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Why Neutrality is Key to Construction Project Collaboration

Steven Brant
Senior Director Construction & Engineering Solutions

Most construction professionals, as well as project owners, agree that there's a direct and powerful correlation between the level of collaboration on a project and its overall success.

Why, then, does true collaboration remain elusive in so many cases?

The answer is trust. Many of today's collaboration platforms are not built to foster this essential ingredient. There can be pushback to having all parties on the same collaboration platform, which is often funded by the general contractor or project owner.

From the perspective of other stakeholders, justified concerns include privacy of proprietary data, transparency, and data access and ownership. How can we get all parties of an initiative to come together and truly embrace collaboration, the kind that's needed to build efficiently and effectively?

We, at Oracle Construction and Engineering, assert that one fundamental concept, neutrality, is the key to establishing the trust foundation that fuels true collaboration. We define neutrality as universal fairness when applied to project collaboration platforms. All stakeholders have control over their data, and no stakeholder has an advantage over another.

Most cloud-based project collaborations platforms (about 90%) have "hub and spoke" architectures. The implementing organization configures the permissions in the system, owns all the data, and governs data and process integrity.

This design leaves other parties vulnerable. For example, the general contractor could decide to stop communicating with one of the subcontractors, disconnecting the organization or individual from the system. That sub-contractor would, in turn, have no record of any transactions up to that point.

Naturally, project stakeholders are often less than enthusiastic about using these solutions because they are designed to establish a hierarchy that precludes trust.
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Three questions to ask about project collaboration systems:

  • Who "owns" the data on the system?
  • Are you confident that your proprietary data is secure and can't be accessed by unauthorized parties, either within the system or from outside?
  • Are you certain you can't be denied access to your data on the system, such as in a dispute?

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Creating an open and level playing field that encourages and rewards participation

What does neutrality look like when applied to project delivery collaboration platforms?

We have defined five tenets that ensure a level playing field that builds trusts, encourages participation on the platform, and ultimately expands collaboration.

  1. Each organization should have its own private workspace that's configured into the system automatically and can't be broken. In other words, there's no super user who can see all information regardless of access rights.
  2. Each organization should own and control its own data in its workspace and control its own permissions and access for staff. All access rights should be transparent to the publisher.
  3. Organizations should not have the ability to amend transmissions after the fact.
  4. All organization must have the ability to privately communicate via the collaboration platform.
  5. There should be no single controlling administrator across the whole system. No one should be able to delete information, and no one should be able to be shut out.

In addition, organizations should have unlimited use of the platform so they can privately involve other parties. All parties should also get to access the full functionality of the collaboration platform to make their participation beneficial to them.

Finally, the platform must provide security from external threats that's at least as good as any typical client would demand of their own systems. These factors build trust, and with trust comes adoption. With wide adoption, information flows. That's the lifeblood of true collaboration and the most successful projects.

The downside of 'total' control

The concept of neutrality can be challenging to embrace at first glance. Platform owners often, and rightfully, want to defend their financial stake and their ability to control the collaboration process.

As we look deeper, however, we find that this mindset and desire for control increases risk in several ways. First, it introduces greater liability for the owner of the platform. The onus falls on the owner's organization to correctly provision and administer every aspect of the system.

On a large project, there could be thousands of users and organizations. It's easy to make a mistake that could provide a party with access that should not be granted, potentially leading to legal and contractual issues, financial damages, and project delays.

The need for control at the owner level also introduces unnecessary inefficiencies. Stakeholders know that they can be shut out of the system at any point. As a result, they must run a back-up system and duplicate everything. Inefficiencies proliferate and there's no single source of truth.

This approach also places tremendous management burden on the system owner. The owner must continually configure and update access, potentially slowing progress as parties wait for the administrator to update configurations. Most important, the need for control hinders adoption because it prohibits trust, the foundation for successful collaboration.

Neutrality at work

These days, everyone has their preferred internal system, but when organizations must work together, who wins? As engineering and construction projects continue to grow in scope and complexity, so does the need for greater collaboration among members of the stakeholders ecosystem. Collaboration platforms play a vital role, but they can only achieve their true potential when fully embraced by all stakeholders.

Trust has been a perennial barrier to stakeholder adoption as the platform owner typically controls the environment and access to it. Neutrality is the answer, and Oracle Aconex is built upon this important principal.

Learn more about our unique approach to collaboration by visiting here.

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Steve Kelly Tuesday, September 24, 2019
    Collaboration in construction was just a buzzword until Oracle Aconex and its neutrality model. The biggest question to ask about other systems is "Will your data always be available no matter what happens on the project?" Neutrality is at the core of Aconex and the word needs to be spread. Great article explaining what this means.
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