Build trust among industry partners with a neutral online collaboration platform.

Most construction business owners agree that completing large construction projects on time and on budget depends on a high degree of synchronization among many stakeholders. But to be truly in sync and efficient requires the entire team to believe in, and practice, collaboration.

Effective collaboration is the only way to ensure contractors can accomplish the complex sequence of interconnected tasks on time. But collaboration is much easier said than done because it requires trust, which does not come easily in today’s construction industry.

Clearly, building trust among different firms and team members on a project is much easier when all parties are working toward a common goal. But since each firm is tasked with different deliverables on a project, agreeing on common goals can be the most difficult part of a teamwork environment. Some project contracts promote risk-sharing among parties, which sets common budget and schedule goals. But common goals do not solve all trust issues, especially when separate and often competitive firms must communicate and share information regularly with other project parties.

Today, many companies adopt project management technology that enables collaborative processes, and in doing so, they increase the level of trust among different stakeholders.  Construction project management technology establishes a neutral platform and collaboration. It protects the ownership rights and proprietary information of each stakeholder while providing access to up-to-date information and increasing transparency into project activities. As a result, mutual trust increases, projects run more smoothly and project completion obstacles are eliminated.

Distrust in the Construction Industry

The forces working against trust in the construction industry are many and may seem insurmountable.

Short-term, project-driven relationships – Distrust is natural when firms must choose partners for a project based on cost, location and availability instead of on familiarity, track record and compatibility of corporate cultures. Most project partnerships are very short term, and a partner on one project is likely to be a competitor on the next. Under these circumstances, participants are reluctant to share information with each other.

Organizational and cultural differences – Trust is also hard to encourage when various contractors on a project have extreme organizational differences, diverse cultures, languages and geographies. Equally challenging are different technology platforms for project management, communication, document control and other information-driven functions.

The high-stakes construction environment – Finally, establishing 
trust is especially difficult for an industry that is under increased scrutiny by regulatory bodies. No organization wants to be blamed for another’s missteps, and increasingly, engineering and construction firms are being forced to add people, processes and systems dedicated to ensuring and proving regulatory compliance.

But trying to avoid one problem simply leads to other problems, including change orders, late payments and rework. This, in turn, often leads to openly adversarial relationships, resulting in legal disputes, damaged reputations and even revenue loss from future missed opportunities.

Build Trust Through Neutrality

Using a neutral third-party provider for a collaborative online construction project management system protects each participant’s interests. This system builds trust by controlling how, when and by whom sensitive information is accessed; setting forth clearly defined processes; and providing transparency into actual behavior. It allows participants to share information while protecting their rights and validating the work of others.

It is now increasingly common for owners and builders to include specifications for a neutral online construction project management system in their project RFPs because they have found that these platforms prevent stakeholders from competing and instead encourage successful collaboration.

In fact, an independent 2006 study by U.K. firm Benchmark Research found that 96 percent of collaboration technology users from 195 countries believe it has benefited their business. More specifically, 98 percent of users felt they benefited from having information held centrally; 90 percent said collaboration technology enabled geographically dispersed teams to work together more effectively; and 86 percent reported an overall improvement in communication. Perhaps most interesting, 74 percent of asset owners indicated a distinct preference for working with contractors who had experience using collaboration technology, indicating these platforms improve not only productivity but also intercompany relations.

Despite this, the construction industry has generally been slower to adopt new technologies than other sectors. The August 2007 edition of the Elsevier journal “Automation in Construction” included results of a study about the introduction of collaborative technology in a construction consortium. This study illuminated the source of resistance. The new technology imposed serious changes on work practices. Users did not trust the system or the cultural changes it created. Instead of sharing information, they began withholding it. Eventually, their unwillingness to accept the new framework interfered with coordination and destabilized their projects.

Focus on User Adoption

 

Given these realities, it is imperative to recognize that user adoption is critical to obtain the full benefits of any online collaborative construction project management system. The system must be easy to use, require minimal changes in work practices and deliver clear benefits to the individual users.

The vendor must offer training and support for all project partners especially during the “ramp-up” phase but also as new partners come onboard and when new processes need to be reinforced. Training builds system confidence, shows how the system supports the specific workflows and communication needs of each participant and ensures the system will be used consistently and optimally. The vendor should also provide a way to monitor usage throughout the project’s life to ensure proper operation of the collaboration platform and to reinforce compliance with agreed-upon process workflows.

This is an important distinction between traditional solutions purchased and deployed by one participant and an independent, third-party provider, whose services may be paid for by one stakeholder but who serves all participants equally. In the traditional model, few, if any, resources are invested in any project participant other than the purchaser. But the third party guarantees its neutrality and commitment to all participants.

Find a Collaboration Platform for Construction

When evaluating online collaboration platforms, ask the service provider the following questions:

  • As a neutral third party, are you fully independent of any construction and engineering firms?
  • Do you support broad construction and engineering industry-specific project management and communication needs?
  • Does your platform work with a variety of existing onsite project management systems to avoid purchasing additional software or hardware?
  • Do you provide the appropriate levels of security to protect against external threats and maintain confidentiality of each organization’s information?
  • Do you offer fair and equal treatment of all stakeholders—clients, architects, engineers, project managers, suppliers, contractors and facilities managers—no matter their role, size or level of usage, throughout the life of the project?
  • Do you protect each stakeholder’s right to own his own information?
  • Do you perform regular health checks of project usage and recommend process improvements when needed?

Minimize Risks and Maximize Return

By encouraging stakeholders to trust the collaboration system with even their most sensitive documents, the system ensures that all relevant information is always accessible, up-to-date, accurate and secure, driving even greater adoption. The result is increased control over schedules, quality and costs, while minimizing the inherent risks and maximizing the return for each participant.

Construction Business Owner, February 2011