In case you haven’t seen it, there’s a thought-provoking video on YouTube about the information architecture of the internet age. The video was produced by Dr. Michael Wesch, an associate professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University who specializes in digital ethnography – the study of online communities and the interaction of people with technology.
Dr. Wesch’s video got us thinking about construction projects and the different ways to structure project information for real-time access across organizational boundaries. The traditional view that we encounter focuses on hierarchical folder and file systems. These may or may not meet the requirements of internal projects within a single organization. But when you look at complex projects involving multiple organizations – owners, contractors, project managers, designers, engineers, consultants, subcontractors, vendors, investors, and government agencies – you wonder how hierarchical structures could possibly meet the needs of all stakeholders.
Data Access for Construction Project Collaboration
All project team members need to access, share, review, and update project information. They require the ability to search for and retrieve specific data at any time. The faster they can do that, the fewer delays and bottlenecks there are to put the project schedule and budget at risk. Also, conflicts between organizations, potentially leading to disputes, are less likely to arise.
Effective project-wide information management is critical for capital projects of all sizes, and especially vital for complex projects which are high in value, high in risk and propelled forward by collaboration across large, diverse teams.
Now, imagine project collaboration with a static folder and file structure. For example:
Project-Wide View of Construction Project Information
Search and retrieval is one issue. Another issue is the project view reflected by the static information structure. Whose view is it – the owner, the contractor, the project manager, the designer, or the consultant? Every project stakeholder has a different view of the project, and every participant has different information needs. What the consultant needs isn’t necessarily what the contractor sees.
Let’s say a project encompasses 1 million files. There are 10,000 folders with 100 files in each folder, divided into 10 sub-folders. That comes out to a nested file structure of multiple levels. What happens if participants mistakenly file information in the wrong folders? Even if they file it correctly, how would the rest of the project team – potentially hundreds or thousands of individuals in different organizations – find the information?
Smart Alternative – Construction Project Metadata
As Dr. Wesch’s video suggests, the answer for managing construction project information in a dynamic cross-company environment is relevant metadata, the internet’s alternative to static folder and file structures. Tagging project data with metadata – “data about data” – enables different project team members to search for and find relevant information in their own ways.
By creating a procedural template for project metadata, project leaders – whether owners, contractors or consultants – can ensure consistency between their projects. This makes it easier to move their staff from one project to another. It also makes their expectations for project information management clear to the entire project team.
Metadata Templates to Manage Project Risk
Developing a procedural template for metadata helps clarify the types of project information that need to be stored, exchanged and managed. For example, the status of all requests for information (RFIs) should be tracked from origination through closure. Outstanding and overdue RFIs related to a specific project phase/package/contract/discipline/zone can be tagged in real time as the appropriate participants respond.
Compare this to a folder for open RFIs and a folder for closed RFIs – for each project phase/package/contract/discipline/zone – and the requirement for team members to move RFI files between folders and sub-folders. The risk of error and the challenge of finding what’s needed when it’s needed escalate quickly.
Meeting the Needs of the Project Team
It’s important to determine the needs of all stakeholders and participants in structuring construction project data. Different members of the project team have different needs – and different ways of searching for the information they need.
Key questions to ask in creating metadata templates are:
- What specific information does the project team require?
- How are various team members likely to search for this information?
- What types of project status reports need to be generated?
Anticipating the entire scope of data and reporting requirements through different phases of the project and across all disciplines is likely to produce an appropriate template. With the intelligent use of metadata, information needs drive information structure.
Aconex Can Help
Aconex construction management software is web-based, implemented in the secure cloud, and built specifically to help owners, contractors and project managers successfully deliver projects between different organizations. As such, it uses metadata to support project-wide document control, communications management, search and reporting flexibility, and other essential processes. To apply the logic of Dr. Wesch, Aconex encompasses the diversity of methods that people employ to store, manage, search, and retrieve project information.
Contact us today for a demo, and talk to us about your project information management requirements. With more than 16,000 construction and engineering projects under our belt, we can advise you on the specific requirements of your project – set-up, data structure, data migration, metadata, and procedural templates. We can also train your project team in the use of the system for optimal efficiency and consistency.
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