(22nd September 2010) From Architect Builder Contractor & Developer (ABC &D)
See original article: Controlling Project Outcomes
Colin Smith, BIW Technologies, takes a look at the solutions that are available on the market to control project outcomes and how these can help to deliver projects that are fit for purpose, on time and on budget.....
The Multiplex-Mott MacDonald debacle over Wembley stadium, estimated to be costing Mott over £30m in legal fees, is the latest in a long line of construction project management disasters. Poor communication leads to bad decision-making, lengthy disputes and unnecessary costs. It’s not even just bad decision-making; it’s the needlessly long process that tends to go with it. Prior to working with us, one of our clients had a 15 day-long sign off review and approval process to ensure that it was delivering quality decisions within a project. While this was what was achievable at the time, the issue was that the longer the process, the greater the incurred costs.
There are many solutions on the market aimed at helping control project outcomes, and helping contractors, design teams and asset owners to deliver large-scale and smaller projects that are fit for purpose, on time and to budget. SaaS-based technologies are often used to improve project delivery certainty, as they improve visibility and bring greater accountability across the team.
Choosing the right one, and then implementing it correctly, can make or break an entire project. It’s not unusual for customers to come to us having been stung by a bad experience: their software provider will have promised the world, then taken off with their money and not been around when the system has failed – this has often meant construction projects have slowed down or stopped altogether. But it shouldn’t be this way.
Taking the leap and trusting in technology
Once a decision has been made to take the SaaS approach, it’s key that the organisation is prepared: if it has previously relied on paper or email based information exchange, the move to a cloud-based system is a significant one, which has potential to bring about a feeling of loss of control, especially if it involves the first-time use of unknown systems.
Working with a supplier that can offer practical experience and bring advice from a plethora of past projects in addition to the software should help to alleviate the fears of first-time SaaS users.
Too often the move to SaaS is made with low-cost suppliers who fail to include sufficient support for the solution that they provide. People rarely look further than the functionality of the product and its visual appeal to assess the company behind it and the reliability that it can guarantee. But how do you tell the good from the bad?
The good, the bad and the ugly
A number of new ‘cloud’ suppliers (mostly newcomers to the infrastructure space like Amazon, who sell off their spare computing capacity with little or no performance warranties) now offer very cheap computing infrastructure. All this means it can be easy for small, poorly financed, poorly resourced vendors to create attractive, low-priced SaaS products.
With a decent website that is incredibly cheap and easy to run, suppliers can present an impressive façade to clients, consultant and contractors. Customer testimonials and a projected image of trust, reputation and size can be easy to fake, unless you ask the right questions. Internet-based companies are also notoriously difficult to comprehensively vet, particularly if they are based outside of the UK.
Once you've bought in to the façade, they can sign you up against exacting SLA terms (which they can neither influence nor control), then disappear when things go awry.
Is a DIY approach the best option for your project?
Today, it is relatively easy to construct impressive looking software applications by bolting-together major software components, or by working within “outsourced” development environments. Typically, a low-priced option will provide you with a tool kit with which you can build your own solution. These tend to come with basic capabilities like document management and form builders that allow you plenty of flexibility but this approach will also leave the responsibility for the success of the solution squarely in your hands. If it doesn't quite meet your requirements when it is put to use, suffers from poor performance or proves to be inflexible when changes need to be made, the problem is entirely yours.
This option may well work for those that have significant in-house IT expertise, however most are unlikely to have the experience to build a truly tailored solution that meets the specific objectives.
The alternative all-in-one solutions include warranties and should support all processes from the outset, saving you and your team the time and effort that is often your most costly asset. The responsibility for researching requirements, building and delivering the solution and supporting it once it is up and running is completely taken off your shoulders.
As with any contractual agreement, the assignment of risk comes at a price. A set of tools that gives you no guarantees will always be cheaper because there is no risk for the supplier of those tools. In contrast, a fully-supported solution that warrants to work the way that you need it to will carry a higher price tag. The success of a multi-million pound project could depend on the outcome, but all too often short cuts are taken at this early stage and guarantees are sacrificed for short-term savings.
Find a specialist in your sector
It is ironic that the majority of the vendor selection process is spent looking at the software, when the most important issue is the application of that software for a very particular purpose. When you engage with any contractor, you expect them to have industry-specific experience that will enhance their performance and your results. A SaaS vendor should be no different so find a specialist who has delivered solutions for project management in the construction and engineering fields who will understand your project's specific demands and needs.