In business, time is money, and nowhere is this more evident than in the construction industry. Delays in construction projects are common, and they can result in very costly losses.
However, in a world where businesses increasingly rely on software systems that provide real-time status updates, analysis and cross-team collaboration, construction project management systems too often rely on distinctly 20th century technology.
This may not be the case anymore, however. A project management platform from Sablono GmbH, a Berlin-based firm, provides construction companies with the kind of real-time project tracking and collaboration that keeps all the parties involved continually informed of the project status. Sablono is an SAP HANA-based platform, which enables it to handle the vast amounts of data involved in a typical construction project in real time.
The need for a system like Sablono on a construction project is obvious; it saves time, and time is money, according to Daniel Boulton, construction project manager at Mace Ltd., a global consulting and construction firm based in London.
Keeping tabs on complex construction projects
Mace has been using the Sablono project management platform to keep track of an apartment complex construction project in Greenwich, U.K. Sablono is a major step forward for the company, which has relied most often on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and email to monitor projects.
“Historically, there’s been so much time spent with the traditional role of the planner who comes up with the program, and then is monitoring the reports on where we are in that program,” Boulton said. “That takes a hell of a lot of time talking through. On Monday, he’ll go out and do a site walk. Tuesday and Wednesday he’ll crunch the numbers. And on Thursday, he’s in a position where he can report up to [the] business on how the project is performing, and he’s actually reporting information that’s, in some stages, radically out of date.”
Like most construction firms, Mace relies on subcontractors from a variety of trades to do specific jobs on the project, such as plumbing in bathrooms or electrical wiring. For the apartment project, it’s also using some prefabricated elements, such as bathroom pods that are built in Spain, then shipped to the Greenwich site, where they are installed. It’s all a complex web of activities and entities, and Mace wanted a project management platform that could monitor all of it, Boulton explained.
“We wanted a solution that could empower our subcontractors to report their progress to us in real time, and [to] use the technology that would show us in a very simple way where we are on that program, where we’ve fallen behind, what that impact is going to be, and to be able to quantify that. So that’s what we found in Sablono,” he said.
Enhancing collaboration and transparency
Sablono enables the subcontractors on the project to report on progress, enhancing collaboration and transparency.
“We can see when a subcontractor starts their work, when they complete their work and if there’s any time delay between when a subcontractor finishes and another starts,” Boulton said.
However, Boulton said that the most critical value of the real-time data being reported by the subcontractors is the ability to analyze the actual progress of the project and make decisions on that rather than estimates.
“If a subcontractor is taking longer than they should be taking, or if [they are] speeding up, we can use that information to say we’re going to refine the program as we get further up the building based on the performance you’ve shown up until now,” he said. “[They] quoted four days initially, [but they report] that their average is three; therefore, we can drop a day off their program for the remaining floors and see if we can save some time on the overall build.”
Ease of use enhances subcontractor adoption
One of the main attractions of the Sablono project management platform is that it uses an app UI that can be deployed on any device. Getting the subcontractors to use the system is greatly enhanced by the ease of use, but Boulton said it’s better to get all the subcontractors involved with Sablono as early as possible. You have to make sure that they know that the system is not simply a “Big Brother monitoring tool,” he said, but that it has benefits for all parties.
“Having those conversations about how they report within their business to make it a useful tool for everybody is one of the key aspects, and getting in as early as you can is best,” Boulton said. “It’s a really simple tool and concept if you can communicate that as effectively and as early as you can so everybody understands exactly what’s required of them. It’s all driven by the data input, and if you get that right from the start, then you can start to reap the benefits of what the software can give you.”
SAP HANA key to processing vast amounts of data
SAP HANA makes it possible to handle the vast amounts of data or activities that you need to schedule and monitor construction projects, according to Lukas Olbrich, Sablono co-founder and CEO.
“We are easily looking at 100,000 or a million activities that you have to plan, and a couple hundred thousand or millions of progress updates, so [it’s] a lot of data entry for one single project,” Olbrich said. “The system Sablono was first developed in couldn’t scale to handle this amount of data, so we joined the SAP Startup Focus program in order to put it on SAP HANA. We decided to redevelop it as a cloud-based, web-based system for that easy distribution of the system itself.”
The Sablono platform is fully cloud-based, Olbrich said, and can be deployed in whatever implementation the customer wants.
“It’s fully cloud-based, and you can run it on our cloud, or can run in the SAP cloud or on premises,” he said. “Since it’s based in SAP HANA, it’s really easy to distribute through the SAP cloud, but the first touch point is usually our cloud offering. It’s very straightforward to sign up and set up your own project monitor.”
Shifting resistance to cloud and transparency
There was some resistance to cloud-based systems in the construction industry when Sablono was first developed in 2014, according to Olbrich, and there was skepticism about the transparency that the system provides. But the inherent value of both becomes apparent when companies deploy the system.
“Everyone wanted to have everything on premises when we started out, but we are seeing this start to shift now, and even though we offer on-premises installations, they would rather go into a private cloud, or they use our system in the public shared cloud,” Olbrich said.
“There was also resistance to the transparency that our system provides, but now, people are talking about open book delivery of projects where everyone knows everything, and our solution ties in very well with that trend of open book.”