Scholarly article on topic 'The Use of Advanced Computer Based Management Systems by Large Saudi Companies for Managing Remote Construction Projects'

The Use of Advanced Computer Based Management Systems by Large Saudi Companies for Managing Remote Construction Projects Academic research paper on "Civil engineering"

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Procedia Engineering
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{"Remote construction projects" / "Communication and management" / "Computer based management system" / "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia"}

Abstract of research paper on Civil engineering, author of scientific article — Bhzad Sidawi, Abdulsalam A. Al-Sudairi

Abstract Remote projects have their unique problems that are caused mainly by the remoteness of the project. Little research was undertaken particularly in the gulf region concerning this issue and it has highlighted few unique communications and management problems such as the loose control, lack of human resources, infrastructure and experience. This research investigates the current problems that the Saudi Aramco and other large companies in the Eastern province, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), experience regarding the management of remote construction projects. The field study consists ofa questionnaire survey and interviews, and it shows a number of management problems that have profound negative impact on remote projects’ performance and process. The study inspectshow Advanced Computer based Management Systems (ACMS) would help in sorting out a number of present projects’ management problems.

Academic research paper on topic "The Use of Advanced Computer Based Management Systems by Large Saudi Companies for Managing Remote Construction Projects"

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Procedía Engineering 77 (2014) 161 - 169

Procedía Engineering

www.elsevier.com/locate/proeedia

Fourth International Symposium on Infrastructure Engineering in Developing Countries, IEDC

The Use ofAdvanced Computer Based Management Systems by Large Saudi CompaniesforManaging Remote Construction Projects

Bhzad Sidawia*, Abdulsalam A. Al-Sudairia

aCollege of Architecture and Planning, University ofDammam, P O Box 2397, 31451Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Abstract

Remote projects have their unique problems that are caused mainly by the remoteness of the project. Little research was undertaken particularly in the gulf region concerning this issue and it has highlighted few unique communications and management problems such as the loose control, lack of human resources, infrastructure and experience. This research investigates the current problems that the Saudi Aramco and other large companies in the Eastern province, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), experience regarding the management of remote construction projects. The field study consists ofa questionnaire survey and interviews, and it shows a number of management problems that have profound negative impact on remote projects' performance and process. The study inspectshow Advanced Computer based Management Systems (ACMS) would help in sorting out a number of present projects' management problems.

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.Thisis anopenaccessarticle under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Peer-review underresponsibility of the Accounting Research Institute, Universiti Teknologi MARA.

Keywords: Remote construction projects; Communication and management; Computer based management system; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

1. Introduction

In spite of rapid progress in the project-management field, a number of negative issues still affect management of construction projects. These issues include use of inappropriate tools and systems for communication,

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +96-613-3331760, fax.:+96-613-8573987 E-mail address: bsidawi@ud.edu.sa

1877-7058 © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Department of Urban and Infrastructure Engineering, NED University of

Engineering and Technology

doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2014.07.013

coordination, and management. For example, Yang et al. [1] suggest that intense need for project information and effective communications by the project team cannot be met by traditional communications and information management systems since these systems have shortcomings and are incapable of fulfilling project duties and objectives. One of these shortcomings is that traditional systems provide limited access to information, which is considered one of the key barriers to successful project management practices (Vadhavkar et al., [2]; Pena-mora et al. [3]). Many of these project failures are caused by inadequate organization and management of the construction process (e.g., a weak coordination of processes and uncertainty about available information) [4].

Remote construction projects exist in many regions throughout the world such as the Sahara desert, Antarctic regions, the Arabian Peninsula desert, etc. The dilemma in managing remote projects is highlighted by Deng et al. [5], Kestle and London [6, 7], Kestle [ 8], McAnulty and Baroudi [9], and Thorpe [10]. These authors have pointed out that the remoteness thus the loose control is major cause of the management problems. They suggested possible causes such as the lack of human resources, infrastructure and experience of how to manage these remote projects. Remote Saudi construction sites have unique problems such as staff shortage and serious delay in sorting out a number of project queries and problems (Justanyah and Sidawi [11], Sidawi 2010a&b[12, 13] and Sidawi [14, 15]).

In the KSA, some large companies such as Aramco and Royal commission of Jubail (RCJ) have a number of remote construction projects. These projects are of different sizes i.e. medium, large to very large. They are in remote locations and some operate in undeveloped and environmentally sensitive regions. They are far from the supervision team office, the contractor's office, and major urban concentrations. During construction, all project parties experience countless difficulties and cumbersome management problems. These potential problems negatively affect project quality and cause substantial delays and increases in costs.

The literature review suggests that some of these management and communications problems can be sorted out by the use of ACMS such as mobile, Web-based Project Management Systems (WPMS) and BIM. These systems use wireless, satellite, Internet-based, or mobile tools and networks and it helps - to a certain degree - construction industry firms manage the increasing complexity of normal construction projects. They have also helped fulfill project objectives such as quality, scope, time, and cost. Sustainable practices and measures would also help in sustaining the quality of projects, eliminate waste, and minimize the cost. This research investigates the management of remote projects by ARAMCO and other large companies in the Eastern province and how ACMS would help in improving the management practices.

2. Review of current remote projects management practices

The dilemma of managing remote projects is highlighted by Deng et al. [5], who mentions that the extensive physical distance between project participants, sometimes extending over national boundaries, is the primary cause of delays in decision making. The project team has to not only tackle traditional management problems but those that specifically occur as a result of the remote locations of these often environmentally sensitive sites [6, 7, 8]. These sites are often far from logistic support and suffer a continuous shortage of materials and specialized labor [6,7]. Kestle [8] investigates the management problems of remote projects. Kestle [8] reports lack of project preplanning, certainty, and/or clarity concerning project process integration. There were also misinterpretations and miscommunications of project results and needs issues. A centralized decision-making process and lack of delegated authority to field personnel often hindered progress and communications at critical emergency response and recovery stages. Kestle & London [6] suggest a framework for the design management of remote sites. The framework emphasizes the following management functions: serving, controlling, organizing and economizing.

McAnulty and Baroudi [9] conduct a survey of top and mid-tier construction contractors with experience in remote construction projects in Australia. They find that contractors experience difficulty attracting and retaining skilled workers; working in remote locations has a negative impact on an employee's family life. It is difficult to procure and access materials and equipment in remote areas and severe climatic factors in remote areas have a negative impact on productivity. There is lack of infrastructure and communications. The researchers suggest a number of possible solutions such as the need for appropriate material management systems and design cost information specifically for remote construction works. They recommend that unique types of costing issues should

be included in the project's cost estimation at the pre-construction stages of project; these include: mobilization/demobilization, accommodation, inclement weather downtime, site allowances, delivery, and productivity.

Justanyah and Sidawi [11], and Sidawi [12, 13, 14, 15] examine the case of Saudi Electric Company (SEC). SEC has a number of remote projects and it experiences difficulties in running these projects. These problems can be summarized as the following:

A. Procurement and risk Management: There is a frequent shortage of materials. This undoubtedly shows that procurement and supply of materials is not accurately planned by the SEC or its contractors. The delivery of materials and equipment is constrained by road/highway regulations and bad conditions of some remote roads. With traditional methods of running a remote project by both sides (SEC and the contractors), projects have much higher risk margins than ordinary projects. This is caused by the ad hoc approach and both sides do not accurately plan projects.

B. Cost, time, scope, and quality management: There is serious delay in sorting out a number of project queries and problems; these have a bad effect on the project's performance and process. Delays in decision-making, loose control, and infrequent visits to the remote site result in wasted time, excessive costs, unfocused scope, and poor construction quality.

C. Human Resources: SEC has a staff shortage so employees are incapable of doing all required site visits. This has negative implications for the project since some uncommitted contractors seize this opportunity, make changes to construction plans, and hire unskilled workers. There is a lack of security and shortage in skilled workers. Government authorities are not able to visit the site frequently due to remoteness of the projects and inaccessible roads. The impact of the harsh working conditions on the productivity of SEC's supervisors has been briefly outlined in this study but the research did not inspect its impact on the productivity of the remote site's personnel.

D. Infrastructure and communications: Land ownership in some remote areas is not definite or known; legal disputes are likely to occur. There is a lack of or no infrastructure such as services, materials, and equipment. The survey demonstrates that contractors and SEC supervisors still use traditional communications and management tools and that Communications and Project Management Systems (CPMS) are little used by project team members. Decisions are made autocratically since they are made solely by the director of the regional office. It is obvious that SEC's project managers are not able to control and coordinate integration of a project's aspects and the typical management style is non-standard, fragmented, and loose.

3. Review of the current use of ACMS

Some of a remote project management's problems can be avoided if ACMS were used. These systems include Web based Project Management Systems WPMS and mobile systems that feature mobile tools, personal digital assistants (PDA), wearable computers, wireless tools, four dimensional augmented reality and other technologies. These systems possess the capability to improve communications between project team members and enable teams to share information and quickly solve problems. They improve team members' ability to manage time and costs [16]. Davidson & Moshini [17] and Bowden [18] state that construction costs can be reduced by 25% through efficient transfer of information between the construction teams; that transfer can be achieved through ACMS. Ahuja et al. [19] suggest that adoption of Information Communication Technology (ICT) enables effective communication between dispersed project team members but argues that strategic adoption of ICT (i.e. by a number of organizations involved in the construction process) requires that all supply chain members follow accepted methods of communication or protocols. This enables them to grasp effectively the IT benefits [20].

Alshawi and Ingirige [21] and Stewart and Mohamed [22] identify the following benefits of using WPMS: productivity enhancement of communication between project participants, reduction in project delays, heightened awareness of project issues among all parties, and ease of access to and retrieval of project information. Other advantages include: avoiding delays due to the arrival of updated drawings and documents, reducing visits to sites and travelling time to meetings, avoiding drawing mistakes, reducing time and money spent on disputes, sharing and exchanging project information, automating repetitive routine processes, and eliminating paper reports. Thomas et al. [23] discuss how WPMS - from the point of view of selecting contractors - helps project managers

boost contractor performance and confidence by minimizing subjectivity and eliminating the potential for corrupt practices. This improves competitiveness through increased awareness of competitors' strengths and weaknesses and nurtures mutual trust in the exchange of sensitive information such as performance data. Nitithamyong and Skibniewski [24, 25] suggest that benefits of using WPMS can be categorized into four main areas. These categories include cost reduction and time saving, enhancement of communications and collaboration, improvement of productivity and partnership, and support of e-commerce and the customer. A number of researchers anticipate that WPMS will replace traditional project management methods (Becerik [26]; Zou and Roslan [27]) and these methods are drivers of WPMS adoption. Several aspects support this claim including increased competitive pressures, expectations of revenue growth, the ability to compete globally, and the desire to reengineer the business to respond to market challenges [25].

Leskinen [28, 29] argues that it is difficult to make direct assessment of which mobile systems would benefit the construction industry. The most important intangible benefits include improving customer service, gaining a competitive advantage, acquiring more timely management information, supporting core business functions, avoiding competitive disadvantages, improving management information, improving product quality, improving internal communication, implementing changes through innovation, improving external communication, and enhancing the jobs of employees. In recent years, the development of laser scanning and video and image-based 3D reconstruction system is enabling remote and virtual walk through on actual construction sites. These systems have the ability to minimize the travel times of supervisors and may increase the frequency of progress, quality and safety inspections by providing project supervisors with systems that are easily applicable (Golparvar-Fard et al [30], Jaselski et al [31]). The utilization of Building Information Modeling (BIM) by the project team would provide a more streamlined business process, associated project and site management methodologies including complete facilitation of construction knowledge during the full lifecycle of a building project (Arayici and Aouad [32]). Arayici, Egbu and Coates [33] argue that BIM implementation serves as a useful alternative to addressing key construction sector issues, and offer solutions to these in order to increase productivity, efficiency, quality; reduce costs, lead times and duplications, via effective collaboration and communication of stakeholders in remote construction projects. These key findings, in terms of challenges, also lend support to the classification of the key challenges for construction project management in remote construction projects, such as human resources, cost, time, scope, and quality management; procurement and risk management, infrastructure and communication.

Justanyah and Sidawi [11] and Sidawi [12, 13, 14, 15] have studied the potentiality of Communications and Project Management Systems (CPMS) and whether it would help SEC in avoiding some construction problems, sorting out efficiently the site queries and improving the management of these projects. They point out that the CPMS would support SEC's management activities, particularly during the construction stages that witness long delays in providing feedback to the construction enquiries. CPMS can be used to provide fast feedback to the site personnel regarding the most problematic construction problems such as these related to the monitoring of the construction process, quality of work, procurement of materials and productivity levels. In specific CPMS can help regarding the following project management aspects (ibid):

A. Procurement and risk Management: CPMS would help SEC's supervisors to monitor the Procurement, supply and consumption of construction materials. During the construction stage, SEC would be capable to undertake precise daily control and follow-up procedures regarding issues such as remote examination of work quality, monitoring productivity of site workers, and calculation of material consumption rates. SEC would be capable to estimate the risk margins and to adjust their project management methods to minimize the risk for the future projects.

B. Cost, time, scope, and quality management: CPMS would help SEC eliminating some causes of potential delays. SEC would be capable to make fast decision making and control closely and more frequently the construction activities,

C. Human Resources: To monitor closely and frequently the contractors/ sub-contractors and site personnel activities and construction process, performance and outcomes. Thus any illegal changes to construction plans would be detected. Also, it would be used to substantially improve the site's security. The government authorities can be provided with regular updates about the progress of the construction process supported with captured photos and video shots.

Despite fast developments in IT and the creation of many IT applications for the construction industry, some issues still hinder the applicability of these systems to construction project management. There is a problem with regard to the diffusion of IT in the construction industry and the absorption of IT into work practices. This includes the level of strategic IT investment by construction industry firms [34]. Other barriers include IT technical shortages, deployment of the system on an ad hoc basis, isolated project management practices, and costly systems [21, 28, 29, 36]. To minimize such barriers and enable ICT adoption, the following issues should be investigated [37]:

• Strategy: the action plan deriving from an integrated view of organization's goals and priorities, people expectations, and potential benefits;

• People: the single individuals' attitude and the overall organizational context which impact on the level of willingness and readiness to change;

• Process: the real unit of analysis and trigger of change in terms of alternative redesign scenarios and associated impact; and

• Enablers: the potential facilitators of implementation at technological and organizational level

The following sections discuss remote construction site challenges and how ACMS should be designed to overcome these management problems.

4. The research objectives and methodology

This study examines the management of remote construction sites by large companies and whether the use of ACMS and adoption of sustainable management practices would help these companies improving its' management of remote projects. The objectives of the research are:

• To find out possible management and communications problems of remote construction sites; and

• To explore how these problems would be sorted out using ACMS and how ACMS would help in improving management practices

To achieve the research objectives, it is argued that a combination of quantitative (i.e. a questionnaire) and qualitative (i.e. interviews) research tools are used. This combination was chosen because the findings that relate to each method will be used to complement one another and, at the end of the study, to enhance theoretical or substantive completeness [38].

The targeted population consists of contractors and companies' supervisors/ engineers of Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Company), Royal commission of Jubail (RCJ) (petrochemical company), SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation and it a petrochemicals manufacturer), compendium of construction and consultancy companies which are working on remote sites of University of Dammam. These companies are located or have branches in the Eastern province, KSA and they have a number of remote construction sites of different sizes. This targeting method would provide feedback from the two major project's parties i.e. the owner and the contractor, which would increase the applicability of the proposed solutions regarding management and tools to both of them.

In mid-2012, phone calls were made to the managers and contractors of above mentioned companies asking them whether they would be happy to participate in the field survey. Seventy questionnaire forms were sent out to individuals who expressed their willingness to take part in the field survey. The progress of filling up the questionnaire forms was checked up by phone. These forms were filled in and returned back. However, after examining the returned forms, it was found that 23 of these are invalid as many parts have not been completed. Eventually, the total number of valid questionnaires is 47. The interviews were conducted in January 2013 and these were with one consultant that represents the University of Dammam in respect of supervision of a number of construction projects for the university's, two engineers who represent acontracting company which is working on one of the University's projects, and seven engineers of various specialists i.e. architectural, structural engineering, and HVAC, who are working in the private projects department of the Royal Commission of Jubail. The researchers were not able to conduct any interview with Aramco engineers and contractors as none was willing to participate in the interviews stage.

The analysis of the results is undertaken using SPSS16 for quantitative analysis; and cross-referencing (i.e. similarities and non similarities) technique was used to analyze the qualitative data. This technique enables the researchers to classify the data into categories and make comparisons, and allows rational interpretation and judgment.

5. Discussion of the results of the questionnaire survey and interviews

The findings of the questionnaire survey and interviews are discussed emphasizing the potential benefits of ACMS to the companies under investigation and the barriers that limit the applicability of ACMS to construction project management; special emphasis is given to how these barriers can be overcome. This study suggests that the participated companies experience a number of unique construction management problems. Other researchers such as Yang et al. [1], Deng et al. [5], Kestle and London [6,7], Kestle [8], McAnulty and Baroudi [9], Justanyah and Sidawi [11], Sidawi [12, 13] and Sidawi [14, 15] report some similar management problems. These problems can be categorized as follows:

A. Procurement and risk Management

The field survey showed frequent construction problems and delays in responding to some site queries. Also it showed some unexpected problems i.e. infrastructure, social, psychological as highlighted above. This would raise the risk level and by turn the cost of remote projects in comparison with normal projects. The interviews show problems related to materials' procurement, transportation and installation. In one case, precast concrete panels were used instead of granite panels. New ideas such as the use of solar panels to generate electricity was abandoned and replaced with electricity brought from electric grid. Materials were originally specified according to the specification but sometimes the materials that brought to the site did not comply with the specifications. Differences in estimating the risk level exist between the contractor, the owner and other concerned parties. This affects how the project would be run by each party and may create conflict of interests between these parties.

B. Cost, time, scope, and quality management

Substantial delay is experienced in dealing with a number of remote construction site queries. The delay has a profound negative impact on the project's process and performance. Frequent construction problems were experienced such as: delay in project time table, unavailability of supervision engineers, the company's tendering system that obligate the choice of the lowest bidding value, the shortage of skilled labor, and delay in the approval of contractor's submissions by the supervision engineers. Traditional management practices are seen as an obstacle of ACMS full utilization.

QS is in place, but the present researchers reveal that it is loosely implemented. The official biding and tendering system is based on the lowest bidding price. Some contractors do not have enough knowledge and skills to run some types of remote projects.

C. Human Resources

There is a lack of HR resources, particularly the Saudi nationals of which few work in construction projects and few foreign specialists who would like to work in a remote site. There are cultural differences and a language barrier between expats and Saudis and between expats themselves who came from different parts of the world and it is noticed that there is a difference in productivity levels between them. This creates a communication problem between the senior staff and labor. To overcome it, companies usually appoint an expat who speaks English to be the foreman for the group and the manager communicates with him and he would- by turn- transfer the instructions in his own language to his fellow workers. The cultural differences occasionally create tensions between teams. Social conflicts took place and in some cases they were not reported to the owner as the contractor is not obligated to do so.

D. IT Infrastructure and communications

ACMS systems are of little use by the respondents and site personnel (i.e. the contractor, sub-contractor or the owner's employees). Respondents said that some ACMS can help in efficiently manage the remote construction projects. ACMS would accelerate the feedback for a number of site queries. However, it was considered of little help regarding the financial matters such as Budget, material cost accounting, and equipment cost accounting. Also, ACMS would help in achieving certain project values whereas it would provide lesser support to managers

who aim to achieve the following values: protecting Saudi Arabia's peoples' health and reducing the use of natural resources.

The ANOVA results showed different level of IT use by each company and each level of management i.e. junior or senior. Also it showed a link between the more use of IT systems and a faster response to the site queries and problems and vice versa. The interviews show that in some companies, fragmented and standalone software was used for managing projects. The IT system of project owner is mostly not connected with the contractor or other parties' systems. The absence of social communications between remote site's workers and their families would negatively affect their productivity.

6. Conclusion

The problem of managing remote construction sites operates at different levels. These problems should be examined to enable the companies to grasp fully the potential of ACMS. Some remote sites' problems can be sorted out using ACMS but other types of problems need efficient management practices and robust planning and design of projects. The present researchers recommend these actions at the following levels (see also Sidawi 201216):

A. Strategic planning level: companies should set up a strategy with respect to management of all its' remote projects in terms of how to coordinate activities, mobilization/ demobilization of HR, equipment, materials, transportation, and other logistics issues. This should be in coordination with the other project parties and at the conceptual stage of the project.

B. Project planning and process: design and pre-planning of site activities such as supply and human resources should consider the risky variables' of the environment, the remote site and project as mentioned above. As there are differences in risk estimation between project parties, this needs to be discussed as early as the design stage by all parties and highlighted in the contract as well.

Flexible decision-making mechanisms should be created and tested. Companies should consider short and long-term partnering with contractors. This includes linking systems and sharing information and management tools. This would enhance knowledge integration and help to foster innovative ideas that dramatically improve projects [39]. During the construction stage, precise daily control and follow-up procedures should be applied regarding issues such as remote examination of work quality, monitoring productivity of site workers, and calculation of material consumption rates. Some problems seem to be generated during other stages of the project; some are expected such as the recruitment of skilled workers, transportation of materials, and other unforeseen problems such as possible shortages in manpower and the breakdown of equipment. These should be studied and resolved in the initial planning stages of the project. Emergency scenarios should be established in the early stages of the project to deal with unexpected issues. Prior to any engagement, companies should draw the contractor's attention to the unique problems and foreseeable issues associated with the construction of remote projects.

Transparency is needed so any decision that is taken from a higher level should be known by all concerned departments or staff. At the stage of contractor's choice, it is essential to thoroughly check whether the contractor has the ability and knowledge to run the designated remote project. The official biding and tendering system should be based on the higher quality bid not the lowest bidding price.

C. Human resources level: the owner and contractor's engineers should have the ability and knowledge to run remote sites, to respond efficiently to unexpected issues, to quickly sort queries, to lead multinational teams, to appreciate the cultural differences, to sort out potential social conflicts and find out possible reasons behind these conflicts, to coordinate with other remote sites' managers and overcome communications problems. Frequent social events are recommended to socialize with staff. Managers should be given the required authority and this helps in mobilization and demobilization of HR and equipment.

Proper plans should be set for training the remote construction site owner's staff and contractor. Staff should be informed about the benefits and advantages of new ACMS systems. Managers should be trained on site and how to manage remote sites virtually.

D. ACMS level: ACMS can efficiently help in managing remote construction projects. ACMS would accelerate the feedback for a number of site queries. However all site problems and queries should be discussed before designing or adopting a new IT system to see how these problematic issues can be programmed. Design of the new ACMS in-house or adoption of new ACMS should be discussed with the contractors and supervisors/ engineers to find out their views, perceptions and expectations. This would take into account the present remote project's processes and future scenarios for project processes. The ACMS design should consider how to reduce the negative impacts of the project and environmental parameters on project performance and processes.

It is important to provide all the necessary information i.e. benchmarks/ standards/ measures on the net is essential so it would be used by staff to approve a construction work/ procedure/ material etc. without the need to get the approval from the higher authority. However, to guarantee the success of management practices of remote projects, it is not enough to consider the technical financial, sustainable, and environmental aspects of the project in the design of the ACMS system, as the social, psychological issues should be addressed and the future research should examine how these issues would be linked with the above project aspects.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the University of Dammam for funding the research project titled as Management problems of remote construction projects, number 2012166.

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