Integrated Project Management: Harnessing Technology for Success
Manesh Alias
Wrench Solutions

Any project is complex in nature in terms of different stakeholders viz; Owner, EPC contractor, Consultant, Sub-contractors, etc involving in it . Similarly, a lot of data, information, controls system, software from these stakeholders are using for completion of the project. To deliver a successful project, it requires a more sophisticated level of control, and to have that kind of control of an Integrated Project Management System (IPMS) where people, processes, and software are part of one contiguous whole. The article explains the need of Integrated Project Management in any project and the benefits IPMS to connect all those stakeholders in a way that is fast enough and efficient enough to achieve synergy.

Imagine this: you're driving to a new destination. You've got a map and you're an experienced driver, but this is new terrain, you don't know the landmarks, the signposts are in an unfamiliar language, the weather is unpredictable.

And you don't have GPS (global positioning system).

Daunting, isn't it?

We've grown accustomed to GPS because it is effective. GPS calculates the best route to the destination, tells you where you are, whether you're on track, what course-correction to make, even what traffic conditions to expect. It does all this by intelligently integrating car, driver, and map - in real time.

Now imagine this GPS-like integration in a construction project.

Imagine how many problems would be pre-empted, how many delays avoided, how many overruns nipped in the bud.

The good news is you don't have to imagine it; GPS-for-projec ts is already here.

It's called Integrated Project Management.

Why you need Integrated Project Management
A project has complex data that flows through multiple systems. Each system is powerful but doesn't talk to the others. (It's like an archipelago of islands where each island has its own ecosystem of 'best-in-breed' software and each island can be part of the same ecosystem (like cost, schedule, progress, risk information) or a separate ecosystem (like Owner, EPC contractor, Consultant, Sub-contractors)). So you rely on a project manager's ingenuity in managing the various ecosystems to get work done.

The mindset in most organizations is 'why fix what's not broken' i.e. the old systems still work fine, so why bother to change?

The answer is that in order to deliver projects successfully you need a more sophisticated level of control, and to have that kind of control you need an integrated project management system where people, processes, and software are part of one contiguous whole.

Benefits of an Integrated Project Management System

1. Real-time Control
A typical EPC organization may have an engineering island, a project management/controller island, and multiple stakeholder islands. Each island works with its own 'language' (i.e. tools and technologies); in fact, each vendor and contractor has his own system which evolved over time. In theory you could train people from each island to learn enough of the other's language to work together collaboratively, but in realistic terms only a project-wide system (that doesn’t rely on human ingenuity) could do the trick. Only an automation-driven system could possibly connect all those islands in a way that is fast enough and efficient enough to achieve synergy.

2. Transparency, Predictability, and Proactivity
If you're building a house, you want to first visualize how it will look. You start with old-fashioned photographs and plans, but they don't really give you a good picture. So, you invest in a 3D walkthrough - and now what a difference!

You can clearly see your house from any angle, you can see the whole house or only a part, you can move around and 'slice and dice' to visualize how the rooms flow and how you will use them. In the same way, an IPMS lets you zoom in or out on your project with ease. You can keep an eye on contractors and subcontrac tors to see the overall progress or to focus on one particular component. You can analyze information to predict and prevent a potential delay, you could calculate what effect that delay will have on other components of the project.

In effect, integrated project management gives you a three-dimensional view of your project, in time and space.

3. EVM
The industry has embraced EVM (earned value management), which is a good thing. But EVM cannot be enforced without integrated project management.

Consider what EVM is: in theory it means linking cost with schedules. But in practice, earned value calculation requires meticulous planning and rigorous updates, which is possible only with an IPMS and cannot be done by human effort alone. So to implement EVM you need to build it into the project management process itself ie integrate it, in such a way that events (tasks, activities) on completion get automatically recorded, and count towards the milestone.

4. Technology
Perhaps the most impor tant fac tor that will catalyze change in the construction industry is Technology. Advances in information technology like the cloud, mobile devices, smart computing, AI, and machine learning have opened possibilities that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Cloud computing, for example, has already bridged the communication chasm between stakeholders, and even the most conservative companies are reluctantly facing up to the fact that their 'best-of-breed' systems are redundant.

So, from a global perspec tive, a new kind of project management, which once sounded like Science Fiction, is becoming commonplace in developed construction markets. It's only a matter of time before it reaches us as well.

How does IPMS work?
An Integrated Project Management System (IPMS) works in real-time(ie throughout the lifecycle of the project) to identify and collect useful information from various inter-linked Business Information tools, and make that information available in the form of accurate (and up-to-date) repor ts and dashboards. This gives decision-makers valuable insight about the status of each deliverable and resource.

What happens in an Integrated Project environment?
  • All stakeholders collaborate in a common data environment, which ensures transparency and accountability.
  • Information is linked between different functions so that everything is up to date by default. For example, when schedules are shifted the cashflow forecast get automatically updated, Change Requests trigger risk actions on schedules and cost items, and so on.
  • Dashboards and repor ts are shared across stakeholders and top management along with Analytics, so that it is easy to conduct postmortems(if required) and to extrapolate future trends.
  • Accurate and timely summary reports get generated using Information from different tools, with the option to drill down to the last level of detail, so every aspect of the project is clearly visible.
  • Alerts, reminders and escalations are set up to provide mission -critical information to the right people at the right time, so they can take action to mitigate issues and manage risk.
The GPS-for-EPC is a good analogy because projects and road trips have similar trajectories.

Both are vulnerable to real-world changes and human whims, both suffer from Acts of God and other uncontrollable and unpredictable circumstances, both rely heavily on real-time information, both require constant checking and course-correcting. But in real life the analogy falters because project organizations by their very nature defy integration. There is no centralized control, and there are many stakeholders. Hence, GPS-like solutions for EPC must start in the organization itself, not the project process.
In other words, to achieve real integrated project management you need an integrated project management system across the entire organization, and it must be a centralized system driven by technology, not human effort.
Today such solutions are available, but acceptance is low because of the industry's reluctance to change. EPC organizations need to be willing to incorporate a new way of working and become comfor table with technology-led processes.
Hopefully, this change is not too far off.