In the civil engineering world, we see a growing need for firms to use model-based software to meet bid requirements. When landing a job is vital, it is not uncommon for a company to state that it owns the required software; however, its staff may not know how to use it. The focus is on securing the new business and then worrying about learning to use the software once the business is won.
Winning a bid and trying to figure out how to use new software as you go can lead to a final deliverable that exceeds project deadlines or comes in over budget. This is because companies haven't taken the time to define a comprehensive software rollout, implementation, and adoption plan, leaving employees scrambling to learn how to use the program and create whole new workflows, all while attempting to complete the billable project.
In turn, when faced with unfamiliar circumstances, employees will resort to what they know. They will try to make the new software fit the same old processes and workflows they're used to – ultimately "dumbing down" any enhanced capabilities.
In the end, you'll be aware that there were inefficiencies, but likely won't be able to pinpoint them. When the immediacy and pressure of the initial project is over, it's a good time to take a step back to do a comprehensive post-mortem and ensure that your next project will be more effective optimizing your investment in the new software tools – producing the efficiency gains you expected.
Having worked with hundreds of civil engineering clients with varying stages of software adoption, we've learned that the key to getting the best value out of whatever new program is deployed is making sure firms think beyond the software alone. This involves analyzing the people using the technology, the processes it's being applied to, and identifying industry-leading practices that support the entire team. Here are some of the ways your organization can leverage greater value from software investments.
Prepare your people
Using a billable project to drive the adoption and use of a new software program may seem like a good idea, and can work if done properly, however, this generally will only work if the project is small and deadlines are not pressing. Getting a team up and running using a real world pilot project often presents them with a more "real" experience.
Even if your team "learned" the new software on-the-fly during a live project, it's wise to step back once the implementation is complete and do a review. Assess each team members' understanding of the program. This will help identify specific areas where skill levels can be improved or showcase those who are able to act as mentors to the team based on their elevated knowledge of the software. Be sure any future training is customized for your organization and that it is designed to educate the users on not only the mechanics of the software (picks and clicks) but also the proper workflow.
A professional technical trainer well versed in the technology as well as the industry is best suited to address the specific needs of individuals as well as the overall goals of the organization. Ultimately, customized or over-the-shoulder education and mentoring should demonstrate real return on investment in terms of your personnel and in the successful completion of the next billable project.
Develop new workflows and design standards
Do not leave your team to backslide where it is tempted to use old methods with the new software. It is not effective, and you will spend more time unraveling this than you would have just doing it right from the outset. It can be helpful to review that first project that didn't quite go as planned to determine what worked well, what you wish worked better, and how you expect future projects to improve.
Based on how your organization operates and the types of projects you are involved in, a workflow process consultant can help you identify proficiency gaps and then work with you to define steps that you and your team can take to leverage the benefits of the software. Re-engineering your workflows is probably the single most effective and beneficial thing you could do to attain greater levels of productivity, as well as reduce operating costs and compress design timelines.
Another way to increase efficiency gains is to develop and implement corporate and project drawing standards or refine those that were created initially. Consistent object, label, and table styles for everything you would normally use, including blocks, layers, line styles, and command settings, allows your team to focus on the design and not the software. This process alone can take a significant amount of time, but is well worth the effort because it only has to happen once. Be sure that the styles and settings meet the daily needs of your designers or they will be forced to edit and create styles and adjust settings on-the-fly, which contributes to productivity-robbing inefficiencies.
Use industry-leading practices to develop your templates and, if needed, ask for external help with content creation, which can be time consuming. Asking for help allows you and your team to remain focused on billable projects.
Examine data sharing and security practices
Once you've adopted a 3D building information modeling (BIM) technology, you will likely share the model data across offices both internally and externally to allow for parallel design development. Say you have six people in one office sitting idle and in another office they are struggling with heavy workloads and are six weeks behind on a large project. Clearly, it would be great to bring the remote team in on the project. Similarly, if your projects span multiple partners, getting them all to work together on the same model improves communication and reduces design time.
When the immediacy of the initial project is over, examine your current data sharing methods to ensure you have a system that supports remote design access. You could utilize a centralized file management system such as Vault that supports distributed design data. This has the potential to allow people in different locations to operate with local bandwidth-like performance and still have visibility into what others are working on remotely – as though they were all under one roof.
Collaborating electronically with external partners creates additional challenges – primarily regarding data security. In this case, you need to come up with a data management model that reflects how the partners collaborate, including which aspects they can alter and which they cannot. Sometimes this is clear, but if one supplier is working on the survey data and another is working on road design, these systems interact significantly and a sophisticated mix of access and write controls must be implemented.
The other area where collaboration can break down is simply getting one system to talk to another. Performing a platform audit and mapping one infrastructure to another requires the services of IT professionals versed in distributed systems integration. Data distribution, security, and platform differences are just some of the considerations for making collaboration a success, allowing you to realize the full potential of the software.
Make the most of opportunity
When you take on new projects, don't just assume that your team knows how to use the software that you own. Understand that most new applications – particularly model-based BIM 3D technology – will alter the way your organization operates. To make sure that change is for the better, spend a bit more on implementation, training, and consulting services to optimize your people and their daily workflows, and employ a routine post-mortem on projects and review for your overall performance. This can significantly increase the efficiencies of your new technology and keep your employees up-to-speed – able to focus on your clients' needs and less on the software.
Daniel Chapek is Infrastructure Solutions team manager at IMAGINiT Technologies (www.imaginit.com).