IT is the way to construct

From micro project management to designing, the entire construction process can take place virtually thanks to the number of advanced IT software programmes that are now available to architects and contractors in the market.

ANALYSIS, Design

From micro project management to designing, the entire construction process can take place virtually thanks to the number of advanced IT software programmes that are now available to architects and contractors in the market.

Short of hammering in a nail, IT software can do everything else on a construction site.

From designing, budgeting, to estimating and accounting, analysing date to forecasting future trends, every process can be done with construction-related software.

In the UAE when there is a dispute, a faxed copy is not admissible in a court of law, so how can an email be accepted?

Contractors who integrate construction software into their daily work flows save time and money on everyday tasks such as bidding and contracting, gain better insight into their company's cash flow and in general, stay ahead of their competition.

In the future, experts feel that the construction industry, like so many others, will be dominated by wireless networks, allowing contractors to work from multiple locations.

The wants of the consumer will change and ultimately shape the market for new products, such as the current high demand for "green" products.

A majority of construction projects use management systems such as Aconex, a web-based service that manages information and work processes; Conject, an infrastructure lifecycle management system or Ez Business System, an end to end solution for construction companies.

Davis Langdon, a Bahrain-based project management firm, has used Aconex on the Reef Island scheme in Bahrain since mid-2006, and the programme now have more than 30 organisations and 300 users.

"All construction sites need to use some kind of IT software as a project of a small size can generate up to 500,000 documents and close to a million emails in its life cycle. An IT management software is crucial for the mega projects which the Middle East has become famous for. It basically replaces paper documentation," says Aconex marketing manager Will Turbet.


But in the Middle East, a completely paperless construction process might not become a reality just yet.

"In the UAE when there is a dispute, a faxed copy is not admissible in a court of law, so how can an email be accepted? In countries such as the US, emails can be used as evidence in a court of law. For it to fly in our region, there have to be different regulations and a legal system in place," says Bassam A. Samman, CEO and founder, CMCS.

In the region, where transactions over the Internet are still a rarity, Samman feels that only a complete change in people's minds will bring a total acceptance of IT technology.

All construction sites need to use some kind of IT software as a project of a small size can generate up to 500,000 documents and close to a million emails in its life-cycle.

Primavera software dominates the market in the project management segment of the construction industry.

"Ninety percent of projects in the UAE use Primavera. The drawing aspect is taken care of by AutoCAD software. A number of project managers use Prima contract manager, MS office, or heavier applications such as Oracle. It depends on the level of investment you want to put into a project," says Samman.

Spencer Wylie, director of Davis Langdon Bahrain, says that in the current electronic age, IT software is crucial to the running of its business and complicated programs will not survive in the long run.

"One of the main criteria as a project management firm for choosing software programs is ease of use. Systems must be easy to implement to achieve real benefits for our people. Complicated, detailed processes that need significant amounts of training, do not add real value in the services we provide," says Wylie.

Companies such as EZware Technology, a UAE-based software development firm, find a peculiar, but common problem running through UAE market.

"By the time we are ready to implement the software, the person we dealt with initially who defined the requirements has quit, or when we are implementing a particular module he is away on holiday," says Shabbir Zirapury, managing director of EZware Technology.


Another challenge in the market is the difficulty in dealing with customers who are usually not aware of the product and don't have patience with the time and effort it takes to implement it.

"As a solution provider we have to price the software after taking into account risk factors such as time delays. The scenario will improve once the users are educated about the process and use of the software. This will make them more lenient with the next solution provider and give them room to make their own decisions," says Zirapury.

The concept of BIM (Building Information Modelling) works on the theory that if every piece of data required to design and construct a project were entered and developed within a single integrated system, the project would be constructed in the virtual world first.

The system could create dependable 3-D models and add additional fourth and fifth dimensions of schedule and cost. Attaching cost estimates to various design and schedule options will allow the team to do cost-time-benefit analysis of different designs and construction sequences, almost instantaneously.

"Usually the beginning of a project starts with a conceptual sketch which can very often be on pencil and paper. Then you have two parallel processes happening at the same time: 2-D drafting which is primarily done in AutoCAD and the other is the creation of 3D rendered images that are done on a variety of softwares. Unfortunately this is the standard work flow here in the Middle East," says Rhiannon Kelso, manager of atOne.

Construction firms who only request 2-D drawings on the construction site drag BIM using architectural firms backwards.

According to Kelso, the VICO software solution her company represents in Bahrain, offers 5-D technology. "It essentially takes BIM and adds two more dimensions to it; time (4-D) and cost (5-D). Quantities from the BIM are used to automatically drive a location based estimate and location based schedule. The VICO solution intelligently links those two dimensions into a 3-D model to produce a 5-D project simulation."

One site VICO is currently being used is at the Aldar Laing O'Rourke joint venture on the Al Raha Beach development in Abu Dhabi.

"The problem is that even when an architect designs in 3-D, as soon as the design process is complete, it goes into reverse by publishing everything in 2-D so that the contractors and construction companies can use it on site. It's time for contractors to request 3D models and realise the power of the BIM by using VICO for integrated estimating and scheduling. The results of utilising 5-D virtual construction are extremely powerful," she says.

"If a construction schedule is drawn up based on 2-D drawings, using a Gantt chart software such as Primavera, the construction tasks will not be intelligently driven (using BIM locations, quantities and resource productivities) or electronically linked with a BIM. Unfortunately the result, using this traditional process, is a schedule which takes longer to produce and is not as accurate."


Even within the architecture field, drafting is done in 2-D and the rendering is done in 3-D.

"So if someone makes a change to 3-D rendering and they forget to make that change to the 2-D drawing, you essentially have a model and a drawing that conflict with one another."

"It's the same if you use something as primitive as Microsoft Excel to monitor the budget of the construction process, as there will be zero link between the drawings and the materials, labour and machinery required to construct the building. These systems carry the requirement for an amazing amount of rework."

If a construction estimate and/or schedule are directly linked to a 3-D model, even if the construction process is underway and some changes are made to the 3-D model, the integrated system will automatically update the changes in cost and time.

The result is a completely connected and always up to date 5-D model for distribution to the client and project team.

"So for example, if you are going to add five more floors to your building model the system will recalculate the bill of quantities and provide instant feedback on the cost and time frame, because of how intelligently the estimate and schedule are linked to every object in the building model," says Kelso.

The main purpose of 5-D technology is to make mid-level resources more productive, virtually eliminate rework and provide the level detail required to track a project in a communicable form.

"Very often the solution in the Middle East is to throw low level human resources at construction problems, as opposed to cutting waste in the process and making mid-level resources more productive. So there has to be a fundamental change within the construction industry in the Middle East," says Kelso.

The construction industry is plagued with abundant waste. According to The Economist magazine, 30% of the construction process is rework, 60% of labour effort is wasted and 10% of loss is due to materials wasted. The future of the industry lies in embracing Virtual Construction software that can eliminate this waste by getting the 5-D plan correct by virtually constructing the building, in 3-D, 4-D and 5-D, prior to even starting on-site.

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