One of the most exciting and challenging industries is the Construction Industry. It represents multiple industry segments from Construction: building materials such as steel, lumber, concrete, masonry, plumbing and plastic, glass, rubber; furnishings, construction equipment, elevators; and other internal equipment like lighting, heating and air conditioners; as well as tools, land development, real-estate and of course, financing. All of this has a mega impact on global economies. And then there are architects, site planners and interior designers. From idea to completion, the act of creating even a humble abode brings together many people and players with suppliers from around the world. Its influence is enormous—thus the constant worry about the health of the industry and its impact on trade exchanges and jobs.
And the last few years have been tough for the industry.1 US numbers have shown a steady decline in revenue, which again, affects all related businesses.
So getting smarter about how you operate then becomes an obvious path for the construction industry, or any other industry that goes through this kind of challenge. And construction is getting smarter and looking for ways to improve communications, performance, and cost.
I had a chance to meet with Meridian Systems and their management team last week. Meridian Systems is a program management solution that covers the whole life cycle from ‘plan, to build, to operate’ for the construction industry. I was interested to hear that they are owned by Trimble, well-known for their GPS and other technologies.2
But back to this fascinating industry and Meridian. There are so many entities across the value chain; and they operate so differently in their methods, involvement, and relationship to the overall plan for that final building, facility, or even the new public park and swimming pool, that getting the job done is a huge challenge. And remember every project is different!
Thinking ‘project management’ does not pull the whole thing together. (There are dozens of projects with these construction endeavors.) Meridian takes a program management perspective and creates a shared service, now in the cloud, where the work—document, designs, and plans—can be leveraged across the value chain.
This is novel in this industry. Concepts like BIM (Building Information Modeling) leveraged across the lifecycle—what Meridian calls Infrastructure Lifecycle Management (ILM), can become a reality even for small players, who in the past may not have been able to use project-based software (see Figure 2). Those players could never have a really integrated relationship, not only with the construction contractors, but with other partners/subcontractors in these often massive projects.
Envision the myriad drawings, plans, budgets, etc. that can be generated at each stage of the lifecycle from the idea to post-building maintenance (operation). The past was paper, no leverage, and poor collaboration. Imagine a schedule change. Paper-based or unintegrated methods caused subsequent delays, errors, and rework associated with just poor communications. In fact, changes which appear minor can have a huge ripple effect when there is non-automated, non-integrated (paper or stovepipe systems) collaboration.
But a cloud-based solution that can provide partners a way to leverage information creates a super collaborative environment, saving the industry time and money in getting a project to completion.
Mega Collaboration—Mega Construction
This collaboration philosophy and Meridian’s software are being used by AECOM, a global professional services provider, to manage such mega projects as:
One World Trade Center in New York City, managing office towers 3 and 4, the rebuilding of the vehicle security center and the transportation hub;
the Doha Port in Qatar, a new mega-port for the Middle East; and the Saadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, a multi-billion-dollar initiative that will include some of the world’s most sophisticated museums such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Then envision an enterprise managing over fifteen hundred projects per year with thousands of suppliers and you have Turner Construction, one of the largest construction companies in the US. Turner has always been an innovator, creating Turner Logistics to support the procurement and inbound logistics challenges for their partners and sub-contractors. As well, they manage a diverse set of industries—from Dallas to Dubuque, and from sports to ports.
Collaboration Beyond Imagination
There is much more to say about Meridian—the challenges of collaboration. Perspective is the key. Retailers or manufacturers struggling with a few or even a portfolio of suppliers can take comfort in their own challenges. It’s difficult to imagine the scale and scope of the challenges the construction industry faces. Whereas a manufacturer strives to settle on a few suppliers and hones a process they expect to manage with some level of consistency, in construction, each project is unique. And today there has been little leverage from project to project, or even phase to phase in the life cycle. Meridian aims to change all that!
More mature sectors, which have leveraged technology and collaboration integration, are still in an adoption cycle, surely beyond early adopters; but even they are still debating the value of integration and visibility. Imagine the challenges in this industry!
Here in construction, the journey begins with catalysts like Meridian and their clients.
The supply chains for this industry go through what we like to call maturity phases, from idea—such as determining where and what you want to build (see CNBC on Walmart as a great example)—to planning and implementation (construction).
Along the way designs change and sites have to be created. Here is a key thought: site design and its material and equipment requirements differ from the building and its material requirements. Thus, the supply chain for site creation is different than the supply chain for the building itself. Often, the site itself challenges the site planner and equipment manufacturer to invent new equipment or configurations just to support this one site. For example, envision the cranes needed for these buildings.
Source: Interesting Engineering
Even everyday tunnels and bridges provide challenges for more modern, creative approaches. Each site is different. Each site adds new challenges as planners try to capture the broad community needs as well as the ambitions and visions of all the stakeholders: city planners who want their city to be the new mega destination; marketers or developers looking for the blockbuster sports stadium, hotel complex; the civil engineer designing the humble ramp off the highway.
It’s time for collaboration to maximize the potential, and optimize the process, which only integration across the lifecycle can bring.
1The industry could have used that ½ trillion dollars of ‘shovel ready’ projects!
2Readers will remember that ThingMagic was acquired by Trimble, and we featured a ‘construction site’ visibility project about ThingMagic a while back (last quarter of page).