Softwares for information and communication technology

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1. INTRODUCTION

ICT (Information and Communication Technology), it is the software and communication services needed to handle data and information. It covers an enormous diversity of heterogeneous technologies such as computers, e-mail, data base, data mining systems, search engines, intranet, video conferencing system etc. ICT has given a new approach in designing and documentation of buildings.

Technology is almost ruling the world; it has made life easy in everyday activities. Technology blessing or curse? None likes to be cursed so it's a blessing, but to be used with right attitude. In this new global economy, ICT has become a central issue for effective decision making and effective communication within the boundary of project participants. For an organisation collaborative working is key factor for the success of that organisation, especially for a construction industry technologies that support collaboration are in great demand than ever before because many phases such as feasibility, design, construction and maintenance are involved in most construction projects, and for all the phases effective communication and coordination is necessary within the project participants such as client, contractor, designer, consultants, subcontractors and suppliers. Time is money, so collaboration technology or IT is an area which decreases time for data processing and communicating information. The Egan report on UK construction industry has concluded that "integrated construction process" holds the key to further improvement in efficiency and productivity. (M.Sun, G.Aouad 17-20 July 2000) "If GROUPWARE really makes a difference in productivity long term, the very definition of an office may change. You will be able to work efficiently as a member of a group wherever you have your computer. As computers become smaller and more powerful, that will mean anywhere." (Kirkpatrick & Losee 1992).

It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the technology that supports collaborative working in construction industry because of its advantages and ease to use. The key types of collaborative software are groupware and workflow software. This report focuses on what they are, benefits and how to bring them in use.

1.1 Groupware

This is software that supports person to person collaboration to have better team work and improve efficiency through:

* Faster and easy Information sharing.

* Reducing communication overloads.

* Providing better coordination.

Definition of Groupware

ÃËœ Intentional group process plus software to support them. (Peter & Turdy Johnson-Henz 1978)

ÃËœ Computer-mediated collaboration that increases the productivity or functionality of person processes. (David Coleman 1992)

The synchronous and asynchronous use of groupware is the key benefits.

Location

Synchronous

Asynchronous

Same location

Same time, same place

Ex: meeting support software

Different time, same place

Ex: workflow systems

Different location

Same time, different place

Ex: video-conferencing

Different time, different place

Ex: e-mails, discussion groups

Source: (Groupware, Workflow and Intranets by Dave Chaffey)

1.2 Functions

Create, access and share is the main function of the groupware which includes

* E-mail.

* Group discussion.

* Document sharing.

* Electronic meeting software such as video-conferencing.

* Group decision support.

* Group coordination software for time management and scheduling.

1.3 Workflow

This is software which provides structured frame work for a process, highlighting who should do what in what order and as soon as possible.

1.4 Functions

* Assign tasks.

* Reminds employees about their task and time for completion.

* Increased collaboration between employees sharing tasks.

* Provides information about the task.

* Status of each task and team's work is highlighted.

2. Software and its functions

The groupware software assists teams of people to work together with effective communication, collaboration and coordination which are very essential for an improved delivery of work. The groupware functions in different types of software are,

Type of software

Functions available

Examples

Single function groupware application

e-mail applications, text based conferencing, document sharing

Beyond mail, Eudora, FirstClass, Telifinder

Multifunction groupware application

All of above

Lotus Notes Microsoft, Exchange Novell, GroupWise

General applications software, "Office" applications

Word processor, spreadsheets with e-mail and collaborative authoring features

Microsoft Word, Excel, Lotus WordPro, Corel WordPerfect

Web browser software

e-mail, news conferencing, as standard (with plug-ins and java applets for other functions)

Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Explorer and Net Meeting

Operating system

Bundled applications or incorporated into O/S

Windows 98 and Outlook

Source: (Groupware, Workflow and Intranets by Dave Chaffey)

2.1 Commercial software available for collaboration

There are three stages of construction where the groupware or web enabled software can be used for collaboration:

A- Tender stage.

B- Planning and construction stage.

C- Trading (e-commerce).

Tender stage is a phase of construction to advertise and distribute tender documents and select the best tenderers and sign contract.

Planning and construction stage is a phase of construction where lot of documents and drawings are exchanged. It is essential to receive the right document in the right time by the right person of the project, so that no delay is on the progress of the project.

Trading (e-commerce) is a phase of construction which deals with the suppliers. Better communication is very essential between the project management and suppliers so that work is on a steady flow.

The table below gives the commercial software's available, examples of projects/clients and the stages of construction in which it can be used.

Project management software

Projects/clients

Website address

Commonly used stage

Sword CTspace

Balfour Betty, BAA plc, AMEC

1

A,B,C

Project.Net

UL environment, vermilion energy

2

A,B,C

4Projects

BAA, Tesco, Taylor, Woodrow

3

B

ProjectTalk

Adolfson & Peterson construction

4

A,B,C

OpenText

Cowan Dalton lnc, city of London

5

A,B,C

TeamPlay

6

B

PrimeContract

7

B,C

Bentley

8

A,B,C

Architec.net

9

A

3. Why collaborate?

Knowledge is power, key and money. Knowledge is the key factor for success in construction, as construction involves many phases and participants as mentioned earlier, every phase of construction and all the participants need knowledge about their goals to be achieved. This can be achieved only through collaboration using ICT within the participants. As construction involves lot of knowledge management roles, ICT has vast application in knowledge management roles such as

Knowledge management role

ICT application

Searching for/finding

Search engines/web portals

Creating

CAD design

Utilizing

Decision support system

Sharing

Internet, e-mail

Integrating

Groupware

Create access and share are the main uses of ICT, which improves collaboration between participants to achieve common goals, which in turn gives rise to new class of professionals with more possible solutions. The project cost can be reduced through collaboration by reduced communication cost, printing cost, travelling cost and saving time during planning and construction phase. Case study of use of ICT in construction for collaboration explains the advantages and results.

3.1 Case study

The following case studies show the success of collaborative working and the benefits.

3.1.1 INMANCO

Case is concerned with an international firm of management and construction, where they made use of electronic management system for receiving, updating project drawings and specifications over the web using the Project Information Channel (PIC) of the Building Information Warehouse. The project costs about 5 million pounds and 30 week retail construction, involving an international firm of management and construction (INMANCO).

Benefits

The case study shows 58,130 pounds as direct cost savings

Work type

In Pounds

Printing cost for project drawings

46,112

Postage cost for project drawings

1584

Copying cost and project specifications

10,215

Postage cost and project specifications

219

Total

58,130

The indirect cost savings of the company were estimated to be 300,000 pounds, which is about 6% of overall project cost. This were achieved through reduction in mistakes, reworks and avoiding unnecessary project delays and were able to achieve this savings through:

  1. Avoid delays of receiving updated drawings in accordance with comments and requests, which is often caused by conventional means of communication.
  2. Reducing travelling time to sites and meetings as photographs of work progress are always available for viewing on systems.
  3. Avoiding mistakes by the team members acting on the outdated information as the documents and drawings are up to date and instantly available.
  4. Reducing time and money spent on disputes as the database audits actions, comments, approval, notifications and who has published what, who has viewed and when.

3.1.2 CATHQUARTER

Case is concerned with the software tool, "Project Online" for collaboration purpose. Cathedral Quarter project involved collaboration between a Dublin based architect and developer, and a Northern Ireland structural engineer, service engineer and quantity surveyor.

The project team members in Belfast are notified automatically as the architect firm issues drawings are uploaded onto the project website. Any comments on the drawings are posted online, thus reducing the turnaround time on documents and drawings from days to minutes. The access rights to the team members and ensuring that members can access data relevant to their roles are managed by ProjectOnline. New information posted in the website is alerted to the team members.

Benefits

  1. Increase in the speed of communication, resulting completion of tasks at faster rate.
  2. Reduced errors and rework cost due to increased accuracy in communication.
  3. Dramatic reduction in travelling costs.
  4. Cost reduction in storage, distribution and hardcopy production.

3.2 Factors for successful collaboration

  1. Support and commitment by the senior management is very essential for implementation of groupware.
  2. Motivating employees with positive approach for collaboration using groupware.
  3. Identifying the type of groupware software required.
  4. Involve employees for designing groupware according to the necessity.
  5. Change culture and behaviour of people/employees from corporate to cooperate.
  6. One should have adequate planning, support, training and maintenance for the project.
  7. Technical support should be at its best.

3.3 Factors for unsuccessful collaboration

1. Lack of support and commitment by senior management with collaborative partners.

2. Lack of trust between collaborating partner and the management.

3. Lack of consultation with collaborating partners.

4. Selecting the wrong groupware software without knowledge of groupware.

5. Unclear about the roles and responsibilities of employees.

6. Lack of methodology, insufficient testing, inadequate performance and technical difficulties.

4 Recommendations

Considering the functions, benefits, factors for successful and also unsuccessful collaboration using groupware software and mainly the case study of INMANCO and CATHQUARTER, the prime recommendations are:

Senior management should support and commit for collaboration which is the main key for success in terms of saving money and time. In terms of communication and cooperation between the project participants, motivation with right information, training, supervisor and technical support will change the culture from corporate to cooperate giving raise to better efficiency to work.

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