Our regular round-up of tools to help you work smarter looks at an innovation from the oil industry and a software program to maximise profit from mixed-use schemes

Portfolio management

Construction and management consultant Turner & Townsend has formed a project controls unit in order to apply portfolio management to construction projects. Portfolio management brings together all the projects a company is working on for a particular client. It is used widely in the nuclear, oil and chemical industries and means everyone on the client's side and in the construction teams on each project has access to the same data.

Turner & Townsend says this approach enables a better overview of cost schedule performance and more precise forecasting, thus providing better value for money. The company says it is especially suitable for government agencies, which are likely to be working on many projects at once, and for regeneration projects, which have lots of stakeholders.

Turner & Townsend is working on how to capture project data more quickly to lower costs as the project progresses.


Mixed-use software

Project manager Buro Four has developed a software tool to help clients ensure they have the appropriate mix when developing mixed-use schemes. According to David Pelter, a director at Buro Four, the firm has found that development management - the process a developer goes through to arrive at the scheme's contents - blurs into project management. "It's easier to deliver a successful project if we have been involved in the development management," he explains.

What makes finding the most profitable scheme so complicated is there are many potential uses for a site, and each use can be delivered in several ways. "When you start adding uses to a scheme, the options don't add, they multiply," says Pelter. There could be more than a hundred delivery options for a scheme with four different uses and that exploring all of these properly is virtually impossible, he adds.

"We always thought that developers adopted a sophisticated process for determining the best mix but we found this is not so," says Pelter. He says developers often start with a "best guess", tinker with it to get it to work then run with it as the final solution. Buro Four's software tool, which is called Interactive Development Modelling, identifies the best mix right down to whether residential aspects of a scheme should be one- or two-bedroom flats.

The second stage looks at how the scheme should be delivered for the best return, for example in one phase or several phases, and how quickly. From this, the developer can see the effect the use and delivery route can have on the potential profit margin.

Because the tool makes it easy to evaluate a number of "what if" options, the developer can be confident it is selecting the optimum development for a site. The final stage is to take the selected option and refine the financial and time elements into a fully integrated computer model. "An on-screen correction to any aspect of the programme immediately adjusts the cashflow, profitability or any other development factor that has been modelled," says Pelter.