GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Web-based system aids construction
While most professions have been quick to embrace the information age, the construction industry has fallen behind in using new technology. However, web-based systems, designed specifically with public works professionals in mind, are emerging to help improve project management and overall efficiency.
Construction and public works departments typically are saddled with issues that other city and county departments do not face. For example, local governments frequently outsource design and construction work to private companies. Many different professionals — engineers, architects, contractors, subcontractors, etc. — share enormous amounts of data on a project, and each party has different communication and information needs. Furthermore, the parties involved in construction projects often are separated by significant geographical distances, necessitating travel, delivery and long-distance communication costs.
To solve the communication problems frequently encountered on large construction projects, and to ensure that all parties follow identical plans and standards, some government agencies are setting up “virtual project sites” with web-based technology. Through a secure, interactive site, project managers, construction companies, engineers and architects can centralize construction information.
The site can improve collaboration, enhancing the ability of workers to complete projects on time and within budget. It also can include financial information, contacts, photographs of the project, bid calendars and other information. Contractors can visit the project online, eliminating the need for frequent, costly, in-person visits. In addition, many files and blueprints can be downloaded, saving on mailing and delivery costs.
Since 1998, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), Columbus, has been using a web-based management tool to develop communications web sites for construction projects at local schools. OSFC provides funding, management oversight and technical assistance to local school districts for construction and renovation of school facilities throughout the state. The commission now requires each construction manager with whom it works to communicate and report information via the Web.
The OSFC site is password-protected, so that team members can access only the information they are authorized to view and update. The web site provides team members with critical project information 24 hours a day.
OSFC uses the web site to: * manage financial information; * maintain and archive digital photos of the construction; * communicate with all team members through document file storage of meeting minutes, drawings and safety notices; * manage and advertise procurement opportunities with bid calendars; * update contacts for each project; and * keep the public informed of progress.
William Taylor, OSFC’s information services manager, says the agency wanted to maximize its ability to monitor projects while avoiding the stacks of paperwork that can bog down the system. “Construction is a huge paper generator,” he says. “Our intentions have been to make this as electronic as possible.”
Taylor says the system allows the OSFC staff to easily monitor projects that are directed by many construction management firms statewide. “It’s an area to share information,” he adds.
OSFC will use the web technology to help finance and manage nearly $12 billion in school construction projects over the next 10 years. For more information, visit www.cmw.osfc.state.oh.us.