AEC Systems Computer Solutions
May-June 1994 p. 1
George S. Borkovich and Michael R. Hough
Principals, A/E/C SYSTEMS, Inc.
The total use of technology throughout the design and construction team
Why is it important? Primarily because of the exponential benefits it can facilitate. When properly applied, EW can reduce costs by eliminating many of the inefficiencies that are inherent in siting, designing, constructing and operating any capital facility. EW means getting all the many players involved in a given enterprise to communicate using integrated files among the various disciplines to plan, design and construct the facility. This creates the enterprise workflow network.
EW encompasses facets and functions throughout the company or agency, all of which are intended to move a project from initiation to completion to lifecycle use at maximum quality with minimum cost. Specific elements in EW include:
Every element must work together seamlessly in the EW system so that the final product is the best it can be. Effective EW thus requires the participation of all related entities including the client, consultants, contractors, regulatory bodies-- and of course, the public.
Here is how this might work for a hypothetical industrial facility of the future:
This Special Report on Enterprise Workflow, brought to you by Digital Equip- ment Corporation and published as a supplement to the May-June 1994 issue of A/E/C SYSTEMS Computer Solutwns, is intended to give you a complete understand- ing of this exciting new concept and how it can be applied most effectively to your operation.
Enterprise workflow is the effficient utilization of technology to support the strategic business focus and needs of an AEC firm. Enterprise workflow is process driven in that technology solutions are not limited by traditional organizational and functional boundaries. Rather, the solutions are designed to incorporate the requirements of all related entities--internal departments, clients, jointventure partners, sub-contractors, vendors,--in a seamless, fully integrated environment. This is achieved through the re-engineering of process- es across the entire project life cycle. The re-engineering effort establishes best practices which are then automated within the enterprise workflow environ- ment. Enterprise workflow is achieved when functional areas such as Sales and Marketing, Estimating, Accounting, Project Management, Procurement and Material Control, Manpower Planning, Human Resources and Administrative Support are fully integrated on an enterprise-wide basis.
The benefits realized through the successful implementation of an enterprise wide system include eliminating redundant and ineffficient processing, reducing manual effort, increasing client satisfaction, improving employee morale, and expediting the availability of timely operational data in user friendly formats. As demonstrated by a recent survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche, executives within the AEC industry believe attaining these benefits will ulti- mately lead to a competitive advantage within the industry.
The list of benefits would seem to make the effort to adopt enterprise workflow an easy decision for today's executives. Until the past five years, however, examples of successful utilization of enterprise workflow in the engineering and construction industry were few and far between. Existing systems, many of which were developed in the 1970s, focused on accounting and financial data for the purpose of satisfying statutory and other historical reporting require- ments. Limited functionality existed to meet operational needs. Data access was difficult; systems maintenance was cumbersome; and systems were neither user friendly, interactive, nor integrated. Attempts to enhance these systems over the years invariably led to a patchwork of applications with redundant processing and manual interfaces.
The industry norm relative to establishing integrated management information systems typically followed one of three approaches:
The failure of the systems implementations in the latter approach would invariably lead to a perpetuation of the first two approaches.
Industry Pressures Force Change
The engineering and construction industry began experiencing a challenging eco- nomic cycle in the late 1980s and early 1990s that had a dramatic impact on man perspective relative to investing in information technology. Depressed activity in many business segments, increased competitiveness for projects of all types, declining profit margins, and increased pressure to control costs created an environment of increasing risk and uncertainty.
Maintaing a sustained response to competitive pressure poses a significant challenge to the engineering and construction enterprise ofthe 1990s. Firms must contain costs while increasing client service, project performance and administrative support. As global work increases, communications, project coordination and project performance issues must be addressed. The firms that are adopting enterprise workflow concepts such as Monenco AGRA, ABB Lummus Crest, Burns & Roe Enterprises and Day & Zimmermann, to name a few, will be the firms that effectively meet the challenges of the marketplace.
Engineering and Construction firms like these, are adopting enterprise workflow to address the competitive environment and achieve the following benefits: increased flexibility to meet changing owner demands, enhanced project monitor- ing capabilities to facilitate management and control, sharing of project data among various user groups at multiple sites, enhanced coordination and among all project participants including owners, suppliers, joint venture partners and sub-contractors, and integration across the multiple application areas of the project life cycle such as Sales and Marketing, Manpower Planning, Account- ing, Human Resources, Project Management, Materials Management and Design acti- vities. Each of the four firms listed above, and many others moving to enter- prise workflow, addressed not only the required technology issues, but also the operational and organizational issues through the re-engineering of business processes on an enterprise-wide basis.
Technology Advancements Enable Change
The state of information technology, when coupled with the AEC industry's reluctance to embrace new technology, explains why firms were unable to imple- ment integrated, enterprise wide systems. However, the recent developments that have forced firms to address operating efficiencies have also enabled firms to successfully establish an enterprise-wide workflow environment.
Today, vendor application software solutions are more readily available to meet the unique needs of the engineering and construction industry. The function- ality of the vendor package solutions has been expanded to meet needs beyond the traditional accounting and financial requirements. Hardware and communica- tions technology are experiencing significant price reductions and performance enhancements. The utilization of personal computers in stand-alone and network- ed environments have driven more and more of the computing power to the end users in a distributed environment.
Of all the major technological enhancements that have occurred during the past 5 years, several have directly affected the ability to achieve seamless inte- gration of applications across the disparate locations of an AEC orgization. These technology trends and enhancements can be grouped into the four major categories:
First, as mentioned, AEC firms embraced technology cautiously during the '70s and '80s. Although firms such as Oracle, Sybase, and Informix were developing substantial customer bases in other markets, AEC firms were reluctant to give up their mainframe-based applications. However, a recent survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche indicates that roughly 80% of major AEC firms plan to convert to a commercially available RDBMS from their more traditional data environ- ments.
The second reason stems from the fact that the RDBMS providers now have mature, stable offerings that can support the complex demands of an integrated, enter- prise-wide system. Gateways and stored procedures are just two of the function- al enhancements made to major RDBMS offering that are being exploited by AEC firms.
Gateways are the mechanism through which the RDBMS providers allow applica- tions to access non-native databases. For example, Sybase's gateway allows clients and sender to connect to non-Sybase products such as Oracle and DB2 while using the same communication scheme. At ABB Lummus Crest, gateways serve as the cornerstone for the corporate wide data architecture. Like most companies, Lummus Crest's ideal systems configuration would be provided by a single application, database, and hardware vendor. However, realizing the impracticalities of such a scenario, Lummus' executive management decided to standardize on one of the major RDBMS solutions but allowed for the implementa- tion of other systems if they better satisfy the end user requirements and can be seamlessly integrated with the core environment. The ability to integrate RDBMS seamlessly from multiple providers minimizes data redundancies and inefficiencies inherent in most enterprise-wide systems.
Stored procedures, the second major enhancement to RDBMS systems, enable pro- cessing of database queries at the most efficient point in the system and accelerate the application development cycle. A typical example of where stored procedures can he utilized in the AEC industry occurs when a user requests a project status report that includes historical accounting, budget, work-in-pro- cess, and billings-to-date data. In order to satisfy this request, data must be extracted from at a minimum the Project Accounting, General Ledger, and Accounts Receivables databases.
In the traditional environment the system generates an SQL command based upon the information requested by the user. The entire command must be passed across the network, interpreted and executed. Through the use of stored procedures, only the request for a specific query needs to be generated and transmitted across the network. The SQL logic itself is stored with the database in a precompiled, optimized form. Being able to access these predefined queries expedites not only on-line access time but the application development process as well.
By now, everyone has been inundated with literature espousing the virtues of client/server architecture; and while most of what is written on the subject is accurate, client/ server architecture remains one of the most misunderstood computing concepts.
In its ideal form client/server architecture provides the system with the ability to run in its optimal state. For example, Burns & Roe Enterprises in conjunction with a leading provider of software for the AEC industry recently designed a real-time, client/server revenue recognition process that capital- izes on the strengths of the vendor's existing system while it incorporates features from Burns & Roe's in-house PC based project system. In its completed form the Burns & Roe's PC clients will be integrated with an HP3000 server to provide the project and financial managers with an accurate representation of the revenue status of a project at any point in time.
When a user updates the percent complete, budgets, or estimates for a particu- lar project, the PC client will pass a message to the server indicating that the revenue generation engine must be invoked. Since the revenue calculations are a CPU intensive operation, performing them on the server makes optimal use of the resources available to the system. After completing the calculations, the server will transmit the results back to the client for review and continu- ed refinement.
The emergence of graphical interfaces such as Windows, OS/2 and Motif have enabled the software providers to develop systems that can be used by all personnel within an organization. Project Management and Cost Control are key processes that have substantially benefited from the emergence of GUIs. Tradi- tionally, these systems have been geared towards assisting project managers and owners in monitoring one large, complex project. Where these systems have fall- en short in the past is in providing a user-friendly, corporate wide tool that can improve a project manager's ability to control the activities on a particu- lar engagement and manage in a proactive rather than reactive manner. However, the software providers are responding to needs of the industry by developing simple, user-friendly systems where a project can be established in a matter of minutes and maintained with minimal effort . These systems will be an integral part of containing costs, monitoring a project and establishing a perceived competitive advantage from the clients.
Given a preference, most MIS executives would choose to implement a technology architecture provided by a single supplier. However, given a firm's existing investment in hardware, software, and communications, the likelihood of such a scenario is not probable. Thus, what we find in most AEC firms is a conglomer- tion of nonhomogeneous information systems. For example, it is not uncommon to see firms utilizing PC workstations for CADD operations, DEC VAX for account- ing/financial systems, and a PC, Novell network for the Project Management, Manpower Planning and Sales & Marketing. Although functionally robust, these systems tend to be islands in and of themselves.
The emergence of technology standards in the hardware, software and communica- tions areas has made it easier for companies to successfully implement enter- prise wide solutions. For example, electronic data interchange (EDI) and e-mail have emerged as integral components of any enterprise-wide system. Not only are AEC firms using these technologies to perform such tasks as paying vendors, but they are also implementing these standards to improve their business operations. A large design engineering firm has begun distributing CADD drawings to their clients via electronic mail.
How To Get There
The reasons for establishing enterprise workflow will vary depending on the critical needs of each organization. Fully automating the integrated job cost, billing, project controls and receivables functions provides a direct bottom line impact via increased cash flow while providing timely, easily accessible data to project managers for control purposes. Establishing integrated sales and marketing and job cost functions enables management to track project per- formance and proposal success rates by client, industry, type of work and geographic area. Project historical data and current manpower schedules can also be accessed to facilitate the proposal preparation process.
Whatever motivators apply to initiate the move to enterprise workflow, one constant is that the change can be difficult and have a significant impact on the organization. In order to minimize the difficulty and the adverse impact on the organization, several critical success factors must be addressed throughout the implementation.
The Planning Process
Prior to addressing technology specific issues associated with establishing an enterprise workflow environment, it is critical to establish the business im- peratives that will drive the enterprise solution. Many engineering and con- struction firms make the mistake of bypassing both the business planning and information technology strategic planning processes and begin addressing appli- cation specific issues. The enterprise workflow environment should be planned to support the objectives and strategies identified in the firm's business plan. If this is done, an integrated, firm-wide solution can be successfully designed and implemented.
At Monenco AGRA all functional disciplines participated in the development of a worldwide Information Systems (IS) strategic plan. Their approach was to ensure that the IS plan supported the strategic business plan and continued their rep- utation as a firm that successfully deploys technology to support operational and business functions in an enterprise-wide environment.
Commitment of the appropriate resources at each level is critical to the suc- cess of enterprise workflow. Unlike implementations for local or shared applications where the number of review and approval points is limited, the enterprise solution requires the participation and commitment of key users from all disciplines. This includes the ownership and support from top management to lead the process, as well as the active involvement of functional user "ex- perts" to ensure that the needs of each department are well defined and addres- sed. In an environment where chargeability and utilization often dictate resource decisions, it is commonplace to see systems implementation failures due to the inability to commit the right resources for the right time period. Day & Zimmermann is an example of an organization that stepped up to the chal- lenge of committing senior resources to their enterprise solution effort. One of the project leaders that drove the success of the project was a senior financial manager from one of the business units. He was committed full time to the project, and subsequent to the successful systems implementation, he is now the number two corporate financial executive.
The use of outside resources should be considered to augment existing internal resources throughout the planning, design and implementation efforts. Once the enterprise workflow environment is established, the existing user and data processing organizations can usually provide the ongoing maintenance and support required.
Business Process Re-engineering
Re-engineering existing business processes prior to the design of the enter- prise workflow solution is another critical success factor. Information systems that simply automate existing inefficient processes typically fall far short of attaining the benefits expected by both top management and the user community. Traditional engineering and construction firms address operational performance and associated policies and procedures from a departmental perspective. Since enterprise workflow is process oriented and spans beyond organizational bound- aries, traditional approaches to optimize efficiency invariably fail.
What is required is a business process reengineering effort that focuses on optimized processes independent of existing functional and departmental con- straints. The reengineering effort should create the most efficient processes and then the organization and information systems should be modified to support the optimal processes. The business process reengineering effort must also address the impact of the enter- prise workflow solution on the organization and establish a change management pro- cess designed to prepare the organization for the new environment.
Employment of a structured information systems development and implementation methodology is the final critical factor required to ensure success. The steps to deploy are logical and readily implementable with the proper resources and project plan. Three of the critical implementation steps that often receive inadequate attention are highlighted below:
User Requirements Definition -
The focus of a user requirements development effort should be on functionality before technology. Since the ultimate goal is an enterprise workflow solution, some compromise may be required. Remember that many systems fail by trying to provide "everything for everybody."
Systems Design -
The design effort involves the translation of the requirements into a logical representation of the enterprise workflow environment. This preliminary design enables the user groups to conceptualize and approve the new environment and the project team to select the appropriate solution.
User Training -
The key to the success of any information system is how the users perceive the system and how the system helps them in their day-to-day operations. The best technological solution will be a failure if the users are not properly trained and the system itself is not user friendly.
A variety of factors have altered the focus of AEC firms towards an enterprise workflow environment from the more traditional transaction oriented systems . Some of these factors include a changing business climate that has forced companies to rethink their normal mode of operation and improved technologies that have enabled firms to fulfill an enterprise wide vision at a reasonable cost. When implemented with the proper level of commitment and planning, an en- terprise workflow environment that mirrors optimized, re-engineered business processes can provide engineering and construction firms with the competitive advantage necessary to succeed.
by Joel W. Zimmerman
In the recent past at Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, we had independent systems for project control, accounting, and human resources that did not communicate with each other. Data entry clerks keyed in data, often more than once, and computer specialists maintained the software. Without extensive computer skills you could not get reports or data from the system. Project managers and executives of the company were more interested in security than in ease of access.
But today, with an open architecture using client-server technology, local area networks, relational databases, and graphic user interface (GUI) display, information is available to all with minimal effort. Most of our staff have personal computers, and all new staff expect them. We have all become extremely aware of the value of the data we are collecting throughout the company. The value of the data caused us to reassess our systems and begin to re-engineer them to give easy access to all.
Homegrown Systems Wouldn't Do
We had developed a large, homegrown system that had to be totally overhauled. From 1987 to 1989 we attempted to develop our own system. After much frustra- tion we cut our losses and ditched the effort. We realized that we were architects and engineers, not software system developers. Also, what we had been building would have required enormous maintenance resources.
The firm searched for an existing software system to meet the core needs for project management and accounting. We chose Harper and Shuman's CFMS, a mini- computer-based integrated financial and project management system. Of course, we had to customize some aspects of CFMS, such as special reporting, greater labor detail reporting and spreadsheet interfaces, but 90% of what we needed was there.
Shared Vision Is the Key to Success
Changing an existing system is a large-scale and painful process, but we were driven by a vision of what the new system could be. This vision inspired the principals, financial staff and project managers, and it shaped the systems implementation effort.
We have gone through several developmental stages. In the initial phase we com- puterized only accounting data and transactions. In the next phase we automated specific office tasks such as word processing, specifications, estimating, and computer-aided design. Today, we are beginning to integrate these systems and to re-engineer our work flow to optimize efficiency.
Because of this comprehensive approach, our project managers are now able to track the history of proposals and completed projects. Until comprehensive systems were in place we built each proposal from scratch, and we weren't leveraging our past experience for maximum competitive advantage.
The Information Services Department's role is to manage information, not just process data. Our job is to assemble systems to be used as tools for all aspects of the business, not just the mandatory accounting and billing func- tions. We track all pertinent information and manage archived data and data retrieval. The vision is one day to have all archived information available on com- pact optical disk for efficient storage and quick retrieval. At that point the storage warehoue becomes a relic.
Users Are Clients
To integrate all these system processes properly into an enterprise-wide workflow, the information services staff must work as information consultants. We do not tell the project managers how to do their work. Instead, we work with them to develop the technology tools to assist them in their tasks. In the past there was an adversarial relationship between MIS staff and users. Today, it is a partnership, and we view the user as our client. In fact, we now assign a representative from the Information Services Department to each project team to address specific technical requirements of our business client.
Clients are becoming very sophisticated in their project technical require- ments. These may range from specific facilities management software require- ments to electronic mail communications. A current client needs 2,500 separate, small projects. To manage and exchange information better, we will use data interchange of drawings and e-mail communications. The client will review drawing sets electronically without any need for paper prints. Information technology was a key to winning the contract with this particular client.
Relational Technology Permits Efficient Data Sharing
Several years ago, as an integral part of our vision, we chose ORACLE RDBMS (relational database management software) as our corporate database system. Currently, intelligent CAD systems and several "in-house integrated" systems (specifications and space management) tie together through ORACLE. Our vision of a truly integrated system began to take shape when Harper and Shuman imple- mented their ORACLE-based CFMS system.
The essence of a relational approach is that you can share the same piece of data and use it in a variety of ways. For example, firm principals are making reliable, long-term projections of profitability, billings, and manpower by using data available from the accounting and billing systems, but additionally, they are using data available from contact databases maintained by the market- ing staff.
The relational database model is indispensable for managing large projects such as hospitals. Hospital architects work with medical technicians to define the needs for medical equipment. The equipment needs are entered into the database, complete with all characteristics such as space, electrical, and HVAC require- ments. Engineers then use this same database for input into their calcula- tions to determine electrical and HVAC design. The design process with all its complexities and interrelationships would be virtually impossible without relational database tools.
Project Managers Are Full Partners
Smith, Hinchman & Grylls is committed to more interactive processes for project managers and is developing better-informed project teams through improved information sharing. Project managers were accustomed to seeing project detail but had never shared that information with other team members. There was a period of adjustment as these managers began to see the benefits of open sys- tems with pertinent information available to all team members. Of course, security procedures limit access to truly confidential information.
The key to acceptance is that project managers are full partners in any changes made in the information system. They and their team members are consulted throughout the project cycle.
Chief Benefits: Lower Costs and Competitive Advantage
The payoffs of new, integrated, interactive systems are truly here. Complex jobs are managed efficiently. Project teams interact more frequently and effectively, and they create better project solutions. Accounts are invoiced and collected more quickly, resulting in improved cash flow.
With an interactive, open environment everyone monitors and audits the process all the time--and we believe things that are measured will improve more rapidly than things that are not.
Joel W. Zimmermall is Director of Information Services at Smith, Hinchman & Grylls Associates, which has offices in Detroit, Washington, and Phoenix. Mr. Zimmerman can he contacted at 313 983 3895
Commentary by David E. Weisberg
The World Is Becoming a Smaller Place
There is an intriguing change taking place in the global business environment that affects design firms. For years, we have been reading that the U.S. balance of payments is negative since we import more products than we export. Although these numbers have improved somewhat during the past several years as American manufacturers have become more competitive overseas, there is other good news that rarely sees much coverage.
In addition to international trade in products, there is a large amount of trade in services. This covers everything from financial services to royaltypayments for Disney's amusement parks in France and Japan. The U.S. has a substantial surplus in services trade - almost enough to offset our mer- chandise trade deficit. And a major portion of this trade is in architectural and engineering services and construction activity.
Whether it is a new airport terminal building in Korea or an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, American firms are involved. The latest developments in computer technology are making these far flung projects increasingly feasible. It seems like just yesterday when we were first excited about being able to link together the personal computer and workstations in our design offices. Local Area Networks (LANs) improved our ability to share project data within our of- fices and to access data stored on larger computer systems.
Although the speed is slower and there are numerous logistical issues that have to be overcome, it is now possible to communicate on a worldwide basis in the same manner we do within the project office. Wide Area Networks (WANs) enable a structural engineer in New York to share data with the project architect in San Francisco and the client in Hong Kong. Even the financial backers in London can be kept abreast of the of the latest project cost data. And what about the marble quarry in Italy that is producing the lobby floor?
In the past, we would produce a roll of drawings, pack them up and call an international courier service. If we were lucky, our partners around the world would have the latest drawings in a few days and get back to us by marking them up and repeating the shipping process. And we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men. Either a customs agent would decide to sit on the paper work for a week or the one drawing we thought would not be needed turns out to be critical for the current review.
Setting up an international WAN requires communications expertise that you will not find in the typical design office. There are numerous consultants who know how to work with the various communications companies to implement solutions that will meet your needs. My recommendation is that you approach this tech- nology in well thought out steps. The first capabilities to implement should be the means to transfer drawings, specifications, financial data etc. over a dial-up data link. The key issue is to be sure that the receiving party has computer hardware and software that is compatible with what you are sending. This even means having the same release level of software. Otherwise, important information could be lost.
The next step is to implement communication capabilities, software and hardware that enable users at different locations to view the same document on their computer monitors. Each participant can add graphical comments and notes to the document. The software packages that are currently available assign a different color to each participant in order to identifywho belongs to each comment.
Although reviewing design drawings is one of the clearer needs for this technology, it is applicable to a broad range of planning, construction and facility management is- sues. The ability to take a photograph of the current status of a project, scan it into a computer and immediately share it with project participants around the world, is truly a powerful tool. And the technology to do this is available today.
by Reba F. Davis
In Search of ...
If you've picked up this article while rummaging through the mounds of paper on your desk trying to find some information you need to complete a task or make a decision, you may want to continue reading. You will probably agree that searching frantically for the right piece of paper, only to surrender finally to the clock, is becoming an all-too-frequent occurrence in today's "information age."
Facing the Facts
Unfortunately, facts in isolation are just facts. Facts cannot help with a decision unless they are in the right format at the right time for the right person: you. Finding ways to have accurate information available at a precise time in a specific format for the proper person is a key challenge for any information and document management system, especially in an engineering and construction organization, where documents created by a variety of manual and automated tools take many shapes.
Although design drawings, produced by several different means, are the end products delivered to the Construction Department, they depend on specifica- tions, calculations, studies, assumptions, codes, guides, regulations, client requirements, standards, vendor input, and change notices. Collectively, these base documents provide the ingredients from which the final design product is developed. This blending of ingredients creates the potential for an informa- tion management ordeal. Therefore, efficiently and effectively managing and controlling the engineering design documents as they traverse their life cycle from creation through distribution, use, maintenance, and retirement becomes paramount to maintaining product integrity.
Life-Cycle Document Management
One solution is to require future projects to rely on a centralized electronic information system such as Bechtel Corporation's PRIDE, or PRoject Information and Document Exchange. PRIDE is currently being implemented on new projects. It enables Bechtel to realize life-cycle document management. (See Figure 1.) By capturing documents created as electronic files or converted by scanning, the PRIDE system assembles a database or electronic vault that becomes the reposi- tory for all documents in any form or format. Regardless of the methods used to create them, project documents flow into PRIDE and continue under its control.
Since PRIDE is an electronic vault, it replaces the familiar records management walk-up service counter. Instead, PRIDE provides the single point of investiga- tion. Behind the icons on your computer screen, PRIDE controls the entering, editing, indexing, storing, accessing, retrieving, displaying, manipulating, and archiving of project documents. You command the controls within PRIDE and use its data and information to perform work and deliver products.
Don't despair if your first voyage into PRIDE is something less than an enchanting experience. It requires the physical dexterity to use a mouse; a working knowledge of Windows; and perhaps most important, a willingness to change your work process paradigm. However, you may take pleasure in knowing that only users with these characteristics and authentic security rights are permitted to infiltrate the vault.
Meeting the Requirements of Global Users
Developing an electronic document management system to support Bechtel's world- wide organization required a worldwide effort. Other integration efforts had already taught us that the best system in the world isn't used if it doesn't meet user requirements, so the first step was to develop a comprehensive defi- nition of these requirements.
Employing several different techniques to gather, under- stand, and incorporate the re- quirements, we quickly learned that projects performed throughout the world inspire and encour- age as many different end user require- ments as there are people performing the tasks. But through an exhaustive series of focus group meetings, e-mail exchanges, and review-and-comment cycles, a specifi- cation was generated detailing Bechtel's requirements for managing a document as it traveled through all phases of a project: conception, prelimin- ary engineering, detailed engineering, procurement, construction, startup, and operations.
The System Requirements Document (specification) was sent as a Request for Quote to several document management vendors. Although no single package matched all of our requirements, evaluation and testing of the products ulti- mately led to success. In its final form, PRIDE integrates the features of several purchased off-the-shelf systems within-house enhancements adapted to Bechtel's work processes. The resulting new system also incorporates the sug- gestions of more than 200 end users.
Managing Both Data and Documents
PRIDE is unique among today's document management applications because it man- ages both the data related to documents and the electronic versions of the docu- ments. Its basic functions are to capture, store,and provide easy access to documents. Data entry is a single action, and PRIDE provides a single point of reference for documents and the data they hold. Therefore, data entered at the point of creation are available whenever and wherever required in the work process. Users retrieve specific documents by version or revision while these documents are automatically maintained under strict configuration.
For example, drawing descriptions iden- tified during the preliminary engineer- ing phase are available for use simultaneously by Bechtel's Procurement, Project Controls, Engineering, Records Management, Construction, and other departments. Data are available for concurrent use by personnel located in the multiple Engineering Department disciplines and groups. The system tracks, controls, and reports data across documents and across packages containing those documents. The capability to cross-reference documents (drawings) to systems, systems to equipment, and equipment to parts eliminates the need for other tracking methods, either manual or automated.
Access to timely and accurate vendor documentation is vital to Bechtel's engi- neering work processes. PRIDE tracks ven- dor document requirements; flags the user when vendors respond to specification requirements; identifies overdue, incomplete, or missing items; and provides comprehensive lists nf vendor deliverables.
PRIDE manages the live information used in the day-to-day running of a project. Its design unites Bechtel's diverse information handling systems, which are fragmented by a work process that requires the use of word processing, spreadsheets, CADD, and count- less other database applications. This on- line approach brings all project documents to a team member's fingertips. Having the documents on-line presents users with two rapid document retrieval options: they can locate related documents by using either the typical electronic file folder method or the text search capabilities. This ability to process searches and transactions faster increases user productivity.
Automating the Review-and-Comment Process
Another strength of Bechtel's PRIDE system is the ability to mark up and com- ment on documents on-line. Any PRIDE user may place documents into an on-line review process, by either choosing from a standard set of review cycles or creating ad-hoc review cycles. Users can electronically send a document or group of documents to many people at once or to individuals sequentially. Users may specify the due date for the review and the number of days after the due date for reminders or for the return of the final document.
Once a document is in a review cycle, any user may check the status of the review. The user may see who has or has not approved, disapproved, or added comments to the document. When a review cycle is selected, e-mail tells each person in the cycle to reviewthe given document or group of documents.
Document reviewers have several tools they can use to comment on documents. The drawing review tool allows reviewers to redline or mark up both CAD drawings and scanned images up to E size without being able to alter the drawing itself This tool allows multiple people to comment on the same drawing using different colors specific to their discipline or department. Reviewers may also comment on documents from wordprocessing packages such as Word for Windows and WordPerfect by either pasting "sticky-notes" on the document or attaching another document to the file under review.
Once everyone in a review cycle has ap- proved, disapproved, or commented on a document, PRIDE permits the owner to incorporate comments directly into the master document.
Pushbutton Document Distribution
PRIDE users distribute documents electronically and maintain an electronic mas- ter distribution list and matrix. Use of the same document management software by all Bechtel organizational units provides compatibility for transf- er and electronic document exchange, allowing PRIDE to electronically transfer information between units regardless of their physical locations. For example, PRIDE improves the productivity of field personnel by permitting field use of design documents immediately upon their completion by the home office engineer- ing team. This gives Construction employees at jobsites access to the most up- to-date drawings and informa- tion.
PRIDE supports the exchange of documents and information from a variety of sources and customers, both internal and external. For example:
PRIDE supports any Bechtel work process envisioned. The system permits users to track, review, revise, and approve docu- ments; store them electronically; and send them directly from personal computers. Other computer applications can access and use PRIDE-resident information such as drawing numbers, revision levels, titles, and change documents. However, they cannot change the original information database. At the completion of a project, PRIDE provides electronic archiving capabilities. This makes the files and records available for use to baseline the drawings, calculations, and other documents required for new projects.
Gaining the Competitive Edge
The ability of Bechtel's projects to store all project documents, provide on-line review and comment, control changes, and cross- reference documents while distributing them electronically to vendors, jobsites, and clients is sharpening our competitive edge. Integrating these functions and attributes into the PRIDE database (see Figure 2) has strengthened our ability to provide cost-efficient service to both our internal and external customers. Increased productivity and improved deliverables are the major reasons we have pursued these changes in our work processes.
We are gaining full benefit from our new electronic document management system by applying it to work processes where delay or difficulty in providing a service has re- sulted from bottlenecks in the flow of paper or from the need to access volumes of paper in a heavily used filing system. PRIDE is also improving our work processes where a high percentage of staff time has been spent finding or handling paper documents and staff have had difficulty finding the right documents. PRIDE is helping to solve the problems associated with duplication of work because one department is unaware of what other departments have done or because decisions have been made on the basis of incomplete information. In our administrative areas, PRIDE is alleviating floor space problems that in the past have contributed to disorganized, cramped, and hard-to-manage files.
At Bechtel, we value our documents as assets. They are the "memory of our projects." Accordingly, document creation, processing, transmission, use, storage, re- trieval, retention, and final disposition are managed with PRIDE. While records have been kept since the beginning of time, in today's "information age," PRIDE will enable us to manage them well into the 21st century. --
by Ronald J. Patten
Before I started to write this article, I pulled my staff together to brain- storm ideas. It was a great session. We are so caught up in the day-to-day planning and imple- mentation of a wide range of information technology systems, we seldom take time to reflect on the information technology evo- lution in our organization. As we talked, we reminisced, laughed, and recalled our struggles, mistakes and, most of all, our successes. The atmosphere was almost like a high school reunion.
Our information systems organization combines business information systems, document systems, telecommunications, and engineering applications. Each unit has its own manager. All of us have been with Baker since the early 1980s. We were not always managers. We were people who loved technology early on and had the creativity, vision and fortitude to push information technology to facilitate workprocesses. We conceived information technology applications, sold them to management and the organization invested . That sale was not always easy.
Today, we are the managers. Our staff are like we used to be, and they are a tremendous resource. I would venture to say that regardless of whether you feel your organization is advanced, behind or somewhere in the middle when it comes to information systems technology, you have people conceiving ideas that could have significant impacts on the competitive position of your organization. Tap that resource, because the firms that do will excel in the efficiency of their internal enterprise work processes. As a result, you will improve the ability of your organization to provide quality and unique solutions to meet customer requirements through the application of information technology.
Fortunately, the information systems staff at Michael Baker Corporation, a Pittsburgh-based engineering, construction, and operations and maintenance firm, is supported by a strong management philosophy that recognizes that competitive advantage is obtained through the application of technology and employee empowerment. My boss, Charles I. (Skip) Homan, Executive Vice-Presi- dent of Engineering, has said, "We recognize the competitive value of empower- ment that occurs when employees have technology that enables them to perform at the height of their ability."
At Baker employee empowerment is not only the result of technology, it was also the engine that drove our information technology evolution.
The Evolution Begins
In the 1970s Baker was, I guess, a lot like other firms. We had one computer managed by a MIS Department reporting to accounting (By the way, I hate the term MIS. It implies that information is only for managers. If I could wave a wand and eliminate "MIS" from the English language, I would.)
Our machine was an IBM 370/115 with a card reader on which we ran both account- ing and engineering applications. Often, we ran engineering applications over- night so they wouldn't interfere with accounting. I remember coming into the office in the morning, learning that our program failed, finding the bad card, correcting it, repeating the performance the next night and taking three days to get a successful run. Although this irocess was highly inefficient, it was standard at that time.
When the company installed its first CADD seat at corporate headquarters in 1979,Baker's technology evolution began in earnest. Within two years, the single seat became a CADD room with eight "dumb" workstations wired to a central processing unit. By 1983, CADD rooms were developed at three other Baker locations, an evolution that created the need for a communications network: It wasn't long before engineers working on the same project from different locations envisioned the benefit of sharing ideas and designs on-line. In addition, people wanted access to CADD in their individual work areas. As a result, the machines were dispersed and the first LANs (Local Area Networks) were installed.
A similar evolution was simultaneously taking place in word processing. In 1981, Baker established aword processing center with three proprietaryword processors. By 1986, 14 Baker offices had word processing centers with dial-up modems that permit- ted employees to exchange documents. Bakerwas also experi- menting ith desktop PCs about the same time. We purchased several IBM systems with 64k memory, black-and-white monitors, and two floppy disk drives to crunch numbers for cost proposals and budgets.
Albeit rudimentary, the application of information technology to enterprise workflow had begun at Baker. Proposal and report documents were pieced together with CADD drawings, PC spreadsheets, and editorial content formatted in word processing centers from the handwritten notes of the engineering staff.
Despite this piecemeal approach, Baker management realized the potential of information technology to facilitate work processes. So did employees, who saw for themselves that technology made them more productive. A taste of technology made them hungry for more.
The Vision Emerges
Consequently, the push for information systems advancement came from the bot- tom-up. Employees whose work was expedited by the initial CADD and word pro- cessing centers became the champions of technology. They envisioned a wide-area net- work (WAN) connecting CADD and document systems, so staff across the country could work together on projects, proposals, and reports. They also envisioned a Business Information System for on-line financial and project management using relational database technology.
There were lots of challenges. The enthusiasm of a handful of technology-minded employees was no substitute for top-level management support. To move forward, the employees would have to convince Baker's senior managers to not only adopt a newway of doing business, but to also commit and invest capital.
With the recessionary environment of the mid-1980s, these were heady requests.
Engineering Design Marketing Support Document Processing TQM Pefformance Monitoring Financial Systems Software Development Human Resources Integrated Databases Project Mana~ement E-Mail NETWORK (22 OFFICES) Unix Network PCs Color File Scanners 100 Printers Plotters Servers Baker's Engineering Group has an extensive WAN that connects 22 offices and supports numerous LANS as well as the work processes of more than 1,300 employees. There are approximately 800 PCs and almost 100 UNIX workstations; hundreds of printers, plotters and color systems; advanced CADD capabilities; and relational database financial and project manage- ment systems. Engineers, regardless of their location, with a fully configured PC as a single desktop tool, can design engineering applica- tions, enter timesheet data, do word processing, create graphics, and monitor budget and schedule with a time-based project management system. They also have the freedom to select and use any other software they choose to flnd solutions that address client requirements.
Inaddition, Baker was in transition. In 1984, Baker employees saved the company by purchasing a controlling interest of Baker's stock under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). So, while management was cautiously optimistic about the company's future, it was not an easy decision to make a sizeable capital expenditure. Yet management knew we had to continue to invest in technology to retain and attract business and talent, and stay ahead of the curve.
With management's commitment and support, Baker invested more than $1 million in 1986 in a Xerox XNS-based LAN and WAN network system for document produc- tion. The new network was integrated with the existing CADD network, resulting in a single network serving multiple hardware platforms and applications. The integrated system gave Baker 100 intelligent workstations with text and graphic capabilities, "user-friendly" icon-driven menus, and file servers to back-up and make data accessible to multiple users in remote locations. It also gave us a competitive advantage: We could produce complex, visually effective documents to get business through the door and produce a quality end product.
Total Quality Management
The next phase of Baker's technology evolution began with the advent of Total Quality Management. Established in 1990, Baker's TQM process formalized the existing bottom-up approach to technology reform by involving a broader base of end-users in planning and implementation. At the same time, Information Systems was formally organized as an independent functional unit .
An excellent organizational decision, the formation of Information Systems resulted in the pulling together of a tremendous pool of technical knowledge. We began to transfer the advances made in networking, client server technology, and databases in document systems and engineering applications into business information systems and vice versa. In the process, management recognized the continual improvement of the information systems infrastructure as strategical- ly important to Baker's success. Consequently, the development of information technology was included in the company's five-year strategic planning process. TQM provided empowerment; the strategic planning process enabled us to set goals and get management's commitment and support upfront for future informa- tion systems advancements.
Our first strategic project was the development of a new financial and project management system, implemented at the beginning of 1994.
To manage our conversion, Baker formed an internal Corrective Action Team com- prised of 20 people from all of Baker's business and functional units. Develop- ment of the new system was a massive project, requiring a strong project man- ager, so we selected our Director of Finance to lead the effort.
The team's first responsibility was to identify end-user needs, such as inte- grated financials, automated invoicing, continuous on-line inquiry, electronic time reporting, and, most of all, a time-based project management system. The team also determined that relational database technology offered the level of integration and flexibility the company needed.
Since the selection criteria was well defined, we were able to quickly develop a shortlist of vendors that could meet our needs. After nine site visits, dozens of demonstrations, hundreds of review meetings and phone calls to references, the team chose Harper and Shuman's Oracle-based software, then selected the DEC Alpha hardware platform.
One of Harper and Shuman's strengths was their willingness to work with us to customize the software. The way Baker does business is different than the way others do business; therefore, an off-the-shelf product didn't meet our needs. Since the base software did not have the ability to budget and schedule project resources over time, we retained Harper and Shuman to "Bakerize" the product to provide that capability.
On a "fast-track" conversion schedule, the Baker team implemented the new sys- tem seven months after the Board of Directors approved the conversion plan and bud- get. To facilitate the conversion process, the team developed a com- prehensive project plan that listed more than 100 activities with a budget and schedule for each. They mapped the then-existing work processes against the new work processes. One coordinator for every work site was named to facilitate the conversion and provide ongoing support to users. An extensive training program was rolled out.
Proper training for end-users was a critical success factor. Everything had to change --time sheets, accounting methods, the way we enter project information. Everyone had to relearn the work process and adapt to change. The necessary training was part of management's up-front support, another critical success factor. Since Baker is a company that bills time, trading billable hours for training was a significant commitment on the part of management. The payoff is the knowledge that enables employees to be more productive and efficient.
Baker is addressing future expansions of its information system in the same way it developed its new financial and business management system--through TQM and Corrective Action Teams.
For example, Corrective Action Teams were established to standardize Human Resources information systems across the company and improve the ability of marketing managers to match the job requirements of potential projects with the talents of employees and applications.
In addition, the Information Systems department will continue using the strate- gic planning process to set goals and secure management's "buy-in" for new technologies. We recognize technology as an evolving process, and know we have to keep abreast of new developments to stay competitive. --
[Editor's Note: Mr. Patten will present a complete case study as part of the conference, "Managing Enterprise Work Flow," sponsored by PSMA on Wednesday, June 22, in conjunction with A/E/C SYSTEMS '94 in Washington, DC. For complete information on this conference. call 1-800-451-1196 or 1-203-665-0153.1
Every performance figure that you're quoted should be divided by a factor of four. Don't believe demonstrations; they're often canned or optimized. Be skeptical. Don't even believe me.
People used to tell me that you could amortize a $1,000,000 system in three years. These people are now broke.
Only architects can really communicate with other architects. You need your best people to be computer literate.
Plan for the obsolescence of your equipment.
One of the reasons I'm so adamant about Commandment II is that I know you won't make enough profit through increased productivity to pay for your ma- chines. You have to be prepared to minimize the damage that computers will do to your bottom line.
Let them create and carry out the plan for computerization.
Once you've made up your mind, don't spin your wheels because you hear there's going to be something better next year. There's always going to be something better next year.
Buy a computer you can use for a lot of different things, not just CADD.