Regardless of how responsibility is shared in a project, building owners bear the ultimate risk. They write the checks for overruns. They feel the pain of delays in the form of lost revenue opportunity. Finally, they pay the additional costs of a facility built for project profitability rather than long-term operating efficiency. Everyone but the lawyers will agree that litigation won't recover these costs.
Mitigating capital project risks requires a project management approach that mandates the building owner's priorities. Easier said than done: any major project includes contractors, architects, engineers and subs with competing interests and plenty of opportunity for miscommunication. How then, can building owners assert control and ensure all of these constituents are working in the best interest of the owner?
Proactive building owners have gained control over their project portfolio through owner-centric, web-based program and project management software. As opposed to contractor specific software, these tools allow owners to access information in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them. Also, by adopting Internet-based collaboration to manage key project data, these owners have realized benefits such as:
- proactive insight into project status and costs across the portfolio;
- collaboration and accountability amongst constituents;
- compliance with regulatory requirements and certification goals;
- auditable controls to manage costs, schedule, and scope;
- benchmarking for ongoing business process improvement and automation, and,
- long-term efficiency in building operations and maintenance.
EADOC is web-based project management application that allows facility owners and construction managers to exchange project documents like RFIs, submittals, change orders, and drawings electronically.
Proactive insight into project status across the portfolio
There's far more value in seeing an out-of-control truck headed your way than being told that you've just been run over by a truck. Extending the metaphor to project management, owners need to identify potential causes for overruns and delays before they get out of control. An integrated project management tool that incorporates cost and schedule controls offers, among other things, a daily view of what is paid versus committed, and daily reports that flag issues that impact the critical path.
By maintaining a single system for portfolio management, owners can achieve a single view of all projects in a clear, consolidated view. However, unlike a general contractor that needs to track detailed job costs for a single project, an owner should focus on macro-level consolidation of budgets, spend and variance across all projects and contractors. Another contrast between owners and contractors is that owners may be willing to incur additional costs to accelerate project completion; reason being, completing the facility sooner may increase revenue opportunities. This insight into cost and timeline priorities requires an integrated system with both project cost and schedule management.
Integrated project cost and schedule management software such as e-Builder helps owners focus on consolidation of budgets, spend and variance across all projects and contractors.
By owning the system of record and mandating its use by constituents, owners can achieve real-time, daily views of each project, rather than waiting for problems to bubble up from contractors. Moreover, with the completion of each project, the owner gains a valuable repository of historical data with which to estimate costs for future projects.
Collaboration and accountability amongst constituents
Building owners can enforce accountability and take action on problems as they arise if they mandate use of the owner's web-based system for sharing project information, status reporting and document control, collaboration, and overall communications. These systems essentially replace email and fax.
Web-based systems provide a centralized on-line repository and workflow management system for RFIs, submittals and change orders. Rather than faxing, emailing, and filing documents, each member of the team can submit or respond to requests online while the owner has access to a detailed record of each party's commitments and responsibilities. This way, the owner doesn't have to wait for monthly OAC meetings to get a detailed view into the critical path. Moreover, the resulting audit trail reduces the potential for disagreement and future litigation.
Web-based systems such as e-Builder provide a centralized on-line repository and workflow management system for RFIs, submittals and change orders.
In addition to the improved accountability, streamlining collaboration means far less time pushing paper, fewer delays due to delayed communications and reduced errors in the field through better collaboration.
Regulatory compliance and certification goals
Every owner faces strict regulatory requirements: healthcare has OSHPD; schools have DSA; and, restaurants have health department codes. These regulations not only require detailed checklists and documentation, but regular approvals at each stage of project delivery. The same web-based workflow and document control can be used to manage regulatory compliance.
More advanced project management systems will incorporate certification (i.e., SAS70) and the software vendor's industry domain expertise into its regulatory compliance modules. Moreover, the centralized nature of a web-based system will allow that vendor to continually update the system for the latest changes in industry-specific regulations and immediately roll that functionality out to all of the building owners using the system.
Moving beyond compliance, forward-thinking owners are seeking advanced certifications such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification, a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of environmentally friendly buildings. Like regulatory compliance, these certifications require a rigorous approach to punch lists, approvals and document control. However, don't expect contractors to take responsibility for LEED initiatives. The owner will have to be hands-on in ensuring certification and that will require an effective project management system.
Ongoing efficiency in building operations and maintenance
For the owner, project completion is just the beginning of a facility's true cost and benefit. Likewise, a web-based project management system continues to demonstrate value after occupancy.
The reality is that a facility “as built” may vary substantially from the initial owner specifications. As a result, the owner must track all changes to the design throughout the project and maintain a detailed record of the as-built facility. Operations and maintenance staff will need efficient access to information on installed equipment (e.g. HVAC or elevators) to effectively manage and maintain the facility.
Web-based project management systems like EADOC continue to demonstrate value after occupancy. Operations and maintenance staff will need efficient access to information on installed equipment (e.g. HVAC or elevators) to effectively manage and maintain the facility.
Unfortunately, the status quo is for the contractor to deliver a set of as-built paper documents that are consist of a mark-up of the original design. This physical deliverable consists of boxes, drawings, warrantees and manuals, which are rarely accessible and searchable by the people that need the information most.
With a web-based project management system, owners can assemble a repository of electronic documents for easy reference. As emerging technologies such as the building information model (BIM) take hold, it will be even more important for owners to maintain an online repository for this critical data.
While the aforementioned benefits are likely to be attractive to any owner, too many are hesitant to require that their project team use a specific system, especially if each party already has their own system in place. The owner can take the lead in providing a 'neutral' solution that all teams can leverage for their own benefit, while at the same time benefiting the owner. The vision is that contractors, architects and engineers will be eager to use any tool that saves them time and money and ultimately reduces finger-pointing. An auditable system that also speeds RFI and submittal responses will serve as an incentive that will benefit all involved. If that's not enough motivation, remind them – and yourself – who ultimately writes the checks.