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Change Leader: Focused on Collaboration and Information Management

Todd Danielson on May 5, 2023 - in Articles, Profile

This particular interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can watch a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/41Agu56.

Slater Latour was chief marketing and product officer at Newforma.

Slater Latour believes design firms, particularly engineering firms, have a unique role in the infrastructure industry: they’re involved from the early planning stages all the way through project closeout.

Their projects also can span decades, with multiple stakeholders and contributors working on very different elements. To make all this happen efficiently and effectively, designers and engineers need to use technology to better collaborate and manage information.

“You’re talking about turning ideas and drawings into a huge, complex physical space that serves a very specific purpose,” he says. “It’s not just about ideation; it’s about delivering that, which requires keeping a lot of different people on the same page over a long period of time.”

Backed by Research

To better help understand engineers’ need for better collaboration, Newforma initiated and funded a study: “Finding Common Ground: The Future of Project Information Management.” It intended to examine the pain points of sharing information across external firm boundaries as well as exchanges of information at critical points in the project lifecycle. It also sought to identify bottlenecks so project teams can focus improvement efforts on areas that have the greatest impact.

The research was comprised of two components: a survey conducted anonymously by the Dodge Data Network with respondents from 327 U.S. design and construction professionals, including 184 architects, 51 engineers and 92 contractors. In addition, a closed-session roundtable panel was hosted by Newforma and the Construction Progress Coalition, including participants from Hargrove Engineering, HDR, Mortenson, RS&H and The Walsh Group.

Latour notes that it’s difficult to collaborate inside an organization with different divisions; adding in a variety or partners using different systems and software compounds these problems.

“They’re dealing with a lot of coordination problems across external firms,” he notes. “You’ve got people out in the field, you’ve got a lot of different levels of sophistication of the different partners that work on different sections, and [engineers] are responsible for bringing that all together.”

Where Are the Problems?

The report found that 69 percent of respondents can’t find the information needed to make informed decisions, and email-based communication and project supervision leads to a variety of problems. Relying on specific individuals to be “gatekeepers” of too much critical information also is a concern.

“If you rely on individuals to always upload the new version of the file and make sure changes have been recorded and communicated, they might save a version somewhere, and the work is done. But has that communication gotten to every stakeholder?” says Latour. “When you’re talking about large, distributed project teams, that can be a bottleneck.”

According to the survey, almost half of respondents (47 percent) cite human error as the main challenge to effectively collaborating across project stakeholders. Errors commonly occur when data are manually entered across different platforms, and information communicated primarily through email is subject to error. As a result, more than half (54 percent) of architects and engineers, and 61 percent of contractors commonly receive incomplete information.

Better Ways to Share Information

According to Latour, it’s vital to plan and define an information-sharing process at the beginning of a project and then make sure the tools used can enforce the process that’s been designed.

“You need to set the standards up front, so there are no surprises down the line,” he explains. “And making sure you have the systems in place that can handle the level of complexity the project demands. Can it connect the information where it needs to be connected? Can it manage all the different workflows, and can it avoid the type of silos and disparate document versions that can cause chaos as you move through the planning stage through construction into closeout?”

Beyond planning and technology, another factor important to proper information sharing is relying on human expertise and experience. Latour focuses on the relationships built in delivering one project to the next, making sure you’re tracking what went well and what didn’t from a collaboration perspective and developing a set of best practices.

“You need to have the skillsets in place to know how to coordinate and manage a project from a delivery standpoint,” he adds. “When you think about something as critical as infrastructure, mistakes have not only costs in terms of money, but can have serious costs in terms of human life and experience.”


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About Todd Danielson

Todd Danielson has been in trade technology media for more than 20 years, now the editorial director for V1 Media and all of its publications: Informed Infrastructure, Earth Imaging Journal, Sensors & Systems, Asian Surveying & Mapping, and the video news portal GeoSpatial Stream.

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