Building and construction workers are fast becoming information workers as projects become larger and more complex and advances in mobile technology put information and the ability to update models at the fingertips of those on site, the boss of a leading construction management software firm says.

Aconex co-founder and chief executive officer Leigh Jasper said that while the end products of the building industry are physical and tangible, tools on the job are increasingly becoming digital and data driven.

Leigh Jasper

Leigh Jasper

Jasper says increasing use of cloud-based collaborative platforms is largely being driven by growing numbers of ‘mega projects’ involving increased complexity and the associated needs to avoid errors, allow all project participants access to up-to-date information and provide easy documentation processes.

In the 25-kilometre Yas Island mixed-use development in Abu Dhabi completed in 2009, for example, a team of 5,700 people from 380 companies in 29 countries processed no fewer than eight million documents, drawings and items of correspondence.

Meanwhile, he says, increasing use of iPads, tablets and Android devices is driving greater efficiency at the coal face. Approval to use machinery on a site, for example, can be requested and obtained directly on a contractor’s mobile device, meaning he or she no longer has to return to the office or site shed. Likewise, anyone noticing problems on a work site no longer needs to stop work and return to the site shed to upload photographs but can now do this and create logs for action right where they are.

“You are saving a lot of those inefficiencies that happen with information flows when you are having to go backward and forward to the office or the site shed,” Jasper said. “Effectively, every construction worker is now a knowledge worker with a computer in their pocket.”

Jasper’s comments follow the release of a McGraw Hill report last month which predicted that almost three quarters of design and construction firms in Australia and New Zealand will be using Building Information Modeling (BIM) on at least 30 per cent of their projects by 2015, though the scope of his comments extended beyond BIM and apply to a full suite of project management tasks.

He acknowledged that security concerns associated with data sharing and collaboration and the fact that construction workers tend to be more highly attuned to working with tangible objects in a physical setting as opposed to working with information are genuine issues.

He says the security concerns underline the need for clients to purchase software designed specifically for the industry which allows for control over who sees what, and the importance of dealing only with reputable providers who have invested in adequate password and encryption techniques. As for ensuring workers can adapt to new technology, he says it is important to invest in software which is easy to use.

Going forward, Jasper sees wearable technology becoming more commonplace on construction sites and is researching the possibility of incorporating its software into wearable devices. Meanwhile, the amount of data being captured by project management software will increase the ability to benchmark project performance against past projects or other current projects.

 Asked about how the industry Australia was tracking in terms of adoption of collaborative software relative to its counterparts overseas, Jasper says there is still room for improvement, but added the local industry is actually a leader in adopting new technology and is a great home market for useful testing ground for new products. He puts this phenomenon down largely to Australia’s relatively high costs for labour and materials, which he says is a key driver behind the push for greater efficiency.

“As an Australian talking to an Australian, I often think Australians tend to think we are behind in the world,” Jasper said. “But frankly in the construction industry, we see people very ready to adopt technologies and I think Australia is very much a world leader in terms of becoming efficient in how we deliver capital projects.”