Saxon was speaking at the Construction Industry Computing Association’s annual convention at Downing College, Cambridge, at the end of last month. Delegates came from all walks of the construction sector and included major clients such as Severn Trent Water and London Underground, as well as IT managers from Jarvis, Bovis and Laing.
In his opening address, Saxon referred to the latest fashion in procurement – prime contracting – as an area that would benefit from greater use of IT systems. Prime contracting relies heavily on sophisticated supply chains working in harmony. One of the ways they can do this is by exploiting document management systems, the Internet
and extranets to ease communication on projects and create an audit trail. E-commerce will also offer major advances in the management of supply chains.
Saxon is not an IT specialist but backs its use as an opportunity to simplify processes. He has even pressed the government to demand that document management systems be used on all government projects. So far, the idea has not been adopted, but if the government were to take the initiative, this would ease the introduction of a standard in the industry.
But it is not only communications that can be improved by technology. Saxon believes that there is enormous potential for creating building prototypes before work starts on site.
“Simulation and visualisation of proposals could avoid clients moving into a building and saying, ‘It’s very nice but not what I expected,’” he told the convention. But he concedes that technology for simulating buildings before a spade hits the ground still has some way to go.
Simulation and visualisation of proposals could avoid firms moving into a building and saying “It is very nice but not what I expected”
Richard Saxon, BDP
A move into a new age of technological advancements in construction was also hailed by other speakers at the convention. Dave Field, knowledge manager at LU, admitted the enormous task faced by the organisation in garnering its own assets and creating a useful database that allows authorised users access to information. This is a particularly acute issue now that the Underground faces partial privatisation.
The use of IT as a means of controlling assets, whether these are offices or sewage treatment works, was highlighted by Jim Bostock of Severn Trent Water. The utility’s head of asset management aims to complete every aspect of the firm’s £28bn operational asset base by 2001, and in doing so to increase the firm’s efficiency. With a capital expenditure programme of £500m a year, the potential for savings is enormous.
To harness asset information in a useful format, Bostock began by building a simple database. Once the inventory was complete, he added performance data for components.
This means that all capital expenditure is connected to operational expenditure, making it easy to compare capital costs and running costs. “We wouldn’t survive without it now,” he says.
The construction sector is definitely becoming more IT-friendly. Massive firms such as Severn Trent Water and Amey see the potential of using IT systems to improve their operations. BDP’s Saxon is right when he says that the next 10 years will prove the benefits of IT.