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Mining the Information Channel

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Some of the UK's biggest companies are now using a system which streamlines project management and data sharing In 1994 Sir Michael Latham took a hard look at the construction industry and published his findings in a now infamous document entitled 'Constructing the team'. In this document, which slammed design teams for duplicating information, Latham stated that the 'use of coordinated project information should be a contractual requirement'. And Latham put his money where his mouth was.

If you go to www. biw. co. uk you will see Latham's quotation on the front page.Dig a little deeper and you will note that he is the non-executive deputy chairman of the Building Information Warehouse (BIW) - an application service provider for the construction industry in the UK.

Called the 'Information Channel', BIW's collaborative data-sharing environment is described as a wholelife service. Capturing information for use beyond the construction stage, BIW claims that the Information Channel allows an owner to operate, maintain and improve the facility more efficiently.

One company benefiting from BIW technologies is Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson in Sheffield (the UK's oldest architectural practice - established in 1834, HCD is even older than the RIBA). Working with J Sainsbury, HCD has been getting the most out of the Information Channel. With 25 per cent of its turnover coming from Sainsbury's projects, HCD has invested an immense amount of confidence in the system.

David Peel, the partner in charge of IT with HCD, explains: 'We have found it very useful in providing a forum for improving the flow and quality of project information. Datacreation standards were agreed in advance, which means that when we get a file from a consultant the information should fit seamlessly with our own'.

When asked about the performance of the technology, Peel says: 'In the late '90s we were involved in some data-exchange trials as we recognised the need to improve project communication-channels. The subsequent adoption of BIW by J Sainsbury was not our decision but we welcomed it with open arms.' HCD uploads all drawings to the Information Channel as paper space-files with the x-refs bound in.

BIW's research director George Stevenson says: 'With Sainsbury's we have the most complete implementation of a collaborative system of this kind in this country, possibly even in the world.' This has been achieved at all levels of the supply chain. And the value to the client is underlined by the fact that over the three-year period of use, J Sainsbury has reviewed the marketplace twice and on each occasion it has decided to stick with this sysem.

So how does it work?

Using the Internet, drawings and documents can be published in *.DWF and *.SVF vector formats and viewed through a web browser. As you would expect in an Internetbased tool, there is no prejudice regarding the type of computers you use. PCs use Autodesk's WHIP plugin to view the files, and Macs have their very own JAVA viewer. Using the CAD viewer, a non-CAD-literate user can measure distances and areas and redline drawings; the comments are saved in the existing databasedriven commenting system.

Furthermore, the Information Channel can be configured to work with your own in-house data-management systems, as MACE has proven using Bentley Systems' ProjectWise.

Features included:

requests for information (RFIs);

technical questions (TQs);

issuing instructions;

simple information-sharing within disparate teams;

project calendar;

a project milestones system;

the 'Document Explorer' search facility to help locate and view documents quickly;

batch document loader;

setting-up drawing registers is now simpler; and enhanced security.

With a redesigned interface it has a fresh 'look and feel', enabling each user to customise their own front page which will display all the projects with which they are currently involved.

Sharing design data is only a small part of the life of a building, and BIW is addressing this with its tools for asset management, an area where it faces stiff competition from overseas in the form of 'Building Center' and 'Project Center' from Bricsnet (www.

bricsnet. com). Bricsnet, a company that is demonstrating immense growth year on year, and boasts clients such as CBRichard Ellis (the world's largest property owner) and Vinci (the world's largest contractor), will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.

Refreshingly for a technical director, Stevenson is not completely blinded by his own tools. 'I am convinced that the technology is only part of the solution, ' he says. I could not agree more. HCD and J Sainsbury are but examples of organisations which are proving that if quality information is entered into the system, the same will come out of the other side, delivering real value to all concerned.

Joe Croser can be reached by e-mail at joec@adrem-dcx. com or call 07973 263360

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