Streamlining Construction

Information management systems can save schools time and money on building projects.

Schools and universities spend billions of dollars a year in construction and improvement funds. A facilities team could have hundreds of projects to manage.

Keeping track of the designers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers on various projects without disrupting the faculty and students can be difficult. Sophisticated computer software is enabling construction-management firms to help school and university administrators stay on top of the game.

These programs give schools and contractors real-time information on project costs and schedule status. Many institutions are realizing that these programs are a must. They save time for project managers and other personnel, and can speed up such processes as change orders and requests for information (RFIs).

How do they work?

Construction information management software is used to track such processes as scheduling, cost control, documents, contracts, communication and even fund disbursement. One computer program can manage most administrative functions for many projects. Budgets, schedules, submittals, RFIs, change orders and contracts are just a few of the functions that these software packages can manage. They even allow you to manage correspondence and produce reports and forms.

One of the hottest developments that is used to help manage information is an "extranet." This web-based interface acts as a clearinghouse for project information. All members of the project team, from owner to subcontractor, can use the project website to get real-time information. One can review the response to an RFI, look at updated plans and track the progress of submittal approvals, all from one website.

What does it take?

Most institutions recognize the value of this technology, but they're faced with too many choices. Some software packages match an institution's needs better than others, but making that determination can be difficult.

An institution should invest in project-management software only after conducting a thorough needs assessment. How large and complex are your projects? Which software package is most commonly used by designers and contractors in your area? Which functions will you be using the software for?

With this type of software, a school will spend about $1,500 to $2,000 per workstation for the license, plus two to three times that amount in training. Add to that the cost of getting it up and running, and a school has made a significant investment. The wrong choice can be extremely costly to remedy.

Setting up the system can take anywhere from 45 days to six months, depending on how many departments will be using the software. An institution with 20 users who are not familiar with the software typically will take about three months to get up and running.

Who Should Use Them?

Many school systems are using the software to manage funds and construction projects. Some are now requiring that certain members of the construction team be compatible with their information-management methods. Architects, engineers, general contractors and many of the multitrade and larger subcontractors are included in this ever-growing list.

One agency looking at construction-management software is the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee in San Diego. It oversees San Diego Unified School District's $1.51 billion building program.

Because the district is spending funds on hundreds of different projects, school officials decided they needed information-management software to assist them with fund disbursement and project management.

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