Connecting state and local government leaders
One of the last industries to adopt new technology, the field is seeing a much needed boost in productivity.
When the public works director in Norfolk, Virginia, left four years ago, a great deal of institutional knowledge went with him, which made more technically applicable project management system a necessity going forward.
The Department of Public Works had enough trouble maintaining paper records and static Excel spreadsheets mimicking the previous director’s internal thought processes.
On top of that the number, variety, complexity, size, and delivery method of projects the department was juggling increased dramatically.
“Once the department had executive-level buy-in to investigate and potentially invest in a new solution, we began talking to other municipalities and benchmarking an industry standards,” Chris Guvernator, a senior project manager in the department, told Route Fifty in an interview. “We also reached out to professional engineers using tools and software similar to what we needed, identified three or four of the major systems used and scheduled a series of in-house demonstrations from each company.”
Guvernator’s team decided in early 2015 only one construction management software system, e-Builder Enterprise, appeared to be designed from an owner’s, and not a contractor’s, perspective.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based software company’s adjustable subscription cost is a certain percentage of the city’s capital program budget, so it’s highly predictable.
“That allows our customers to focus on their professional work and not have to worry about all these mundane pieces of information,” said Tony Sinisi, e-Builder product marketing director.
Live for a year and a half, the system is set up similar to how project managers do their daily work.
If a library is to be built, the architect listens to the library department’s request, opens the program on their desktop or field tablet, logs in with their credentials, and enters key data during what’s called the “intake phase.” That includes who’s involved and basic costs—a 10 to 15 minute exercise.
Data is then routed through the division to ensure it’s acceptable, a project manager is assigned, funding is accounted for, deadlines are set, and the starting phase is clear.
When the project manager meets with library management at a later date to perform building and program studies and establish tech requirements, that new info can be populated in design and construction folders and a schedule outlined.
Each project gets its own email, so anything received is autosaved in the project folder. Cataloging and categorizing from the beginning of a project’s lifecycle is important in ensuring an oversight doesn’t cause one to go unfunded and to manage workloads effectively.
Norfolk has also been able to avoid the storage issues that arise at the construction site, where about 40 six to eight megabyte pictures are being sent from a day. There are no storage limits in the e-Builder environment for all enterprise implementations.
“We’re managing licenses here in the office, so it’s easy to use,” Guvernator said. “That doesn’t necessarily involve IT staff, and they’ve told us they wish everybody in the city was using the system.”
While Norfolk is not on the Amazon GovCloud, e-Builder is the first to offer a program management solution there, one that meets all federal security requirements, at a premium.
Pharmaceutical research and development facilities typically require such extreme security during construction.
“This is the last industry to be disrupted by tech,” Sinisi said. “Construction is way behind—10 or 15 years behind some of these industries. But everyone is starting to realize the power of the cloud.”
Generally construction takes place remotely in the field or on an undeveloped site, and most workers are mobile. Effective management systems connect and update them in real time for an exponential growth in productivity.
The city of Norfolk now has the ability to review its workflows and streamline them. If there’s a bottleneck in a review or approval process, areas of improvement can be identified more quickly.
As a result, Norfolk is more accountable to its contractors.
Guvernator recalls a $20,000 holdup, where he was 24 hours late approving the payment, and the contractor called him directly to complain.
“Contractors are now aware of who is holding up what approval,” he said. “Contractors want to be paid more quickly, but now they trust us a little more.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.