Bentley Systems and Dodge Data & Analytics first joined forces to explore this topic in 2013, with research among general and specialty trade contractors that culminated in the publication of a SmartMarket Report called Information Mobility: Improving Team Collaboration Through the Movement of Project Information.
In order to address the future of information mobility and its contribution to greater multidisciplinary integration and collaboration, this study extends that work by surveying architects and engineers as well as contractors. It also explores new topic areas, including:
- Current and future use of various modes of information mobility by architects, engineers and contractors
- Where they have seen improvements
- How information mobility is generating positiveimpact on their companies and projects
- What they believe would most improve information mobility
Current and Future Usage
Usage of Modes of Information Mobility
Respondents were asked about the frequency of their use of various modes of information exchange currently, and what they believe the frequency of their use of these modes will be in two years.
The chart shows the combined responses of all architects, engineers and contractors who report they are currently using a mode at either a moderate, high or very high level. For dynamic comparison, it also shows how many of those believe they will be at that level of use in two years.
Cloud shows greatest growth
Rising from fifth place today to second place two years from now, Cloud Storage Services shows the most growth. Though Online Meetings and Information/Document Management Systems are already very popular (currently tied for first place), they show strong continued growth, with Shared Storage Locations close behind.
Some modes are fading
Not that long ago, FTP sites were one of the only ways for teams to share large document files. While they are still frequently used by more than half the industry (63%), the predicted decline of this mode is likely to accelerate as more convenient and sophisticated workflow tools continue to proliferate.
Not surprisingly, the most dramatic forecasted reduction is for Handwritten Documents/Notes, an industry staple for centuries. Being rapidly displaced by electronic documents, their virtual extinction is a near certainty, especially on larger, more complex projects, many of which have gone entirely paperless.
Future Uses of Modes By Company Type
The predicted future percentage change in usage frequency of these modes of information mobility varies between architects, engineers and contactors. Any company type predicting a change of more than 25% (higher or lower) from their current frequency level is shown in the chart.
Designers are all about the cloud
The biggest proportionate increases among any group for any mode are shown by architects and engineers in their plans to increase usage of Cloud Storage Services. This makes sense as collaborative design modeling generates increasingly larger files and services to manage and analyze models, which are rapidly being deployed in cloud-based platforms.
Engineers See the Handwriting on the Wall
Most dramatic in their abandonment of Handwritten Documents/Notes are engineers. This may relate to the technical nature of much of their documentation, which benefits from electronic calculation, analysis and distribution. They are closely followed by contractors. Because they deal with distributed teams on jobsites, contractors are probably eager to move away from informal, one-of-a-kind documents that are easily lost or damaged in the fray of construction activity.
IM is Universally Hot
With an almost 30% lift predicted across all company types, Instant Messaging looks to be a keenly shared interest and can be expected to increase, especially as smartphones multiply among all parties.
Improvements of Information Mobility
Both the technology and the connectivity required for effective information mobility have been steadily improving throughout the world. To determine how much this has been embraced and adopted by the AEC industry, architects, engineers and contractors were asked to judge how much information mobility has improved in their companies over the past two years.
For contrast, the chart shows the percentages of each company type that rated the degree of improvement as very high versus those that rated it as low.
Contractors Very Bullish on Improvement
Almost half (43%) of contractors report a very high level of improvement in information mobility, with another 36% rating it as high. At the other end of the scale, contractors have the fewest number (5%) among all company types that rate improvement as low. Clearly, this is the group that has been impacted the most, which makes sense because of the large number of companies that need to coordinate their work over a distributed jobsite and a far-flung network of fabrication shops and supplier locations.
Architects Least Impacted
Potentially due to their focus on working in a single physical setting, with established methods of coordinating with consultants, architects report experiencing the least improvement in information mobility.
Engineers Cite Advances
Interestingly, civil and structural engineers report nearly as much positive change as contractors, with three quarters (74%) rating it high or very high. The nature of working in structural and civil disciplines may make them more aware of information mobility improvements, compared with architects.
Improving Information Mobility
Architects, engineers and contractors were asked to rate how much each of six factors would contribute to improving information mobility among key stakeholders on their projects. The chart shows the combined responses of those who rated the impact of each factor as high or very high.
Devices and Connectivity Top the List
Tactical needs for Improved Devices for Use at Project Sites and More Reliable/Ubiquitous Connectivity and Bandwidth are top of mind for three quarters of all respondents.
Data-related Issues are also Very Important
Garnering nearly as many high-impact votes as devices and connectivity, More Standardization and Interoperability of Data Platforms and Ability to Store and Access Project Information in the Cloud both address the ease with which the information itself can be accessed and used.
Software Functionaity in High Demand
Though scoring lower than the device/connectivity and data-related issues, Mobile Apps for Communication and BIM Functionality in the Cloud both earn top ratings from more than half of respondents.
Company Type Differences
Architects, engineers and contractors have differing perspectives on which factors would be more impactful than others. The chart shows the variance by company type from the overall average related to the six factors.
Contractors Most Positive About Improvement Potential
Above the average for all factors, and by as much as 10 percentage points in some cases, contractors are by far the most enthusiastic about the potential improvements to information mobility. This is especially true for the tactical needs of Improved Devices for Use at Project Sites and More Reliable/ Ubiquitous Connectivity and Bandwidth, which makes sense because they would most directly benefit from these improvements.
Engineers Least Optimistic About Impact
In almost every case, engineers are further below average than contractors are above it. This is especially true for the Ability to Store and Access Project Information in the Cloud and BIM Functionality in the Cloud, perhaps indicating a relative lack of interest in the collaborative workflows with other team members these factors would enable.
The true value of improvements in information mobility is their influence on streamlining processes and impacting outcomes on projects. To determine the level of impact, architects, engineers and contractors were asked to rank, in order, the top three project benefits they receive because of improved information mobility. The chart shows the combined findings for all types of companies.
Collaboration is King
Aligning with a widespread movement toward more collaboration in the AEC industry, almost all (91%) respondents include Improved Team Member Collaboration in their top three project benefits of better information mobility, with over a third (34%) ranking it No. 1.
Reduced Paper and Problems
Well over half of respondents cite Reduced Reliance on Paper (60% total) and Reduced Unanticipated Problems (54% total) among their top three benefits. The first finding aligns with the dramatic drops predicted for handwritten documents. The second is perhaps more strategically meaningful, indicating that better information mobility can be tied to greater overall predictability in project execution, which has potentially widespread collateral benefits throughout the entire project delivery cycle.
All AEC technology seeks to improve its users’ productivity. Although garnering top three votes from just over half of all respondents, Improved Productivity should be considered more important than its fourth place position in this group implies.
Eventually it is likely that fewer unanticipated problems and improved productivity will help drive Accelerated Project Completion, but at this point, less than a third include it among their top three, and only 9% as the top benefit. Similarly, Improved Efficiency of Site Inspection is still an emerging benefit of improved information mobility.
Architects put more emphasis on Improved Team Member Collaboration than their counterparts. This may be because of the intensity of collaboration required during the design phase, and it also may signal a growing recognition among architects of the value of collaboration with contractors in preconstruction and construction.
Engineers cite Reduced Reliance on Paper Documents to a far greater degree than either architects or contractors. This may be because of the technical nature of their work, which increasingly relies on computational power and is therefore more effectively communicated and distributed electronically
Almost twice as many contractors name Reduced Unanticipated Problems as the top benefit of improved information mobility than architects or engineers. This makes sense because, even though these types of problems can impact everyone, contractors are on the front line of having to deal with them at the jobsite when they occur.