ITcon Vol. 18, pg. 40-63,

Reviewing the evidence: use of digital collaboration technologies in major building and infrastructure projects

published:February 2013
editor(s):Amor R
authors:Nurain Hassan Ibrahim, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
University of Leeds, United Kingdom
summary:In today’s digital economy, the construction industry is at the verge of a technological revolution. Myriad technologies are promising innovative solutions to age-old problems of coordination and delivering projects on-time, on-budget and to clients’ specifications, through what has come to be known as integrated project delivery. However, there is limited understanding of how these technologies are actually implemented to separate myth from reality. This paper reports on a study, the main aim of which is to enable a better understanding of how digital collaboration technologies are actually used in major construction projects and to what benefit. The objective is to unearth the research evidence through a rigorous process, and to identify, synthesize and interpret this evidence. Through an adaptation of the systematic review methodology, this paper explores the evidence, showing how digital collaboration technologies are being used in the delivery of major building and infrastructure projects. The review finds that these technologies have been severally theorised as boundary objects and digital infrastructure, and as tightly-coupled and clean technologies. The main trajectories that characterise their development and use include visualisation, coordination, automation, integration and transformation. The evidence suggests that integration of people, processes and systems is the underlying and predominant theme in a majority of projects. However, instead of a truly integrated approach, projects have often used digital technologies to achieve partial integration, with design and construction phases having more applications than operations and facilities management. It was also found that digital technology implementations addressing sustainability issues have received less attention, in spite of current government and industry focus on that agenda. The review indicates a diversity of approaches to achieving integration, which means that a clear and uniform approach has yet to be established. Nonetheless, Building Information Modelling (BIM) appears to be the emerging leading paradigm, although it also means different things to different people. The perennial challenge of interoperability still remains, prompting calls for a broader definition to include non-technical aspects. Other major challenges identified in the review include the technologies’ material constraints and affordances, leadership, information-risks, training and the measurement of value. Finally, the review highlights areas that could benefit from further research attention. These include more focus on actual BIM implementations in major projects, the challenges of integrating multiple technologies across the whole project/asset lifecycle; and closer attention to their use for addressing sustainability issues.
keywords:digital technologies, collaboration, coordination, BIM, integration, major projects, practices
full text: (PDF file, 0.491 MB)
citation:Hassan Ibrahim N (2013). Reviewing the evidence: use of digital collaboration technologies in major building and infrastructure projects, ITcon Vol. 18, pg. 40-63,