Most of today’s large rail projects are outliving their construction schedules, creating the need for technology that provides owners a long-term picture of their asset. With a fully integrated project controls platform, owners get the real-time visibility they need through all project phases to win the “long game.”
When you think of “solutions for every project phase,” chances are your thoughts focus in on the different phases of construction. Planning, design, execution…we could stay here and list them all. However, when you take a step back and examine a project through the lens of an owner, things change a bit. The Brooklyn Bridge has been operational since 1903, with a construction phase that was a very short, finite amount of time in the bridge’s life span. The same can be said for most capital projects; they are assets in a portfolio that far out live their construction schedules.
What does all this have to do with digital transformations in construction technology? When you expand the project life cycle from early concepts through to operations and maintenance, there is a much larger, long-term picture to be assembled. Any changes, from a minor tweak to a significant issue, could have a lasting impact on the overall reliability and survival of the asset. Instant visibility into the relevant information is vital to making the most informed decision.
Balancing Scope, Cost and Schedule
From early conceptual planning, capital projects are built on three distinct pillars: scope, cost and schedule. The definition of these pillars creates boundaries for the teams involved, in essence supplying a simple set of guidelines to filter each decision through before proceeding. The more refined and accurate each parameter becomes, the more room there is for overlap or error, especially with large, complex teams working from different firms and locations.
The key to balancing scope, cost and schedule in the planning and early execution of a project is tying the three together through an integrated project controls platform. By aggregating design models and project documentation into a single source of truth, each stakeholder is working from the same set of plans. Incorporate that set scope with a database of historical performance and benchmarking, and the cost and schedule quickly refine based on actual experience. This is also the best time to quantify and mitigate risks, before the project even begins while teams are collaborating on the balance of each pillar. By maintaining the intersection of scope, cost and schedule in a single platform, owners are equipped with greater confidence in the overall plan.
But, like they say, you can’t win ‘em all, and when it comes to capital projects, change is inevitable. Do you have access to the necessary information to make the most informed decision on a path forward? Of the more famous construction “blunders” in history, the Tower of Pisa is arguably one of the most recognisable. Dubbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa today, the structure began to sink on one side during construction of the second story of seven total, but on they went. Would the project team make a different decision today if they had access to a 3D model with linked geotechnical analysis for the foundations? One would hope so. However, the answer lies not simply in adding more technology, but in connecting technology to create a truly collaborative atmosphere for understanding the trade-offs in scope, cost and schedule for each change. Become too locked-in on any one pillar, like schedule for the tower, and the others could falter resulting in a less-functional asset.
Living with the Consequences
After 700 years of structural stabilisation efforts, the Tower of Pisa finally stopped sinking in May of 2008. But this isn’t the only example of a construction decision gone wrong. The infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge began swaying during construction and earned the nickname “Galloping Gertie” from the crew. Instead of pausing construction to test and recommend solutions, several efforts were made in-flight to stabilise the structure. This included the installation of hydraulic buffers between the towers and deck, only to have the seals of these buffers sustain significant damage during sandblasting from prep for painting the bridge. With an integrated quality management and punch list system, would this issue have been tagged for rework prior to collapse? Or better yet, would the sand-blasting work package have included a hold-point to protect the hydraulics before starting work?
Even if the issue isn’t as catastrophic as this bridge, the more information captured during construction changes, the more educated operations and maintenance teams will be. Integrating quality and commissioning data into the common data environment for projects brings the digital twin to life. Combining this as-built data with the as-designed digital replica of the project aggregates all of the who, what, where, when, why and how for operations. This extends the ability to make the most informed decision for maintenance, improvements or even replacements as the asset ages, and thus extends the project life cycle beyond construction.
However, the pillars of scope, cost and schedule don’t end there. Each new service order or small caps project requires the same delicate balance seen in construction as owners work to get the most return for their investments. By building on the foundation of the as-built data, project coordination is fueled by clash detection and identification of possible hot spots in the model. Every new estimate, drawing and change enriches the digital twin with a complete history of the asset’s existence and how it fits into the broader portfolio of an owner. Because at the end of the day, balancing scope, cost and schedule for an owner is almost never about just one project.
The Ripple Effect
The inevitable change in a project during construction has a ripple effect on the overall program for an owner. Erosion of any one pillar, on any one project, means eroding the finite set of resources spread across all projects. Whether it is pulling funds from a future concept to pay for a significant change or losing funds altogether due to a delay in creating operational capital from an asset, owners require a connected data story in order to make the next move. Do we move forward with a lower quality final product knowing maintenance will come sooner? Do we delay a future project to do our best work now? These questions require a balance of scope, cost and schedule at the program and portfolio level, expanded through aggregation of the common data environment of each project.
This is playing the long game. Because when the overall program or portfolio of an owner is in jeopardy, it can very quickly become about more than construction. Say the owner is a large, public cloud software provider, building data centers to house their next big release. Delay one project and they could be looking at a delay for a major source of capital for their company. Or say they are a provider of a major resource or utility to us, the consumer. Place a project on hold due to funding issues and we all may end up paying the price as resource supply struggles to meet demand. It is in these moments where all of the available data, in a single connected environment, is truly vital to make the most informed decision.
“Solutions for every project phase.” It has a new meaning now, doesn’t it? The moment the contractor walks off the site is really just the beginning. The time spent planning, designing, executing and tracking for a single project is simply a piece of a larger puzzle. Utilizing a fully integrated project controls platform provides the transparency owners need to collaborate with all stakeholders across the project life cycle, keeping them wholly informed as they play the long game.
Developed for construction professionals by construction professionals, InEight offers comprehensive solutions that answer many of the most common project challenges you may have. Schedule a demo with InEight to learn more.
By AJ Waters, Vice President, Industry Solutions, InEight