IFS Lobby

Editorial Type: Software Focus Date: 07-2019 Views: 2,936 Tags: CAD, Construction, IFS, IFS Lobby
IFS has developed a highly configurable series of dashboards with IFS Lobby that improve project delivery and overall business performance: in short delivering projects on time, to budget, with low risk and to a high quality. The IFS integrated real time dashboard capability drives proactive management by organisational role to optimise business performance

In the past couple of issues we have focused on the challenges and opportunities affecting the industry over the next decade or so, thanks to the input from Kenny Ingram of IFS in his recent articles in this magazine. I thought that it would be useful to take a step or two back, with Kenny's help again, and look at some of the practical issues that will affect our ability to handle the changes we will be seeing.

With material costs rising dramatically - perhaps up to 30% over the next decade, according to IFS - demand increasing as the rate of urbanisation and people's expectations increase, hampered by skilled labour shortages with an ageing workforce, and exacerbated further by the rising costs of attracting people with the right sort of skills into the industry, some dramatic changes are having to be made to counter the effects that all of the above have on the cost and profitability of projects.

On a more positive note, the advances made through the use of digital technology - the introduction of BIM, the use of robotics, drones, laser scanning and artificial intelligence, modular construction and 3D printing - are enabling companies to move away from document driven systems towards integrated data-driven processes and workflows, providing enhanced efficiencies and workflows more reminiscent of the manufacturing industries which solved similar problems decades ago.

The successful construction companies in the future, according to IFS, will be hybrid beasts, capable of handling construction, off-site fabrication and on-site final assembly - extending to include a full service and maintenance solution.

This is the most effective way, IFS believe, of achieving the efficiencies the industry needs to survive and remain profitable. For it to work, however, the focus of the industry must be on how to leverage the massive amounts of information generated throughout the construction, development and operation of a construction project.

This is where the actuality is somewhat lacking, according to Kenny. There might be a lot of information available, but it is scattered throughout an organisation, potentially residing in hundreds of silos in a multitude of formats. Not only is there a lack of integration of such information, but those who could profit from it lack the skills or ability to find what they need and use it to their, and their company's, advantage.

The role of IFS in all of this is to make that information available to workers, managers and directors in all departments. It is, perhaps, the belief of many in the construction industry that ERP is primarily a financial system. That was my first impression as well. The main clue, however, is in the acronym ERP itself - Enterprise Resource Planning. A Construction-centric ERP solution should manage all stages of a project and asset's life, and therefore should be used by all functions of the business. BIM model data should also be fully integrated with these ERP processes.

This will allow users to have access to every piece of information they need to make critical decisions in real time - including issues that govern or constrain working practices, material usage and construction methods, such as HSE requirements, environmental concerns and snagging reports.

IFS does provide a range of financial applications for the industry, for project cost control or asset and facilities management, but included in its comprehensive range are other integrated business applications specially created for the industry, such as project and tender management, plant hire, commercial management and planning or manufacturing, which IFS says will streamline the industry's transition to modular and offsite construction. Each of the solutions are capable of providing real time insights into all aspects of a construction project, or an asset lifecycle; giving project owners the ability to measure and control their business.

As the most popular and convenient method of displaying critical business and project information in real-time is the ubiquitous dashboard, IFS has introduced IFS Lobby. And, because the information managers need is different according to their roles within a project, IFS ensures that different team members can set up IFS lobbies to suit their individual roles and working processes.

IFS Lobby enables a high degree of configurability, although there is a growing library of lobby templates to suit most requirements within a project. Users can upload a ready-made IFS Lobby, or use them as a base and edit to suit a particular requirement - or create entirely new lobby pages in a matter of hours, to accommodate the unique nature of some business roles in a company. IFS provides all of the guidance that managers need to set up a lobby. 'What,' IFS asks 'is the most important piece of information you need to see on your screen when you log in first thing?' And then working from there, build up an easy to use layout of data from multiple screens, queries and data sources in a single view, using graphs, charts, columnar data and other tools to highlight project information.

With the dashboard data linked to up to date information in the ERP and BIM model, accessing the data underlying the dashboard displays is simple and quick, giving users a high degree of operational agility. Managers can drill down to specific functional screens and data directly from the Lobby. An added advantage is that user engagement increases as managers perceive the ease of accessing the information they depend on to make the right decisions - and productivity improves because employees get the right data at the right time.

IFS Lobby is provided in a device-neutral format. This means that the dashboards can be accessed from a number of different devices, with software that can dynamically fit to the size the device display. Managers can therefore access the dashboards either from the office workstation, or out on-site. It also makes menus redundant. Instead of scrolling through a list of functions to get to the information a manager needs, IFS Lobby, once set up, provides a direct link through familiar datasets to obtain detailed insights on the precise information required.

So, what could go wrong? Kenny pointed to another issue within the industry that perhaps stems from a lack of understanding of the reasons why working processes need to change. A lack of discipline in collecting and recording project information means that the information managers need is not always available. With such information scattered around a large number of data silos in many different departments, such indiscipline led to a proliferation of construction errors, material losses, delayed schedules and, ultimately, to the scourge of the industry - expensive engineering changes.

As the advantages of using IFS Lobby become more evident within an ERP solution, and its ease becomes more widely acknowledged, the instances of indiscipline can easily be spotted and rectified and the workforce slowly brought in to respect the need for accurate and regular collection. The end result is more predictable and profitable projects with less risk and of a higher quality. What more could one ask?