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Overcome the Top Challenges of Digital Construction Workflows

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(Photo credit: iStock.com/Chaay_Tee)

Technology has completely redefined how workers in the construction industry tackle projects and connect with one another. New tools such as scanning, 3-D modeling, digital design mark-up and drones have drastically improved productivity and workflows for construction projects, making it easier than ever for construction companies to be digital businesses. New software solutions also have helped the industry shift from paper to electronic files that are easier to organize, modify and share. As a result, construction processes have become largely information-driven, with individual projects often producing gigabytes of content.

In an industry where projects rely on collaboration between many parties including architects, engineers, general contractors, specialty contractors, inspectors and project managers, the ability to more easily manipulate and share content makes a huge impact. It means the project team can access and search through project content — documentation, estimates, plans, models, videos and images — whenever and wherever they need (from a corporate office, job site or traveling anywhere in between) to keep projects moving forward.

Although technology has helped streamline the construction process across all phases of a project — from design and pre-construction, to the construction itself, to project closeout — it also has created new challenges.

Top Challenges of Digital Construction Workflows

With content being constantly created and edited from a variety of locations, it’s difficult to guarantee that everyone is seeing the most relevant and current information. Without having access to the latest file versions, actions might take place based on outdated information, which can lead to costly corrective work down the line.

Additionally, it seems like almost every project comes with inherent connectivity challenges. Often job sites involve large operational zones, metal structures or basements — all of which can wreak havoc on Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. For instance, if a contractor is trying to access a key file stored in the cloud but suddenly loses Wi-Fi access while on the job site, they have to stop what they are doing and go to a place that has connectivity in order to see the content. One time for one person isn’t a huge deal, but imagine if everyone on the job site has to do that multiple times per day. The delays will certainly add up.

Digital workflows also can inadvertently give people access to content outside the scope of their responsibility, increasing security and regulatory risks. At a minimum, this can overwhelm the project manager with more information than needed. In the worst case scenario, it can mean sensitive data falling into the wrong hands, which could result in a security breach or various compliance issues. 

Additionally, many companies turn to virtual private networks (VPNs) to provide secure remote access to content on their file servers. However, this approach can quickly become expensive to operate, cumbersome to manage, and lead to inconsistent performance and usability issues.

All of the challenges associated with digital construction workflows can create a huge drain on resources that prevent teams from getting the most out of their digital assets. One way to overcome these challenges is by creating a common data environment (CDE).

What is a Common Data Environment?

Just as it sounds, a CDE is a central repository in which construction teams store and access all project content, such as design files, change orders, billing records, markups and more. The ideal CDE should operate and store content in the cloud, but can also easily sync with on-premises storage when needed to ensure that all project participants can safely and reliably access the most current information — even with slow or spotty connectivity. Taking this approach provides a unified project archive and single source of truth.

Ideally, a CDE should also provide a single point of access for all project content types and integrate with the most commonly used industry applications and workflows. It should also have strong governance that keeps information safe and ensures only the right people have access to the right content. This enables users to securely collaborate with others without the need for complicated VPN setups or relying on consumer-grade file sharing solutions, minimizing many of the security and compliance risks on the jobsite.

Key Benefits of a CDE in Construction

Implementing the right CDE offers many advantages across the life of a project, including:

  • Faster Project Closeouts — At the end of a project, there is always a big push to complete the closeout process as quickly as possible. This often involves searching emails, file servers, paper documents and consumer file sharing solutions for all of the required docs. The right CDE can make it much easier since everything is stored in one place. Plus delivery of the docs is as easy as providing a secure download link to the project owner.
  • More Granular Access Management — The right CDE can also ensure that all files are organized using a similar structure across projects, including access management configurations. For example, while still following a standard folder hierarchy, a project manager can make adjustments in real time that allows or restricts specialty contractors access to certain content as the project progresses.
  • Increased Content Security — In addition to more detailed access controls, the right CDE can provide greater security capabilities like end-to-end encryption, robust audit reporting and real-time alerts for unusual access patterns. These controls are critical when it comes to preventing content from falling into the wrong hands, unauthorized users from making changes or data loss from a damaged or stolen job site server.
  • Integrated Construction Applications — Integrations with the most popular construction applications are one of the most important aspects of a CDE, enabling anyone on the project team to access the project content they need, from the app of their choice — without having to learn a new workflow.
  • Reduced Job Site Rework — When all newly added content and revisions to construction files are made in the cloud via Internet-connected devices and automatically synced to onsite servers, field workers can quickly access what they need, avoiding delays and shortening project timelines.

Across many industries, workflows are becoming more digital and data-centric, and the construction industry is a prime example. To not only survive this transition, but thrive as a digital business, construction companies need to prioritize project strategies and solutions that help them get the most out of their digital assets. By building out the right common data environment, construction teams can operate more efficiently and securely throughout each step of the project, leading to fewer errors, minimized cost overruns and greater profitability.

Tim Johnson is director of construction marketing at Egnyte, where he has led construction initiative for the past five years. Prior to that, he held product manager roles at Avaya and Polycom.

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