Jan 14 2015

Technology is the critical aspect of a successful collaboration, right? Wrong

Collaboration - PeopleWorking at a collaboration software company, it might seem like heresy to suggest that technology is not the most important factor in increasing efficiencies and improving outcomes for the supply chain and asset owners, but it is true.

Technology systems can be integrated, can connect and communicate with other pieces of technology, but they cannot collaborate. People collaborate, not systems.

Avoiding the analogy of ‘working with the enemy’, one definition of collaboration is “the act of working with another or others on a joint project”.  In the construction context, it is about project teams coming together to share their knowledge and skills and jointly developing a built asset that none of them, working alone, could separately have produced.


BIM and GSL – the latest attempts at improving collaboration in the Construction industry


Defined in this way, collaboration is a natural part of construction, but it is not always as efficient as it could be.  The key to successful collaboration is trust: a recurring industry theme.  BIM and soft landings are the most recent attempt at getting the industry to collaborate for the benefit of all.  Before BIM came the 1994 Latham Report, “Constructing the Team,” which mentioned ‘trust’ 53 times, and promoted partnering as the solution.  Perhaps anticipating the emergence of collaborative IT, Latham also said “Use of co-ordinated project information should be a contractual requirement”.

This and subsequent efforts at collaboration strove to replace adversarial approaches to construction with more trusting, collaborative approaches, and were instrumental in shifting large parts of the UK industry towards the NEC contract and towards use of IT to support collaboration (Latham became deputy chairman of CONJECT, then BIW Technologies).

Alongside the ‘hard’ tangible provisions of better contracts and new communication platforms, it was increasingly recognised that attention to the ‘soft’ people-related aspects of team-working was also necessary.  The Egan report and, in 2002, “Accelerating Change” – the first UK government document to explicitly recommend the use of integrated IT in construction – highlighted ‘leadership’ and ‘respect for people’ as key improvement areas, and Constructing Excellence (CONJECT is a member), alongside other industry organisations, has been leading efforts to promote more trust-based approaches to project delivery.


Trust and collaboration are achieved by People, not Processes  


So, for over 20 years there has been ongoing debates about collaboration and trust, and these continue today, particularly in the context of BIM (can we trust their data? etc).  However, trust cannot be brought about by industry standards, processes or contract clauses, it is created by meeting promises and delivering performance.  In short, it is demonstrated by people’s behaviours in a team, and it is significant that the Construction Industry Council’s “BIM4” community added a “Behaviours for Collaboration” group, led by Elizabeth Kavanagh, late last year.  This has identified trust as one of five factor pairings enabling collaboration:

  1. Trust / Respect
  2. Moving from silos to being ‘T-shaped’ People
  3. Openness / Communications
  4. Common goals / New ways of working
  5. Leadership / Interpersonal skills

The group is aiming to develop a “Profession Map” specifying collaborative behaviours; such maps are used for professional development and specify not just the knowledge and skills required but also the behaviours with a particular emphasis on how different roles and professions engage with each other.  Your future career progression may then depend upon how well you demonstrate collaborative behaviours in your daily work.

‘Communication’ and ‘new ways of working’ also hint at technology, but otherwise collaboration is all about creating and maintaining the right culture in a project team. Appropriate behaviours may be demonstrated through advocacy and use of technologies, of course, but critically it will be about how the technology is used: are you being inclusive in sharing information, are you being open and transparent?


The role of technology in improving collaboration


Technology can encourage and facilitate collaborative behaviours, CONJECT solutions for example provide transparency with audit trails and change histories providing visibility of who has worked on or completed which task and when whilst configurable workflows remove barriers to information share, a keystone of collaboration.  Ultimately though it is the up to the project teams and the users to ensure that people are encouraged and empowered to support collaborative processes.

Whether you are ready to implement a CDE for BIM on your project or are simply looking to improve document and data sharing between different parties and project stages, we can support you.

For news and information about collaboration technologies, subscribe to the CONJECT newsletter.

You may find these additional blogs of interest:

2015: The year ahead in construction

Gaining a competitive advantage

About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

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