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Information technology in the European construction industry
The application of workflow management and business process reengineering Hector C. Sikazwe Keywords
Workflow, Workflow management, Business process reengineering, Automation, Continuous process improvement in general) have dramatically improved information bases and information processing capabilities. Complex tools with advanced features are currently available for most operations and contracts that are embarked on. Reengineering and Workflow. This paper draws on their findings. Workflow is concerned with the automation of processes where documents, information or tasks are passed between participants according to a defined set of rules to achieve, or contribute to, an overall business goal. Whilst workflow may be manually organised, in practice most workflow is normally organised within the context of an Information Technology system to provide computerised support for the procedural automation. (Schal, 1994) Hale & Lavery defines Workflow management (WfM) as being the productive computer system that manages the flow of work among participants according to defined procedures consisting of a number of tasks. The authors mention that workflow is supposed to co-ordinates users, systems and participants, together with the appropriate data resources, which maybe directly accessible by the system or off line so as to achieve defined objects by set deadlines (Hale & Lavery, 1991). This co-ordination involves passing tasks from participants in correct sequence, ensuring that that all fulfil their required contributions taking default actions where necessary. Other researchers have referred to workflow systems as, “… an application level program which helps to define, execute, co-ordinate and monitor the flow of work within organisations or workgroups. In order to do this, a workflow system must contain a

Many organisations struggle with the coordination of work. For example, procedures that are available on paper are not, or only partly, used in practice; work is stuck on desks of people for too long, task responsibilities are unclear and much effort is spent in corrective actions on procedural errors. To improve such situations, an understanding of the business process is necessary. The business challenge is to exploit the possibilities that improve and affect work coordination. Workflow management is considered as one of the essential techniques for providing efficiency and effectiveness for the Construction office. It allows the analysis of current workflow in order to detect potential bottlenecks and the design of new workflow patterns so those shortcomings can be eliminated. It is a new research area rooted in office automation, business administration, data communication; information system and computer supported cooperative work.

The central thrust of this paper is the question of workflow analysis in the Construction Industry. The paper deals with how to realize the full potential of workflow in a practical construction process situation. In order to investigate and manipulate workflow in the construction industry, this paper proposes the model of an organization’s current workflow to be used for documenting, understanding and communicating the coordination in business activities. This particular model is viewed to be the natural basis for Business Process Reengineering (BPR).

The biggest change brought about by Business Process Reengineering (BPR) is the orientation of construction firms toward processes. Workflow, by its very nature, is process oriented. This makes Workflow in general an excellent candidate for implementing the results of BPR. Swenson et al (1994) has examined in detail the relationship between Business Process

During the last decade, Construction firms (Companies and enterprises that reside within the Construction Industry

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computerised representation of the structure of the work procedures and activities.” (Ellis & Nutt, 1993:3-4) The implementation of WfM and BPR technology is based on knowledgeable design teams. Achieving seamless knowledge quality in the design teams is vital because co-operation within the design team still rely to a great extent on the different levels of Information technologies applied in the individual firms that form part of these teams. The complexity of this scenario invokes a protracted analysis of how to arrive at appropriate available workflow methodologies to be employed for the industry. From the existing research findings, there are various methodologies that can be exploited and applied within the Industry. There are though, basic prerequisites for the implementation to be successful. can only take place due to the improved support being provided by new information technologies (IT). Hammer, (1994) sees Workflow and GroupWare1 as enabling technologies for the improvement of Construction process execution. These technologies can be applied with or without previous reengineering experiences. Though the analysis required for their implantation always implies some form of process reengineering activities, these technologies have in many instances been misapplied. This raises the question of choice of methodology. There are though, various issues that need to be considered when applying any methodology to the construction process. Consider the following attributes of a typical construction firm that would benefit from new technology: • Every construction project has processes that can be transformed by workflow automation. Many of those processes are in those parts of the business with the largest financial risk and potential gain if managed properly. • Every construction company comprises low-risk processes that can equally like high risk processes be automated if identified and when they are found to be of value to the entire process, • Every construction company has processes that can take advantage of GroupWare and workflow management technology. For instance, the stores department needs to access and share updated information on availability of materials, reordering and disbursement transactions. This department would benefit immensely from automation and workflow solutions, • Every company needs to capitalise on its existing technology know-how, and needs to observe and assess its processes with intent to maximise its operations. On the other hand, there are serious factors that need to be taken into account when reengineering an enterprise. These factors could be: • That the company also has ongoing business that must not be disrupted by new way of doing business when reengineering occurs. The fact that BPR instigates complete annihilation of the business process of the firm in particular projects, there are ongoing alternative projects that might not need their processes to be redesigned in any way. These must go on without disruption. Business process reengineering is incidental in construction projects. Each project process is unique though it is the same firm that carries out the work.

There are many methodologies in the market for process analysis for workflow management and BPR purposes within the Construction Industry. Though many, they all fall into two main schools of thought: (a) Continuous Process Improvement

Research work shows that while automated tools heavily support construction work, and heavily mechanised and revolutionary gains in efficiency have been seen, processes are not as efficiently supported as required. Organisations find that their fundamental problem is their inability to manage efficiently the construction business processes (Burati 1989). The lack of standardisation of processes in the industry compels individual players in the industry to spend more and more time looking for information and less and less time in exploiting it. The Eagan report (1998) observes that many UK construction firms and companies are taking initiatives to redesign and optimise their processes through many different techniques like Workflow management, (WfM) Total quality management (TQM) Kaizen and BPR. Schal (1996) observes that whatever the technique selected, it is clear that to a great extent, this change

The main proponent is Davenport (1993). This is based: on refining existing processes through removing parts/portions of processes that are of low value and replacing them with value added ones. (b) Clean Slate approach This is Hammer’s theory that existing processes have not worked and as such they are obsolete and should be replaced by new ones to bring about the desired radical improvement in an organisation’s performance. Hammer & Stanton (1995: p 3-5) defines Business Process Reengineering as “the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve improvements of business performance in terms of cost, service and speed.”

1 GroupWare is a term used to describe a class of computer technology that enables information sharing, co-ordination and collaboration between groups of people who might be in close proximity or globally spaced

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• The company has large investments in legacy systems that must be preserved though the new ways of operating and the inclusion of new technology will definitely constrain the firm to obliterate most existing processes. • The company has workers that will use the new system and must be convinced that the main purpose of the new system is not to prune them off. This downsizing fear causes workers to become insecure and a threat to the enterprise. Training and knowledge dissemination is important for an enterprise that opts to reengineer. For the construction industry, the appropriate methodology or solution would be to adopt a global methodology that takes into account technical aspects as well as non-technical ones. It must take advantage of commonly accepted benefits of the new technology to: a. b. Boost its introduction, It must be aware of potential fears (rational and irrational ones) within the industry, It must be adaptable to the maturity of the organisation with respect to the new technology and accompany the organisation on the path towards becoming a mature IT oriented organisation, And it must take advantage of the technology itself to educate future workers and focus the penetration of the technology using itself. inappropriate to apply Hammer’s approach of business process reengineering which suggest annihilation of the existing processes by starting afresh on a clean slate Davenport’s methodology of application of BPR does not suggest to firms to completely discard the previous way of doing things and to start creating the process from the scratch2. CPI suggests applying BPR based on the original process, shape and culture of the organisation and also by continuous improvements of the process according to audit data gathered during process execution. This methodology proposes a global framework that comprises both technical and non-technical aspects. There are no magic recipes in this methodology, but has some indications that force the process analyst to consider all the aspects that will be important in the implantation of business process reengineering. At a first glance, the CPI school of thought is seen as negative as it seems only problems are identified. The methodology tries to identify in the early stage the potential problems that may appear during process execution. During initial stages of implementation, CPI suggests that an organisation should scrutinise itself in the light of it’s: a) Motivations for introducing the required technology, b) The expected benefits and c) The potential risks and barrier to the technology to be introduced. These will have a major influence on the relative importance of the various phases of the methodology applied. Before engaging a professional consulting company or external expertise to help in defining the methodology strategy, the company should carefully evaluate its current position. In particular, the following aspects must be evaluated: d) Objectives must be clear e) Scrutinise current project in which the new technology is to be applied. Is there time available to introduce and deploy the technology? Expected benefits must be ranked.


g) Potential risks (which are many in the industry) must also be ranked to take in time appropriate actions. h) The existing formal description of business procedures (normally informal) i) The organisational culture and the importance of existing legacy applications and requirements concerning their integration with process to be automated. The education of the company management and company staff with respect to the technology



k) The financial aspect is important as the level of sponsor counts to the quality of project implementation. Within this method, construction organisations avoid the problems of 'change programmes' by concentrating on “process alignment”. Recognising that different players in the process have different roles and responsibilities is firstly related to the processes in which these players work. In CPI senior managers implement the task of process alignment by a series of BPR steps that are distinct but clearly overlapped in nature. This recommended path develops a selfreinforcing cycle of commitment, communication, and culture change in the organisation. The steps are as follows. 1. Gain commitment to change through the organisation of the top team.


This paper proposes the Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) as advanced by Davenport, (1996). CPI appears to be the most appropriate methodology for the construction industry when considered from the angle that the nature of the industry is diverse and complex. Due to the legal and contractual arrangement that the Industry is orchestrated in, it would be


Experiences in Norway Post and Anaya, users of CPI technology, have shown that it is both workers and the organisation are more confident in the process improvement if the previous way of doing things is considered.

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2. Develop a shared vision and mission of the business and of what change is required. 3. Define the measurable objectives, which must be agreed by the team, as being the quantifiable indicators of success in terms of the mission. 4. Break down the critical processes into sub-processes, activities and tasks and form the teams around these. 5. Re-design, monitor and adjust the process-alignment in response to difficulties in the change process. CPI creates slow change. This change is expected to create conditions and circumstances that did not exist before. The business team is seen to be a “learning organisation” capable of adapting to a changing competitive environment. A learning organisation aims to create a self-perpetuating momentum that changes the culture of the organisation as a whole. The aim of CPI piecemeal application is to create a completely different environment with different attributes. The environment created has norms, values and attitudes that underpin behaviours that are oriented to address continual improvement and are constantly questioning processes. This culture embraces human resources development on the one hand and systems development (including BPR) on the other. For without addressing the systems of an organisation, CPI has no foundation. The organisation created learns to continually monitor and modify its behaviour to maintain the changesensitive environment. Critics and traditional hierarchical managers of course, find it difficult to accept these changes and are incapable of making the adjustments, in spite of all the direction, support and peer pressure brought about by the process alignment principles. Replacement of these managers and possible future saboteurs who cannot function in the new organisation becomes inevitable after they have been given the opportunity to make the required change. For such new organisation to be realised, it takes time and can be frustrating for the implementers. It also produces anxiety amongst the employees, as they have no information of who would be replaced next due to the furtive nature in which the new technology is implemented Champy, J., (1995) “Reengineering Management: The Mandate for New Leadership.” New York: Harper Collins. Colin Coulson–Thomas (1994) “Business process reengineering: Myth or reality Kogan Page, London. Davenport T., (1993) "Process Innovation." Harvard University Press. Davenport, T.H. & Beers, M.C. (1995). "Managing Information About Processes," Journal of Management Information Systems, 12 (1), pp. 57-80. Davenport, T.H. & Short, J.E. (1990 Summer). "The New Industrial Engineering: Information Technology and Business Process Redesign," Sloan Management Review, pp. 11-27. Davenport, T.H. (1994 July). "Reengineering: Business Change of Mythic Proportions?" MIS Quarterly, pp. 121-127. Eagan report, (1998) The UK Government task force Report presented to the UK Prime minister. Hales, K & Lavery, M (1991) Workflow management software: the business opportunity, Ovum Ltd, London. Hammer, M. (1990, July-August). "Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate," Harvard Business Review, pp. 104-112. Hammer, M. and J. Champy (1993). Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution, Harper Business, New York. Swenson, K.D.; Maxwell, R.J.; Matsumuto,T.; Sagahari , B.; Irwin, K. (1994). A business process environment supporting collaborative planning. Collaborative computing, Chapman & Hall

The construction industry has been at the crossroads for some time and has lagged behind other industries in the integration of new ways of working. The need to have appropriate methodologies for the implementation of approved workflow solutions for the elusive formal construction process is important and should be researched into further. Appropriate research into the choice of workflow methodologies should take pre-eminence in the research for solutions for the construction industry. The use of Davenport’s ‘CPI’ is currently preferred to Hammer’s ‘Clean slate’ due to the level of research that has been devoted to by the proponents of the school of thought. The construction industry needs to address investment into emerging technologies and appropriate training for the construction labour force for the industry to become responsive to the new work culture. It is only through further research that the industry will benefit from the emerging management innovations being applied.

Burati, J. L. (1989). "Cost of quality deviations in design and construction." Source Document No. 29, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. Burati, J.L., & Oswald, T. H., (1993). "Implementing TQM in Engineering and Construction." Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 9(4), pp 456-470

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