CW explores the key look-for's in design, estimation and control solutions aimed at cutting costs in a competitive construction environment.
Not for nothing is application software that facilitates a certain task called a solution. It can help construction companies tide over downturns as well as progress during market upswings.
'We penetrated the market during the downturn, working with construction companies to establish tight control on costs and cash flows, to improve margins, to avail information in real-time, to improve decision-making and to cut their losses and maximise gains in a challenging market environment,' says Alex Mathew, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Construction Computer Software. 'Now that the construction industry is picking up, we will tap opportunities in companies entering a new phase of growth.'
Demand for construction software is being driven by growing awareness of the utility of automation, in general, says Priya Nevagi, Executive Director, Newton India. 'Trimble has seen a continual rise in the use of software across the build-design-operate lifecycle to reduce project costs and achieve timely completion of projects with minimal errors; as well as deployment of cutting-edge mobility and collaboration tools that streamline communication and collaboration from planning up until the completion of the project,' says Paul Wallett, Regional Director for India and Middle East, Trimble Solutions.
Who's using IT?
Within the construction and allied industries, which segments are most likely to deploy information technology?
Nevagi identifies the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act reform as presenting the biggest opportunity. 'Among realty developers, the fact that they have to submit engineer's certificate at every step before withdrawing money from their accounts for their projects is especially spurring demand for construction estimation software,' she notes.
'The heavy civil engineering (infrastructure and buildings), EPC and real estate domains remain our key markets,' Vinay Chaubey, General Manager (India), Algorithms Software. 'We also see a significant opportunity for Xpedeon in the ETO (Engineer to Order) projects-based space. Examples would be companies engaged in projects for non-conventional energy sources, HVAC, etc.'
Link design with estimation
Think of building design software and a variety of modelling solutions come to mind. A step up in modelling is to introduce quantification capabilities. 'If you cannot measure design, you cannot control it, hence the quantification of work is crucial,' says Mathew.
How this works is an estimation solution will integrate with the modelling software, automatically read the 2D drawings and 3D models, and generate quantity take-offs, better known as Bill of Quantities (BOQ).
Many estimation solutions exist in the market. Estimation software such as Candy helps to take off the BOQ from Autocad drawings (also from 2D, 3D, PDF and image files), making it a key tool for quantity survey engineers engaged in preparing tenders, says Sunil Vishwakarma, AGM Planning, Tata Projects.
Autoscan and Autosteel from Newton India can read working drawings and RCC drawings and schedules, and generate a BOQ estimation in excel format, steel quantities defined as bar cutting lengths and the bar bending schedule, says Nevagi. Automated estimation brings many advantages, including speedy operations and cost control. 'Automated estimates generated by Autosteel can minimise the wastage of steel,' says Nevagi.
'Since Autosteel provides developers with the exact steel lengths and numbers they need, it is most helpful for those ordering cut steel,' observes Ashok Nahar, Partner, AR Constructions.
'Even if you prefer to buy uncut steel, estimation software is helpful to cross check cross material requisition needs; it is a great planning tool.
'Using estimation software (Autoscan Autosteel) to automatically extract the bill of quantities from the Autocad drawings of buildings is a great time-saver, it takes less than one tenth the time of manual estimation, says Chetan Shah, IT Head, Bakeri Group.
With estimation software, changes to the design automatically get reflected in the BOQ. 'This is helpful to adjust designs to arrive at optimum quantities,' says Shah.
Look for's in estimation software
Whereas the modelling solution will typically be used by the architect and engineer, it is helpful if the quantification assessment can be done by a non design professional, suggests Mathew.
It is also helpful if the BOQ is generated in a format that users are familiar with. 'The front end of Candy software looks like an excel and thus makes itself familiar almost immediately to any new user. Secondly, the BOQ comes in an excel format and Candy also has the facility to directly upload an existing excel format (BOQ) into the system (which makes migrating to Candy easy),' observes Sandeep Desai, Executive Vice President (former), IT & Information Process Group, Afcons Infrastructure.
Manage activities from end-to-end
Once construction gets underway, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software helps manage and control resources and activities on-site and in the head office, by bringing everything on one platform.
Quicker financial cost closures and reporting, availability of live cost control information, comprehensive control over variations (whether client or subcontractor), and robust process controls are the key benefits of Xpedeon, says Chaubey.
'Additionally, solutions that manage the complexities involved in managing compliance can help companies avoid statutory penalties.'
'Construction ERPs such as Newton's Simplify ERP help builders and developers take up a greater number of projects simultaneously,' says Nevagi. Given that the construction industry faces greater manpower turnover than other industries, having a system in place, makes people transitions smoother and easier,'she says.
Look-for's in a construction ERP
Some modules to look out for in ERP software are a site management module, end to end sales management module, building maintenance module, and a human resource and payroll module.
The ideal scenario is to link the estimation solution with the ERP solution. For instance, the combination of Candy and Buildsmart helps manage construction from end-to-end, says Vishwakarma, with Candy enabling accurate estimation and Buildsmart capturing the actual cost of construction for comparison and control purposes.
It helps to have a highly configurable solution like Xpedeon, with industry specific requirements available out of the box. 'Also, a solution like ours that is easy to use and does not require extensive training and expertise is preferred. Our focus is to help our customers perform their work quicker with a simplified end-user experience,' adds Chaubey.
Speed and simplicity with enhanced functionality are clearly the way to go.
Demand driver for software: Growing awareness of utility of automation.
Advantages of automated estimation: Cost control and speedy operations.
Modules in ERP: Site management, sales management, land and legal, building maintenance, and a human resource and payroll modules.
Solutions can facilitate collaboration between construction stakeholders
Collaboration is the key to success in any construction project, given the multiple stakeholders involved in the project lifecycle. Collaboration brings in transparency, which helps reduce risk for all parties involved, which produces better outcomes, overall ROI, and profits.
Kirby Building Systems, a global leader in pre-engineered steel buildings, has chosen Tekla Structures as its software partner, and Raj Sekhar, Director-Engineering, Kirby Building Systems India, says, 'The collaborative and informative Tekla BIM software allows for a greater cooperation and efficiency in the process of the project.'
Another solution, Trimble Connect, is a cloud-based collaboration platform that empowers teams involved in the design, construction and operation of buildings to come together under one umbrella. It creates communities of collaboration across and within disciplines, integrating data not only from its own wide varieties of applications and devices, but also non-Trimble apps and devices.
Handhelds for anytime, anywhere management
Companies are no longer interested in large complex systems that are difficult and expensive to maintain across the organisation, observes Vinay Chaubey, General Manager (India), Algorithms Software. Most users are now looking for solutions that are as intuitive and available as standard apps on mobile devices.
Companies in the infra space still contend with poor connectivity at project locations. A key look-for in a construction solution is an app for tablets and mobile devices with the ability to work offline and sync with the core enterprise application when network connectivity becomes available, explains Chaubey.
Xpedeon On-The-Go is one such app. It facilitates and speeds up approvals. It enables managers to review 'live' business information at the project or company-level through dashboards and identify potential issues early on.
Using handhelds to plan and monitor construction is the future of the construction industry, agrees Alex Mathew, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Construction Computer Software. We offer BuildSmart (advanced cost control system) and a procurement facility on mobile.
Don't just model a building, make it constructible too
As buildings are becoming increasingly complex, constructibility is emerging as the key to success in efficient and timely completion of buildings. BIM as a process that encapsulates the entire construction workflow that has often been used to make the construction process run smoothly from a design perspective but the 3D model needs to be detailed enough to ensure its constructibility and that suggests the ability to handle huge volumes of data.
'The amount of data in a construction project is immense, and the data flow is bound to only increase in the future. This will call for open BIM solutions such as Trimble's constructible BIM that can handle really large models,' says Paul Wallett, Regional Director for India and Middle East, Trimble Solutions. Trimble owns popular BIM-enabled 3D brands such as SketchUp, Tekla and Vico office that are widely used in the construction eco-system for 3D design, modelling, scheduling and estimation.
'The wealth of information in the highly detailed, constructible Tekla model boosts the pre-engineered buildings construction process and will lead to a higher client satisfaction,' observes Raj Sekhar, Director-Engineering, Kirby Building Systems India, a global leader in pre-engineered buildings and a premier client of Tekla Structures for being best suited for Kirby's requirements.
Control costs upfront
Costing is typically understood to involve a comparison between budgeted and actual costs. However, the right solution can enable the 'upfront control of costs', which in effect means controlling costs before the actual spending, explains Alex Mathew, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Construction Computer Software. Project management solution Candy's 'shopping list' enables the upfront control of costs.
Candy generates estimates after the engineering phase of works, and thereafter curbs material procurement errors by imposing order restrictions and generating red flags for variances between tender and ordering quantities. It also issues allowable amounts to the contract teams or sub-contractors.
- CHARU BAHRI
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