Driving Construction Project Success through Neutral, Trust-Based Collaboration

In this Viewpoint article, Dexter Bachelder, Aconex VP Americas, argues for the need to drive construction project success through neutral, trust-based collaboration. To consistently complete large-scale construction projects on time and on budget, AEC firms have to develop a collaboration strategy and mechanism that will work for all the stakeholders in a project, allowing them to operate efficiently with a level of trust usually developed within a single organization or team.

URL: http://www.aecbytes.com/viewpoint/2010/issue_55.html

8 thoughts on “Driving Construction Project Success through Neutral, Trust-Based Collaboration

  1. I gather this is not an altogether novel idea to Mr. Bachelder, but it is novel in my market. The 2006 Benchmark Research (UK) study, as described here, did not directly pinpoint independent management of information, but it does seem to support centralized collaboration. And it seems likely that a neutral third-party serving as an information hub and traffic cop is likely to provide more fertile ground for the kind of trust and cooperation that fully collaborative “Big BIM” apparently demands. To what extent the savings in efficiency will be offset by the cost of the information management contract is one question I have. I would also be interested to know whether such independent collaboration expediters exist and how they are able to quote (fixed fee, monthly fee, etc.), when they feel that they should enter the process, and what they need as a basis for a quote.

    I don’t know from whence this notion sprang, but it is intriguing. The first model that sprang to mind is arbitration with the parties sharing the cost. But this is high value, intensive, preemptive and proactive arbitration. I can imagine its cost being shared; pro-rated by contract value. So, I say kudos to Mr. Bachelder for bringing this idea to my attention, and for having his thinking cap on. It strikes me as more well-defined and a meatier approach than Integrated Project Management alone.

    Now, who is in the trust-based collaboration management business?

  2. OK. Me again. I should have known that a visit to its website would make it obvious that Aconex, Mr. Batchelder’s firm, is heavy into the collaboration management biz. That does not dampen my enthusiasm for the approach he espouses, but it does put a dent in my admiration for the originality of the idea, and makes me wonder how scaleable collaboration management is.

    From a quick review of the Aconex website, their service is offered to large and mid-size projects. Having perused some parts of their portfolio, I am now pondering what the threshold is for mid-size. It appears to be somewhere above $100 million. A $10 million project is a big one for the AECO community in my market. Perhaps collaboration management fees at that scale are not justifiable?

  3. My practical experience is that neutral, trust-based collaboration systems have no real effect on teamwork by themselves. The idea that technology is the answer seems compelling and it would be great if it were so. But in practice, it is the contracts between the partners and with the client that determines the collaboration. If your contract does not permit you to do extra work, so that your project partner down the production chain has an easier task, then no collaboration system will make one behave against your contract.

    The problem is that contracts are, as described in the article, mostly for one project and normally have no incentive to do more work then necessary or help a project partner in their field. What we need in the industry is more teams of companies working together on multiple projects and with more IPD type contracts. When this is in place, a collaboration system will be of great use. But in itself, collaboration systems most certainly will not solve the problem.

  4. Very interesting article
    I wonder if regulatory bodies could play the neutral trust based collaboration part…..just thinking wide!

  5. In answer to Brian Lighthart’s questions about pricing, it’s important to have a pricing model that does not get in the way of collaboration in a multiparty project environment. In our experience that means pricing that is predictable (ie based on project value) and that can be paid monthly, quarterly or up front.

    Project-value pricing means there are no user licenses, no matter how many organizations or users join the project, no training charges, support costs, or limits on usage or data storage. Any other commercial or support model gets in the way of adoption, reduces the amount of information managed on the platform, and means less value to the client.

    Most Aconex projects fall in the $50-200m range, but the collaboration platform has been used on everything from the renovation of a small, listed NYC landmark building to the masterplanning of a new $40 billion city. Very different projects, but the case for using collaboration stacked up for both.

  6. I appreciate Mr. Carron addressing the scale and pricing issues re: third-party collaboration management, which continues to interest me. I have many more questions about it, but will take them up with the folks at Aconex directly.
    As for regulatory agencies acting as a third party, I have trouble thinking of one that qualifies as neutral or disinterested in any project within their jurisdiction. More to the point, I can only think of a few with sufficient legal and financial independence, desire, or expertise to serve in such a capacity, and they are likely to be wearing an owner’s hat most of the time.
    But I expect to see this service offered on a lot of project management consultant home pages very soon.

  7. I’m the Director of construction administration for a large A/E/C firm and I’ve been using computerized document control systems for more than 20 years.

    We control all document flow internally through a self-hosted web-based program. Since in order to have comprehensive enterprise-wide metrics that show how EACH and EVERY project is doing, I need to have every project IN MY system, the use of any collaboration software other than mine is an additional cost to the project, not a savings of any kind. Besides, even if it was a savings, it may be a savings for the project as a whole, not necessarily for me (there’s that “me” again).

    Unless the industry gets going with real XML, where we can all import and export our docs and workflows to each other “selectively” (the contractor is not going to want me to see the price that he REALLY paid for that change order), we will always have this problem.

    Memo to Acones: Life is bigger than any one project. We need an enterprise wide, open solution that allows us to collaborate in some areas, while keeping others private. Because, as Mr. Tjeerd Dierckxsens says: collaboration is driven by the contracts and their incentives and disincentives. As long as those remain as “zero-sum” as they currently are, we will all need to keep some of this information private.


  8. I have a question about third party colloborative management. I am interested to know, generally speaking, what percentage of the total spend doest the third party charge? Generally speaking….

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