Aconex is one of the most widely used online collaboration platforms in the world for construction, infrastructure, energy and resources projects, and has helped manage more than $800 billion in capital projects across 70 countries. The company allows owners, contractors, construction managers, EPCs, project managers and consultants to collaborate securely, efficiently and easily. Rob Phillpot, in an email interaction with Sandeep Menezes, talks about the growing relevance of project collaboration solutions in the Indian project industry.
Most projects in India involve companies located in various cities. What are the communication challenges while implementing such projects?
Our experience is that increasing numbers of projects in India involve companies based not only in different cities, but also in different countries and regions. This increases the likelihood of miscommunication and misunderstanding, which in turn increases project risk leading to schedule delays and cost overruns. The most effective way to mitigate this risk is to manage all project information and processes on a single online collaboration platform which standardises communications and workflows across the entire project team. Members of the team are assigned deliverables and dates by name, reminded of impending deadlines, and advised when these deadlines are missed. Requests for information (RFIs) and other communications are processed to closure in a uniform way project-wide with appropriate stakeholder visibility.
Across the EU and US the communication process at project sites is aided by high-speed internet and mobile networks, which are virtually absent or inadequate in large parts of India.
This is true. Even in developed regions, mobile data communications for projects have become an option only in the last few years. Where mobile networks are unavailable, project communications between offices and other project team locations continue over landlines, undersea cable and other hard-wired channels as they always have. Also, mobile construction apps for smartphones and tablets enable team members to download project information and work on it offline in the absence of internet connections. When those connections become available, they can go back online and upload their work, avoiding disruption to schedules.
Do you feel project collaboration tools for India need to be designed keeping in mind these infrastructure constraints and acquisition costs?
Again, speaking from our own experience, project collaboration solutions have been received as well and adopted at roughly the same pace in India as they have in other developing regions. We haven’t really seen barriers to market entry or penetration based on infrastructure constraints, acquisition costs or other factors. Projects in India and globally are becoming more complex, project teams are becoming larger and more diverse, and project risk and cost are increasing. As a result, the need to manage project information and processes efficiently is becoming more urgent. Project collaboration solutions represent a step change over traditional manual and paper-based methods, as well as legacy enterprise software that isn’t designed specifically for construction projects.
The exchange of data volumes during project execution has risen sharply in the last few years. How can project managers quickly access the required information while sorting through the huge data volumes?
Data volumes for large, complex projects are routinely running into the terabytes. It’s essential that project collaboration solutions be able to support unlimited amounts of data and to store, manage and transmit files of any size, scaling seamlessly as the project grows. These solutions are best hosted on a secure, multi-tenant, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that is readily accessible across different organisations. Project information should be structured for easy access and fast search across the project team. In this regard, the use of metadata for Google-like search spares users the burden of having to crawl through hierarchical file systems to find the project information they need, when they need it.
How does BIM collaboration platform help project teams engage directly in model-based design and construction processes for BIM projects?
Our BIM collaboration solution, Aconex Connected BIM, enables design and construction teams to collaborate on models throughout the project lifecycle. Designers develop the models in their own specialised authoring tools and upload them to the Aconex SaaS collaboration platform. Then other members of the project team can consume and enrich the models via their web browsers, without the specialised authoring tools, while tagging objects within the models with relevant project documents, communications, decisions, and other information. At practical completion, the models and all of the project information can be handed over to the asset owner for operation. Connected BIM levels the playing field and connects BIM to the other 90 per cent of the project team that has historically been unable to use it.
Around $1 trillion investment is expected in India’s infrastructure development by 2017. How much of this investment will percolate into project collaboration software?
Historically, construction and engineering firms have spent 1-2 per cent of their revenues on technology in general, and spending on project collaboration solutions would be a subset of that. We have seen adoption of these solutions for construction and infrastructure projects in India increase significantly over the eight years that we’ve been active in India, and we expect this trend to continue. Putting an absolute number on that would be difficult, but spending on project collaboration software could be in the tens of millions over the next few years.
What are some of Aconex’s achievements in India? What is your future strategy?
Our sales and marketing efforts in India have resulted in a growing number of project engagements, including high-profile developments like Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 and Delhi Airport Metro Express. On the operational side, we opened a Business Services Centre in Bangalore in 2011. It is now our second largest office, with a staff of about 70 supporting a range of functions – engineering and product development, IT, security, quality assurance, customer service, finance, legal, administration, and human resources.
Our business strategy in India is twofold: 1) to continue driving the growth of the market for construction collaboration solutions through individual project wins and corporate agreements for multiple projects with major owners and contractors; and 2) to continue leveraging the regional talent pool across many disciplines in order to scale our global business.
Which are some of the important projects Aconex has serviced in India recently?
I mentioned Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 and Delhi Airport Metro Express. We have also supported construction of the Mumbai Metro, the Mundra ultra megawatt power plant in Gujarat, the Ouranya Bay residential complex in Chennai, Leighton Welspun’s underwater oil and gas pipelines in the Indian Ocean, the Hyatt Andaz Hotel in New Delhi, production plants in multiple locations for Dalmia Cement, mobile offshore oil and gas production units for Mercator Projects, and several commercial and residential projects for Godrej Properties.
Can you talk about Aconex’s mobile O&M solution that enables owners and their facility management teams to dynamically manage asset information in the secure cloud?
Today, many owners and their facility management teams are managing asset information on paper or digitally in hierarchical file systems. It can take hours to find the information they need for day-to-day operation and maintenance. Time is money, especially when you consider that up to 75 per cent of total asset lifecycle cost is tied up in O&M. Also, asset information tends to be stored on premise and is therefore subject to damage or loss in the event of natural disasters and other unforeseen circumstances. Dynamic Manuals is the newest member of our suite of products for handover from construction to operation. It’s a Windows tablet-based, mobile solution that enables facility management teams to read bar codes or QR codes on assets and immediately access and update the information on those assets. The information is stored and managed dynamically on the Aconex SaaS collaboration platform, secure and safe from loss.