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By Jeff Wing
April 24, 2016
When the Smithsonian Institution’s celebrated National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. came due for a major facelift, the designer was asked to increase the ambient light in the building’s open spaces. His well-received plan included modernist skylights and a stunning glass staircase which would grandly connect the first and second floors.
Once unveiled, the transparent staircase was quickly embraced by a group that would prove to be its earliest adopters––the public school field-trip kids who would gather underneath the expensive, skirt-unfriendly design element and gaze upward; an unintended exhibit that gave the Betsy Ross flag a run for its money.
Needless to say, a budget-swelling rework was hastily launched.
Rework comes in many shapes and sizes, adding considerably to its…charm. Of course, the familiar construction missteps that nibble away at the project ledger are rarely as dramatic as a light-throwing crystal staircase. Workplace incidents, mismatched documentation, dynamic materials costs, aspirin; these are the workaday “design elements” of the average GC’s sleep- deprived existence.
Add Quality and Safety protocols (QS) and you have, well, a day at the GC office. On any given construction project, the sheer number of moving parts all but guarantee that a glitch-free completion is about as likely as a happy-go-lucky owner.
The cost of making mistakes is on the rise, too, most notably in the realm of the rightly-feared OSHA compliance penalty. 2015’s Bipartisan Budget Act congressionally mandated OSHA (as well as a host of other federal agencies) to peg monetary penalties to the consumer price index, to the great surprise of OSHA itself, which hadn’t changed its penalty rates since 1990 and was not in the room lobbying for such a change. The readjustment amounted to an overnight OSHA penalty increase of around 78% for builders and other affected professionals. Think of it as the OSHA penalty for a misplaced ladder jumping from $7k to $13k. This sort of thing focuses the mind.
The sobering fact is that fully 20% of all private sector workplace fatalities take place at construction sites; huge, unforeseen setbacks underwritten by human tragedy. Additionally, it was estimated in 2015 that 4 – 6% of total construction budget was vaporized by the miscommunication culture that is native to the harried “time is money” ethos common to expensive large scale projects. In 2015 aggregate losses amounted to around 15 billion dollars; enough money to pay ~ 400,000 schoolteachers for a year, just as a for-instance. Ouch.
The apparent zero-sum puzzle of Cost vs Quality vs Time (or “pick two” as it’s more frankly stated among GCs) begs the question: Is there a magic bullet for construction site quality and cost control?
But a 21st century update of the Quality and Safety protocols would surely go a long way toward turning the Cost/Quality/Time puzzle into a synergistic and manageable whole. Oh, did someone say “cloud”?
It may be counterintuitive in the construction trade; steel, concrete, glass. Cloud? Yeah, cloud. Imagine your team, onsite and off, simultaneously spread all over the place and gathered in the same virtual room, and with varying degrees and levels of permitted access to the info there. The familiar slowpoke manual processes associated with pinpointing and addressing QS issues are going the way of the anchor tattoo.
Cloud-based field management turns static checklists into collaborative action items in a mobile meeting room you have to experience to believe. Snap some pics with your smartphone, add red circles and arrows with your forefinger, and send. Boom! Do this a hundred times a day and you’re talking serious forward motion. Brian Schmidt of Martin-Harris sums up:
“(The) mobile platform gives us a technological advantage over competitors who may still be operating in the ‘Dark Ages’ of spiral notebooks and software tied to in-house servers and desktops. The cloud-based platform and mobile apps provide team members with the versatility to access all the documents and tools they need to do their jobs––regardless of their location.”
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