Computers in the management of construction
The management of construction projects is highly demanding and involves a wide a range of tasks. It involves all managerial functions, forms of organisation, techniques and tools and the range of duties expands with the complexity of the project, as does the amount of data. Tools are needed to store and process the very large amounts of information that can be accumulated and as a result various types of software are available for managing construction projects.
The development of computer software for project management began with the idea that mathematical, network-based analysis of large-scale projects could reduce time and costs. In the late 1950s, techniques such as PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique) and CPM (Critical Path Method) provided a basis for the computer-aided management of projects. Since then software tools have been developed with greater and greater functionality.
Today, software can support project managers in all of their tasks:
It cannot be assumed that effective communication process will exist in ‘temporary’ construction project organisations. The division of labour and responsibilities, as well as the exchange of information and the workflow within in the project, must be planned, implemented and controlled.
The construction process has to be documented thoroughly and in real time. On the one hand, records may be required for regulatory reasons and, on the other, they are needed for monitoring, controlling and accounting construction processes.
The identification of discrepancies between target and actual performance is essential to target-oriented control. All processes need to be monitored within a narrow timeframe to ensure effective corrective actions can be taken, in particular, controlling quality, cost and programme.
Coordination, documentation and control are closely related, and project management software tools have to take account of joint data uses, exchanging data between the tools as well as with other applications, such as design or tender software. Clear interfaces reduce unnecessary data collection and prevent inconsistencies.
There is no completely comprehensive software tool available to deal with all the tasks involved in project management, a suite of systems is usually needed:
- Scheduling Software:
Construction scheduling software is used to plan, monitor and control project progress. Buffers and the corresponding critical path can be calculated based on process durations, deadlines and relationships and appropriate resources can be assigned. The results are usually displayed in the form of a Gantt chart, network plan or list. By entering current data, the user is able to automatically generate appropriate target-performance comparisons.
- Project Communication System:
Project communication systems support the coordination of a construction project by providing a joint platform to all project members for collaboration and information exchange. Usually, the platforms are internet-based and data access can be governed by different user authorisations and privileges. The range of functions varies greatly. Some platforms simply provide a common data store whilst others provide comprehensive media and workflow support.
- Digital Construction Diary:
Digital construction diaries range from simple templates for word processors, to internet-based systems with complex data structures. By integrating media such as photo documentation, the cogency of the construction diary can be increased. Pictures can prove especially useful to remote project team members.
- Cost Control Software:
Cost control software is based on capacity planning methods. Resources are assessed according to cost information, such as the charge-out rates for workers and equipment. By linking to the project’s accounting software, budget figures can be compared with actual figures. In addition, reports can be generated automatically presenting a visualisation of the processed data.
The text in this article is based on an extract from COMPUTER METHODS IN CONSTRUCTION, by Christoph Motzko, Florian Binder, Matthias Bergmann, Bogdan Zieliski, Mariusz Zabielski and Robert Gajewski. Darmstadt, Warsaw 2011. The original manual was developed within the scope of the LdV program, project number: 2009-1-PL1-LEO05-05016 entitled “Common Learning Outcomes for European Managers in Construction”. It is reproduced here in a slightly modified form with the kind permission of the Chartered Institute of Building.
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