Connecting the Dots: How to Avoid Information & Technology Silos

By Microdesk Senior Technology Evangelist, Peter Marchese. Originally published in Construction Business Owner.

Bringing efficiency and better coordination to projects has long been a goal in construction and there have been many studies that have looked at the costs of poor coordination and miscommunication. For example, the Construction Disconnected report in 2018 stated that poor communication is responsible for 48% of all rework, accounting for $31 billion in costs that year alone.

Finding solutions to communication issues can be difficult and some solutions can result in greater complexity and add more hurdles rather than simplify the situation.

In recent years, and even more so during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have begun utilizing digital tools and services to make sure project information is available and accessible to the teams involved. This could be as simple as putting everyone on a shared calendar to follow the project schedule and changes, or as complex as using the elements of a Building Information Modeling (BIM) construction model for estimates, scheduling and coordination. As these solutions are more frequently utilized for efficiency, it’s common to find that the tool chosen to work with cannot integrate with other platforms the company or their client may be using.

This problem can lead some professionals to choose between a tool that accomplishes a lot of tasks reasonably well rather than multiple specialized options geared toward a single purpose. The reality today though is that teams must rarely choose the more basic options as there is an abundance of tools that can effectively bridge the gaps between data silos created by using multiple systems or programs.

For instance, a service such as Microsoft Outlook can be relied on for internal personnel scheduling, while another tool is used for project timelines and a third product picked for managing meetings. Those platforms on their own may work well for what they do, but they do not talk to each other, which can lead to missed dates and time wasted on having to manually sync project events.

This doesn’t have to be the case though, as there are many platforms that exist solely to connect software and services and automate their processes. An example that comes up often is utilizing an internal service to share files between the office and field, while still working with a client who leverages a different platform. This could lead to a roadblock as only one person may have access to both platforms, and they would need to constantly move files from one place to other to keep everything in line and everyone informed.

The best way to avoid that is to implement a process to monitor both locations and ensure they stay in sync. This frees up an employee who would spend time checking and copying to take care of the more important aspects of their role while ensuring the files get where they need to be. This is a basic function that is available from multiple services, and many users already have access to this type of interface through their Office 365 subscription.

These tools tend to be user friendly — so getting started is easy. The main requirement is to think of how you want the processes to be connected. In fact, one of the more well-known tools that accomplishes this reflects that in its name: If This Then That (IFTTT). Here’s an example of the process; if an email is received from a client, then move it to the project folder. If there’s a Request for Information (RFI) project in Procore, then send a message to the team in the project’s Slack Channel.

That’s the starting point. Think of what the trigger or first action in a workflow would be, then decide what happens downstream and go from there. Some functions can get complex and have branching outcomes, but this approach will get the basic workflow running. Some consultants have found the process has helped both their clients and their own project managers. One firm discovered a streamlining benefit from simply managing their project tasks in Trello and connecting to Autodesk BIM 360 so every issue would create a Trello card, ensuring that no tasks would be missed.

Think about situations in projects where some tools were better integrated or failed to work with each other at all. If those can be identified, then it’s time to look at the tools that can help.

Some connector services are listed below for getting started. They work similarly but may have different capabilities or platforms they can automate with. It’s important to review the different services they connect to ensure that the needed ones are available. Some platforms like Workato or Integromat can connect to services via HTTP or other means without the need for specific connectors.

These tools can streamline communications and remove the data silos formed as more and more projects are started with different companies each using their own standardized services. Making these connections allows for the different platforms to work on their own yet stay connected, removing the need to repeat work or have a team member act as the middleman copying files from one place to another.

Removing manual efforts or creating connections like those mentioned may seem like a simple solution but when it closes a loop where issues could be missed or not accounted for, that winds up saving time and money on a project and leading to a more successful outcome. This is exactly what the AEC industry’s modern technologies were meant to do and using them effectively and consistently will yield countless short and long-term advantages.

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