Massive amounts of commerce and business activities have moved online. Everything from banking and insurance to purchasing materials and services can be conveniently accessed over the internet. People and the companies they work for are reaping huge efficiencies from creating new and better ways to access information and services. Generally, the construction industry has lagged others in making use of this tremendous resource. So what are some of the commonly stated reasons for this resistance to going online?
1. If it is on the internet I have lost control of my information
Controlling access to project information and documents is essential. If they are simply placed on an open website or an uncontrolled FTP site then the perception is true and there is little control. The reality is that the document control technology available to the industry today far surpasses the control of the traditional paper based process of managing and distributing project information. Permission based access, detailed access reports, access receipts and other available features actually provide the content owner greater control of their information than is possible from virtually any other access option. Using the right internet based systems actually gives greater control of your information.
2. Fear of changing long established practices that have proven to work
The Architectural, Engineering and Contractor communities have established common tools and techniques for tracking and managing documents and information. Transmittals, waybills, logs and other records have become the established means to track and control who had access, what they had access to and when it happened. All of this is critical information in the event of a claim for extra costs or delays in a project. Some people are concerned about the risk of changing the system and creating gaps in the process that will cause problems. In reality, using the right online systems actually automates all of this activity with no possibility of gaps or errors in the records. The result is a better process that actually reduces administration and more importantly reduces the risk of errors or omissions that could lead to problems or claims.
3. The perception that the industry “isn’t ready” for digital documents
This is the weakest of the five reasons we have identified. It is quite simply no longer true. There are very few companies that are seriously in business that are not connected to the internet. Email is pervasive. Google searches for business related information is so commonplace that google has become a verb. It may be true that there are still people who are not comfortable going online, not unlike those who still insist on seeing a teller at the local bank. However when given no option other than online access they quickly figure out how to do it and they never look back to the old way because the benefits to them are so powerful.
4. The perception that working with a large drawing cannot be done effectively online
This is an understandable but incorrect perception. It relates more to a resistance to change than anything else. Virtually every full format document on a project was created using computer based technology that its creator did using a computer screen. Everything from onscreen takeoff to field review of shop drawings are easily conducted using the right online tools. Undoubtedly there are times when a full format document is required or preferred. Today’s technology doesn’t preclude paper copies but gives the option of printing the information that is required and using digital copies when appropriate.
5. Concern that the internet is too slow to work effectively with large files
This is a legitimate concern but is one that is quickly being erased by more efficient means to manage the digital size of documents along with increased access to high speed internet service via both hardwire and wireless service providers. Using the right systems that integrate tools that more efficiently handle these files adds to the ability to efficiently work online. If your approach is to simply transfer files in emails or via FTP batches then you are likely experiencing problems. If you use more intelligent systems to manage this process your challenges will be greatly reduced.
There are few legitimate reasons left why using online technologies cannot bring substantial benefits to a project and the companies working on it at the design, bidding, construction and operational phases. I encourage you to carefully evaluate the technology choices you make as you move towards using the internet to avoid turning these five concerns into truths rather than the myths they really are.