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Community Collaboration

Community collaboration is a buzz word that is getting around the construction industry today and this chapter will sort out the mystery and the myth behind the process. If you are a user of Facebook, or any social media platform, you already have dipped your toe into what is called community collaboration. However, in the business world, generally the community is more defined and controlled. When implemented correctly, many processes which we find today working with internal or external associates and partners can be made paperless and automated, much like social media, thereby reducing cost of processing by increasing efficiency.

So let's get started. Story Construction, if you have been keeping up with my blogs, has pursued business outside its normal city and has encountered issues with processing that we have discussed and resolved. Using Story as an example, I will discuss several opportunities where community collaboration is applied and define the benefits they received from each. They are

  1. The negotiation, creation, and execution of Sub Contracts and Change Orders with Subs

  2. Paperless collaboration between company, vendors, owners, and contractors

  3. Internal collaboration on project issues

  4. Paperless collaboration regarding billing and payments with owners

  5. Internal and external reporting

The foundation of any community collaboration process is the Cloud. Many of the cloud based applications have cloud portals build into the software to allow for cloud based correspondence to take place. While this is a great start, toward web based collaboration, it is limited in its ability to provide true "Community" collaboration.

Community collaboration is creating an ecosystems that can bind user and portals together between entities (vendors, partners, owners) to open up seamless collaboration channels, reporting tools, and smart forms to everyone in the ecosystem. Whew! That is a lot! Let's get more specific. Let's say that I want every subcontractor and my general foreman to be a part of the daily reporting process on a job. Community collaboration would be to invite those external users into the portal so that each user could collaborate on the daily reports submitted by each person. Owners could see the progress and chat, project managers and executives could see progress and chat, supervisors could get immediate feedback from ALL parties.

Further, as daily reports are being generated either by mobile device or desktop/laptop, those folks who need to stay informed of anything that relates to their participation in the job would be on the notification thread as notes and comments are submitted. This process would bypass eMail, except for notification, and present the form, data, image, file, or report to the users inbox.

To go even further, let's say that Story Construction uses a HVAC subcontractor who subcontracts the sheet metal and controls to another vendor. In a linear Community all parties would be part of your Portal. However, a few companies like Omnidek allow portals to cross pollenate information between portals. We call this tiered or multi-dimensional community collaboration. Each company would cross pollenate forms, users, report, and workflows between company portals for specific jobs or activities were all parties are involved.

So how does that look: Story needs to be able to directly or indirectly communicate with all parties on a project. Let's say that Story needs to know the deliverables of a specific unit that involves the two subs of the HVAC vendor. As the HVAC vendor communicates with its subs, that correspondence stays in the HVAC's portal, but users from Story and the sub-vendors are notified on all correspondence. As delivery discussion are taking place in the chat integration, each party, no matter what company they work for can participate in the chat, or view the chat thread without participation.

Let's keep going. A change order needs to be created, approved, and executed between Story and the controls sub of the HVAC vendor. Even though the CO will be executed between Story and the sub, the controls vendor can be included and the transaction can be executed at one time, without any paper. This eliminates the need for tedious, and costly, manual processing with documents that have to be created, approved, routed, signed, and delivered between parties. Having a true "community ecosystems" can reduce the time and cost of this transaction by over 75%. If this happens, which usually is the case, over 20 times on a job, imaging the cost savings and efficiency this work process creates.

Using the same example as above, think about other workflow opportunities. Such as:

  • Work orders and timesheets that need customer approval for submission to billing

  • Material request that need approval from supervisors, but can alert suppliers so they can be prepared for the order.

  • Instant approval/rejection of change request and notice to proceed

  • Immediate collaboration and approval of RFI's and submittal request

  • All party collaboration on progress reporting and picture documentation of projects

  • "Facebook" style notification to ALL related parties of job information, reporting, and progress

Driven mostly by the cost savings between actual time, effort, and efficiency and the generational maturity of the workforce (the young folks start taking over!!!), community collaboration will become the new standard for construction operational work processes.

Finally, much of what I have said can be done today with standard business tools. Omnidek, Procore, and several others have made community collaboration a part of their technology offerings, and are pioneering the processes that make sense.

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