By Sturgeon, Julie
District Administration , Vol. 41, No. 4
In the grand scheme of business, school districts who jump onto the construction management software bandwagon are hardly pioneers. Not when Nicholas Johnson, business development executive for education at Constructware in Alpharetta, Ga., estimates 95 percent of the country's top 400 contractors use some systematic software solution to address their communication and collaboration needs.
They may soon have lots of company, however, from the ownership side of a construction project. Roughly 80 percent of contractors told the Construction Management Association of America that they ought to be taking advantage of this tool. For districts, it could mean, for example, better planning during the early phases of a construction project and more realistic ongoing schedules reflecting specific project conditions.
It turns out, according to industry estimates, that about 30 percent of design and construction project costs--excluding hard-dollar bricks-and-mortar materials--are wasted due to poor communication and inefficiencies within and between companies. In June 2004 the National Institute of Science & Technology calculated the communication breakdown cost at $15.8 billion per year. That's extra money no district can afford to lose.
The contractor community drove the technology behind construction management software; internal efficiency pays off in hard dollars for an industry that borrows its capital funds from the bank as they go.
It's just the opposite for school districts. Bond issues mean the money is in the pot from the beginning, so the sooner districts pay vendors, the more interest dollars they lose. Administrators find value instead from the control this software hands them on a silver platter.
At a recent college of architecture meeting, Johnson reports, the construction coordinator for Forsyth County (Ga.) Schools stood up and said, "We've got to stop accepting what's given to us by [those] we hire. We need to specify what we want, and demand that kind of information flow. We've been paying for this all along, so why don't we set the expectations?"
That goes for choosing the software program as well. When Deb Kunce, associate and program manager with the Indianapolis-based architectural firm Schmidt and Associates, was asked to take on the city district's 10-year plan to improve all 79 of its school buildings, she began an exhaustive search of construction software offerings. Her top criteria: the ability for staff in the district to use this tool with minimal training. In February 2005 her list of companies involved in the Indianapolis Public Schools' project numbered 91, so the idea of loading software onto individual computers didn't appeal.
Kunce settled on a Web-based solution, popular among buyers of this software because there are no servers to buy, no firewalls to maintain, no client applications. In essence, it's a single repository for all official information related to each construction project. All the contractual data; payment information; schedules; communications between players like architects, engineers, construction managers, project managers and consultants; contracts, change orders, submittals, meeting notes, drawings, specifications, cut sheets, operations and maintenance manuals. If it's on paper, the team members store it here.
"The information is still in a file cabinet, just an electronic one," says Steve Young, the chief facilities manager for Indianapolis Public Schools' $832 million capital improvements program. "Now when I want something, I have every file cabinet for every project for the last four years on my desk."
If he wants to data mine for the average turnaround for an RFI by a particular architect, or for how many change orders a contractor tends to create, or for the buying price of a cubic yard of concrete last year, the answer is as easy to get as in a Google search. …