Aconex is the world’s largest provider of project collaboration solutions to the construction and engineering industries. Andy Lake, General Manager – Asia, Aconex, in an email interaction with Sandeep Menezes, talks about the potential of online collaboration systems in construction and infrastructure projects in India
Would you agree that project teams are becoming more dispersed leading to major communication challenges?
Across all industries, technology has reduced barriers to operating internationally and construction is no exception.
Most projects in India these days will involve companies based in several cities. And on larger projects, whether high-end commercial developments or complex infrastructure programmes, it’s now routine to be working with companies from around the world.
The Delhi Airport T3 project is a great example of this. There were more than 70 organisations engaged on the project and 45 of these firms were based outside of India, in locations as far apart as London, Dubai, Singapore and Sydney.
For project managers, maintaining visibility over the flow of information and communication between parties becomes a lot more difficult.
This is something projects need to get right. A recent study found that 66 per cent of construction problems were caused by poor information management or team communication.
Complex projects have led to enormous volume of data. How can project managers identify bottlenecks through all this data?
Even five years ago, the volume of data in the construction industry was relatively small compared to what exists on a project today. Again, technology and software advances have made it easier than ever to produce and exchange information.
Even on a mid-sized project, typically more than 100,000 drawings, documents and correspondence items will be created and exchanged between team members. On a major infrastructure or commercial development, this number can easily top 500,000.
The volume of this data creates more challenges for project managers: Can my team quickly access the information they need? Can I identify bottlenecks in the drawing review process? Which RFIs are outstanding and holding us up? Failure to answer these questions can lead to costly delays.
Tell us about the limitations of many commonly-used tools that make the task of managing project communication even more difficult?
Commonly-used tools for managing project communication, including hard copies, email and shared drives, were designed for single companies, rather than the multi-party project environment.
Using these tools on projects often results in companies becoming silos where project members find it difficult to access, distribute and track information.
Email is particularly unsuitable for construction projects. Its restrictions on file sizes, the lack of certainty over delivery, and the lack of an audit trail are just a few things that make it impractical for the industry’s requirements.
Mr. Yadav, Vice President (Legal & Commercial) at Delhi Airport Metro Express Ltd, highlighted this when saying, “Most of our approvals involve multiple parties modifying documents. We have large attachments and, with email, people soon lose track of changes. There is no record of what’s happened and why, and this can lead to issues with consultants.”
Globally, the uptake of project collaboration systems has increased rapidly in recent years.
Uptake of online collaboration systems in India more than doubled last year. Why the rapid growth? A lot of the issues we’ve discussed so far, managing large volumes of information, holding team members accountable by being able to track information, and linking dispersed project teams, can all be more easily managed by using an online collaboration platform.
These web-based systems allow the entire project team to access, distribute, track and store their documents and correspondence using a single platform.
When using a collaboration system, project members can securely login and quickly retrieve their files and mails using a search engine. Documents of any size can be transmitted online to other project members, complete with the audit trail of any revisions and decisions.
The results is time savings by team members having fast access to information; reduced printing, storage and distribution costs; and more control over risks such as information loss, disputes and delays.
India has always been a very cost conscious market. How is the penetration of project collaboration in India vis-à-vis other nations?
The Indian market is, indeed, cost conscious but it also recognises value. If used to its full potential, it’s possible for our clients to save 4-8 per cent of their project’s value through direct cost savings, improved efficiency and risk management. Regardless of project size, this represents a significant return.
Our commercial model works very well in India. Typically, a lead organisation will pay a fee then all the companies involved in the project have equal access to the system – unlimited users, unlimited data storage and unlimited helpdesk support.
This is unusual, as most software companies charge for licenses, data and training. They also give more control to the paying client. However, we have seen over the years that, the fewer restrictions, the more likely the project team is to use the system. In fact, we see 11- times higher adoption of our system compared to some of our main competitors. This helps to ensure clients are getting the maximum value from their investment.
The vast hinterland of Rural India wherein major infrastructure projects are being executed does not even have basic telecom connectivity. How can such project collaboration systems penetrate inaccessible areas?
We find that, more of than not, even on highly remote infrastructure projects, there is still adequate internet access. We’re servicing a few projects, particularly power plants, where I’ve had to drive for about six hours along dirt roads to reach the project site.
If internet is intermittent, we have technology solutions, where information is held on servers in the project office, then backs up to the Aconex platform on ‘the cloud’ when there’s a connection.
In the cases where there’s simply no internet access at the project site, sometimes companies are still interested in using a collaboration platform, as the project is being run out of a central office.
As the world’s largest provider of online collaboration solutions, what is your experience in India?
We’ve been operating in India for six years now and it’s an exciting market for us. The growing construction sector combined with willingness to adopt new technologies makes it a great fit for our business.
A key for us has been getting some strong reference clients and projects to help build out business. Servicing landmark projects such as Mumbai Metro, Delhi Airport T3 and Mundra UMPP has helped open doors.
What is the current and future estimated market- size for online collaboration solutions in India? How much of this market will Aconex be able to secure?
Currently, less than 10 per cent of projects in India use a collaboration system; however, in markets such as America and the UK, this figure exceeds 50 per cent. Now that famous Indian companies such as L&T, Reliance, BG India and Tata Power are using the technology, we expect this market to quickly reach similar levels.
Of the projects in India that do use a collaboration system, the vast majority use Aconex. So we aim to maintain this leadership position as the market develops.