Australia’s $100 billion infrastructure spending spree is seeing more companies tackling rail projects collaboratively. Rail Express spoke with project management software developer InEight about the benefits of effective collaboration.
The rise of billion-dollar rail infrastructure projects means that companies need to form joint ventures to undertake the wider scope of work in this space.
However, multiple companies and scores of team members can form tangled webs of people across several locations, often resulting in communication failures, schedule delays and increased costs. To address these challenges, forward-thinking companies are accelerating their uptake of technology.
Rob Bryant is executive vice president – Asia Pacific of capital project management software developer InEight. He says InEight, which offers solutions across a range of industries, sees a particular opportunity for rail projects, which are often among the most complicated, and involve the most stakeholders.
“From our experience, rail projects and rail infrastructure projects are fairly complex,” Bryant says. “There are a lot of different factors that come into play from a regulatory and safety point of view, as well as just the general engineering challenges you face when you’re laying down rail and integrating it with roads. Adding further complication, with the shift to move away from level crossings, you’ve got more sophisticated interchanges and points of integration with other infrastructure to contend with.
“The other thing is that these projects are bigger than we’ve ever seen before – those underway right now are anywhere between 5- and 12-billion-dollar undertakings. Over the course of time, they might take 3 to even 10 years to reach full completion.”
Bryant says storing millions of documents and then sharing them between collaborating parties can bet quite challenging.
“And making sure they’re all referencing the same, correct, most up-todate version of every document is of the utmost importance.”
So too is providing a common ground for that information. Even though companies embark on joint ventures, and form teams with agreements in place as to the terms of their collaboration, it’s important to remember they are all different organisations at the end of the day, he says. “Having that information shared in a neutral and secure environment that can remain confidential where it needs to is crucial.”
Accountability is another benefit of InEight’s document management and control solution: once entered into the system and sent, correspondence cannot be deleted or altered.
“This means you have a very good audit trail, which, in a multi-billion-dollar project, is very important because there’s a lot at stake, both financially and in terms of execution,” Bryant explains. He says the solution has saved project teams a lot of time in putting together progress reports, enabling significant productivity gains.
One project team on a level crossing project saved weeks of time each month, he recalls. “They used to compile a 40-page end-of-month report, that would take up to two weeks to prepare. Now they use our analytical tools to capture that information live, and can present it at any given time through the month, creating enormous savings in productivity, both in reporting as well as in the actual gathering of information.”
When it comes to managing on-site challenges, the ability to capture an engineering problem in the field, by taking a photo of it, uploading it through an app, and sharing it with the engineers and consultants back in the office, allows for issue resolution within a matter of hours rather than over the course of days.
End to end, InEight’s solutions streamline the project management process throughout the project life cycle. The company boasts a modular, interoperable platform that begins with estimating and scheduling tools, takes in document management and field execution, and follows through to operations and maintenance, with solutions to help in handover and long-term asset management.
How early in the project you realise gains in efficiency and cost controls depends on when you implement the technology, Bryant says. When it comes to scheduling, for example, where project teams previously needed to cobble together vast sums of information to create a plan from scratch, InEight’s planning, scheduling and risk tool allows them to benchmark current plans against previous work, for greater accuracy and efficiency than through traditional planning methods.
Addressing potential challenges proactively rather than reacting later on results in better outcomes and fewer missteps throughout a given project.
“All large engineering projects require significant investment from a bidding team,” Bryant explains, “and we’re often talking about millions of dollars being spent on a bid before they even win the work. So, being able to realise some efficiency and productivity gains in that stage, as they’re estimating for work, putting together proposed schedules and reviewing plans, is of enormous value to construction firms as they evaluate their role in these large rail projects.”
InEight’s planning, scheduling and risk tool is bolstered by artificial intelligence, enabling the benchmark of past project data and helping generate more accurate plans and forecasts faster.
“Basically our planning, scheduling and risk tool draws from a knowledge library of all past projects, which includes how long it took to build them, how long various stages took, and what resources and materials were used. From that data, the tool generates suggestions regarding the schedule for the current project you’re planning.
“Our scheduling and estimating tools help projects start off on the right foot by generating more accurate schedules you can actually stand by, rather than ones resulting in missed deadlines,” Bryant says. “It can actually effectively pull in a template of past schedules from other projects and see what is most appropriate as planners put together the new schedule. There’s a real intelligence being applied to it, so it’s no longer just a series of processes bolted together and guesses being made about the duration. Now people are able to make more informed decisions.”
Even at the end of the construction phase, which may itself take up to 10 years to complete, InEight’s solutions deliver benefits.
“The billion-dollar projects that are currently underway are complex structures, woven together with multi-use stations that include residential and commercial space,” Bryant says. “As such, these assets are going to be managed and utilised within communities in different ways for decades which has a lot of implications for gathering and managing data through the life cycle. InEight solutions enable long-term asset management.”