Three changes that will help you in the global construction boom!

Is it time to relook at the way we plan and execute projects – as a matter of survival? asks WRENCH CEO Daniel Varghese.

Over the next five years investments in capital projects in power, transportation, energy and water will place unprecedented demands on the engineering procurement and construction (EPC) industry to complete projects ‘faster and cheaper’ but with existing resources and processes. 

To meet this challenge the business-as-usual model comes under scrutiny. Even with lessons learned, the industry’s ‘invented here’ (ie change-resistant) mindset has slowed progressive action in almost all EPC organisations. So is it time to relook at the way we plan and execute projects – as a matter of survival? There are three paradigms that may reach you sooner than you think.

1. Working ‘As One’…

It’s a simple but fundamental switch – from collaboration to cooperation. Collaboration has always been a cornerstone of EPC projects but now it needs to evolve up one step to ‘co-operation’. Is there a difference? Yes. Collaboration is a way of distributing a task across multiple parties while
co-operation is a way of thinking.

"A good place to start: stop using highly-paid managers for housekeeping and deliverable-chasing and updating and following up.”

Consider: what is the difference between a shared GOAL and a shared TASK? Or a team that works as a single organism versus one that merely ‘pulls together’? That’s the difference between a company that dominates its market versus one that merely survives in it. When consultant, contractor and vendor ‘work as one’ rather than just working together, they achieve co-operation.

This paradigm shift is necessary because today the pie is a lot bigger (new mega-projects are cropping up everywhere) but it is also divided into a lot more slices. Projects are being farmed out to multiple partners, stakeholders, consultants, vendors – many of whom never worked together before – and while this delivery model allows sharing of both risk and cost it also requires complete control and accountability. Solution: Work as One. One team. One process. One culture.

2. Make your people redundant. . . 

as supervisors, trackers, monitors, controllers. Use them less on routine everyday tasks and more on strategy, problem-solving, and customer service. Not every process or task can be automated but those that can be, should be.

It’s a no-brainer: as long as manual effort drives a process there is the possibility of error. When you choose to rely on individual effort to enforce a process you choose to risk delay, conflict, and litigation. Soon it won’t even be a choice. System-driven workflows will become the norm and those who don’t adapt – or adapt too late – will get left behind. 

“IT can do for the construction industry today what the automated assembly 
line did for manufacturing 70 years ago.”

So now is the time to start expecting MORE from your resources – but qualitatively not quantitatively. Expect more from them as managers, leaders, and contributors to the company’s success. Increase efficiency all around, make outcomes predictable and reduce the number of man hours-per-task. Result: less manpower costs, less error and rework, happy workforce, happy clients.

But does this mean you have to go out and hire new people? No. 

It means using your existing people differently. More efficiently. More intelligently. 

A good place to start: stop using highly-paid managers for housekeeping and deliverable-chasing and updating and following up. Instead, replace your manual-driven processes with system-driven ones and human effort with no-effort, at least on the routine tasks which don’t need ‘intelligence’. And don’t reduce human error – eliminate it altogether. 

So in a nutshell – automation. But not automation as we know it so far. Not in bits and pieces – a procedure here and a department there. No, automate globally, across the project lifecycle as a whole, in a cohesive, integrated way across the organisation. Because that’s how projects work best, as a single cohesive, inter-linked, integrated entity. 

To sum up: automate your ‘dumb’ processes and use people intelligently if you want to watch their output double (or triple) and watch your bottom line grow with them. To put it another way undercut manpower shortages by making existing manpower more efficient.

3. Don’t use information technology to optimise your process, use it to redefine your organisation. 

It’s time EPC companies woke up to the fact that there is more to project-related Information Technology than ERP and EDMS and collaboration platforms and project management applications. Or email and CAD and MS-Office, if it comes to that. The hype notwithstanding, today’s IT can indeed transform an engineering company from the inside out – but only if you make the effort to understand how it can improve your very business model rather than just your data/process management.

Unfortunately, far too many EPC organisations believe that they have already optimised their infrastructure as much as possible, as regards IT solutions/apps/platforms. They feel they have invested as much as can be reasonably expected, and so any further room for improvement lies in ‘bigger, faster, cheaper’. But the truth is that IT can do for the construction industry today what the automated assembly line did for manufacturing 70 years ago. Think about it.

To conclude, in today’s chaotic market climate it’s easy to overlook the fact that ‘adapting’ is not just a matter of reacting but of pro-acting – of changing the way we think from the inside out. As the saying goes “sacred cows make the best burgers’’. For companies willing to kill off a few such ‘cows’ that are in the way of progress, today’s project marketplace could be a goldmine rather than a minefield.

A matter of mindset over method, perhaps?


WRENCH supplies end-to-end enterprise software for the engineering and construction industry.


Case study

An engineering consultancy in the Middle East won a contract purely on the strength of its ability to ensure seamless ‘co-operation’ between the various project parties. The client at first was very hesitant about the multi-partner model and was concerned about tracking project progress. By switching to a radically new system of transparent and online-based project monitoring, the client’s fears were assuaged and work went forward. 

The World Workforce

The internet changed more than the way we communicate and exchange information, it revolutionised the way we INTERACT as a species. It made possible ways of working that were pure pipe dreams a decade ago. It put control back in the hands of managers. It ushered in round-the-clock, remote, foolproof ‘transparency’ and ‘visibility’. But of course the flip-side is that not everybody is comfortable with transparency and visibility. So the question becomes, can we use modern technologies to increase efficiency at the process level without jeopardising it at the human level? Short answer: yes, we can. But only by changing things at the root, at the company-culture level not just process-optimisation level.

Functionality- what can IT do for you?

Get everybody on the same page, literally. With the right technology, the entire project team or organisation can work off a single platform and a single schedule, regardless of location.

Guarantee quality in every deliverable. By enforcing ISO (or any other industry best practice) exactly as defined on paper, you can be assured of doing it right the first time and every time. 

Cut costs dramatically. To start with you could reduce up to 60% of engineering costs simply by going paperless. You could save money by slashing the number of man hours-per-task, especially at senior levels. Also, think of savings in terms of less rework, errors, litigation . . .

Enjoy efficiency and predictability. Think accurate and automatically-generated S-curves at the touch of a button. Think alerts of a delay BEFORE it happens. Think dynamic dashboards, online reports, digital collaboration, electronic approvals etc. Or, if you want to get technical, think as-build documents delivered electronically into the client’s asset. And so on. Automation doesn’t just speed up output in the short run, it changes the entire working culture, over time.