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Workflow Management in Construction

Workflow Management in Construction

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Published by Niranjan

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Published by: Niranjan on Apr 01, 2012
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 Research Paper 
Workflow technology in the Construction industry
Information technology in theEuropean construction industry
 The application of workflow managementand business process reengineering
Hector C. Sikazwe
Workflow, Workflow management, Business process reengineering, Automation, Continuous process improvement
Many organisations struggle with thecoordination of work. For example,procedures that are available on paperare not, or only partly, used in practice;work is stuck on desks of people for toolong, task responsibilities are unclearand much effort is spent in correctiveactions on procedural errors.To improve such situations, anunderstanding of the business process isnecessary.The business challenge is to exploit thepossibilities that improve and affectwork coordination.Workflow management is considered asone of the essential techniques forproviding efficiency and effectivenessfor the Construction office.It allows the analysis of currentworkflow in order to detect potentialbottlenecks and the design of newworkflow patterns so thoseshortcomings can be eliminated.It is a new research area rooted in officeautomation, business administration,data communication; informationsystem and computer supportedcooperative work.
During the last decade, Constructionfirms (Companies and enterprises thatreside within the Construction Industryin general) have dramatically improvedinformation bases and informationprocessing capabilities.Complex tools with advanced featuresare currently available for mostoperations and contracts that areembarked on.
The central thrust of this paper is thequestion of workflow analysis in theConstruction Industry. The paper dealswith how to realize the full potential of workflow in a practical constructionprocess situation. In order to investigateand manipulate workflow in theconstruction industry, this paper
proposes the model of an organization’scurrent workflow to be used fordocumenting, understanding andcommunicating the coordination inbusiness activities. This particular modelis viewed to be the natural basis forBusiness Process Reengineering (BPR).
The biggest change brought about byBusiness Process Reengineering (BPR)is the orientation of construction firmstoward processes. Workflow, by its verynature, is process oriented. This makesWorkflow in general an excellentcandidate for implementing the resultsof BPR. Swenson et al (1994) hasexamined in detail the relationshipbetween Business ProcessReengineering and Workflow. Thispaper draws on their findings.Workflow is concerned with theautomation of processes wheredocuments, information or tasks arepassed between participants according toa defined set of rules to achieve, orcontribute to, an overall business goal.Whilst workflow may be manuallyorganised, in practice most workflow isnormally organised within the context of an Information Technology system toprovide computerised support for theprocedural automation. (Schal, 1994)Hale & Lavery defines Workflowmanagement (WfM) as being theproductive computer system thatmanages the flow of work amongparticipants according to definedprocedures consisting of a number of tasks. The authors mention thatworkflow is supposed to co-ordinatesusers, systems and participants, togetherwith the appropriate data resources,which maybe directly accessible by thesystem or off line so as to achievedefined objects by set deadlines
(Hale &Lavery, 1991). This co-ordinationinvolves passing tasks from participantsin correct sequence, ensuring that thatall fulfil their required contributionstaking default actions where necessary.Other researchers have referred toworkflow systems as, “…
an applicationlevel program which helps to define,execute, co-ordinate and monitor the flow of work within organisations or workgroups. In order to do this, aworkflow system must contain a
 Research Paper 
Workflow technology in the Construction industrycomputerised representation of thestructure of the work procedures and 
(Ellis & Nutt, 1993:3-4)The implementation of WfM and BPRtechnology is based on knowledgeabledesign teams. Achieving seamlessknowledge quality in the design teams isvital because co-operation within thedesign team still rely to a great extent onthe different levels of Informationtechnologies applied in the individualfirms that form part of these teams.The complexity of this scenario invokesa protracted analysis of how to arrive atappropriate available workflowmethodologies to be employed for theindustry.From the existing research findings,there are various methodologies that canbe exploited and applied within theIndustry. There are though, basicprerequisites for the implementation tobe successful.
Research work shows that whileautomated tools heavily supportconstruction work, and heavilymechanised and revolutionary gains inefficiency have been seen, processes arenot as efficiently supported as required.Organisations find that theirfundamental problem is their inability tomanage efficiently the constructionbusiness processes (Burati 1989). Thelack of standardisation of processes inthe industry compels individual playersin the industry to spend more and moretime looking for information and lessand less time in exploiting it.The Eagan report (1998) observes thatmany UK construction firms andcompanies are taking initiatives toredesign and optimise their processesthrough many different techniques likeWorkflow management, (WfM) Totalquality management (TQM) Kaizen andBPR. Schal (1996) observes thatwhatever the technique selected, it isclear that to a great extent, this changecan only take place due to the improvedsupport being provided by newinformation technologies (IT).Hammer, (1994) sees Workflow andGroupWare
as enabling technologiesfor the improvement of Constructionprocess execution. These technologiescan be applied with or without previousreengineering experiences. Though theanalysis required for their implantationalways implies some form of process re-engineering activities, thesetechnologies have in many instancesbeen misapplied. This raises thequestion of choice of methodology.
There are many methodologies in themarket for process analysis forworkflow management and BPRpurposes within the ConstructionIndustry. Though many, they all fall intotwo main schools of thought:(a) Continuous Process ImprovementThe main proponent is Davenport(1993). This is based: on refiningexisting processes through removingparts/portions of processes that are of low value and replacing them with valueadded ones.(b) Clean Slate approach
This is Hammer’s theory that existingprocesses have not worked and as suchthey are obsolete and should be replacedby new ones to bring about the desiredradical improvement in anorganisation’s performance. Hammer &Stanton (1995: p 3-5) defines BusinessProcess Reengineering as “
the fundamental rethinking and radicalredesign of business processes toachieve improvements of business performance in terms of cost, serviceand speed 
GroupWare is a term used to describe a class of computer technology that enables informationsharing, co-ordination and collaboration betweengroups of people who might be in close proximityor globally spaced
There are though, various issues thatneed to be considered when applyingany methodology to the constructionprocess. Consider the followingattributes of a typical construction firmthat would benefit from new technology:
Every construction project hasprocesses that can be transformed byworkflow automation. Many of thoseprocesses are in those parts of thebusiness with the largest financial risk and potential gain if managed properly.
Every construction companycomprises low-risk processes that canequally like high risk processes beautomated if identified and when theyare found to be of value to the entireprocess,
Every construction company hasprocesses that can take advantage of GroupWare and workflow managementtechnology. For instance, the storesdepartment needs to access and shareupdated information on availability of materials, reordering and disbursementtransactions. This department wouldbenefit immensely from automation andworkflow solutions,
Every company needs to capitaliseon its existing technology know-how,and needs to observe and assess itsprocesses with intent to maximise itsoperations.On the other hand, there are seriousfactors that need to be taken intoaccount when reengineering anenterprise. These factors could be:
That the company also has ongoingbusiness that must not be disrupted bynew way of doing business whenreengineering occurs. The fact that BPRinstigates complete annihilation of thebusiness process of the firm in particularprojects, there are ongoing alternativeprojects that might not need theirprocesses to be redesigned in any way.These must go on without disruption.Business process reengineering isincidental in construction projects. Eachproject process is unique though it is thesame firm that carries out the work.
 Research Paper 
Workflow technology in the Construction industry
The company has large investmentsin legacy systems that must be preservedthough the new ways of operating andthe inclusion of new technology willdefinitely constrain the firm to obliteratemost existing processes.
The company has workers that willuse the new system and must beconvinced that the main purpose of thenew system is not to prune them off.This downsizing fear causes workers tobecome insecure and a threat to theenterprise. Training and knowledgedissemination is important for anenterprise that opts to reengineer. Forthe construction industry, theappropriate methodology or solutionwould be to adopt a global methodologythat takes into account technical aspectsas well as non-technical ones. It musttake advantage of commonly acceptedbenefits of the new technology to:a. Boost its introduction,b. It must be aware of potential fears(rational and irrational ones) withinthe industry,c. It must be adaptable to the maturityof the organisation with respect tothe new technology andaccompany the organisation on thepath towards becoming a mature IToriented organisation,d. And it must take advantage of thetechnology itself to educate futureworkers and focus the penetrationof the technology using itself.
This paper proposes the ContinuousProcess Improvement (CPI) as advancedby Davenport, (1996). CPI appears to bethe most appropriate methodology forthe construction industry whenconsidered from the angle that the natureof the industry is diverse and complex.Due to the legal and contractualarrangement that the Industry isorchestrated in, it would be
inappropriate to apply Hammer’sapproach of business processreengineering which suggestannihilation of the existing processes bystarting afresh on a clean slateDavenport’s methodology of applicationof BPR does not suggest to firms tocompletely discard the previous way of doing things and to start creating theprocess from the scratch
. CPI suggestsapplying BPR based on the originalprocess, shape and culture of theorganisation and also by continuousimprovements of the process accordingto audit data gathered during processexecution.This methodology proposes a globalframework that comprises both technicaland non-technical aspects. There are nomagic recipes in this methodology, buthas some indications that force theprocess analyst to consider all theaspects that will be important in theimplantation of business processreengineering.At a first glance, the CPI school of thought is seen as negative as it seemsonly problems are identified. Themethodology tries to identify in the earlystage the potential problems that mayappear during process execution. Duringinitial stages of implementation, CPIsuggests that an organisation shouldscrutinise itself in the light of it’s:a) Motivations for introducing therequired technology,b) The expected benefits andc) The potential risks and barrier to thetechnology to be introduced.These will have a major influence on therelative importance of the variousphases of the methodology applied.Before engaging a professionalconsulting company or externalexpertise to help in defining the
Experiences in Norway Post and Anaya, users of CPI technology, have shown that it is both workersand the organisation are more confident in theprocess improvement if the previous way of doingthings is considered.
methodology strategy, the companyshould carefully evaluate its currentposition. In particular, the followingaspects must be evaluated:d) Objectives must be cleare) Scrutinise current project in whichthe new technology is to be applied.Is there time available to introduceand deploy the technology?f) Expected benefits must be ranked.g) Potential risks (which are many inthe industry) must also be ranked totake in time appropriate actions.h) The existing formal description of business procedures (normallyinformal)i) The organisational culture and theimportance of existing legacyapplications and requirementsconcerning their integration withprocess to be automated. j) The education of the companymanagement and company staff with respect to the technologyk) The financial aspect is important asthe level of sponsor counts to thequality of project implementation.Within this method, constructionorganisations avoid the problems of 'change programmes' by concentratingon “process alignment”. Recognisingthat different players in the process havedifferent roles and responsibilities isfirstly related to the processes in whichthese players work.In CPI senior managers implement thetask of process alignment by a series of BPR steps that are distinct but clearlyoverlapped in nature.This recommended path develops a self-reinforcing cycle of commitment,communication, and culture change inthe organisation. The steps are asfollows.1. Gain commitment to change throughthe organisation of the top team.

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