From planning to construction, architecture is more than designing buildings. With many multidisciplinary actors involved and the continuous flow of images, plans, and files, any project is also about managing large amounts of information. Because architects usually have tight deadlines – having to complete a certain number of buildings in a specific time frame – data must be managed productively and efficiently. However, as construction projects and delivery methods continue to increase in complexity, managing information has become more difficult than ever. And with the COVID-19 pandemic added to the mix, architecture firms now have a remote workforce which impacts how and where employees access information. Therefore, in order to ensure effective project delivery, the challenge lies in successfully managing project information.
With this in mind, Newforma and Dodge Data & Analytics conducted a study where architectural and engineering firms (A&E) identified current challenges, future direction, and plans for technology investments. Collecting anonymous responses from 220 architectural and engineering firm participants, the survey highlights the need for these companies to adopt a flexible and agile approach to managing information in today’s complex project delivery environment. With these insights, A&E firms are able to identify opportunities for improvement and crucial factors to consider when developing a Project Information Management strategy.
The challenges of inefficient project information management
Clearly, not managing information properly can be very risky in project-based industries like architecture and engineering, which is why it is important to first identify all the obstacles involved. Some of these key factors that contribute to the difficulty of managing information include the following: exponential growth in the volume of data, increased number of applications generating new project data, and multiplied options for data storage.
More precisely, when asked about the top three challenges, 75% of A&E companies that participated in the study claimed to struggle with manual administrative tasks associated with moving data between systems. While many (56%) are challenged with processes and systems that make it difficult to share information with external team members, 47% of respondents report problems with document version control, and 43% cannot track the status of items outside their organization. At the same time, finding information needed to make informed decisions rounds up the top three difficulties with a 53% aggregate ranking. Considering the pandemic has transformed working patterns and spread out information with a remote workforce, most of the identified challenges are not a surprise.
The many costs of disconnected data
Of course, the challenges associated with inefficient information management revealed by the study have a direct impact on project performance. In fact, seven out of ten respondents report that the difficulties related to manual administrative tasks lead to decreased productivity. Simultaneously, 56% claim that information not being delivered to team members hampers project performance by introducing potential schedule delays and rework. Especially architects (44%) do not have a complete picture of the project to make informed decisions, which also negatively impacts project delivery.
So, what are the factors impacting how effective firms are in the management of project information? Notably, seven in ten respondents indicate that their A&E firm has requirements for on-premises or internal data storage, meaning software runs on computers on the premises of the organization rather than at a remote facility such as server farm or cloud – the primary reasons for this being control over data (74%), security (62%) and legal purposes (23%). In addition, almost half of the survey respondents are required to use another party’s platform to manage all, most, or nearly all of their projects, which contributes to issues related to manual administrative tasks and collaboration roadblocks.
Ultimately, inefficient project information management is caused by disconnected and decentralized data, which translates to lack of control, difficulty providing information to clients, and not having a complete outlook on a project. Because this inevitably consumes valuable time, such lack of efficiency also leads to higher economic costs.
Improved project information management for effective project delivery
As clearly shown by the survey’s results, the majority of A&E firms (70%) have not implemented a Project Information Management strategy to drive future technology initiatives. However, most look for the ability to access information from anywhere, collaborate with external actors, and having a centralized view of project data – which certainly requires efficient information management.
When it comes to technology investments, 62% of architects name overall firm strategy as the principal driver, while client or project requirements drive investments for engineering firms. In both cases, the focus should be on moving project data to cloud-based storage solutions – such as Microsoft SharePoint, Panzura™, and Nasuni™ – that will be key in improving project information management. Only this way can workers be able to access and share data across systems, applications, and organizations, facilitating the multidisciplinary and remote work that currently characterizes A&E firms. In other words, data will be controlled in a more flexible and agile way in today’s complex project delivery environment.
Therefore, platforms that enable the effective management of project information are crucial as firms plan their technology investments for the future. With this in mind, Newforma brings together emails, drawing, models, and files (among others) on one platform, connecting all actors involved in a project to the data they need and facilitating the overwhelming burden of managing project information. Thus, less time can be dedicated to searching and organizing data, and more time can be destined to improved project delivery – and hence to a better architecture.