Sep 20, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

How adopting digital technology has shaped the operations of large sites

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We often hear that collaboration is improving rapidly in construction, thanks to digital technology. Elecosoft’s Jonathan Hunter explores how this can transform the operations of the large sites and strategic projects which are so common in public sector building.


The challenges of improving project efficiency and assuring dependable delivery are now accepted as strategic priorities for construction, and nowhere is finding solutions more urgent than on critical public building and infrastructure projects.

Many construction businesses are striving to embrace digital construction and modern methods. The scale of major public initiatives creates very large or distributed construction sites, and some problems that can be worked around on smaller projects often become more difficult to circumvent as projects scale. Expanded project management teams must collaborate continually. Construction executives must be able to see every project as a whole, to steer a steady path.

Enterprise-wide thinking

The scale and cost of hospital developments, new town construction or transport infrastructure projects are extreme. Carillion’s collapse has highlighted the importance of public providers and partners delivering on their financial and physical promises. Making smart digital decisions is business-critical.

Our customers are realising that to manage very large projects, single-project point solutions aren’t enough.

They want to help project managers (PMs) to collaborate, and better communicate with clients and suppliers. They need help to have much more accurate, unified data in real-time from site, that they can manage in an accessible common data environment. With the right solutions, they can plan better projects from the start through collaboration between builders, end-users and operators/facilities managers (FMs), to ensure optimal building information that enables ongoing operation, facility maintenance and asset management.

Large site and major project challenges

1. Seeing at scale – whether managing major sites with large numbers of concurrent operations, or sites in multiple locations, ‘whole project’ visibility is hard for project managers, the business and clients, and so is knowing you have a true picture of progress. Interserve faced this in delivering seven schools across Hertfordshire, Luton and Reading. The fit-out stage meant an exponential rise in numbers of tasks. It chose our Site Progress Mobile app, that links to Powerproject, to ensure accuracy and visibility.

2. Creating consistency – assuring quality and consistency is vital on student flats, schools, or public housing. Willmott Dixon knows this challenge – often managing more than 20 simultaneous large projects.

It recognised that collaborating around templates was essential, and chose Powerproject in part for that capability. National Planning Director, Paul Hoskins, said: “It allows us to take repetitive works, where we might have hundreds of homes, and easily repeat the trades and optimise their resource efficiency.”

3. Right resources – large projects are a symphony of sequential planning as PMs must manage and distribute plant and equipment, plus trades, to ensure the right resources are in the right place at the right time, maximising utilisation.

4. Accountability for all – complexity of progress management increases with site scale; the more you can get site managers and on-site team leaders engaged in tracking progress the better, and there are numerous business/time-saving gains. This is another benefit that Interserve gained when it adopted mobile progress tracking.

5. Proximity problems – large sites mean noise, inconvenience and logistical challenges that can cause issues with neighbouring houses, proximal buildings and shared services. Interserve found this impacted their building of a biology facility at the University of York and used Powerproject to link up to nine potential programme solutions designed to avoid proximity issues from noise, dust and vibration.

6. Total time – large project durations can be years, with multiple completion deadlines. Tight time management and awareness is essential for all stakeholders. We are proud of the role our software plays in supporting the Willmott Dixon FiiT Time programme which is creating a time-conscious culture across its entire construction business.

7. Data deluge – on a large project, data can stack up; an information management challenge that starts on site for contractors which is then inherited by clients and FMs. As built data is a vital resource for clients and operators going forward, and also an essential pillar for contractors against any future delay and disruption discovery process.

Better collaboration, accountability and information sharing is critical to the future of public sector construction. Early impetus for digital change may have come from BIM, but today the drivers are also survival and success. Effective modern construction, especially on large sites, is impossible without digital.

We now hear regularly from customers who are seeking more integrated solutions to improve how people can work together, increase accountability and build value through information. We’re working hard to respond, including developing a new collaborative portal service for future release, that is evolving with the help of a few major UK customers.

As well as embracing the collaborative working practices of BIM, construction businesses must put the right tools, platforms and joined-up digital construction solutions in place to support collaborative management not just up to client handover, but over the entire lifespan of buildings, to commissioning and beyond.

When Interserve won a £9.5m contract to build a new science building on the Heslington West campus of the University of York, it realised that client care and communication was vital. A tight timeline, complex connection to the existing Biomedical and Natural Sciences Building and three other active buildings nearby meant a need for precision programming. It would require careful planning to avoid interruption, dust, noise and vibration disrupting critical research experiments. The team used Powerproject to plot out multiple programme paths, retain significant float, and adapt in real-time to client requests and design changes. Its strategy was to stay 10% or five weeks ahead of the programme at all times – meaning that every snag or delay was manageable. The result? A handover that was perfectly on time, and a delighted client.

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