What is information? And why is it important?
Let’s say. You are a project manager overlooking the demolition and reconstruction of a road. You are at the site with paper drawings in your hand. The drawings suggest, that there is a sewage pipe running under the road at a specific location, and as such must be saved from injury while demolishing and re-constructing the new road. You act on that information, and guide your construction team to dig and demolish the entire road, except the specific location through which the pipe is running.
A simple affair which you think can be easily done without risking any errors. Content, you leave the site, and are just about to engage yourself in a different errand, when to your disappointment, you receive a call.
“The pipe which was supposed to be at X location, was rather found 6 meters away, and has been accidently struck broken while digging.” Error!
With no fault of your own. You have become an accomplice in a silly error, which if the information you had received were correct, could have easily been avoided. This misguided information cost you extra time, extra materials, extra labour and extra designing. All adding up as extra euros.
Now let’s round up that situation, and imagine that instead of paper drawings, you carried a tablet with you to the construction site. And instead of recording the built data upon completion, or on the basis of to-be-built design drawings. You had rather recorded the as-built in real-time using state of the art tools, that allowed you to record and integrate pictures, measurements etc. with the as-built model.
This new way of recording information, would have given you real-time accurate information on the previous as-built model, and would have made it accessible to you at the tap of a finger, on your tablet.
When you reach the site next time, you instruct your team with the same instructions that you gave them last time, except, that you give them accurate information on the location of the pipe, and avoid an avoidable error!
What’s the difference between the two situations?
In the first situation, the information you received was in-correct, acting upon which caused an error and led to loss of time and money. While in the second situation, the information you received was 100% accurate as real time data will improve the not-so-accurate designs, acting on which protected you from a potential error, and saved you time and money.
Quality of information, as you see, is the difference between the two situations. It is the basis on which you make decisions. Therefore, if you have access to quality reliable information, you not only stand better chances at completing your project on schedule and under budget, but also fare better at ensuring best quality construction for your project.
Information management, as you see, is a combination of the two words, information and management. Information meaning data, and management meaning effective organization of a resource, which helps you reach your defined goal.
Information and management when combined, therefore mean, organizing data in a way, that you derive knowledge from it, which you utilize to achieve your goal.
For example, the accurate location of the pipe in the above example is information. While the way in which it is recorded, like is it recorded in paper or is it recorded digitally, is the management of that information. Similarly, how and when the information is recorded, like is it recorded in real-time, or is it recorded on the basis of assumptions after a structure is built, is the management of that information. Or the question, is the presented information easily readable, as in, are we presenting a 3-dimensional object in 3-dimensions, or are we presenting it in 2-dimensions, and as such are hiding the true potential of a 3-dimensional object, is the management of that information.
You see, the information in any of the three cases does not change. In all three cases, it represents a number, which tells us about the location of the pipe. What changes though, is the way in which that information is recorded and presented. And as we have seen in the above example, it makes a lot of difference.
Information and management, therefore, are considered the two pillars on which the empire of great decisions stand. Be it in business, or in infraconstruction, remove either one of them, and the whole empire comes tumbling down.
It is for this reason, that we must never overlook, that the information we receive is:
- Correct: which means the recorded information had been collected real-time, during and after construction. And as such guarantees 100% accuracy.
- Easily readable: which means that the recorded information is in a format that can be read easily. Like reading a drawing or a model on a tablet while on site, is more convenient that reading the same on an A2 sheet.
- Easily accessible: which means that the recorded information is at the tap of a finger, accessible to every individual and machine that requires it.
How could information management make each member of your work-force more efficient, and you as an owner richer?
To answer this question, let us put information management to effect, and see for our selves, if it indeed does make each member of your work-force more efficient.
To do this, lets imagine that we have a centralized system in the infraconstruction industry, which can store all information in one place, and can guarantee that all the information is 100% accurate and real-time.
Further, it stores all that information in a format, that is easily accessible and easily readable. And as a result, allows each member of your workforce, like the supervisor, the surveyor, the contractor, the owner, the work machines, etc. to seamlessly share data with each other.
How could such a centralized information management system make each member of your construction work-force more efficient?
One of the chief obstacle, that surveyor’s face in their job, is not having access to real-time information. Information, like up to date data on all the collected measurements for a project. Or the knowledge, as to how much a project has progressed while they were away. Or if their team had committed an error, but had unknowingly moved on with the project overlooking that error.
If we had a centralized system in place, which could make real-time quality information easily accessible to the surveyor. And further after being easily accessible, it allowed them to share the collected data with other team members, either automatically, or on the tap of a finger. It would not only make surveying at least ten times faster, cheaper and convenient. But would also indirectly quicken all other processes in construction, that are dependent on the surveying.
Project managers often complain of not being able to track and compare the to-be-built models and as-built data directly on site. They believe this issue occurs simply because they don’t have the means to access either of the information at the same time. For example, when they are on site, they can see the as-built, but don’t have access to the to-be-built models. And at times when they have access to to-be-built models, the only means they have to compare it with as-built data, is by going to the site, and checking personally for any error. Or by interrogating respective teams, if they faced any problems while doing their duty.
A centralized system that could store the as-built information and the to-be-built information in one place, would allow the project managers to track and compare the two information without the need to come to the site each time. Further, if the centralized system could integrate other data like surveyor’s measurements, work machines data or real-time recorded images, etc. all in one place, then the project manager’s job could become significantly easier, because he would have all the needed up-to-date real time information in one place, and at the click of a button could share his updates with everybody on the centralized system.
The first thing I feel, as I imagine myself stepping into the feet of a contractor is the heavy weight of pdf and excel sheets pressing down on me. The traditional method of moving around a site as vast as a soccer field, with folders upon folders of data is not only an unnecessary burden on the contractor, but is also one of the chief reasons, that propagate errors occurring as a result of dis-organized information.
A centralized system on the other hand could lift the burden off the contractor, by bringing and organizing all the files in one place. It would not only rid him off all the heavy papers that contain information, but would also give him enough space and opportunity to update new information in real-time, which at the tap of a finger could be shared with every concerned individual.
Right since the times when Vespasian ordered the construction of Colosseum in 72 AD. Project owners have been kept awake by one single problem: how to achieve the best quality construction at the cheapest price?
Traditionally it had been left to the goodwill and trust of the contractor, that he/she will strictly comply with all the stated standards, and will assuredly deliver the best quality final product.
But we saw this idea of quality control soon failing because the contractor, be him virtuous or evil by his nature, is bound by constraints of day-to-day mishaps, that by the sheer nature of construction, occur more than frequently on a construction site.
Increasing cost of materials, expensive re-work, or costs accumulating as a result of idle machines, etc. are usually not taken into consideration during the bidding process. And when they occur during construction; contractors who are always functioning under a strict budget and schedule, find themselves cornered, and forced to look for twisted means to finish the project.
As such there appears always a conflict in interests between the contractor and the owner, where the owner wants to achieve best quality construction at the cheapest price, while the contractor wants the best price for his construction.
I believe, it was upon the realization of this conflict, that the owners reacted by making quality control more rigorous and frequent, and began hiring trained quality control professionals, who would make sure that the as-built is exact as the to-be-built.
Undoubtedly this new strategy of having a quality control professional checking on the quality of construction, is better than leaving it to the good will of the contractor. But this new approach too, proved to be be far behind perfect.
Because work on a construction site is multi-dimensional, and at times progresses so rapidly, that to compare the as-built data with to-be-built data can take weeks, if not less.
Which means quality control does not happen in real time, but lags behind.
This lagging behind proves troublesome, because it takes us back to where we started. And results in either of the two cases:
- Construction comes to a halt, and waits for quality control to catch up. Leading to loss of valuable time, machine hours, idle labour, etc. all of which result in extra cost. Or
- Construction carries on at it’s own pace, while the quality control professional catches up to check later on the finished product. And if unsatisfied orders re-work. Which again results in extra cost.
Further, when quality control does not happen in real-time, it fails to see what really is going on inside the finished product, defeating the entire purpose of quality control. Because in infraconstruction most of the end products, which have the most value, remain hidden from the surface, making it impossible to determine if a project was actually carried out according to specifications, or has been filled with lower quality materials and specifications.
A centralized system, if in place, could record the construction in real-time. making construction 100% transparent, and bringing every concerned party, be it the contractor, the owner, the consultant or the surveyor to one platform, where all information is shared with every body.
The benefits of such a transparent real-time quality control system are many:
- It would make catching errors in real-time possible. And as such would help minimize expensive re-work leading to significant savings.
- It would make construction more seamless and un-interrupted, leading to faster completion of projects and consequently more savings.
- It would ensure, the final product received by the owner complies completely with the provided specifications, and as such would guarantee quality completion of projects.
As we see, a centralized information management system is the need of the hour. Its benefits are not restricted to one party, but aim to nourish every concerned party in the construction workforce. And naturally when each member of your workforce works more efficiently, it brings you, as an owner significant savings, which in certain cases have been recorded being as high as 30%.
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