How smart companies are setting a new, higher standard for capital projects technology
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Any discussion about a technology acquisition and implementation program must begin with this foundational truth: Technology is a potent ally, but it cannot save an inefficient capital project. Technology is a mirror and a magnifier. If you add the most advanced, cutting-edge technology to a slipshod organization, it will only amplify the disorganization. Add the same technology to a company that has embraced the precepts and paradigms of Advanced Work Packaging (AWP), however, and you’ll be rewarded with unparallelled growth and efficiency.
Thus, the foundation for technology-driven AWP is not the technology, it is the AWP methodology. You don’t need technology to implement AWP, especially on small projects; what you do need is a team that understands and embraces the AWP approach. So before you invest in technology, invest in training around AWP. Help your people understand why AWP is an industry best practice, how it can make the project run better, and make their jobs easier. Sell your team on the process — not the technology.
Once your people have embraced AWP, then it’s time to think about the technology that will support their work. People who understand the purpose of AWP will embrace the technology. If you’re there already, we’re ready for you, with four critical guidelines for establishing a technology acquisition program, evaluating your options and implementing technology-driven AWP in your organization.
1| Store all data in a central, searchable location
Most capital project organizations have inherited their data storage practices from a bygone, paper-based era. Compounding this problem is the fact that digital storage is typically dictated by your IT department, which not only serves the project’s organizational needs but also the needs of the sales, human resources, and other key departments. This doesn’t work anymore.
Implementing technology-driven AWP means designing a data management and storage system that is purpose-built to support AWP. By definition, AWP relies on information generated by multiple departments and stakeholders operating in distinct, discipline-based silos. A technology solution that truly supports AWP must consolidate all of this data in one place, and make it searchable by everyone involved. This will require that your organization embrace big data, which has the power to amalgamate everything from text files and spreadsheets to SQL datasets and sensor data, and to make it all searchable in real-time. It will also require that you integrate your project management and IT teams in an Integrated Project Management Office (IPMO).
Do this, and on a day-to-day basis you’ll be able to instantly extract key data to inform critical business decisions, mitigate risks and drive greater efficiency across the entire team and the entire project lifecycle.
2 | Establish and defend a baseline interoperability standard
Capital projects are enormously complex and no one technology application will meet all your needs. Multiple stakeholders need tools for collaboration and interface management, contract management and productivity analysis; document, photo and video storage; 3D modeling tools, training tools and metrics dashboards — the list goes on and on. The solution is not a single application to meet all needs; the solution is an ecosystem of tools that talk to each other.
Many other industries, including manufacturing and marketing, have embraced this and created an ecosystem of tools that work with one another using Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. Simply put, APIs allow one program to share data with another program. For example, when you search for a plane ticket on Expedia, the website uses APIs to aggregate data from multiple air carriers. Why doesn’t capital projects technology work like this?
The simple answer is that technology providers won’t have any incentive to provide APIs, until Owner companies start demanding it. As of this writing, there are only a handful of capital project technology products that offer APIs. This hidebound approach to technology traps Owner and EPC companies, stifles innovation and ensures that capital project will remain hideously inefficient, forced to hire ever more people to do manually what could easily be automated in a API-based, integrated technology ecosystem.
The solution: Every Owner company must establish and defend baseline interoperability standards. You don’t want be owned by your technology company any more than you want to be owned by your consultants or your contractors. Your IPMO should establish this standard, based on the basic assumption that your data belongs to you. Technology tools should:
Always provide open APIs that allow you to share and integrate data with other tools;
Never ask you to pay to extract your own data;
Never lock down your information in a system you do not control.
Owner companies must establish minimum interoperability standards and demand that every technology builder meet those standards, or risk losing their business. Interoperability — and the resulting integration — is at the heart of the AWP spirit.
3 | Ensure that AWP technology integrates with existing enterprise system solutions
Every technology solution you adopt must have the ability to integrate with your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Project Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems, and these two systems must integrate with each other, just as they do in many other industries. While it is eminently possible to share data between these two critical systems, providers don’t have any incentive to make that happen.
Owner companies must demand software integration options, in precisely the same way they demand that contractors work with one another on key projects. Adopting the AWP methodology is and excellent opportunity to make this demand.
3 | Consider how your technology costs impact your overall costs
If you’re adding more staff to work on the administrative side of the project, then something is wrong with your technology choices. If your new technology means your engineers are doing more manual data entry, then you’ve chosen the wrong application.
While it’s true that AWP comes with more deliverables to manage, this doesn’t mean capital projects organizations need to hire more administrative or data entry staff. The right technology will minimize non-essential tasks and allow everyone from the Owner to the field supervisor to focus on the work at hand.