Cutting the paper chase

How collaboration technology is helping companies across the world deliver the region's mega projects.

COMMENT, Projects

The client is based in Dubai, the architect is in the UK, the engineers are in Europe and the consultants are in the US, Hong Kong and Australia. Sound familiar?

This international project team is virtually the norm on mega projects in the Gulf region. The up-side of this fusion is that the world's most skilled, specialised organisations are often working together, each bringing their own unique perspective and expertise. The challenge this presents, however, is how to effectively and efficiently collaborate when project teams are spanning the world.

Documents and correspondence items are essentially the lifeblood of a project, and the consequences of not controlling the information can be high.

Collaboration and teamwork in the construction industry is at the core of a successful project. In the past, project team members, even those located internationally would meet in person at various stages of the project. Although this helps build relationships, it soon becomes inefficient in terms of time and money.

The challenge today is greater than ever,due to the industry's globalisation and the sheer volume of information that flows between team members. Developments such as Dubai Metro or Yas Island in Abu Dhabi will typically generate more than a million documents and correspondence items a year that will need to be shared between hundreds of organisations, based across several countries. And this information needs to go to the right people, in the right form and at the right time, to support on-time, on-budget delivery.

Traditional methods of project communication, such as paper documents, CDs, couriers, filing cabinets, FTP sites and email are not sophisticated enough for global mega projects. These methods are unstructured, expensive, manual-intensive and can lead to each organisation becoming an isolated island of information - which becomes a real problem when the required information is based in another country.

Documents and correspondence items are essentially the lifeblood of a project, and the consequences of not controlling the information can be high. Late, inaccurate or lost documents are often the primary contributor to delays, disputes and quality issues. The ultimate outcome of this is that organisations can be exposed to the macro risks of financial loss, reputation damage and even litigation.

Thanks to the internet, controlling data and collaborating on projects has become easier and there is less need for participants to relocate to the physical project site. Online collaboration solutions are increasingly being used as a solution to control the information flow, link dispersed organisations and enable team members to collaborate in real time.

Online collaboration solutions allow project teams to store and manage their information online using one secure, central platform. This enables authorised team members to instantly view, track and distribute their documents and correspondence items from any location and at any time.

When information is stored, team members can search for their data using criteria such as date ranges, sender and recipient details, document types, status and keywords. Documents can then be distributed electronically via the system; saving time and saving the cost of printing, postage and storage.

A key feature of online collaboration solutions is the audit trail that keeps a record of document revisions and the ‘who did what and when' on a project. The trail provides a secure archive of every transaction since the beginning of the project, including every document revision, effectively eliminating the risk of losing important data.

When a document is superseded, a notification is sent out to all parties that have earlier document versions, and the latest file becomes the default version available on the system. This ensures that all parties are working from the latest, most accurate information, reducing the risk of quality issues and reworks.

Particularly beneficial when working with international organisations, project team members, from wherever they are in the world, can meet online and view, discuss and mark up drawings electronically in real time. This significantly speeds up the flow of information and streamlines the collaboration process.

Approximately 15% of projects in the Gulf region are using an online collaboration solution to help deliver their projects. Global uptake has doubled each year for the past five years and more than 40% of projects in the UK and US are using these systems. This uptake shows no sign of slowing. As more and more mega projects are being developed across the Gulf, the need for a centralised platform for controlling information that links the project team will only increase.

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