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Culture shock

Project collaboration

Culture is becoming an important feature in working life. Workplace culture is being transformed by a flood of internet based tools and the change is proving easier for some than others.

Project members have to be persuaded of the benefits of doing away with disparate sets of paper and electronic records.

And lay clients have to be presented with information and options in a way that means something to them.

Web based virtual reality has an important role to play, senior research associate Simon Ruffle of Cambridge University's Martin Centre told a recent seminar on project collaboration and extranets organised by the Construction Industry Computing Association.

Non construction users find plans and sections difficult to interpret. Several technologies can help. These include creating stylised 3D images from architects' sketches to adapting the Quake computer game engine.

This allows a dynamic and collaborative approach.

Such techniques may well help computer based collaboration seem more natural, avoiding 'workarounds' - a word that cropped up several times at the CICA seminar. Speakers experienced in using the tools talked of how some project members would develop ways of getting around the new procedures for handling data, logging correspondence and the like.

Taylor Woodrow Construction has been involved in computer based project collaboration for several years, design systems coordinator Chris Tyras told the CICA seminar. If adopted, it is essential for their use to be mandatory, he warns. 'As soon as people develop workarounds, and carry out business as usual, the impact is diminished.'

But the introduction of new ways of working cannot be forced on a team - they have to embrace the idea. 'We promote the use of champions to change the culture, ' adds Tyras. 'They filter improvements and co-ordinate technical issues.'

Laing has also been using project collaboration systems for several years. Many lessons were learnt from early systems and the need for the systems became apparent explains senior IT manager Mark Bew.

'The critical element is getting people to understand and buy in to the system, ' says Bew. Certain features of traditional paper methods have to be retained to achieve this.

Today's project collaboration tools are, however, little more than clever notice boards, he believes. New technologies will bring about a transformation.

Inclusion of virtual objects from libraries of building components, combined with use of the XML web authoring language, will give new facilities for manipulating data and use it to model designs and simulate performance.

Last week, a consortium including Amec and Bovis Lend Lease announced a business to business web partnership, while Taylor Woodrow is part of a consortium developing use of XML technology.

This can only add to the momentum for adopting electronic working methods. Those who don't want to change their working methods will have no escape.

lisa.russell@ebc.emap.com

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