Collaboration has not caught up in India. Fraught with lack of transparency at all levels, both public and private projects languish in needless delays. Ashok Kumar informs us how one of the biggest exceptions in Indian project management flourished with the adoption of a technology that linked 70 organisations, 45 outside India, that worked on the project.
Delhi Airport's Terminal 3 (T3) is the world's second largest airport terminal. Approximately 3 km in length, the terminal features 160 check-in counters and is able to accommodate 34 million passengers each year. Spread over 4.4 million sq ft, T3 also features Asia's second longest runway, 74 aerobridges and 30 remote parking stands for aircraft.
When Larsen & Toubro (L&T) was awarded the Rs 5,400 crore design and build contract in December 2006, they were faced with a significant challenge. To complete the project in time for the Commonwealth Games last year, the construction timetable was compressed to a challenging 39 months. Compared to similar projects, this was highly ambitious. Singapore's Changi Airport T3 project, for example, took 76 months and delivery of London Heathrow Airport's famed T5 and Beijing's Terminal 3 took 60 months each.
Linking a global project team
L&T identified that managing the flow of information between companies and project members would be crucial. To keep the project on track, it was essential that the right people received the right information at the right time.
On any project, this is a significant challenge; however, for L&T, the task was made more complex by the size and global spread of the project team. More than 70 organisations were engaged on the project and 45 of these firms were based outside of India, in locations as far apart as London, Dubai, Singapore and Sydney.
Key stakeholders included the client, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL)â€”a joint venture consortium comprising the GMR Group, Airports Authority of India, Fraport & Eraman Malaysia and IDFâ€”and US-based project management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Existing tools and processes were inadequate
For the first few months of the project, the project team used a combination of File Transfer Protocol (FTP) systems, hard copies and email to communicate. However, with thousands of documents and files being exchanged, the team experienced bottlenecks and difficulties in meeting their turnaround targets. The bulky sizes of email meant that drawings sent to external stakeholders were bouncing back and slowing down the review cycle.
A neutral collaboration platform
Following an extensive review of available solutions, L&T implemented an online collaboration platform to manage information and link the project team.
This enabled all project participants to access, distribute, track and archive their drawings, documents and correspondence in real time using one web-based system at any time and from any location.
The innovative web-based system allowed team member to manage more than 3,00,000 documents and one million emailsâ€”a massive volume of information.
After the successful delivery of project, Shankar Narayanan, Head of Project Controls at L&T, observed the following advantages of using an online collaboration platform over traditional tools:
1. Rapid implementation and deployment;
2. Instant retrieval of information; and
3. Faster flow of communication.
Narayanan felt that these factors improved efficiency, controlled risk and help delivere the project on time.
Rapid implementation and roll-out: Initially, as there was no common platform, all the document were scattered and needed to be uploaded onto the collaboration platform. From then onwards, the platform was the â€˜default'tool for managing all documents and mails.
Narayanan said, â€œThere were challenges in initial implementation, as loading all our documents onto the system was a considerable task. Further, we had to get team members using it instead of FTP and email. However, people quickly got into the routine of using it.â€
To make the new technology successful, L&T needed all team members, internal and external, to quickly be adept in using the system. To help get users up to speed, on-site training sessions were provided followed by unlimited support. Narayanan commented that new participants also found the system comfortable.
The collaboration platform provider developed the programme and met the required security, reliability and performance standards. Few of L&T's in-house IT resources were also required for implementation and maintenance.
Instant retrieval of information: In an in-house document management tools, company becomes a silo of information, keeping all its data under its own roof. But in collaborative environment information needs to be readily disseminated between firms. So, on the T3 project, the collaboration platform provided a neutral, third-party repository for storing and exchanging information.
To quickly retrieve drawings, requests for information (RFIs) and other items, the collaboration platform offered â€˜Google-tyle' searching capabilities. Shankar Narayannan, said, â€œThe collaboration platform was an indispensible element of the project. Every document and mail distribution was searchable and accessible from remote locations. The keyword search capabilities were powerful so people could instantly bring up what they needed. The time saved in locating documents was very important on the project and it's something we could do extremely quickly.â€
Faster flow of information: Easy sharing of documents and files made the â€˜review or approval' process easier. The status of the document can then be tracked and overdue actions, such as outstanding RFIs, are highlighted. It helped L&T promote accountability.
â€œDue to our timeline we had very strict review cycles and so the distribution of documents between parties had to be fast. We had a wide team of stakeholders, often about 1,200 engineers engaged on the project, and so distributing the right files to these people was a complex task,â€ said L&T's Narayanan.
He added, â€œI'd receive between 400-500 mail and document actions a day, so it was crucial to stay on top of this. With the collaboration platform, I'd receive notification of new items and could browse my tasks and actions in one place. Also the fact that contractual correspondence was well documented and could be traced was of great value to us.â€
Improved efficiency and reduced risk
During the project, L&T found that the collaboration platform increased the efficiency by streamlining several processes. At a management level, there was also reduced exposure to information- and communication-related risks.
The collaboration system helped reduce the risk of delays, increased visibility over document versions, and provided a complete audit trail of â€˜who did what and when'. The system also securely captured and permanently archived all project records for future reference. Because of this, risk management was perhaps the key benefit of adopting the technology.
By using online collaboration to streamline project communication and information management, L&T:
1. Improved efficiency to support on-time and on-budget completion.
2. Reduced risk associated with project complexity, team complexity, and information management.
3. Provided immediate value by getting team members working together quickly more productively.
The author is the Regional Head for ASEAN and India with Aconex, which provided the online collaboration solution to the DIAL project.