has been done into the productivity and efficiency of the construction industry both in terms of economic and environmental impact. Consulting firms like McKinsey & Company, Accenture and others generally agree that productivity is very low, risks are high and the impact on the environment is enormous.1,2 Many innovations have been recognized and implemented in recent years, but COVID-19 is throwing the construction industry in another tailspin. A few changes that make working on a jobsite a tad more challenging today are social distancing, temperature checks, required wearing of masks, supply chain disruption, a decline in commercial activity, more stringent regulation and the need for cloud-based solutions due to less workers on the jobsite, among others.3

Adding to these challenges is a combination of developments that will move the needle once more, such as increased sustainability requirements, skills scarcity, new materials, modular construction and rapid digitalization, to new a few.2 While changing the fundamentals of a company is more challenging, automating the mundane and utilizing new technologies such as remote cameras or drones to keep an eye on the jobsite 24/7 can quickly bring efficiencies and improve collaboration among project teams.

The construction industry is project-oriented with high risks and profit margins hovering around five per cent.2 Over the years, firms traditionally have been very risk averse and introducing new technologies that potentially give a company a leap forward does not come naturally. As the vendor, after the cordial, “How are you?” the next question is: “Who are your references?”

Technology can make a big difference

The need for information management for a piling project is no less than for other construction jobs. Piling lays the foundation for any structure being erected. Mistakes during engineering or unforeseen ground conditions can have long-lasting consequences. It is no surprise that during the engineering and construction phase of a project there are stringent documentation requirements. Documents such as site investigation studies, foundation drawings, pile layouts, structural engineering specifications, load calculations, installation logs, integrity tests, load tests, insurance certificates and much more are developed and collected during the project.

These documents are seldom created in a vacuum. Creation, submission, review, signoff and client review are all standard work processes that still are often a challenge. When companies have existing systems, there is a good chance those systems are outdated and not fully equipped to handle the COVID-19 environment. For the brave project managers that decide to circumvent the corporate structure for the sake of the project and use an online software as a service solution, challenges will arise with handover, project closure and proper governance of company records and management of claims.

Current corporate IT departments are often not setup to help protect organizations. If there is no representation from the business for IT, there is a good chance that the project is finished by the time corporate IT has signed off on the use of a tool.

The one left hanging is the client. In a 2015 study, 75 per cent of respondents explained that up to 30 per cent of cost overruns are caused by project document difficulties and issues. Accessing the latest information and/or inaccurate project paperwork were among the most common issues.4 When factoring in the legal ramifications, the risks for both the client and contractor are even bigger.

Technology has come a long way and document management is only one example that can help the construction industry. Trends such as digital twins, augmented reality/virtual reality/mixed reality, digital transformation projects and business intelligence are all topics that companies are betting on. Only when technology, processes and people are aligned will the benefits be visible. Despite the ease of use of new technology, it is not enough to deploy and not fully understand the consequences of inappropriate use. With current technology, it is far too easy to create quickly a copy of a large, complex building information model (BIM) – suddenly there are hundreds of new construction sheets. All of this leads to the same, automated confusion.

Not just about technology

It is not enough to apply technology towards a 20-year-old process. That old process was designed by smart and retired engineers based on paper processes. If simply digitized, any process flaws are enhanced and unchecked. These new technologies generate large amounts of data and then become an even greater liability for the project. With new technologies, new processes need to be adopted. Standards such as BS1192/ISO196505 describe how best to use BIM information and communication structures in a complex project. People processes and technology need to be considered holistically.

Digital transformation cannot happen without a shift in culture and attitude towards digital. Experts largely agree that a shortage in skills is inevitable.2, 6 Increasingly more sophisticated tools like generative design will be readily available across all areas of the construction industry. The younger workforce will look for opportunities to use new technology and apply these advancements on their projects. A company cannot remain stuck in old habits and wonder why the fresh graduates are choosing the competition.

It can be difficult to determine where to invest; digital transformation roadmaps and maturity models can be a guide to support this journey. Whichever method a company selects, support from management is key. Once a roadmap is established – and there is a good sense for the various datapoints that need to be integrated – select key projects to prove quickly if something works or not. Failing fast, making decisions and moving forward is much more important than remaining stagnant.

Abundant opportunities

The satisfaction level among customers is low. Large construction projects are typically 20 per cent more costly and not delivered on time.2 This creates an opportunity for companies that are using new advanced technologies fully to take a leap forward. It also forces companies to remain forward-thinking to stay ahead of the competition. It is estimated that digitalization will increase further because of COVID-19. Although market conditions are rough, there are bright spots for the future. The estimate is that there will be a large demand of new labour with more than 300,000 new workers needed by 2029. Companies that further invest in modern technologies will come out stronger and better prepared for the next decade. 🍁

  • Global e-Sustainability Initiative, “#SMARTer2030-ICT Solutions for 21st Century Challenges,” 2015. [Online]. Available: http://smarter2030.gesi.org.
  • J. Biörck et al., “The next normal in construction,” Mckinsey Co., no. June, 2020.
  • E. Ward, “COVID-19 Impacts on the Construction Industry,” ViewPoint, a trimble company, 2020.
    www.viewpoint.com/blog/covid-19-impacts-on-the-construction-industry (accessed July 28, 2020).
  • C. C. Engineer, “Poor document management causes delays in construction projects,” 2015.
    www.canadianconsultingengineer.com/engineering/poor-document-management-causes-delays-construction-projects/1003399610/#:~:text=33%25 found accessing the latest,has contributed to construction delays.
  • REBIM, “Will ISO 19650 replace BS1192?” https://rebim.io/goodbye-bs1192-hello-iso19650/#:~:text=BS 1192 is a British Standard that sets,and facilitates efficient data use in facilities management. (accessed July 29, 2020).
  • M. Steere, “2020 Construction Trends: 30+ Experts Weigh In,” Autodesk, 2020. https://constructionblog.autodesk.com/2020-construction-trends/ (accessed July 28, 2020).

Edwin Elmendorp is a leading information architect with Kinsmen Group. Elmendorp has over 15 years of experience in the world of engineering data management. He has implemented numerous systems around the globe for large and small customers. Elmendorp is a cum laude graduate from the Open University in the Netherlands, and holds a master’s degree in business process management and IT. As a frequent public writer, speaker and his work at Kinsmen Group, he helps companies push forward on their digital journey.

Category: Business

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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