Jump-Start Savings with Digital Handover
By Scott Bartlett
The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates U.S. operations and maintenance firms spend at least $4.8 billion annually verifying that documentation accurately represents existing conditions in their facilities and another $613 million transferring that information into a useful format. This does not include the cost of re-creating lost documents. While owners have been bearing the brunt of the poor handover of project information, they are waking up and starting to require construction and engineering firms do a better job managing the critical data needed to maintain and operate completed facilities.
The emphasis on reducing operating costs for completed projects has many owners looking for a better way to maintain their assets. While initial construction can be costly, ongoing operational and maintenance expenses during the course of a facility’s lifetime—which can span decades—typically exceed the initial building investment. As such, facility owners are looking to optimize their investments and potentially save all of the as-built acquisition costs. Many are looking to a digital handover model to help keep operating and maintenance costs under control from starting the moment they take possession.
Thorough documentation plays a critical role in the successful and efficient operation of complex systems. Thousands of drawings, models, documents, change orders and files are generated on each construction project and usually are a challenge to manage. Historically, a disconnect exists between the design and construction phase of a project and its operational phase. Upon completion of construction, facility owners and operators might receive a literal truckload of paper documentation that ultimately ends up in file cabinets and storage boxes, where it is difficult to access or forgotten altogether.
Increasingly, facility owners and operators are asking for more accessible and detailed documentation at the conclusion of a construction project. In addition to paper drawings, blueprints and photos, they want digital images, as-built drawings, change orders, warranty information, operational procedures, contracts and permit approvals. Engineering and construction firms that can deliver this information digitally and efficiently stand to gain in terms of customer satisfaction and will reduce the overall cost of facility handover.
This goal is not always as easy as it sounds because each project requires collaboration among many different stakeholders, including owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and governmental organizations. Project information comes in many different formats, not all of which are digital. In addition, various stakeholders may use different software applications, have different work methods and focus only on one segment of the project. From the original design, changes are always made to accommodate problems in the field that may not get distributed to all pertinent parties.
Firms can quickly and cost-effectively hand over all of this information at the end of construction through the capture, management, structured storage, and controlled access of information and data via a central repository of reusable digital files that can be shared across the building’s life cycle. When beginning the journey toward digital handover, AEC and EPC firms should consider several fundamental requirements and best practices.
- Create a solid data infrastructure. This requires a powerful, extensive database that can handle high volumes of data, an enterprise visualization tool, and a robust middleware layer to expose all critical information and documentation in a single location.
- Flexibility is key. The infrastructure must be flexible to enable the storage, handling, sharing and viewing of many different documents and materials, such as BIM models, CAD drawings, equipment lists, warranties, maintenance schedules, legal documents and government approvals. It also should feature a visual solution that is CAD system agnostic, allowing the contracting firm to view and share designs across organizations.
- Stick with standards. Look for solutions that are built to industry standards for data exchange. For example, all construction-related design tools can save their designs in Industry Foundation Classes, a standardized format created by the buildingSMART alliance. Additionally, the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange, an Excel-based information template, focuses on the exchange and handover of information at the end of a project from the contractor to the owner.
- Consider in-house and outsourced (cloud) options. Many factors can guide decisions as to the best path forward. For example, some highly sensitive projects, such as a nuclear power plant construction, would be hosted privately or managed in-house. Other less sensitive projects could use a more cost-effective hosted solution in a public cloud.
Creating a flexible structured storage environment for all project documents enables AEC and EPC firms to quickly and efficiently hand over a project and its documents to the owner or operator. With a digital system for project documentation, construction firms can save a significant amount of time and money by turning over drawings, files and documents electronically as opposed to the time-consuming process of shipping file boxes to the owner. The end result is a win-win for construction firms and their clients.
Scott Bartlett is senior director of industry marketing for Oracle. For more information, visit www.oracle.com.