Can IT de-risk projects?
Exploring the role of IT in EPC
The role of IT in EPC is vastly
Last weekend I was on a panel discussion at AACE South India Section National Conference 2018 where the topic was: Digitalization and Technology adoption in mega project execution to project performance. It was interesting to see how polarized the industry has become: some love IT and some hate it but almost everyone is wary of it. The discussion reinforced something I’ve been mulling over recently, which is that IT and its role in EPC is hugely, massively, consistently misunderstood! Could it be that this misunderstanding has kept EPC lagging behind in going digital with the rest of the world?
To digitize or not to digitize….
Over the years I’ve come to expect a certain mistrust from clients about IT, which on investigation proved to have roots in a series of misconceptions and a lack of knowledge and so my job has been to try to clear those things away and address the Why Nots before the Whys. That is why I’m still actively involved with Sales. Changing mindsets is not a quick or easy thing.
The underlying problem, I believe, is one of perception. Digital transformation is perceived as something big and complex and unpleasant that will sweep over the organization like a tsunami, with the few money/time benefits gained not justifying the cost/effort.
I’ve had to work very hard to change that perception.
Role of IT in EPC?
Let’s break it down: where exactly is the misunderstanding/misconception? I believe it is in the fundamental idea of what the role of IT in an EPC organization should be.
Here’s the truth: IT in itself is not the solution or even ‘a’ solution, it is simply a method to make the solution achievable ie IT enables the solution (to the problem of How to balance costs, quality, and time). And what is the solution being enabled? Common sense! Efficiency, reduced costs, more control, better planning, better collaboration, everybody in a project working as one – all that good stuff. Digitization just makes all of it possible.
To put it another way, IT is the easiest, fastest, and most effective way to reach functional goals, which are usually some subset of efficiency, productivity, or optimization.
IT as Enabler of EPC
To explain that a bit more: everybody knows what needs to happen to get a project completed on time and on budget. They even know how to achieve it on paper (that’s why things like EVM and QMS exist). But what they don’t know is how to make it happen in real life. They have the right ideas but don’t how to enforce them. They don’t know how to make people more efficient or data more accurate or teams more collaborative or vendors more trustworthy. That is where IT, or rather IT solution providers, step in.
Take my own company. At one time our tagline was ‘IT for EPC’. We had to change that because it just created barriers. We found it easier to sell a document management system than a quality management system, or report-template library than a project control system – despite the solution actually delivering a perfectly-enforced QMS or a perfectly-monitored S-curve.
So, with each client, we’ve had to start from scratch to give a clear picture of what we were offering and why it would be beneficial.
Benefits without risk..?
Some of the concern is understandable. I’m in the business of digitizing processes but
I would not want to live in a wholly digitized world. I think technology should complement and supplement human creativity and hard work, not supplant it. I think technology can help us harvest the benefits of human effort by eliminating error and tedium – in fact to me that is what digitizing is, really. Processes should be automated and transformed and digitized but ideas should never be, nor do I think they ever can be. So why be afraid of IT or digitization?
We’re in a transitory phase between an analogous and digital society, and any company-wide changes such as (perceived) disruption from Digitization will be seen as a risk. Despite this, the industry needs to wake up to the fact that IT is the best and perhaps the only way to achieve a balance between time, cost, and quality.
To the engineering organization debating the pros and cons of Going Digital, please know this: IT not a new way to do things nor is it a ‘paradigm shift’ or a journey or a destination or a philosophy. IT is a set of tools, that you do not currently have, to get you where you want to go.
It’s that simple.
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