70 per cent of AEC firms say the information explosion has impacted collaboration

Seven in ten (70 per cent) architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms feel the deluge of project information is holding them back from effective collaboration. Worse still, only 4 per cent of construction managers say their organisations are collaborating highly effectively and see no major need for improvement, according to new independent research conducted by Vanson Bourne, commissioned byNewforma.

The research is based on in-depth interviews with 100 UK-based professionals working for organisations in the AEC sector. The results highlight the rapid growth of information volume as a key barrier to project collaboration, which could impact competitiveness for firms in this sector which are increasingly expected to meet collaborative BIM requirements when bidding for public contracts.

Growing Technology Adoption
The ‘Evolution of Digital AEC’ research was conducted to understand the impact of technology adoption on the processes and operations of UK AEC firms.  The findings highlight the increasing use of technology and devices within project environments to support project development, design and collaboration, with adoption growing from 30 per cent to 36 per cent in the past 12 months and anticipated to accelerate to 41 per cent over the next 12 months.

When it comes to specific devices the majority of staff from respondents’ organisations are using laptops (80 per cent) and smartphones (75 per cent) on a daily basis, while over four in ten (42 per cent) are using iPads.

Whilst the rising adoption of devices is facilitating faster exchanges and communication between workers in the field, it also increases the options being used for information storage. As individual teams continue to use their own internal systems and preferred storage processes, the information generated on projects ends up in siloes.

Emails and Meetings Key Information Sources
Interestingly, despite widespread use of technology across all segments of the AEC industry, the biggest driver of information sharing on construction projects comes from traditional sources. Around four in ten (43 per cent) of respondents identify face-to-face meetings as the biggest source, followed by email communications which is cited by 30 per cent of respondents.

Commenting on the findings, Paul Daynes, regional director, UK and Northern Europe, Newforma, said:

“It is critical for AEC firms to ensure they have a way to manage the growth of information resulting from the increasing use of technology and the complexity of today’s project environments. Not doing so increases the risk of delays and cost overruns when individuals work from outdated plans and specs, fail to factor key input to a decision, or neglect to act upon decisions made. Given the rapid rise of project information, it’s no surprise to see a strong correlation with low reported levels of collaboration.”

Leveraging technology to manage project information
According to the research, the solution lies with technology;  over four in ten (44 per cent) of AECs said that investing more heavily in new technology solutions to make sharing information easier and more efficient would lead to more better collaboration on projects. However, there are a number of challenges firms are facing with this; 42 per cent cited an inability to integrate with other digital tools as one of the key obstacles their organisation experiences. In addition, nearly nine out of ten (86 per cent) respondents think that their organisation’s workforce could be more willing when it comes to using the new digital tools that their organisation invests in.

Daynes continued:

“The AEC industry is clearly struggling with information overload on projects, which is being held in silos across a number of platforms including email, file servers, cloud storage and document management systems. The research highlights that this translates into a sector which is being held back from effective collaboration – and in not managing this information effectively, they also risk not reaching construction efficiency goals.”.

“In order to exploit the next generation of technology and become competitive on a global scale, the UK AEC industry needs to first find a way to manage the basics. Efficiency-boosting project information management tools that integrate seamlessly across all existing systems can simplify the information discovery process, and in turn ensure the collaboration of project stakeholders.”