Improving Construction Management at UCI through Effective Data Warehousing

Like many large universities, the University of California at Irvine (UCI) has often found it difficult and time consuming to manage multiple construction and renovation projects simultaneously. Indeed, delays, cost over-runs and litigation were not uncommon on UCI building projects all through the late 1980s and early 1990s. A major problem was that, in many cases, contractors had to bid on jobs where the designs were still being modified by the university's architecture teams with whom they had little or no contact. When changes to the design impacted price or caused miscommunications, the process bogged down and, quite often, lawsuits ensued.

In 1995, UCI administrators confronted these problems head on, implementing a formal design-build process. Under the new system, contractors had to prequalify to bid on projects. All bids were based on detailed sets of design documents that fully spelled out the intention of the project. The result was that UCI established collaborative relationships with its contractors, and thus, was able to ensure that needs and responsibilities were clear to all stakeholders at every stage of the process. But, while the design-build process prevented delays, it also increased paperwork and slowed communication within the extended team. Keeping the process moving forward became very time intensive, even on modestly sized projects.

"We knew we needed a system to automate and track the flow of information to get the most out of our design-build process and keep projects on track as our work volume increased," says Robert Fritch, UCI's director of Construction. Fritch and his team found a solution to these problems in the Buzzsaw collaboration solution from Autodesk. UCI's experience with online collaboration and project management provides an excellent case study about how large universities can shorten construction project cycle times, improve communication and drive down costs. For example:

Improved Communication

UCI is currently working on a 2.5 million-sq.-ft. expansion of its campus, including new housing, educational and administrative buildings. The centerpiece of the project is the UCI Medical Center, a seven-story, 410,000-sq.-ft. teaching hospital that is expected to open in 2008 at a cost of approximately $335 million. The entire project involves all of UCI's construction and design personnel, as well as hundreds of outside contractors and subcontractors. With everyone using Buzzsaw, it has been easier to keep all parties on the same page, despite the university's demanding design-build protocols.

Buzzsaw allows the project's many architects, engineers and contractors to collaborate and exchange the latest design documents in real time. With automated e-mail subscription and notification, users can keep up to date on changes that impact their work without having to waste time reviewing modifications not relevant to their work. And by reviewing the online activity log, the UCI project managers can see if team members are promptly reviewing and accounting for changes. Moreover, team leaders can confirm that delivery dates are being met and that everyone has 24/7 access to important project documents, which ensures accountability around deadlines.

Lower Costs

Managing building projects in a public university setting is often far more challenging than in a private-sector environment because there is such a large constituency of stakeholders: campus administration, boards of trustees, students, faculty, political leaders and so on. In an atmosphere where input on design and construction is coming from so many angles, staying on schedule and keeping costs low can be nearly impossible. But, UCI has been able to succeed in both these areas.

The ability to share designs online has, in many instances, eliminated the need for bulky paper-based plans, which eliminates costs and time delays associated with printing and delivering large design sets. What's more, with project files accessible from any Internet connection, it is much easier for the extended team to stay in touch. The overall effect can be seen in lighter administrative loads and shorter review cycles. According to Fritch, these new measures "have helped us to eliminate the inefficiencies and miscommunications that can cause lengthy, costly and contentious delays on large projects. This directly translates into savings on all project expenses. And we're not talking about spare change -- it's a huge savings."

Two years after first installing its online collaboration solution, UCI upgraded to Buzzsaw Professional, which features automated RFI forms that will further help the university to meet state-mandated workflow requirements. The new system also provides a centralized forms log, meaning that UCI project managers can at any time get a quick, up-to-date view of all open forms, including "ball-in-court" status of open action items, making it easy to monitor daily progress and identify potential delays or issues. "With this upgrade," says Fritch, "there's no question that Buzzsaw is making design-build even more effective by saving us time, keeping projects on track and increasing accountability."

Amar Hanspal is a senior director at Autodesk Building Collaboration Services, based in in San Rafael, Calif.