Project Management Institute

Digital dialogue


Today's Web-based collaboration solutions have the ability to unite teams, integrate systems and streamline processes.


In the construction industry, large-scale projects often mean worldwide teams sharing a high volume of time-critical information. Multiple organizations ranging from design and engineering firms to contractors and suppliers must cooperate. Timelines are so precise that each small delay can mean the loss of dollars.

Many engineering and construction companies faced with these challenges have turned to Web-based tools to help automate and streamline processes and information exchange. Take Odebrecht, a leading Brazilian engineering and construction firm that manages global projects, from power plants and steel mills to roads, railroads, ports and airports. Known internationally for more than 50 years, Ode-brecht has nearly 200 subsidiaries and affiliates working in 14 countries.

In 1999, Odebrecht was contracted by Belgium-based Tractebel, one of the world's largest independent power producers, to build a new 450-megawatt hydroelectric power station in the Tocantins Basin, a remote region of Brazil. A consortium of four companies was created to handle the project: two Brazilian construction companies, Odebrecht and Andrade Guitierrez, and two German companies, Voith and Siemens. In what came to be known as the “Cana Brava project,” Odebrecht was the lead builder while Voith and Siemens provided the equipment and its assembly.

The three-year project required the coordination of more than 200 project team members from organizations around the globe. More than 2,000 documents per month, including e-mails, drawings, schedules, reports, notes, contracts and legal documents, had to be shared, stored and managed. Missed deadlines meant costly penalties.

The project required a smooth transition among all of the technologies at the different companies involved in the project, ranging from various computeraided drawing programs and project management tools to word processors and spreadsheets.

To address these challenges, Odebrecht turned to the Web. “Considering the multiple team members, multiple technologies and multiple locations, we decided to research whether a Web-based collaboration system could meet all of our needs,” says Marcos Rabello, Odebrecht contract administration manager.

Before looking at technology, the company established several requirements:

img Project team members must be able to view documents without requiring the purchase of associated software applications

img The system must be easy to use without requiring a support and maintenance team

img The system must have a robust document and process management system for storing, viewing, tracking and routing of documents, requests for information (RFIs) and other project communications

img The system must be accessible from any computer with Internet access anywhere in the world.

After thoroughly investigating available solutions, Odebrecht found one that was able to meet its requirements. To accomplish the implementation, a work group composed of members representing all consortium companies was created. The group's purpose was to fit the system to consortium necessities and to ensure successful installation of the software at each of the partner companies. “We established the basic rules for our model by defining a work plan, drafting an operation book and a user manual, and appointing periodic meetings to re-evaluate our progress,” says Joel Peito, collaboration software manager for the Cana Brava project.


We established the basic rules for our model by defining a work plan, drafting an operation book and a user manual, and appointing periodic meetings to re-evaluate our progress



Once the online collaboration software solution was implemented, Odebrecht saw a number of positive results.



When evaluating online collaboration solutions, the system should be Web-native, or designed from the start to run on the Internet. Beware of client-server applications dressed up with a Web browser, which can cause problems with security outside the firewall as well as compromise internal security.

When collaboration software solutions fail engineering and construction companies— and they sometimes do—the reasons are fairly predictable. Companies must commit to several measures:

img Choose a vendor that offers an application service provider (ASP) model.
The benefits of faster implementation, lower cost and fewer resource requirements far outweigh any benefits a company might think it will gain through hosting the solution on its premises.

img Provide and require adequate training.
A vendor should offer instructor-led courses for all project team members, as well as project administrators, and active participation in learning and applying the tools should be required.

img Ensure disaster recovery systems are in place.
Any good vendor will address the risks of data loss and security breaches with best-practice procedures for data backup and disaster recovery, as well as finely tuned permissions controls.

Increased Productivity. Due to tight schedules, the Cana Brava team was required to review drawings and documents almost instantaneously, even when the team members were miles away from one another. “The online collaboration tools helped us achieve our goals, enabling us to accomplish our tasks with agility, security and restorability,” says Peito. And because project team members could access and view any kind of document in the system, they did not have to learn how to use the various software applications in which the documents were created.

Reduced Costs. Odebrecht saved more than $5,000 per month in reduced document transmittal and printing costs. “The cost savings on document handling alone were significant, yet we had other measures of reduced costs,” points out Peito. “Other savings included reduced software acquisition costs to support viewing of the various document types used on the project.”

Accelerated Project Completion. Delays typically associated with document access, review and dissemination were reduced. Because contractors on site had the most current and accurate information available to them, rework was kept to a minimum.

“Thanks to a number of successful project management tactics and to the implementation of the Web-based collaboration system, we are on track to complete the hydroelectric power station six months ahead of schedule,” says Rabello.

Odebrecht is now implementing its online collaboration solution across numerous new projects, including its Orinoco River Bridge project in Venezuela. “We're optimistic about how the technology will be able to help us on other projects, especially because the more we use it, the more it becomes a key part of how we manage our projects,” says Peito. PM

Tom Glenwright is director of product strategy for Citadon Inc., which provides online software for collaboration on the design, construction and operation of large, complex capital projects.



Many companies choose to deploy an online solution because of the Web's ability to provide anytime, anywhere access to critical information. Web-based applications, especially those based on emerging standards such as XML and SOAP, integrate and exchange data with other enterprise systems, essentially knitting together various software products and point solutions, while protecting the investments made in those systems. These tools can:

img Automate and streamline communications and business processes within and across enterprises, resulting in shortened project schedules, reduced costs and increased productivity

img Handle the online management of and collaboration on all project documents, ensuring that all team members have the right information at the right time, regardless of where they are in the world or when they go online

img Provide comprehensive document and action-item tracking and audit trails, producing increased responsiveness and accountability across the entire project team

img Enable configuration and customization to address the unique business processes of each enterprise, while providing standard templates that leverage industry best practices.

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