Here’s how digitisation can lead to successful project completion

Here’s how digitisation can lead to successful project completion

The march of technology is both transformative and irrepressible. And the construction and infrastructure sectors have little option but to get with the program (quite literally) owing to the increasing complexity and time constraints related to projects....

The march of technology is both transformative and irrepressible. And the construction and infrastructure sectors have little option but to get with the program (quite literally) owing to the increasing complexity and time constraints related to projects.Why technology and construction software?We are living in a world of 5G technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). And the need of the hour worldwide is to have information at our fingertips that is accurate, safe and easily accessible at the click of button. “Technological advancements have touched every sphere of human life and the construction industry is no exception,” says Rohini Kulkarni, Associate & BIM Manager, AECOM. She adds that client expectations are changing rapidly with the availability of technology and they are increasingly leaning towards digitisation of their assets to manage them more efficiently. “Digitisation will also provide easy access to data and performances that will put clients in an advantageous position to utilise their assets and earn value for every penny invested in building/maintaining it.” She further says that for the clients and the industry, BIM is the primary tool to virtualise functioning assets so that digitised data can be assessed, redesigned and refurbished to achieve optimal performance and output of assets. At every stage, by digitising their assets, clients have more control and get transparency over directing their O&Ms of assets to provide optimal performance.“We use BIM solutions for most of our current projects within the company, be it commercial or residential buildings, for healthcare, data centres, airports, metro projects, high-speed trains, water treatment plants, power transmission lines, solar plants, roads and runways, railways and several others,” says Dr Amarnath CB, Head-BIM Strategy, Larsen & Toubro and President, India BIM Association. He adds that, it is good to have a design model to start with and use it for multiple simulations such as energy, safety, structural, etc. To ensure proper planning, manpower management, procurement, safety and risk-assessments, quality control, and cash-flow analysis without digital means is challenging in the traditional approach. And this is where adoption of BIM comes in. “BIM can be linked to manage time and cost, run simulations, construction logistics planning, safety and quality control and cash-flow analysis. BIM with block-chain technology is used for contractual claims and dispute resolution. BIM integrated with IOT can benefit construction and facility management activitiesOver the years, construction projects have only become larger, taller, multi-use and, therefore, more complex in structural systems. A combination of large spans, heavier loads, composite materials and speedy construction has resulted in demand for intricate and iterative calculations to assess the performance of buildings in different load combinations. Code requirements to satisfy stringent building performance criteria need sophisticated linear and non-linear analysis algorithms, which cannot be handled without new technology and software, says Girish Dravid, Director, Sterling Engineering Consultancy Services. “The awareness among construction professionals that there are immense possibilities to plan, conceive, conceptualise, design, manage and construct complex structures using such powerful software has increased the penchant for extraordinary building and infrastructure ideas, resulting in a cycle of ideation and fulfilment.”In today’s world, construction software is also paramount to facilitate smooth coordination in terms of drawing and decisions. In fact, it has been used for many years, without which designing, planning and coordination would have been impossible. As Varun Raje, Director, Raje Project Management Consultant, elaborates, “There is an overlap of several issues and decisions of various team members, drawing inputs from many consultants and architects. Here, technology plays an important role in bringing all stakeholders on one platform and creating an efficient conduit of communication.” He adds how an increase in complexity in construction projects can be discussed by using an example of pile construction for which pile integrity can be evaluated by using a machine and specific software. “The pile integrity report for shore pile or foundation pile plays an important role in commencing further construction activity, such as excavation in case of shore piles or construction of pile cap above foundation piles (stage pass).”Further, India’s infrastructure and property sector is poised to grow, mainly to cater to increased demands. This calls for faster delivery of projects, some of which were not considered feasible until the recent past. To help meet the speed and demand, Abhijeet M Kulkarni, Country Director - Structures, Buro Happold Engineers India, says, “Technology will continue to play a major role in conceptualisation, design and execution of projects. At each stage of the project, a suite of software programmes and computer peripherals is put in use. Computation engineering has been at the forefront of our projects wherein we have developed in-house, add-on tools that help us deliver projects in a more efficient way.” He highlights sample tools, such as:Exchange of information between BIM and analysis modelsObtaining information from analysis tools for preparation of reportsAuto sprinklerAuto clash detection between services and between services and the structureAutomating populating connection forces onto a Revit GA from Revit and TeklaProforma for site visit report and automation of preparation of reportsChecking fabrication drawings and models.What’s more, with the surging demand to build infrastructure at a rapid pace, the capex cycle has been shrinking across sectors, exerting pressure on the construction industry to evolve with new ideas and radical thinking. Moreover, environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns, supply chain disruptions and skilled labour shortages add to the current complexity in medium to large-scale projects. To address this, Yash Pratap Singh, Partner, KPMG Assurance and Consulting Services LLP, says, “Technology adoption needs to be accelerated in end-to-end project delivery for improved certainty of outcomes. The current environment warrants quick and agile thinking, right up to the senior management. This requires stakeholders to remain digitally connected, up-to-date on project status and collaborate among themselves through common platforms to extract the maximum value from their respective domains – a clear area that’s ripe for technology.”Adopting software amid the pandemicThe pandemic has taught everyone that there is always an alternative way of doing things.“Starting from the use of virtual meetings, BIM for collaborations and coordination and VR [virtual reality] for a digital walkthrough at the design stage and moving to the use of offsite production to the use of digital twins and virtual controls during construction, multiple uses of technology-enabled tools have helped us sail through the pandemic,” says Kulkarni.Beyond software, it was difficult for the coordination of the internal support team and external teams owing to the displacement of people during lockdowns and limited connectivity. Raje recalls how a culture of connecting with teams by organising physical meetings existed earlier, which is now much simpler by using virtual technology platforms to connect with all stakeholders to take informed decisions. His firm has completed many projects in the pandemic, which include a commercial project in Mumbai that was under final finishing such as façade and finishing of internal lobbies, a factory in Gujarat and a luxurious residential project in Mumbai.Rohini Kulkarni strongly believes the pandemic scenario revealed the power of BIM technology and IT within the construction industry. It challenged engineering and construction management teams to figure out the best ways to use their handheld devices, IT software tech giants to work out Cloud-based interventions and technology to support the virtual design and construction approach. She elaborates on the major benefits of using a combination of software: “It is now easier than ever to sketch out design options using sketch tools, convey designs using PDF markups, review designs in 3D, create markups in 3D, use Cloud platforms that enable less dependency on local network drives (data transfer latency and risk of data loss) and collaborate on Cloud-based environments regardless of where the teams were located.” All these gave productivity a boost to work out and visualise virtual sequences before execution onsite. This also uncovered the benefits for construction companies on having lean teams onsite and using DfMA (design for manufacturing and assembly) solutions to spread their crew across other sites to enable fast and efficient installation/construction.Singh believes the ongoing pandemic has accentuated the need to go digital and there could be a better opportunity to carve out the role of technology in capital projects. “We have witnessed increased adoption of online dashboards to receive project updates on a single platform. This is also resulting in fixing some of the basics in the industry around progress reporting to effectively use construction software.” He adds that the pandemic has fuelled the demand for a Common Data Environment (CDE), 4 and 5-dimensional BIM to connect all stakeholders, data analytics and even drone-based monitoring and surveys owing to travel constraints.However, Dravid points out that the two years of the pandemic have not resulted in the development of significantly new software in the construction industry. “We have observed the maximum utilisation of available design and construction software in the process of project execution.” He adds that it has recently been observed that a few AI-based software development projects have been launched that will change the construction management process phenomenally. “Although the development is taking place after two years when all of us quit our offices to work from home, I am sure the need to develop such software and their conceptualisation must have begun quite early in the pandemic period.”Efficiency, no downtime and minimum reworkEffective communication is key to the successful and timely completion of projects.There are two kinds of BIM solutions – open and closed BIM. “We expect every stake vendor to ensure that they adopt the open BIM platform and inter-operably share the data among the project supply chain team,” says Dr Amarnath CB. Open BIM supports a transparent, open workflow and allows project members to participate regardless of the software tools they use. It creates a common language for widely referenced processes, allowing industry and government to procure projects with transparent commercial engagement, comparable service evaluation and assured data quality. He elaborates, “If I am dealing with a particular project, I will have a team of five to ten companies working together from planning to design to consulting to the contractor and sub-contractor, fabricators, supply chain and several others. Closed BIM solutions make it challenging for integration. Hence, open BIM is the only solution for integrated project delivery so that the data gets imported or exported between different platforms seamlessly. Among the different software applications that are used, he adds, “One of the most recognised projects with a deeper level of BIM is the Bengaluru Airport. Most airport projects are driven with BIM and some of our clients started asking for a Digital Twin and look forward to integrating for the facility maintenance activities. The high-speed train is another project where we will be using BIM. Even the Ministry of Health & family Welfare are looking at healthcare projects that are driven by BIM. This plus the projects that are being done for AAI, CPWD and other clients are already driven by BIM as a requirement in their projects.”“Establishing robust protocols of communication, methods of document control, detection and solution of problems prior to construction and use of digital twins would help the industry to move faster and reduce wastage,” says Kulkarni.In construction projects, especially in the private sector, changes are inevitable. And when changes occur, it is paramount to consult all stakeholders for their feedback. Raje takes the example of his firm’s commercial project in Mumbai (Bandra), which was delivered during the pandemic. “The erection of façade and changes in design were done simultaneously with the feedback of statutory bodies and the changing requirements of the client. Software like Sketch Up and Revit was used by the architect to discuss with all stakeholders and view changes in 3D renderings, Primavera and Microsoft Project were used to discuss schedules and the sequence of activities to plan construction and STAAD Pro was used by the designers to analyse the impact on the structure and its feasibility.”The ecosystem of capital projects relies on extensive information exchange between different partners, says Singh. Ensuring that right data reaches the right stakeholder at the right time is fundamental for collaboration and informed decision-making. “However, ‘being on same page’ has always been a challenge for geographically dispersed teams,” he believes. “Construction project software, if implemented properly, bridge in this golden thread of information, bringing transparency and data speed. Data duplication can get minimised, leading to a single source of truth. Also, ample bandwidth for the functional teams is created to focus on their core competencies (such as design excellence and procurement optimisation) rather than sifting through paper-based data and generating reports.”An ecosystem of all stakeholders signing in to access design and construction data needs to be fast, easily accessible and well organised to obtain up-to-date, accurate usable information, emphasises Rohini Kulkarni. “This storage space becomes the single source of truth for all stages and all stakeholders across the board. Common data environments like BIM 360 and Project-wise 365 Cloud applications become the backbone of any large-scale infrastructure project.” She cites the example of an ongoing construction project where design models and documentation are already published and the construction team typically consumes it to workout costs and schedules to carry out the installation of the details provided. Let’s say they find missing data or equipment that has been overridden by the manufacturer to an upgraded version; this is where the procurement team raises the query to the cost and design team to provide alternatives. “All these are marked up within the BIM 360 or Project-wise 365 cloud CDE, wherein the RFIs are raised and linked to the model and drawing specifying the equipment specification details. This will immediately provide information on missing data for the team, which can be pre-emptively dealt with to avoid delays. The RFIs stay in the systems until closed and are finally archived upon completion of the installation of the equipment.”For his part, Dravid believes collaboration and teamwork in a construction project cannot be emphasised enough, as without them no project can be fruitful and successful in terms of quality, speed and economy. “Integrated software packages – incorporating all aspects beginning with preliminary financial budgeting, feasibility studies, land records, architectural and engineering designs to project management, construction management, supervision, as-built records, quantification and actual monitoring of the project in all aspects, raising quality, progress and financial issues and addressing them online – will be a thing of the future. Such software is under development and will hit the market soon.”Need for the authorities to step in!Evidently, effective technology adoption leads to better project outcomes. With a substantial share of investment in infrastructure projects coming from the public sector, government bodies carry a larger responsibility to set up robust governance to drive software and technology implementation in both Centre and state-funded projects.Singh points out to learnings from developed countries such as the UK, Canada, Norway and Singapore, which have successfully launched policies for BIM and other technologies. “Similarly, a national-level policy in India is imperative for the required technology adoption levels by contractors, implementing agencies and consultants; be it online monitoring, BIM, scheduling software or CDE.” He additionally says such provisions need to be built in tenders and contracts for contractors and vendors and policy thinktanks should also mandate these in model contracts to be followed by PSUs/implementing agencies.Government bodies and authorities can really drive the digitisation of assets through these construction software technology stacks. “By making submittals and surveying the proposals digitised, this could be the first step towards implementing and rolling out digital transformation within the AEC sector,” says Rohini Kulkarni. “Perhaps the tools that are already available may need to be regulated in terms of licencing costs and training to popularise and mandate usage of those platforms for all transactions related to design, construction, commission, installation, operations and maintenance, including decommissioning of public and private assets.”For infrastructure projects, Raje says, “It would be preferable to use construction software that will be mentioned to be used in tenders and RFPs by government bodies and issue proposals to use some kind of software for mapping physical progress not only to the design and engineering teams but also to common people in the most simplified manner. This would be an extraordinary move by government bodies/authorities.” This would keep everyone informed about progress in real time.Kulkarni feels that a push from the authorities would definitely help. Even more, it would be speed and growth demand that will necessitate the use of technology. Adoption of digital twins, use of VR tools, remote progress monitoring of sites, use of probes for monitoring air quality (during construction and operation) and dashboarding could be implemented in projects.Dr Amarnath is certain that mandating a technology under any policy is unreasonable. “Several initiatives are being driven by India BIM Association today. Dr Amarnath is co-chairing the panel on BIM & Digital Techniques at Bureau of Indian Standards. It is an initiative to develop National BIM Standards that supports standardisation of BIM implementation in India’s building and infrastructure projects. During the standardisation, we are clear on having open BIM, because we want it to benefit the clients resulting in better return on investments.” Having defined BIM as ‘Better Information Management’, the government agencies in a few countries are paving the road for using OpenBIM standards on building and infrastructure projects in Europe and American regions. For example, Norway has been a partner in the development of OpenBIM standards and has worked with the 3D part of BIM on public projects for at least a decade.Upskilling teams for digitalisationThe construction landscape has been changing and capital projects will look and operate fundamentally differently in five to 10 years. Therefore, the workforce engaged in construction projects needs to be future-ready.“Starting with the basics, the higher education system (colleges, universities) should emphasise digitalisation as a core skill to thrive in the construction industry,” says Singh. “While organisations hire digital-ready candidates, the existing staff also needs to undergo rigorous training programmes and a constant refresher on new technologies, especially for project engineering, planning and control, and advanced analytics. Software OEMs should also drive training campaigns and webinars to commoditise technology that is more outcome-oriented.”Rohini Kulkarni believes ease of availability of training and awareness of toolkits, workflows and digital methodologies will help spread necessary skills. “The syllabus within educational institutions needs to be reviewed for alignment with industry/technological advancements and academia,” she says, further emphasising that we need awareness workshops for all levels within an organisation and within academia so that the digital way of working becomes next to second nature.Standardisation of processes, interoperability across software packages and compatibility of software for linking output from one package as input for another, irrespective of the software-developing entities, are some target issues to be addressed for large-scale digitisation and ensuring integrated management of projects through the use of construction software. “Recourse to AI algorithms and cognitive data sourcing will be a big step in this process,” says Dravid.All considered, the use of construction software for planning and resource allocation is incredibly beneficial to make informed decisions for all stakeholders, including clients and project teams. “The owner should encourage training programmes so team members can contribute towards their role in a more efficient manner by the interpretations of results developed by construction software,” says Raje. “It would be appreciated if project owners organise small workshops as training programmes for interpretation and use of software.”Skill building needs to be a focus in the universities, emphasises Dr Amarnath, adding that money needs to be spent towards getting the right education for the students. “This challenge needs to be handled properly, curriculum revisions need to be done.” In foreign universities, the curriculum is revised each semester as per the latest updates, unlike the India scenario where it takes years. This results into half the undergrads migrating to other countries to survive better. He suggests, “There is a need to recruit professors skilled at BIM and digitalisation in each of the universities. They need to have a stronger integration and collaboration with the industry, and not just with technology vendors who provide free licenses for training. They need to observe the curriculum that the foreign universities have designed. Many consider India to be a BIM factory where they should be learning software.” The expertise in BIM and Digital is available, most software developments are done globally by the Indian teams, there is R&D being done by them in more than 50 countries. This manpower from India should be utilised to build the required skills and competencies to drive digital transformation within the country.We couldn’t agree more!Popular softwareWe asked experts about their preferred software and how these have helped in successful project completion – in design, construction and operations.Abhijeet M Kulkarni, Country Director – Structures, Buro Happold Engineers India, responds with this list:Structural analysis programmes such as ETABS, Robot, Staad Pro, SAP, IdeaStatica, and Strand 7BIM tools such as Revit and TeklaMEP design software such as IGSComputation engineering tools developed using RhinoAir-quality monitoring probes and toolsInhouse tools for assessment of embodied and operational carbonAccording to Rohini Kulkarni, Associate & BIM Manager, AECOM, “The Bentley software technology stack performs best and for vertical type of infrastructure, the Autodesk technology stack provides excellent design, construction and operations support. For CDEs within the Bentley space, it is Project-wise 365 and for Autodesk it is BIM 360, which are now part bundles of tools that work within their environments seamlessly. The same cannot be said when it comes to cross-environments. As the CDEs are Cloud-hosted, accessing the information via handheld devices becomes easy regardless of the location the data is being accessed from. As both these platforms enable information management principles from ISO 19650, it becomes easier to onboard and manage data being created right from the concept through to the construction, installation, operations and maintenance phases.”For his part, Girish Dravid, Director, Sterling Engineering Consultancy Services, says, “As structural engineers, we predominantly use structural analysis and design packages, which contribute to a small part of the overall construction process. However, the software we use is extremely important for the safety, stability, sustainability and durability of structures. Popular software includes ETABS, STAAD, Revit, AutoCAD, Tekla, SAP, RCDC, Rhino, and a few others.”And Varun Raje, Director, Raje Project Management Consultant, shares, “We are using Microsoft Project and Primavera for planning, resource allocation and budgeting in project management. We have been using ZWCAD for drafting and detailing purposes. For design, we have been using ETABS, STAAD, Safe and RCDC. We are also using the Lidar Scanner, a machine that scans the building and develops drawings converted into a digital format. It is so efficient that it captures each and every element of a completed building elevation, internal piping or complex arrangement, and we generate detailed drawings, which further enables the design team to make any changes or address any modification issues. This is new software and highly advanced equipment that barely anyone has introduced. We have used it to map entire steel structures with complex pipe racks and cable trays of industrial plants, as well as for detailed drawing preparation of heritage structures. We have used this software for developing the elevation drawing for Rashtrapati Bhavan.Overcoming challengesAny new software or technology comes with the risk of disruption.As Yash Pratap Singh, Partner, KPMG Assurance and Consulting Services LLP, observes, “There is inertia to accept new technologies among a few owners and contractors’ organisations and even government departments. This is mainly owing to the perceived change management efforts at the user level and the software RoI dilemma at the management level, which tends to outweigh the benefits the software/new technology may bring.” Thus, a technology-oriented mindset should be inculcated at the helm of organisational leadership to enable digital thinking, and the rest will follow.In the opinion of Rohini Kulkarni, Associate & BIM Manager, AECOM, “Availability of skilled specialists and increased licensing costs seem to be the biggest challenge and reason why many domains and overall adoption of construction software are still lagging behind.” She adds that the buildings domain has been using such software a lot and BIM implementation and successful completion in this domain has been successful. For large infrastructure projects, like rail and roads, adoption has been slow and steady. In the next 10 years, the outlook seems positive as there is increasing requirement from the Government to provide a digitised set of assets for sanctions and approvals. This will enable even the linear infrastructure domain to make the same kind of progress that the building domain has already achieved.

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