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Is the GCC embracing project management tech?

Lack of awareness – not cost concerns – are delaying the adoption of project management software

Adept’s software was used on Sarooj’s Oman projects.
Adept’s software was used on Sarooj’s Oman projects.

Project management software systems have come a long way since their inception in the 1950s. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software dominates modern-day construction activities, and the Middle East’s project management segment appears to be catching up with its global counterparts.

In October 2015, Conject, a manufacturer of cloud software for the life management of built assets, announced that its ConjectPC application had been selected to support the delivery of the Reem Mall development in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The $1bn (AED3.67bn) project is being developed by National Real Estate Company (NREC) in partnership with United Projects for Aviation Services Company (UPAC).

Reem Mall’s developers will utilise the integrated document and commercial management capabilities of ConjectPC to support collaboration, efficiency, and supply chain performance throughout the project’s construction schedule.

Stuart Ingram, director of development for the Reem Mall project, said: “Reem Mall is one of the largest projects ever undertaken by the partners, and as such, we must make sure that we have the right technology in place to support its delivery.

“The ConjectPC system combines the integrated document and commercial management capabilities that we require with a user-friendly platform,” he added.

Reem Mall’s adoption of the project management software makes it one of the few regional developments to utilise such technology, but industry experts believe there is a long way to go before the practice becomes commonplace.

Sreejith Gopinath, general manager for Adept Business Solutions in Dubai, tells Construction Week that some firms display a reluctance towards the adoption of project management software due to concerns relating to the technology’s cost.

“In the context of any sector, professionals working on manual tools, such as Microsoft Excel, will find it difficult to migrate to ERP,” he explains.

“We’ve found that construction companies in the UAE are more inclined towards using customised and flexible solutions that are available locally. They prefer these to international products, which cost around 30% to 40% more.”

Having previously worked with Oman’s Sarooj Construction and the UAE’s Imdaad, Adept’s portfolio includes Sage 300 ERP, for which the company acts as the authorised local dealer.

Sage 300 ERP’s information reports, Gopinath explains, can be modified based on how much information a project contractor requires.

The most common reports contractors demand cover project profit and loss (P&L) and ledger stock. These reports indicate a prioritisation of data required by contractors, which on low-cost projects, might well double up as project managers too.

Vivek Balakrishnan, business development manager at Coral Business Solutions, says the information provided by high-quality project management software during the initial stages of construction will cover five key areas, which are of significance to the entire development team.

“Man, material, labour, equipment, and sub-contracts or overheads: these are the five dimensions within which the project’s expenditure that will be accounted for,” he tells Construction Week, adding that quality and quantity control within these parameters is of significance to contractors and project managers alike.

Certain project management software systems, such as Coral’s RealSoft Contracting, even offer cross-platform collaboration. Balakrishnan says this paves the way for project management technology to form a larger part of building information modelling (BIM) programmes.

Although in agreement with Gopinath in terms of the industry’s price sensitivity for such technologies, Balakrishnan is unwilling to attribute cost as the only roadblock towards greater regional uptake of project management software.

“The problem is that information technology (IT) hasn’t [significantly] penetrated the construction sector yet, and IT adoption is at a very infant stage,” he asserts. “Barring major organisations, some mid- and low-segment companies use Excel and stand-alone accounting systems – instead of integrated technology – for their jobs.

“[Companies are] not aware of the benefits that integrated solutions offer. Cost is indeed one factor, but that’s because their perspective is different. Ideally, if a contracting firm is working on a $100,000 project, then 1% of that for IT won’t be a big amount [to spend].”

It is also likely that construction firms are slow adopters of integrated technology and systems due to lack of initiative, he continues. “Cost is actually not a problem, if you do the math,” Balakrishnan concludes.

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