The Whys and Hows of Digital Monitoring

Staying up to date with construction

“These days I hear a lot about how cloud computing and digital technology are changing the construction landscape.”

It’s a big subject and often confusing. I’d like to try and clear up some of that confusion, starting with one specific aspect of the construction process: Monitoring.

What is digital construction monitoring and why do we need it?

Digital construction monitoring simply means an automated method of monitoring. That is, all the steps you normally take to track and monitor your project, but done digitally via a computer system that uses bits and bytes rather than paper and phone calls and site visits.

Why do you need it?

You need it because it’s the only way to ensure glitch free-execution of a construction plan.

If you want to ensure that your plan is consistent with budgets (like, your contractor quotes), you need digital monitoring.

If you need an accurate and reliable way to check the progress of a construction project, (especially during the draw request period), you need Digital Monitoring.

If you need to independently verify the line item percentage and enable error-free completion of the project, you need Digital Monitoring. See where I’m going..?

You need Digital Monitoring to plan and use resources effectively. If you are one of the companies who consider manpower management their biggest challenge in project planning, you need a digitized system of tracking and managing your resources because only then can you prioritize, allocate, and plan resources according to project schedules (keeping in mind that your schedules probably have tight timelines and budgets).

So — if you’re convinced that you need to at least consider digital monitoring on your next construction or engineering project – what exactly do you need it for?

What should be Digitally Monitored?

Quality control

Quality control or quality enforcement ensures that the construction progress is in-sync with the industry standards.

There was a time when quality control used to be completely skill-driven, but that time may be past. Because the market has changed, times have changed, expectations have changed. Digitization has changed how ‘quality’ is defined and executed in most industries, and construction will not be far behind. I’ve seen a lot of projects play out on the field, and I believe today’s company has no choice but to employ digital aids to achieve quality.

The time when ensuring quality was a tedious, effort-intensive process performed ‘manually’ by skilled managers is, I believe, coming to an end, thanks to new technologies and methods. Some argue that digitizing the process will simply automate and not necessarily improve it, but in my experience digitizing makes the process not just faster and cheaper, but foolproof. (Earlier, human error would invariably creep in at some point despite all possible checks and balances.) That is why IT is the only way to manage quality 100% effectively. A software system can drive the process from start to finish with a human manager to only perform spot-checks and supervise. So not only is the labour reduced, the outcome is better.

Timeline and Timeliness

The main events of a construction timeline can be classified into planning, execution, change management and tracking. So let’s call those phases or stages of your overall project timeline. Now what?

Now you need to plug in schedules and resources.

You can do this as it has always been done ie manually, or you can do this the easy way ie with today’s technology. My vote goes to the second, not just because I set up a technology company but because I’ve seen the results of the first method, namely: human error, stress, missed deadlines, missed milestone, unrealistic planning, conflict, misunderstanding, unhappy clients, unhappy teams…you name it.

In my book, the best approach to manage timelines is an approach that works across the entire cycle of construction resource management, forecasting and monitoring — and ties together all the components into one process. Again, possible only in the last decade or so, thanks to development of technologies like the cloud, mobile smart devices, and so on.

Let’s go a little deeper into the process:

Planning: The predictive analysis for resource prioritization and optimization is run during this stage and the project layout is envisaged during this stage. Therefore stringent monitoring is indispensable.

Execution: The plan takes life during this stage, hence close monitoring is required to standardize and automate resource approvals. Monitoring also helps in Capitalization of labor cost and productivity and Mobile time entry and tracking

Change management and tracking: Tracking can be done by keeping tabs on resource capacity & demand, maintaining the visibility of resource allocation, monitoring and measuring performance, and tracking budgets and the progress.

Negotiations, suppliers and supplier performance

Negotiation takes place at almost every stage of construction; it is essential in corporate communication to buy raw materials for lower prices, to sell for profitable prices, and to settle disputes. The types of negotiations in terms of construction are contract/subcontract and negotiation of change-orders (including time extensions and dispute-negotiation). Negotiation can bring in good deals and great profits — if correctly handled.

The monitoring of a negotiated settlement as a general rule should always be considered as a first step because a negotiated settlement may be the least costly and most expeditious way to resolve the dispute. But to handle a negotiation properly you need data, and to manage data effectively you need a digital system.

Health & Safety

The health risks and chances of accidents are very high in the construction sector. Although construction managers do their best to anticipate and avoid any untoward incidents, the reality is that accidents do happen. A digital construction management system could build up sufficient knowledge to help companies strengthen their Risk assessment strategies, and carry out those strategies efficiently. These strategies can even be planned across all offices and teams regularly by management to identify hazards, and teams on construction sites can be constantly monitored using digital technology to minimize the risk.

Costing

Digital tools to manage project monitoring, control, and record keeping are indispensable during project execution. Why? Because in a typical project, the original detailed cost estimate is converted to a project budget for control and monitoring purposes. In other words, the project budget does double duty thereafter as a management guide, where the cost elements of the construction budget constitute specific items in the detailed cost estimate, and where (for budget and costing monitoring), the expenses incurred during the course of a project are recorded in job cost accounts. In all this, the chance for human error is very high and digital construction monitoring can be a lifesaver.

Materials

The quality of final construction is directly linked to the quality of materials procured. Therefore, proper monitoring and procurement of premium materials is essential. A good monitoring technology brings transparency and clarity into the procurement process, making sure that any oversights or mistakes or delays, monetary or otherwise, can be instantly identified and quickly corrected. For example, in many cases, you see losses happening in a construction project due to unwanted hoarding of building materials, which is avoidable with a digital system of monitoring.

Operational management

When it comes to operational management, digitization can be a sea change. It can eliminate (or at least dramatically reduce) the chance of misunderstanding, confusion and human error. In a people-dependent industry like construction, you can imagine just what a boon this is!

Digitized operational monitoring brings balance and harmony to an inherently chaotic process. It can be like oil on troubled water. And such technology-backed operational monitoring is not a distant dream anymore – it is a practical reality. Technology has already revolutionized interactions with clients, partners, management, vendors, and field staff and it is expected to alter construction monitoring for good.

To conclude, construction is no stranger to IT, or vice versa, but now for the first time technology can transform the construction process from the inside out.

For decades, the process of construction, from design to email to MS Office to ERP, has been enabled and supported by software technology to the point where it is now taken for granted as part of the daily routine. But we need to go beyond using IT for drawing and administrative support and use it across the entire cycle of construction. It’s time to step it up and make digital technology a business partner not just a supporting player — because until ALL the processes up till construction, including monitoring, are not driven by technology, you’re not really getting the full benefit of technology.

About the Author
KV Daniel

KV Daniel

Welcome to my blog. I am of the generation that did its 'blogging' over a beer and peanut masala not a keyboard, but I have decided to move with the times. So these are some thoughts I had and lessons I picked up along the way. If you're looking for startling new insights or witty anecdotes, you'll probably be disappointed. If you like blunt down-to-earth thoughts from a blunt down-to-earth man, read on.
KV Daniel
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