Monday, August 27, 2007

e-CONSTRUCTION : ARE WE READY?

Hilmisofli Alias1, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Faridah Yusuf2
1 Jabatan Kerja Raya,Malaysia
2 Universiti Teknologi MARA

This paper was presented at QS National Convention 2003, 18-19 August 2003 at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

ABSTRACT

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) holds tremendous potential for improving the construction industry especially with the emergence of the Internet. While the industry is facing globalisation and knowledge based economy, the capability of ICT is undeniable in achieving competitive advantage. As a result, the ICT has led to the formation of e-Construction. e-Construction has been established in Malaysia by CIDB since 1999. Definitely, it will enhance the Malaysian construction industry to become more innovative, competitive and efficient to meet the demands of a globalised market. However, are we ready to implement e-construction in our business? This statement holds inquisition on the construction industry players especially the contractors.

This paper attempts to assess the readiness of Malaysian medium scale contractors in implementing e-Construction. A survey on the physical and attitudinal readiness has been carried out to measure the readiness. Although the benefits have been acknowledged by majority of the contractors, they are not yet ready to implement e-Construction. There is an apparent need for actions to enhance knowledge, awareness, perception and interest of the contractors.

KEYWORDS:  ATTITUDINAL AND PHYSICAL READINESS, E-CONSTRUCTION, ICT, MEDIUM SCALE CONTRACTORS.

1.0 INTRODUCTION

A few years ago, information technology (IT) has become a major factor in world business. It has become widely accepted that information technology including internet-based information systems are playing a vital and expanding role in business. Information technology can help all kinds of business improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business process, decision making and managing information, thus creating a competitive environment in business. The importance of IT is reflected by the growing number of funded research initiatives worldwide including Doherty (1997), Howard (1998), Rivard (2000) and A.Aziz et al (2002). All these studies addressed the needs to explore the opportunities that lie in IT to improve the performance of the Construction Industry.

In the current context of a global and borderless economy, information technology appears to be one of the most important tools in achieving competitive advantages in every sector including construction. The capability of computing technology commonly used by business and the public has changed significantly since the last decade. In particular, the Internet which has made a major impact and all sectors are evaluating to maximise the opportunities. The establishment of e-Commerce, e-Business, e-Medicine, e-Learning and other electronic transaction processes has proven the needs for and the significance of ICT.

Information technology is also changing the global construction business and internet is the key to this change (Betts and Walker, 1999). As a result, the application of ‘e’ has led to the formation of e-Construction within the construction industry.

2.0 E-CONSTRUCTION IN THE MALAYSIAN CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

e-Construction in a simple term is used to describe the transactions which are conducted electronically over the Internet. It offers open operating standard in web-based applications including information exchange, tendering, procurement, etc., for various parties involved in construction. Rahim (2000) has defined e-construction as a tool, which is concerned with the management, processing and use of information, facilitated by information and communication technology. Similarly defined by DETR (1999), e-construction involves sharing business information, maintaining business relationship and conducting business transaction by means of electronic networks.

Alshawi (2001) specifically addressed e-Construction as electronic data exchange which is an information technology based operations that has the capacity to facilitate considerable online information exchange and promote business efficiently. Unlike many IT tools, e-Construction is much concerned on the exchange of information across the project supply chain.

From the above definitions, e-Construction can be considered as a tool or medium for managing and processing information to enhance business activities supported by information technology. This tool will facilitate business activities such as communications, information exchange and sharing, business processes, and transactions. It acts as a platform for the construction professionals to promote business effectively using ICT and probably enhance the knowledge within the community by information sharing

In the Malaysian construction industry, e-Construction has been launched by the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) in September 1999. This programme emphasises on the management, processing and use of information, facilitated by information and communication technology. It is intended to play a vital role in helping the construction industry to become more innovative, competitive and efficient. The launching of e-Construction programme would encourage and promote greater usage of information technology among the construction industry players such as contractors, consultants, clients, government, suppliers, etc. The anticipated benefits of e-Construction along the construction supply chain can be summarised in Figure 1.0.



 

Having launched the e-Construction programme for a period of almost four years (since September 1999), this paper explores the extent of which the construction companies in Malaysia are able and ready to implement the programme. To establish the current level of readiness of the medium sized contractors, a survey has been carried out.

3.0 THE SURVEY

The survey focuses on the readiness of medium sized contractors in Malaysia in realising electronic ways of doing construction activities. In the study, the word readiness is defined to incorporate both attitudinal and physical attributes. Attitudinal elements include the level of knowledge, optimism, awareness, perception of importance, interest and willingness of the contractors to implement the program. Personnel, investment in IT and infrastructure readiness is used to measure the physical readiness of the respondents to implement the programme.

The target population for this survey is medium sized contractors located in Peninsular Malaysia only. The sample size determined was 150. The respondents were drawn by utilising a simple random sampling from the sampling frame, comprising contractors registered with Pusat Khidmat Kontraktor (PKK) and CIDB, especially those who are actively engaged in construction projects. The survey instrument used in this research encompassed a variety of items including Likert 5-scale items and other questions which are used to measure the said attributes.

4.0 FINDINGS

The respondents are classified based on their class of registration with PKK and CIDB. A total of 56 respondents are selected randomly from the various classes of registration and years of experience. 59 % of the respondents are Class A PKK registered contractors while only 5 respondents are registered with Class C registration. Class B and Bx are represented by 32 % of the total respondents. The geographical location of respondents is diverse, but majority are operating in the East Coast, which represents 35 % of the total respondents. The respondents are well established companies with high level of experience and turnover. (Refer to Figures 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 in the Appendix)

The technical information comprises evaluation of the availability of technical staff, hardware and networking within the working premises. The survey finds that most of the companies have at least 2 personal computers, each, with various software installed. However, the major setback is the absence or the lack of networking. Only 46% of the respondents are connected to the internet. Nevertheless, the level of internet access is expected to see some improvement, where 70% of the companies which are not connected, are willing to invest on networking within 2 or 3 years. The respondents invested in ICT moderately, and ranked their staff knowledge as reasonable. (Refer to Figure 6.0 in the Appendix)

The measurement of readiness of the respondents was carried out based on the score of the major elements identified in the survey. These elements are the attributes used to measure the attitudinal and physical readiness of the medium sized contractors. Table 1.0 (Appendix) depicts the major elements and the scores computed based on the ranking of the scales of the continuous variables gathered from the questionnaires. Continuous variables represent questions put forward (using Likert 5-scale) to the respondents to obtain their ranking of issues considered significant for the measurement of each major element. Based on the rankings by the respondents, the scores for each major element are computed as shown in Table 1.0. The score is then applied for further analysis in the survey.

Based on the result of the analysis, 57% of the respondents are computed as attitudinally ready while only 45% are physically ready to implement the e-Construction programme. By taking 60% as the cut off point, the percentages attained are considered as not enough to indicate that the respondents are attitudinally ready and physically ready. The result is summarised in Figure 2.0.



Inferential statistical analysis was carried out to check whether the scores can be inferred to the population of all the construction companies in Malaysia. Student t-Test was carried out to measure the significance of the attitudinal score. The t-Test procedure compares the mean of the sample taken and the population mean. The score of the t-Test showed that there is insufficient evidence to indicate that Malaysian medium sized contractors are attitudinally ready to implement e-Construction.

On the other hand, the significance of the physical score was tested by running Z-test for analysis of proportion. To test for physical readiness, a claim of 60% or less of the construction companies being not physically ready is made. A confidence level of 5% is taken into consideration. Similarly, the result showed that there is insufficient evidence to indicate that Malaysian medium sized contractors are physically ready to implement e-Construction.

Hence, based on the analysis and the tests results attained, it can be inferred that Malaysian medium sized contractors are generally attitudinally and physically not ready to implement the programme.

5.0 ARE WE READY?

The survey has indicated that the medium sized contractors are attitudinally not ready to implement the programme. Various factors have been identified as critical factors which influence the attitudinal readiness of the companies. The factors identified are the level of knowledge, awareness, interest, perception of importance, optimism and willingness of the contractors. Perception of importance has been determined as the strongest contributory factor towards the attitudinal readiness. It is also noted that awareness solely, will not contribute towards the level of readiness of the contractors.

According to the survey, the medium sized contractors are physically not ready to implement the programme due to the lack of networking access and computing infrastructure as well as inadequate investment, technical staff and knowledgeable staff. The access to the internet is the most critical factor that determines the physical readiness of the companies.

e-Construction is not yet ready to play a major part in activities of the construction industry in Malaysia from the medium sized contractors’ point of view. Nevertheless, there is a common belief across the whole industry that it will benefit the users. Overall the view was that a more extensive approach has to be carried out. The absence of the right culture in the industry has become part of the industry’s inherently cautious approach to change. Indeed many companies still fail to get connected to the internet, which is without doubt, the main stumbling block towards their long term success.

The Malaysian construction workforce should be more educated, higher in knowledge, influenced by the advances in ICT especially the internet. They should be able to utilise ICT to build on their strength in a greatly expanded and globalised market.

These factors have to be undertaken into deep consideration to implement e-Construction in Malaysia. From the assessment and findings of the research, it demonstrated that the success of e-Construction is dependent on the full commitment and involvement of the construction industry players. Therefore, the contractors should be prepared to undergo a paradigm shift, which entails new ways of doing business and implementing their core business processes.

6.0 CONCLUSIONS

Technology will enable almost everything. However, one thing is certain in this rapidly changing environment, technology exposed today will be overtaken by the events of tomorrow. The emergence of new and more developed technology will continue so that we cannot stay for a long time on the same platform. Therefore, deciding on how best to apply it is the critical decision to make. The party who has the authority, such as CIDB has to critically plan and implement the e-construction programme, in such a way that the success of the programme is certain.

It is interesting to note that this research has shown that the medium sized contractors are not ready to implement the programme. Some actions have to be taken to ensure the readiness of the contractors, as the main players in the industry. In order to beef up the level of readiness, the industry might need a "killer application" to put everybody in the fast lane. Major ICT applications, followed by training, seminars, awareness programmes, etc., could do the trick, forcing the industry players to equip themselves attitudinally and physically. In this way, the e-construction programme can be realised, consequently achieving its goals and the objectives, and benefiting the construction industry as a whole.

REFERENCES

1. A.Aziz, Mui, L.Y., Cheng, N.A., Yee, W.C. & Lay, W.S. (2002) A Survey on Internet Usage in the     Malaysian Construction Industry, Available: www.itcon.org/2002/17/ [accessed : April 13, 2003]
2. Alshawi, M. (2001) E-Construction: Present and Futures, Proceeding of ICW 2001, 12 September 2001,     Kuala Lumpur.
3. Betts, M. & Walker, D. (1999) Information Technology Foresight: The Future Application of the World Wide     Web in Construction, Available: www.construct-it.salford.ac.uk/~martin/w78%20rmit%20foresight.html     [accessed: September 13, 2001]
4. BuildonLine[online] e-Construction Portal, Available: http://ww.build-on-Line.com [accessed: Feb 13, 2002]
5. DETR (2000) e-Business in Construction – Status, Opportunities and Role of DETR, Davis Langdon     Consultancy, UK. Available: http://www.construction.detr.gov.uk /cis /index.htm [accessed: February 3,     2002]
6. Doherty, J.M. (1997) A Survey of Computer Use in the New Zealand Building and Construction Industry,     Salesoft CAD Solutions Ltd., New Zealand.
7. Howard, R., Kiviniemi,A. & Samuelson,O. (1998) Surveys of IT in the Construction Industry and Experience     of the IT Barometer in Scandinavia, Journal of Construction IT. Available: http://www.itcon.org/1998/14/     [accessed: June 15, 2002]
8. Rahim, M.F.A. (2000) What Can the Construction Industry Benefit from the Multimedia Super Corridor     (MSC)? The Malaysian Surveyor, 3rd Quarter 2000, pg 39.
9. Rivard, H. (2000) A Survey on the Impact of Information Technology on the Canadian Architecture,     Engineering and Construction Industry, Concordia University, Canada. Available : http://itcon.org/2000/3/     [accessed : February 13, 2002]

APPENDIX







1 comment:

dc-foodie said...

There seems to be growing awareness of the need to promote IT in the construction industry. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) hosted an event "How IT Can Help Fix America’s Ailing Construction Industry" -- audio and video of the event is online here -- http://www.itif.org/index.php?id=117