Keeping pace with technological change
With a renewed focus on faster completion times, quality and service and better control of risk and costs, there is a need to change existing technology platforms, writes Sachin Sandhir
India is burgeoning on the threshold of being a world economic powerhouse as the second fastest growing economy in the world. However, the country’s aspirations and potential to transform are characterised by the struggle to modernise infrastructure given the ever increasing population, pressure on land, and growing industries that add to the existing need for planned infrastructure.
The way industry in general has conducted business over the years has changed drastically with adoption and use of information technology (IT). Construction and infrastructure industries on the other hand are not amongst the forerunners in its use of many categories of Information Communication Technology (ICT). There still exist concerns over the sector’s inability to take advantage of new technologies coupled with costs associated with these innovations.
However, things are changing, albeit gradually. To integrate common aspects of infrastructure needs and requirements that ensure planning for sustainable and affordable development, ICT tools are now being used to accumulate timely and accurate information, reduce dependency on human resources, and manage costs.
The vital link
Until recently, the extent of use of ICT was relatively unsophisticated, mainly dependent on telephone, facsimile machines and networked personal computers. Add to this the temporary nature and uniqueness of projects characterised by specific locations and varying designs solutions and project teams, which lead to a highly fragmented communication platform.
With several challenges affecting smooth data transfer among stakeholders on a building project and a renewed focus on faster completion times, quality and service and better control of risk and costs, there is a need to change existing communication platforms. ICT is improving the capability and efficiency of specific aspects within construction processes. Mechanisms such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) systems using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which manage electronic dissemination of information, are increasingly being implemented to improve communication which is critical to project execution and completion.
Infrastructure processes are also information intensive with large volumes of data generated and consumed. Electronic Document Management (EDM) software can create an environment within which disparate forms of information can be linked together to achieve easy access and control. With several EDM available to suit varying project requirements, these solutions are not only easy to implement but also relatively inexpensive to acquire. The RICS ‘Black Book’ on QS and Construction Standards has also introduced its first standard on EDM, which increases understanding of what EDM systems can offer and provide some tools to aid in the selection of an appropriate system to suit any size of business.
Usage of e-business is growing. State governments, civil authorities and a large number of organisations are making use of the internet revolution and resorting to e-procurement and e-tendering solutions. E-tendering has dramatically streamlined tendering processes, resulting in better management, increased transparency of decision making and reduced overhead costs and potential for disputes.
On the virtualisation front, newer international technologies such as digital modelling which allow architects, designers and engineers to visualise, simulate and analyse construction are far from implementation in the country, as we continue to use 2D methodologies for construction engineering and design. But other IT based applications such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) software have completely transformed the method of drafting earlier employed by engineering companies. The use of such technology lends towards increased productivity and minimises errors at the pre construction stage thereby avoiding time and cost overruns.
With the changing global market dynamics, organisations are also required to automate all business process transactions, have end-to-end visibility, standardize business processes and make them more efficient. These requirements are increasingly being catered to by world-class SAP ERP solutions which result in better control over operations. While, innovative use of GPS and GPRS technology helps improve logistical efficiency and cost reduction.
Justified by RoI
Another factor that affects adoption and implementation is the rate of change of technology. With most ICT products having a short life span, the impact of technology on infrastructure and construction industry have not been that widely analysed. Measuring the effect on productivity is a tedious task as investment in ICT makes a contribution to future productivity potential through services yielded by ICT and modernisation of capital stock.
Therefore, when investing in ICT, companies need to ensure that there is a proper method or process in place by which to measure the return on investment and impact of technology on the organisation/project as a whole. Although it may not be possible to accurately measure all benefits achievable from an ICT investment, establishing a framework will give one a better picture of whether the money spent has been worthwhile.
What lies ahead?
It is clear that ICTs have the potential to improve processes and solve specific problems in the construction and infrastructure sector in India. With a number of innovative ICT applications emerging, the prospects for the future looks bright. With products such as virtual design and engineering, e-Commerce for supply chain, consumer-focused construction processes, and electronic facilities management besides others, ICT is looking to support the entire construction process from inception through to operational maintenance.
However, with most of these technologies in the development stages the focus should be to make them more user-friendly and cost-effective. Additionally, there needs to be a greater awareness of the potential benefits of these technologies in order to stimulate demand and ensure implementation.
Bearing these factors in mid, it is imperative that the industry has a sufficient number of skilled personnel with adequate knowledge of their usage. It is also essential to make new technologies more widely accessible by ensuring that adequate levels of training are provided to potential users.