INTEGRATED COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS

Project management software programs that address the communication needs of general contractors have significantly improved the ability of a contractor to track, monitor and control the myriad details involved in the typical school construction project.

From the GC down most projects are well wired. The problem has been that none of the software on the market today effectively addresses the very critical information and reporting needs from the GC up.

A client's request for a summary report on some aspect of a construction project usually causes a sudden flurry of activity involving the shift of personnel from assigned tasks to data gathering and report preparation.

It's common for school construction projects to be fraught with communication and reporting problems because of the very public nature of the work environment and the large number of stakeholders. As design and construction programs grow larger and clients become more sophisticated, the need intensifies for integrated communications systems that serve the management and information needs of all stakeholders.

Until recently, construction management and information technology have been viewed as separate enterprises. Construction professionals were valued for their knowledge of budgeting, cost estimating, value engineering and scheduling, in addition to hands-on management skills. Construction managers didn't need to know about Websites. They could subcontract that to someone else. The World Wide Web was simply a nice way to market the company.

But today, owners and clients are looking to the CM to provide and manage digital project information systems as part of the standard scope of services.

The development of the Internet and the Web's cross-platform interface offers greater efficiencies in communication, reporting and management. Data is shared more efficiently and without concern for barriers of time and place.

An integrated communications program employed by the CM for Scottsdale, Ariz.'s, $106-million K-12 systemwide upgrade in 2001 fully embraced the opportunities created by the Web. The CM developed Websites and software applications that produced unprecedented communications for a project of its size and significantly improved the process of reporting to the client. The CM's software was designed to track costs and facilitate document sharing. It was specifically designed to serve the information and reporting requirements from the GC up.

The software, called IMPACT for Integrated Management, Project Accounting and Controls Technology, was developed during a 12-year period. It is adapted to the specific needs of each project, program or client. It can handle large programs as well as smaller projects. The software program documents cost, schedule and scope details, and rolls the data up into total program management reports. It ensures that current and accurate information is available on a real-time basis.

The software operates on a local area network. Project and program information can be accessed via the Website. The Website extends the program’s usefulness, providing communications capabilities at every step of the program management process. Users can easily input data and access information from job sites, other remote locations or from home. The tedious and time-consuming task of gathering and summarizing information for periodic reporting is virtually eliminated. At any time, a user with the proper permissions can generate a summary report combining any or all projects from any computer with Web access.

The software can summarize data from the GC project level up to the program level and any level in between. Also, it can track the source of funds as well as how the money is spent. It can do this at several levels of the program. This ability to track money provides the facility managers powerful tools to stay on top of this large program.

The construction program Website developed by the CM for the Scottsdale program has several levels of access to match the viewer's need for detail. Citizens can log on and access the school they are interested in, and get an update on the construction and renovation work being done. On some sites, Web cameras are in place to provide live photos of the work in progress. The customized Website also allows project teams to easily access and share information online and in real time. And they can use the Web-site at any time from any location. The Website always shows the most updated information. The Website automatically generates e-mail to notify users that an RFI or submittal has been posted. An online directory of all the relevant players in the program makes it easier for people to work together.

In addition to making project teams more time efficient, the Website and software significantly reduced report preparation time. Report formats and designs were easy to understand.

On the Scottsdale construction/renovation program, the Internet-based information system reduced face-to-face meeting time by several hundred hours.

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