Information management

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SUM100 Information Management in Construction and Property

Course Notes

© Robert Gordon University 2012


1: The value of Information ………………………………………………… 3
2: Traditional Information Systems ………………………………………… 11
3: Information Systems Development ……………………………………… 19
4: The Information System Lifecycle ………………………………………. 35
5: Information Systems and Change ………………………………………... 47
6: Analysis and Classification of Project Information ……………………… 59
7: Integration ………………………………………………………………... 71
8: Building Information Modelling (BIM) .…………………………………. 78
9: Project Extranets …………………………………………………………. 88
10: E-commerce Systems …………………………………………………… 95
11: Knowledge Management Systems ……………………………………… 104
12: Decision Support Systems (DSS) ………………………………………. 114

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 1: The Value of Information
Topic Preview
This topic will introduce you to the domain of information
management in the built environment. It will enable you to
differentiate amongst data, information and knowledge, as well as
appreciate the role that information plays in corporate and project decision
making. You will also be able to understand that information has a
cost and a value. This topic concludes by evaluating decision making and
corporate business structures.

Topic Content
According to many pundits, we live in the “Information Age”, following on
from the Agricultural Age and the Industrial Age. Each of these ages had
differing characteristics. The information age is defined as “the era of
history when computers became popular with the masses and
knowledge workers outnumbered factory workers. One aspect of
the information age is the convergence of computers and
telecommunications” (Netlingo 2005).

The Information Age is characterised by information being seen as a resource,
by geographical independence, time independence and converging
technologies. Secondary characteristics include almost instantaneous
communications and the ability of small organisations to compete, in some
areas, on almost equal terms with large corporations.
Incredibly a person living today may receive more information in one day
than someone in the Seventeenth Century received during their whole life.
Little wonder then that many of us experience information overload –
more information than we can readily assimilate. It is a sobering
thought that some 1000 books are published worldwide every day. How
then can individuals and companies survive and prosper in this new age? The
answer lies in “Information Management”. However before delving into
the realms of information management some investigation of what
information actually is would be appropriate.

Data/Information and Knowledge
The terms data, information and knowledge are often confused and
misappropriated. Indeed they are often thought to be synonyms.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


There is no generally accepted definition of the term data and definitions
include “useful facts that are of relevance to the completion of a
task” and “facts which themselves have no obvious meaning”. If we
consider a bus timetable, refer to image 1, examples of data would be
the text labels e.g. Glasgow, the various codes e.g. SC and the numbers
e.g. 1805. None of these in themselves have any apparent meaning.

Image 1 – Bus Timetable

Information however is defined as being “processed data”. Once again
referring back to the bus timetable an example of information would be the
route that the bus followed or the various arrival and departure times from
each location. Note that the processing being undertaken varies according
to the question or problem being solved. In effect information assigns
meaning to data.
Knowledge is defined, in information management terms, as being processed
information. The concept here is that information itself can become “data”
for subsequent processing. An example of knowledge taken from our bus
timetable could be the knowledge of the timetable in its entirety e.g. the bus
service from Aberdeen to Glasgow leaves Aberdeen at thirty five minutes
past the hour every hour after 6 am.
As can be seen above, data, information and knowledge are
interdependent and can operate at numerous different levels. What for
example would you get if you processed knowledge? The notion here is that
knowledge becomes data for subsequent processing. Processed knowledge
is known as meta-knowledge (knowledge about knowledge). Could metaknowledge then not be reclassified as expertise?

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Both information and knowledge involve data processing. The validity,
accuracy and timeliness of both depend heavily upon knowing how to
process the data.

The value of information
If I were to offer you for sale last week‟s National Lottery results how
much would you be prepared to pay from them? Nothing, I should
imagine, as they are available free in the public domain and their currency
has passed. However if I had for sale next week‟s results before the draw
had taken place I could probably retire upon the proceeds. A simple example,
which displays that information can have a value, although the value may
be transient.
In terms of commercial or project information, the value of the
information is dependent upon:
The reliability and validity of the data being used.
The appropriateness of the processing taking place.
How important is the subsequent decision made based upon that
information (to the organisation or project).
Reliability and validity of the data is reflected in the confidence associated
with the subsequently produced information. It also reflects the quality of
the original data. Data can come from many different sources. It may for
example be your own data. It may be data you have generated personally
or data collected by your firm as a by-product of its day to day business
activities e.g. your sales history generated by your supermarket loyalty
card or the successful tender price for a project being managed by your firm.
Conversely, it may be data you have purchased from a third party e.g.
maps from the Ordnance Survey. Or it might be data obtained free from
some public source e.g. the voters‟ register or a non-subscription Internet
website. In assessing the quality of that data you would need to evaluate its
source, its availability, its relevance to the information being subsequently
produced (the problem being solved), the format that the data is available
in and its currency (the time period during which it is relevant). As in most
things in life there are usually compromises to be struck in terms of data
quality. The best data may be too expensive to acquire either in financial
terms or resources terms e.g. time, staff or computer facilities. A balance
needs to be struck between data quality and the importance of the
decision being made upon the information subsequently produced
from that data.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Having assured yourself that your data is relevant and of sufficient quality
the next problem to be solved is how should that data be processed?
The appropriateness of the data processing undertaken also has a direct
influence upon the quality of the information produced and thereby the
validity of the decision being made. Even if you have the very best quality
data, inappropriate, incomplete or inaccurate data processing will render the
subsequent information produced of dubious value. How to process the
data properly forms part of a topic called systems analysis, we will study
this topic in some depth later in this module.
Information management and its associated information systems are
the tools or machines of the Information Age and are associated with
business and project decision making.
The value of the information produced and used in decision making is
proportionate to the importance of the decision being made. If, for example,
the decision being made was regarding your lunch order from the sandwich
company, then a poor decision based upon inaccurate or incomplete
information would only lead to a poor lunch experience. However if the
decision was related to a company‟s future focus and direction, then the
value of the information used would be crucial to the future success of the
In the late 1990s, the management board of Marconi, the former defence
and electronics industry conglomerate, made the strategic decision to
focus their future core business upon the telecommunication industry. However,
the telecommunications business did not prove as lucrative as had been
envisaged due to poor demand for new equipment from the
telecommunication providers, their customers. The telecommunication
business was changing fast. Marconi‟s technology was becoming
outdated, and there were new technologies on the horizon, as well as
strong competition from alternative telecommunications providers, i.e. the
mobile telephone companies. This resulted in Marconi becoming much less
successful. One can only wonder about the quality of the
data/information used to make that decision.
Truly valuable information must be relevant to the decision being made.
The supporting data must be accurate, clearly defined, and current, and be
provided timeously. That data must be appropriately processed into
information. The information to be used in the decision making must be
similarly accurate and provided timeously to the individual or group
making the decision.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


The advent of the information Age has had profound effect upon the
relationship between businesses and their information. In many cases the
business product will itself be information and even when it is not,
information will have become core to their business operations.
Consequently information management is now strategic to most businesses
and any failure in their business information systems can and usually does
result in no business being done at all e.g. how much business would Amazon
Bookshop do if their online information systems failed?

The cost of information
We have already alluded to the fact that data and information are not free.
The advent of the Internet lulled people and organisations into thinking that
information was freely available. The Internet is however changing into a
subscription based data and information resources as evidenced by the
number of subscription based services coming online. The Building
Research Establishment, for example, used to publish its research for free on
the Internet; now it is a subscription service. The subscription model is also
being adopted by online editions of newspapers which were formerly
published free on the Internet. Not forgetting the online music and film
industries that are currently prosecuting in the courts individuals whom
have breached their copyrights by illegally publishing and downloading
their products on the Internet.
It costs to acquire and store data, even your own data, particularly so if
that data is not gathered electronically in the first place and has to be
subsequently converted into a digital form for storage, retrieval and any
subsequent processing that has to take place.
Similarly, it costs to process data into information or knowledge. Further
assimilation of that information or knowledge by people and or
organisations also has costs associated with it.
Data, information and knowledge are not free.

Information and decision making
You should already have ascertained, from this material, that there is a
relationship between information, problem solving and decision making. This
is often expressed as the “decision making cycle” shown in figure 1 on
the next page.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


As can be seen, this is a cyclic iterative process. The planning activity

involves gathering data, modelling the problem (processing) and
producing the required information or knowledge. The decision activity
follows the assimilation of the information resulting from the planning
activity. The assimilation is normally a group activity i.e. it is undertaken
by a group of people. The output from this activity is the decision itself.
The action activity is the implementation of the decision, whilst the
feedback activity is the reflection of the effects of the decision having been
implemented, which in itself becomes data for subsequent processing in a
new cycle.
There is, traditionally, a close relationship between company structures
and their information systems. Historically, company based information
systems developed to support the various management levels within
the company structure. If we consider the familiar pyramid company
management/organisational structure displayed in figure 2, four levels of
activity are evident. At the base of the pyramid is the operating level
where the day to day activity of the company takes place, above this is the
supervisor level that manages the day to day operations. Supervisors make
operational departmental decisions that focus upon the need for specific
tasks to be achieved efficiently and effectively. These decisions are made
on a short timescale, measured in days and at most weeks. Middle
managers make what are called tactical divisional decisions. These are
still focused upon the division but are on much longer timescales, measured
in weeks, months and possibly

© Robert Gordon University 2012


even years. The focus here is to manage the division to the best advantage
of the company‟s declared goals or adroit management of the division. The
executive level makes strategic organisational decisions. These relate to the
overall goals to be achieved by the company and how they should go about
achieving them. Decisions at the executive level are on a long timescale
measured in years, often some 4 to 5 years in duration.
In terms of the decision making cycle shown in figure 1, decisions flow
down the pyramid from the executive level to the operational level whilst

feedback flows back up the pyramid.
The characteristics of the problems being solved at the various different
levels within the pyramid also vary. At the operational level the problems are
highly structured, programmed and objective, in that adequate models can
be constructed of the problems so that optimal solutions can be identified.
The problems at executive level are the converse however in that they
are un-structured, unprogrammed and subjective. Thus it is not possible
to construct adequate models of problems at the executive level to identify
optimised solutions. At the supervisory and middle management level the
characteristics are transient between these two extremes and generally
adequate models of the problems can be constructed.
A characteristic of the Information Age is that company structures are
becoming flatter, and in the process the middle management layer is
disappearing, another topic we will return to later.
It should also be appreciated that business decisions are made in a dynamic
environment and that they are subject to both internal and external
constraints. Examples of internal constraints would be resource, procedural
and human issues, and external examples are market conditions and
government policy.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Further Reading
You should read the introductory chapters to any information management
text book. Popular authors in this field include Kenneth C Lauden and
Jane P Lauden as well as Dave Chaffey.

NETLINGO.COM, 2005, information age: definition. [online] London:
Online dictionary. Available from:
[Accessed 17/08/12].

Topic Review
Information is the raw material of the Information Age and
information management and its associated information
systems its machines. Information and information
systems are now strategic to most company operations.
Information systems are primarily associated with
corporate/project decision making. Data, information and
knowledge are not free and they also have quality and
currency attributes associated with them. Traditionally
there has been a close relationship between a company‟s
structure and its information systems but this is changing
as information management matures.

Information Management – an imprecise term covering the

various stages of information processing from production to storage and
retrieval to dissemination towards the better working of an organisation;
information can be from internal and external sources and in any format.
Information Systems - Information systems are the means by which

organisations and people utilise information technologies to gather, process,
store, use and disseminate information.

[Accessed 17/08/12].

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 2: Traditional Information Systems
Topic Preview
This topic will introduce you to what are called the “traditional
information systems” that are employed by companies. The
development of these systems in relation to the evolution of computer
technology will be reviewed. This topic also investigates what is meant by
the terms “system” and “information system”.

Topic Content
In topic one it was stated that all companies collect data of some sort and
that many companies today have too much data. The importance of that
information to company decision making was also highlighted. How then
can companies identify the data that needs to be selected for processing into
information? Over the years, techniques have evolved to solve this problem.
Most take the form of a management report of some sort. Before the
advent of computers, management reports were compiled manually, and
took one of the following forms: analysis, predictions and forecasts,
optimisation, regular reports and exception reports. When these are
related back to the conventional pyramid company structure it can be seen
that the report data is highly detailed at the supervisor level and highly
summarised or abstracted at the executive level. With regard to timescale
the data at supervisor level is current, whilst at the executive level it is
historical, and focuses upon trends and projections. These relationships are
shown in figure 3.
Today, information systems are thought of as being synonymous with
information technology in that the data processing is undertaken by
computers. These historical information systems were developed in parallel
with computing technology. Even today new information systems become
possible due to the advent of advances in computing technology.
Examples of these would be data warehousing and data mining.

© Robert Gordon University 2012



Time Horizon

What is a system?
The term system has been used liberally throughout these notes without
any consideration having been given to its definition. What then is a
A system is an organised set of components that have a purpose and a
boundary. Further systems are capable of exhibiting behaviour.
Systems may be in turn themselves composed of subsystems and at
any level in a system hierarchy one system will contain components
that show connectivity.
Systems theory led to the development of soft systems methodology
(SSM) a method adopted for business problem solving that is based upon
abstraction and top down analysis. SSM provides a framework for organising
thought in business problem solving.

What is an information system?
Information systems were defined in Topic 1 as the means by which
organisations and people, utilising information technologies, gather, process,
store, use and disseminate information.
Information systems are considered to have the following component
parts, namely; people, databases, documents, procedures, hardware
and software. Consequently information systems are sometimes described
as being socio-technical systems. This simply means that they are
considered to be composed of partly human activity and partly technical
activity; this is shown in figure 4.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Combined together the social and the technical activities produce a job of
work. It only by understanding the relationships between both activities that
successful information systems can be built. The aim is to achieve the “best
fit” possible between people and machines. People are of course more
flexible than machines but they can also be more difficult to manage.
It is worth noting that not all information systems involve the use of
computers and the technical system can be quite simple, e.g. a log book of
what letters were sent to whom, and when.
Most information systems today, however, do involve the adoption of
computer technology, particularly where the system primarily involves
the processing of data. The relationship between an information system
and its technology is also worth repeating: the information technology
supports the information system. There have been many notable failures in
the development of information systems where this relationship has been
reversed or confused.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Traditional Information Systems Development
If you are a fan of early Hollywood movies of the 40s and 50s you will be
familiar with the office environments portrayed at that time, of large open
plan offices staffed with dozens of clerical staff processing paper from one
desk to the next. This was how data processing was achieved prior to the
advent of the computer. Then along came the computer (main frame)
which excelled in data processing. This was most readily employed by
companies that had large volumes of standardised data needing to be
processed at the operational level - often referred to as “transaction
processing”. Due to the high cost of acquiring and operating these
computers it was almost exclusively adopted by banks, insurance companies
and government or local authority departments. You also needed a
computer department to operate and maintain this equipment and to
design and construct your information systems. These were designed to
support single applications e.g. payroll or accounts functions. This resulted
in what are called “islands of information”, or “information silos”, within
Improvements in computer technology led to more centralisation of data, the
development of integrated systems, interactive and real-time processing
and Management Information Systems (MIS). This next evolutionary step
was to extend the data processing away from transaction processing into
the management processes undertaken at the supervisory and middle
management levels i.e. management reporting. Often these systems were
based upon some form of summary report and were focused upon the
planning and control functions of departments. These systems were based
upon what is called a data oriented information systems model in that the
major area of development lay with the underlying format of the data.
Then in the 80s, along came the personal computer (PC). This not only
enabled local processing of corporate data, it enabled users to model their
own problems without having to involve the firm‟s computer department.
Operation and development of these information systems were in the
hands of the user. This resulted in the evolution of the Decision Support
System (DSS). Decision support systems are used at all levels in the
corporate management structure as can be seen in figure 5. DSS are
used for current decision making and normally take an iterative approach to
problem solving, being frequently associated with risk based decisions. Their

© Robert Gordon University 2012


scope however can range from simple data analysis to reasonably complex
problem modelling. As they are generally used in an iterative way,
DSS usually do not come up with a single answer, they are more an aid
to decision making allowing the user to test the effects of numerous
different problem scenarios. They are commonly based upon spreadsheet
software. These systems were based upon what is called a model oriented
information systems in that the major area of development lay within the
problem logical model.


The 70s and 80s also saw the development and introduction into the
workplace of Expert Systems (ES). Expert systems mimic human
expert reasoning and process knowledge in symbolic formats; they may
appear to be acting intelligently. They form part of the Artificial
Intelligence (AI) domain and are associated with information
engineering. Today ES are seen as being a complementary
technology and are embedded in many other systems and tools.
Commercially they provide an information system capable of performing
tasks normally undertaken by a human expert and most systems are
associated with problems related to classification, analysis and
In the 90s, PCs became even more powerful and were also commonly
connected into networks, latterly including the Internet. This led to the
development of more complex information systems such as Executive
Information Systems (EIS) also known as Executive Support Systems
(ESS). You will find these terms used synonymously in information system
text books. This tool was designed to support managers at the executive
level. Given the types of decisions made by executives these systems are
© Robert Gordon University 2012


concerned with problem identification, corporate opportunities, statistical
trend analysis and measurement of corporate critical success factors. They
are heavily reliant upon advanced computer technologies - this is both a
strength and a weakness. Their design focuses upon ease of use (executives
may not have time to learn computer skills), a graphical user interface
(improves ease of use), seamless integration with other software (e.g.
spreadsheets and databases) and the integration of computers and
communications systems. Unlike MIS and DSS the data sources for EIS
are principally from outwith the company, usually upon a subscription basis.
Typically, EIS can access multiple databases and multiple networks, and
can interface with disparate computer systems.

New information systems
Whilst information technology should never be the driving force behind
the development of information systems, the advent of new technologies
does allow the development of new information systems that were
formerly impractical or impossible. Recent examples of this are the
development of data warehousing, data mining and customer relations
management systems.
Data warehousing is subject to numerous different definitions, probably
because it is a developing system that has yet to reach maturity. A data
warehouse is a historical depository of a company‟s data which is
normally a collection of departmental databases. It is usual to process and
“clean” the data before it is stored in the warehouse. For example, variant
forms of a customer address may be removed. The data warehouse is itself
a database and in effect is a pool of historical company data that can be used
(processed) to inform decision making regarding company forecasting
and analysis type problems. They are highly complex systems that are
expensive to construct and maintain and their usefulness is not
universally accepted. Doubts exist about the quality of the information
produced and the importance of decisions made on that information to the
overall success of the company. One supermarket chain identified from their
data warehouse that shoppers whom bought paper nappies also bought beer
(fathers on their way home from work told to buy nappies by their wives) and
stocked the nappies and beer next to each other on the shelves to increase
sales of both. Whilst this did increase sales it was hardly of major importance
to the company‟s overall business objectives. A better example is perhaps
the use of data warehouses by credit card and insurance companies to
identify suspected cases of fraud. If data warehouses can be employed to
make strategic and effective decisions then perhaps they do have a place in
the information management toolbox.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Data mining is the name given to the front end analysis tools associated
with data warehouses. Data mining is the automated discovery of patterns in
the data stored in the data warehouse. Numerous different tools are used
to achieve this, and once again they cannot be considered mature as these
tools continue to evolve. The analogy here is that of the miner digging
through the layers of data to find the rich seam of valuable information. The
emphasis is on the recognition of patterns and trends in the data - these tools
are heavily based upon statistical and mathematical techniques. The results
also have to be subjected to human assessment via intuition and judgment,
so that their validity and currency can be evaluated. The processing of the
data in this way would be impossible to perform were it not for the
computational resources associated with computer technologies.
Customer relations management (CRM) is another new information system
being heavily marketed at the moment. CRM systems have evolved from the
business philosophy of the same name which seeks to identify, understand,
anticipate and respond better to customer needs. CRM information systems
concentrate on collecting data about your customers, then storing, sorting,
analysing and processing that data to better match your products and
services to your customers‟ needs. Another view is that CRM empowers
the customer and structures business operations to be “customer-centric”.
Once again, being immature, CRM is open to numerous different
interpretations and definitions. A CRM system can be anything from a
customer contact database to a sophisticated system forecasting
customer preferences e.g. purchasing habits. A consensus seems to be
evolving that CRM systems need to be linked to project management
systems if the aim of the CRM business philosophy is truly to be achieved.
Since CRM deals with customer personal data, it may, if not properly
implemented, contravene data protection legislation, both here in the
UK and elsewhere.

Further Reading
You should read the appropriate chapters in any information management
text book. Popular authors in this field include Kenneth C Lauden and
Jane P Lauden as well as Dave Chaffey.

Topic Review
Traditional information systems are company based
systems that are concerned with decisions associated with
the management and control of an organisation.
Successful information systems are a best fit combination

© Robert Gordon University 2012


of social and technical activity and it should be noted that
the role of the technology is to support the information
system. Early development and adoption of information
systems in the workplace led to the creation of “islands of
information” within organisations. Traditional information
systems include TPS, MIS, DSS, ES and EIS. The advent of
new technology can lead to the development of new
information systems.

Database - A collection of information organized and presented to serve a

specific purpose. (A telephone book is a common database.) A computerized
database is an updated, organized file of machine readable information that
is rapidly searched and retrieved by computer.
Real-time - Input into a system that affects existing data

immediately, as opposed to a batch-processed system that collects all data
inputs and then processes them all at a later time. This is a common
buzzword that indicates that data can be accessed or edited
MIS - An approach to planning, analyzing, designing, and

developing an information system with an enterprise-wide
perspective and an emphasis on data and architectures.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 3: Information Systems Development
Topic Preview
This topic will introduce you to some of the methods by which information
systems opportunities are identified adopting what is called a “top down
approach”. The objective of this approach is to ensure that investments
made in information systems are tied back to supporting the company‟s
business objectives and that the “value for money” of these investments
can be gauged.

Topic Content
If you were considering the purchase of a new washing machine or a car
you would make an assessment of your requirements, your budget and the
specification of the item to be purchased. You would then test the
marketplace to identify the product which met you criteria most closely.
The identification of your personal criteria would not be all that difficult.
However how do you go about acquiring an information system? You may
not even know that you need an information system to begin with and whilst
you may have some expertise in cars and washing machines you may be
ignorant regarding information systems. That is exactly the problem faced by
corporate executives and managers today. Theproblem becomes even
more acute when you consider that we live in the Information Age and that
information systems are now strategic to corporate business success.
Traditionally investments made in information systems have been made
upon an “ad hoc” basis. This invariably meant that information system
opportunities were identified from the “bottom up” in companies. Because
management lacked information systems expertise and knowledge these
systems were usually identified by the users i.e. the workers themselves,
and were bought to improve productivity, reduce cost and/or automate
existing working practices. Whilst many of these did reap benefits to the
company they had a number of serious flaws, namely they resulted in islands
of information (they lacked interoperability) and they were usually
technology driven (only became possible due to the advent of new
technology). This in turn resulted in the creation of new problems for
management and often any benefits achieved became invisible to the

© Robert Gordon University 2012


There are many well documented information system failures, indeed
they are an annual occurrence. Why then are some information
systems successful and others disasters? What differentiates success
from failure? Not only are there information systems disasters but there are
also many instances of information systems failing to meet their
expected returns in terms of performance, financial return or productivity
improvements. How then can you ensure success when investing in an
information system?
The answers to these questions can and do fill the entire syllabi of University
courses. The intention here, in topic 3, is merely to introduce these topics
so that you are conversant with them so that if you ever have to purchase an
information system you can do so successfully. You will be able to talk the
language of, and be familiar with the process of, information systems
Strategies are normally associated with military campaigns and are designed
to defeat the enemy forces. A strategy is a “high-level” plan: “lower-level”
operations are known as “tactics”. Corporate activity also comprises of a
number of strategies all of which will have different but complementary
objectives of supporting the attainment of the company‟s stated business
objectives. Examples of these are marketing strategies, sales strategies,
information system strategies and information technology strategies.
Research over a number of years has established that there is no direct
correlation between business performance and the amount of investment
made in information technology itself, although recent research indicates that
this may have been partly due to how these benefits were measured.
However it is generally accepted that simply pouring money into the latest
technology and software applications is unlikely to result in a corresponding
improvement in the company‟s performance. So simply buying the latest kit
is not the answer.
Interestingly and conversely, money spent on staff training in the use of
new technology and software applications proved to be a very good
investment that was reflected in the performance of companies; an area
often overlooked when introducing new information systems into the
The focus in this topic is upon information system strategies. How then can
you identify information system opportunities and then tie that back to
supporting the company‟s overall business objectives?

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Identifying information system opportunities
Few, if any, companies have limitless resources. Consequently
investments made in information system strategies have to be spent on
those areas of the information infrastructure that are likely to show the best
return (financial or performance related) and which best support the
company‟s overall business objectives.
Further, since we know from topic 2 that information systems are
sociotechnical systems (they are hybrid systems involving technology
and people), the introduction of new information systems results in changes
in working practices and also in company structures. By introducing new
information systems companies are being re-engineered or redesigned.
Before being able to identify their information system requirements
companies need to undertake some “enterprise analysis”. This
approach to the development of information system strategies is called
“business driven information engineering” and is a top down approach, i.e.
cascades down through an organisation.
Assuming that the business has developed a set of business objectives
and that these have been prioritised, the first task to be tackled is the
enterprise analysis. At this point it is worth noting that the built
environment is largely populated with small to medium sized enterprises
(SME‟s), and that many of these may not have identified business objectives
they are simply trying to survive in a very competitive marketplace. The first
task there is for these firms to develop their business objectives.

Enterprise analysis
Enterprise analysis involves mapping how managers at different levels in
an organisation obtain, process and distribute their information/data;
what their objectives are and how they make decisions. This involves
adopting knowledge elicitation techniques to gather this information such as
interviews, protocol analysis and interactive seminars to name but a few of
the techniques adopted.
This information is then analysed in matrix form to identify if any patterns
can be identified in the data. Commonly this is so complex that computer
aided software engineering tools (CASE) are employed such as Visible
Advantage ( Two matrices are
normally developed - one which maps who in the organisation participates
in which processes and the extent of their involvement in a given process;
the other matrix maps where data is created, read, processed, stored, and
deleted. The objective of this exercise is to identify clustering of activities
as these are likely to be the areas which would benefit most from the
introduction of an information system to support those business activities.
It is also useful for identifying weaknesses and gaps in processes as well as
redundant data stores. The output from enterprise analysis is a report that
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identifies those business operations that would benefit most from being
supported by an information system.
Enterprise analysis produces vast amounts of data; hence the need for
CASE tools, and it is good for instances where systems are being
developed for new emerging companies or where substantial change in
business structures is being undertaken. It is very expensive to undertake
and usually results in the automation of existing business processes. It is
not capable of identifying new approaches to how business processes should
be conducted.

Critical success factors
Another alternative top down approach is to focus upon the company‟s
critical success factors (CSFs). This concept is based upon the premise that
if these “targets” can be met then the result should be that the company will
successfully attain its corporate objectives. There are normally only a
small number of CSF‟s identified at any one time. CSFs are shaped by
both the internal and external business environment and tend to be shaped
by the competitive forces at work within a particular industry sector.
Consequently CSFs are described as being strategic. Often CSFs are directly
derived from the company‟s business objectives. The concept is to focus
information systems development upon the support of these CSFs and
thereby tie the company‟s information system strategy to their corporate
Often the CSFs will have been identified by the company‟s executives
for management purposes however where this has not happened they can
be identified by adopting the information elicitation techniques discussed
above (enterprise analysis). CSFs have the advantage of being able to
support different competitive strategies and produce much more targeted or
customised solutions than does enterprise analysis. The CSF approach also
produces much less data than enterprise analysis and is cheaper to
undertake and much more manageable in practice.
CSFs give executives a tool by which they can measure and manage
corporate success and where the information systems strategy has been
tied to these CSFs they can also measure the success or otherwise of
investments made in information systems.
The CSF approach to identifying opportunities for the development of
information systems does tend to have a bias towards information
system development at the higher management and executive levels of
organisations. Where CSFs have been identified on a cascading basis down
to departmental level they can be used to identify information system
opportunities at operational and departmental levels.

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Critical success factors, like “SMART” objectives, must:
Have boundaries
Be measurable
Have a time frame
Be specific
The following case study identifies how both enterprise analysis and critical
success factors can be used to develop an information systems
strategy for a SME in the Built Environment.

Case study
This case study identifies how small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in
the Built Environment can ensure that investments made in information
systems (IS) can be best targeted at and support their core business
objectives. It exemplifies how information technology is merely a tool to
support the firm‟s information systems. It also reveals how investments in
IS can also prove to be cost effective. It exemplifies how any investments
made in IS must be related to a company‟s IS strategy and that the IS
strategy should be developed from the firm‟s business objectives.
Napier Blakely & Winter (NBW) is a Chartered Surveying Practice that
specialises wholly in capital allowances services. Capital allowances services
are concerned with the claiming and agreement of Inland Revenue tax
allowances associated with capital assets required to carry out a firm‟s
business activities. Their UK offices are in London, with a total staff of 13
including Partners and administrative support, and Edinburgh, where there is
a staff of four. In addition, the practice has representation in Belfast, the Far
East, and Australia. Founded in 1988 on the principle that it would
concentrate and develop expertise in capital allowances advice, it combines
expertise in the measurement and quantification of buildings with property
valuation and the tax laws surrounding capital allowances.

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In 1996 NBW identified that their existing computers were coming to the
end of their useful life and were actively considering the purchase of new
equipment. One of the Partners sought the advice of her old university,
on the basis that they had experience of purchasing information
technology equipment on a regular basis. This led to the university agreeing
to advise the firm upon their information system needs, upon the basis of a
joint industry/research project which led to this case study.
NBW. commissioned the University to:
Identify the information systems (IS) required to support the firm‟s
core business objectives.
Ascertain the critical success factors that would allow the firm to measure
the success or otherwise of investments made in IS/IT
Develop alternative IT strategies that were directed at supporting the
firm‟s information systems strategy.
The methodology adopted by the university to meet these objectives
is shown in figure 6.

Survey of
existing I.T.

existing IS

Identify business

Identify existing

Optimise IS

Identify critical
success factors

Identify IS strategy
and IT strategy to
support CSFs

Collate optimized IS
with CSF and current IT

Figure 6
The survey of the firm‟s existing I.T. infrastructure, compiled from a site visit
and interview of all staff, revealed that, las in most firms investing in IT in
the late 1980s and early 1990s, investments had been made in computer
hardware and software on an “ad hoc” basis, as and when a need was
identified for I.T. to support some work task. This had resulted in “islands”
of computing being established with the resultant data transfer problems
and duplication of both hardware and software resources. The survey also
indicated that there was evidence of some computer hardware
becoming overburdened, with the two main areas of concern being the
marketing and accounts computers.
The objective of the IS survey was to identify how information flowed
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through the firm and where and how it interfaced with the I.T. currently in
use. This was also completed by means of a site visit and structured
interview of all members of staff. This basically involved the identification of
tasks performed and where the data/ information required to complete each
task was created, stored, updated and deleted. It also identified where and
how the existing IT interfaced with these IS. This is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7

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The I.S. survey data was then
subjected to analysis to
identify core, duplicate and
redundant systems and to
identify IS development
opportunities. Examples of the
information gleaned from this
exercise included the fact that
although extensive use was
Accounts &
being made of template files
Figure 8
staff were never sure if they had
the current version of a
document and that a “daybook” was being kept but rarely ever consulted.
The analysis also revealed that there were three main clusters of
information activity, namely marketing/proposals, professional services and
accounts/fees. The relationship between these functions is shown in figure
A data flow diagram was also created to identify and understand how
data flowed through the professional services cluster. This reflected how a
customer enquiry was converted into a settled tax claim. This is show in
figure 9.
Marketing &

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The Partners were interviewed to ascertain the firm's business objectives
and a business threats/opportunities analysis of the firm was used as a
vehicle to clarify and focus the discussion. Thereafter all of the business
analysis factors relating to IS were identified. This revealed that more than half
of the business threats/opportunities analysis factors were IS related.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


To complete this part of the survey critical success factors (CSFs) were
developed from the business threats/opportunities analysis.
The CSFs identified were:
Enable improved communications between London and Edinburgh
offices regarding fee information and Client / Proposals
databases - reduce abortive work.
Implement easier backup and maintenance of Proposals / Client
databases - vital to continued acquisition of business.
Ensure reliability, security and safety of Firm's computerised
databases - essential to avoid abortive work / accidental or
deliberate data corruption and loss of data.
Provide the means for Partners to assess and compile fee bids based
upon historical data of agreed C.A. claims / proposals / fees earned /
costs etc. - enable accurate / competitive fee bids to be made
including performance based fees.
Maximise fee income per fee earner - improve profitability and
Minimise indirect costs where possible - improve profitability and
It was envisaged that all of these CSFs would be addressed within a two year
Correlation of the results of the IS survey and the CSFs identified was then
undertaken to identify and prioritise IT opportunities. It should be noted that
it was the requirements of the firm‟s IS strategy that were driving the
identification of the IT facilities required. This is shown on the next

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Correlation of SWAT Analysis, Critical Success Factors and Enterprise Analysis
Enable improved
communications between
London and Edinburgh
offices in respect of fee
information and Client /
Proposals databases
Implement easier backup
a nd m a i nt e na n c e o f
Proposals / Client databases
Ensure reliability, security
and safety of Firm's
computerised databases
Provide the means for
Partners to assess and
compile fee bids based
upon historical data of
agreed C.A. claims /
proposals / fees earned /
costs etc.

Professional Services

Ensure reliability, security
and safety of Firm's
computerised databases

Maximise fee income per
fee earner
Minimise indirect costs
where possible


Ensure reliability, security
and safety of Firm's
computerised databases

Minimise indirect costs
where possible

This resulted in the following IS strategy being suggested:
Introduce a structured data backup system along with
a formalised office IT policy that should include file
naming conventions and directory structures.
Enable remote access from the Edinburgh office to
access the client contact database and fee accounting
information available in the London office.
Purchase and install a dedicated contact manager
system to replace the current proposals/client
database. (This would now be called a CRM system)
Develop a new historical records database that will
enable competitive and performance based fee bids
and proposals to be made based upon past

Est. Cost
£200 - £1000
Negligible if developed

It was identified that investments should be made according to the
funds available and that any investment should be made in
accordance with the priority identified above.
It was explained that, as far as the purchase of new hardware was
concerned, there was little to be gained from the purchase of new
computers for the professional and secretarial staff without the
introduction of a small local area network (LAN). This was because a
LAN would enable centralised file storage, printer sharing, file
sharing, and in particular would allow more than one member of
staff to access the contact software from their desk e.g. the
Partners and team leaders. It would also enable new facilities such as
an internal e-mail system to be installed.

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It was however emphasised that any network that was to be introduced
into the office environment should be capable of being installed and
maintained easily by the firm‟s staff and should not result in the
introduction of any new non-productive overhead cost. A peer-to-peer
network was specified as it met these requirements. It was also
recommended that the firm seek quotations on the basis of a “turnkey”
Case Study – Two years later
The implementation of the suggested IS strategy was left entirely with the
Partners of NBW and it was some twelve months after the initial report had
been submitted before funds became available to proceed; however
during the interim period the report recommendations were subjected to
scrutiny and discussion by the Partners.
The Partners formulated an alternative IS plan from that
recommended. They decided to accept the recommendations that they
introduce a structured data backup regime, introduce remote access from
the Edinburgh office to the client contact database in London, and
introduce the networking of the office (peer-to-peer). They agreed that all
of these would be undertaken concurrently as priority one. They amended
the priority to create an in-house client/proposal database to priority
two status. The recommendation to create a new historical database for
fee bids was given a priority three status, due to staff hostility to the proposed
introduction of performance/time keeping procedures. The investment in
new hardware and software was seen as being part of a four to five year
programme, and although the IT plan would be subject to annual review, it
was envisaged that it would only be towards the end of that period that a
substantial review would be undertaken.
Tender enquiry documents were produced which included details of hardware
specification, floor plans and locations of network outlets etc. It was also
important to NBW that the tendering contractors should be able to provide
leasing arrangements for the installation for tax purposes, and this was used
as a filter to identify companies from which quotations would be sought.
These documents were then issued to three tenderers selected from a
list of local companies. Each of the tenderers provided a different solution
from that requested in the tender documents and NBW experienced
considerable difficulty in assessing and negotiating the respective merits of
each of the tenders provided. This was largely a result of not seeking
quotations on a “turnkey performance specification” basis as had been

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Ultimately a contract was placed with a company, however the network
being purchased was now a client/server based network based upon a
Novel network operating system; a somewhat more complex network
installation than was necessary to meet the business objectives sought.
The contract price had also increased by some 37% over that
This was a major departure from the network architecture
recommended in the IS strategy report and came about as a result of NBW‟s
innocence when negotiating their requirements with the tendering contractors
in that they did not appreciate the differences between a peer-to-peer
network and a client-server network. This resulted in NBW purchasing a
much more complicated network topology than was required and has
resulted in associated difficulties in supporting and maintaining the
installation that may not have been encountered if a peer-to-peer network
had been installed.
They have now introduced a structured file naming system and standardised
directory structure with all data files and templates being held on the file
server from where regular structured backups are taken. An acceptable use
policy has also been instigated, placing the emphasis on IT as a work tool
and staff can longer load their own screen savers, games, etc. A data
backup regime has also been introduced with daily, weekly and monthly
backups of the data directory (data/project files and templates) being
performed, with backup tapes for each of the backups performed being
rotated on a son, father, and grandfather basis. The backup tapes are stored
in a fireproof data safe in the office.
The network is managed daily by one of the professional staff, who is also
responsible for creating the data backup tapes on the server. An annual
maintenance contract has also been taken out with a network support
In a follow up survey the Partners were interviewed to ascertain what
business benefits had accrued from their investment. The Partners were
of the opinion that they now had a much better understanding and
control of the use of and investment in information systems and
information technology in the firm. It was identified, however, that not all of
the expected benefits had been achieved and that quantification of those
that had been attained was difficult to measure despite the fact that the
original survey had identified CSFs that could have been used for this
purpose. The progress achieved in respect of the CSFs identified in the
original IS/IT report is shown in the table on the next page:

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Enable improved communications
between Edinburgh and London offices.
Implement easier and more reliable
backup and maintenance of
client/proposals database.
Ensure reliability, security and safety of firm‟s
computerised databases.
Provide means for the Partners to assess and
compile fee bids based upon historical data to
enable performance and competitive fee
Maximise fee income per fee earner
Minimise indirect costs where possible to
improve profitability and competitiveness.



However the Partners were of the opinion that:
Their business information systems were now much more secure, reliable
and robust.
They have reduced the multiple inputs of data into their various computerised
information systems and thereby reduced the probability of data
entry errors.
They were “delighted” with their new bespoke client/proposals
The IS infrastructure and strategy now better reflected their
business working practices.
They have developed a proactive approach to I.T. investment via. the
development of their IS strategy.
Staff whom had worked under both the old and new IS infrastructures
were interviewed the purpose of which was to identify and prioritise the
perceived benefits of the new installation. These were agreed as being as
follows, given in descending order of priority:
Centralised backup facilities and file storage has led to quicker access to
information, easier sharing of information, able to access information
from my desk, more reliable and robust system.
E-mail - has all but eliminated the office memorandum.
In addition they felt that they were now working more productively and
that both project and management information was more readily
accessible. The new IS systems had also enabled the introduction of
new “integrated tools” such as e-mail; the possibility of working from
home, a facility that was eagerly adopted by an employee on maternity
leave and by professional staff whist travelling; and office based online
information sources such as reference books online which could now be
searched electronically from the desk.
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The most important management issue was that IS and IT investment
now directly support the firm‟s business objectives and is planned,
reviewed and controlled by the Partners. Another important factor is that
IT investment is driven by the firm‟s IS strategy which looks ahead for a
period of four to five years.
The topics which still have to be addressed as far as the
implementation of the current IS strategy are, in order of priority:
1. Improve the remote access to the proposals/client database.
2. Extend the functionality of the proposals/client database.
3. Fully develop the facility to be able to estimate competitive and
performance based fee estimates.
4. Introduce digital photography to replace existing extensive usage of
chemical photography.

Further Reading
You should read the relevant chapters in any information management text
book. Popular authors in this field include Kenneth C Lauden and Jane P
Lauden as well as Dave Chaffey.

Topic Review
To ensure success when investing in corporate information systems a top
down approach is adopted which is focused upon the company‟s
business objectives. There are two methodologies that can be adopted,
enterprise analysis and critical success factors, and it is possible to
combine these into a hybrid methodology was shown in the case study.
Enterprise analysis is an expensive, complex and time consuming
approach which normally results in the automation of existing business
processes. The critical success factor method is much less expensive and
demanding in terms of time and resources but tends to identify
information system opportunities at the higher and executive management
levels rather than at the production level. Critical success factors also have
the benefit of providing management with a tool that can be used to
measure and evaluate the success of investments made in information
Successful investment in information systems requires
• recognition of the business environment

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information systems that support the business objectives
a clear information systems strategy
a clear information technology strategy focused upon
supporting the information systems strategy
full senior management participation

Case Tools - A set of integrated Computer-Aided Systems Engineering

(CASE) and application development tools that assist in software
development; for example, analyzing business requirements, designing
applications, generating application code, etc.
Ad Hoc - Latin for the phrase, "for this", meaning that it is used for the

purpose at hand and not considered for a wider application.
Interoperability - Enabling information that originates in one context
to be used in another in ways that are as highly automated as possible. 2000/glossary. html or the ability of
information systems to operate in conjunction with each other
encompassing communication protocols, hardware software, application,
and data compatibility layers.

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Topic 4: The Information System Life Cycle
Topic Preview
This topic will introduce you to the information system life cycle and will
explore the concept in some depth. Unlike topic three, which investigated
where information systems should be developed, this topic explores how
information systems come into being and how they are maintained and
modified. The alternative methodologies and techniques employed will be
discussed, and the topic concludes by explaining how these can be combined
to formulate the concept of the information system life cycle.

Topic Content
The term “information system life cycle” refers to the overall process of
developing information systems through a multi-step process from the
investigation of initial requirements through to analysis, design,
implementation, maintenance and modification of the system. There are
many corporate, national and international standards and codes of practice
that can be employed to ensure the “quality” of the finished information
system, but it is not our intention to investigate these here. Instead we will
review the many different models and methodologies that can employed in
the information system life cycle. These generally consist of a series of
defined stages or steps.
Why is an information life cycle thought necessary? It is required to ensure
that the client gets the information system they want or need, to budget
and on time. Further, the adoption of an information system life cycle should
ensure the overall quality of the system, as well as providing detailed
records of how the system was produced, so that maintenance and
modifications can be more readily performed.
Back in the 1960s, information system development consisted of an individual
programmer writing code to solve a problem or automate a process. This
tended to be more of an artistic process than a structured one and
frequently no records were kept. This was exemplified by the “year 2000 bug”
which resulted in many retired programmers being employed to resolve the
problem. Today it involves a large number of people such as information
architects, analysts, programmers, testers and users working in teams.

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Information system software today can comprise of millions of lines of
customised computer code.
At this point it is probably worth reiterating that information systems are
socio-technical systems in that they comprise of people and technology.
People are infinitely more flexible than technology and most information
system development methodologies advocate the early involvement of the
users in the development process i.e. the involvement of the “stakeholders”,
in modern jargon. The intention is to achieve the best fit between people and
machines, as a solution to the information system problem. Neither should it
be assumed that all information systems necessitate the adoption of
technology. Most offices keep mail in and mail out books or typists keep
a log of their work. None of these information systems necessitates the use
of technology but all can prove to be very useful systems in practice,
even today in the information age.
In practice, however, most information systems today do involve the use of
technology, especially where the system is primarily concerned with
data processing. The benefits of computerisation of an information system
include automation of information retrieval and processing, improved
speed of processing, flexibility of information once in a digital form and the
ease of storage of digital information. Computerisation of information systems
also brings new challenges into play, such as how to easily and cheaply get the
data/information into the system, reliability of the technology being
employed, and, if the system is mission critical, the possibility of
“meltdown” if things go wrong, not to mention all of the problems associated
with system acquisition and implementation.
Computerised information systems normally develop in industries according to
the following pattern. First “islands of computing” are established, individual
systems to meet the objectives of individuals or departments. Then comes
low level transaction processing at the operational level e.g. banking
transactions or sales dealings. Next comes some attempt at integrating the
systems in use to provide information for departmental control and day to day
management purposes, an MIS. Lastly comes the linking of information
systems to the company‟s business objective and the information systems
become mission critical often resulting in the development of new services or
products as well as new working practices.

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System feasibility
The client will have identified the information system opportunity before the
information system life cycle begins and topic three investigated this in
some depth. The client‟s initial input into the information system life
cycle is the “requirements brief”. However before issuing the
requirements brief the client should undertake a feasibility study. This is
synonymous with the feasibility process undertaken by clients before they
decide to commission a building. It was identified in topic three how any
information systems development should form part of the company‟s
information system strategy. Nonetheless, before committing the company
to the expense of information systems development it is advisable to
evaluate the proposed new information system:
Propose and evaluate alternatives
Establish priorities
Gather information
Perform cost/benefit analysis
Form options for computerisation
Evaluate conclusion
The focus of the feasibility process is upon establishing and evaluating the
risks and benefits of proceeding into the system development phase.

What is a system?
We have used and will continue to use the term “system” throughout this
module, but what constitutes a system? To answer this question we have to
go back to something called Systems Theory. Systems theory has its
origins back in the 1940‟s in work done by the biologist Ludwig von
Bertalanffy whose work was built upon by Ross Ashby, the cyberneticist, in
1956. This work evolved in 1968 into what we know today as general
systems theory. Subsequent developments of system theory are diverse
and it can now be considered transdisciplinary. Systems theory today
states that any system should exhibit the following characteristics:
Is an organised set of components that have some purpose and a
Is in turn itself composed of sub-systems
It exhibits behaviour (deterministic or probabilistic)

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At any level in its hierarchy it contains components which show
If you apply this test to, say, an online travel booking service such as Expedia
( it can be readily established that these tests
equally apply to information systems.
Expedia is a set of components that enables you to make travel
and holiday arrangements. You can for example book flights, rail
tickets, hotels, car hire and package holidays. On the other hand you
can not buy books, CD‟s, or download music or films. Expedia
therefore satisfies the first test in that it is a set of components that
have a boundary.
Expedia is composed of sub-systems. Evidence of this is the tools
that are available to the user e.g. the flight booking tool, the package
holiday tool, etc. All of these individual subsystems (tools) when
combined provide the complete Expedia service. Expedia therefore
satisfies the second test, in that it is itself composed of sub-systems.
Expedia exhibits behaviour, just try and book a flight of your choosing.
You will be advised if the flight is at all possible as well as perhaps
Expedia seeking clarification of departure and destination points,
ultimately advising you the user of flight options, costs etc. When
interacting with Expedia it is almost as if you are dealing with a travel
agent face to face across a desk. Expedia therefore satisfies the third
test in that it is capable of exhibiting behaviour.
All of the Expedia tools are connected to each other as well as being
connected to other information systems run by other organisations e.g. the
airline booking services, hotels, holiday firms etc. Expedia therefore
satisfies the fourth test by displaying connectivity.
System theory led to the development of soft systems methodology (SSM), a
methodology and analytical process which is used to solve business
problems from the top down. SSM views the problem domain in a holistic
rather than reductionist way, recognising that the component parts are
interconnected, so that a change to one part will affect the other parts.
Not only this, but the problem domain itself is a subsystem of several
larger systems – changes in one will affect the overall domain as well. It
is therefore not surprising that information system lifecycle methodologies
are also based upon SSM.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


System development life cycle models
A number of different systems development life cycle models have been
developed over the years, including waterfall, fountain, spiral, build and fix,
rapid prototyping, incremental, as well as synchronise and stabilise. The
oldest and best known is the waterfall model which comprises of a series
of sequential stages in which the output from one stage becomes in the
input for the next. It is probably best known in the form of SSADM
(Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology) which has been
adopted by the UK Government since 1981 for the development of all
government information system projects. Although there are many variants
the stages usually comprise:
Feasibility/Planning study: establishes a high level view of the system
and determines its goals.
System analysis/Requirements definition: distils the project goals
into departmental operations and analyses end user information
Systems design: describes the desired features and operations
of the system in detail, including defining the business rules,
process diagrams, pseudo-code and other documentation.
Implementation: This is where the real code (program) is written.
Frequently today this stage is outsourced overseas, on cost
Integration and testing: brings all of the sub-systems together and
the system is tested and checked for errors, bugs and
Acceptance/Installation and Deployment: the final stage of initial
development is to put the system into use.
Maintenance: Feedback, updates, modifications and
improvements of the system throughout the remainder of its useful
The waterfall methodology, although well understood and widely adopted,
is not without faults. In particular, it is not well focused upon the business
objectives of the company nor is it applicable to knowledge workers. It is,
however, good for developing systems for business functions like accounting
and sales. Importantly, it severely limits the users‟ input to the initial
requirements brief - something that has to be provided in advance.
Thereafter the users‟ involvement is concerned with the “signing off “ of
each stage of the life cycle, something they may not possess the knowledge
and skills to do. Lastly, the methodology is entirely linear; one stage has to be
completed (signed off) before the next starts.

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The fountain methodology attempts to resolve the linear problems associated
with the waterfall model by recognising that, although some activities can
not start until others have finished, some overlap can be achieved between
activities, thereby reducing the overall development timescale.
The spiral methodology, on the other hand, is based upon iteration and
recognises the need to go back and repeat some stages before the project
can progress further. It is very similar in concept to architectural conceptual
design. In effect it is a series of waterfall models that are interconnected,
each producing part of the entire project. This model produces a proof of
concept model for the project before detailed design is undertaken, and
users are more intimately involved in the design process. It also more
closely reflects the real world more accurately, in that system development
tends to be disorderly and even sometimes chaotic.
The build and fix methodology does what it says on the packet! You write
some code, test and fix it until you have an acceptable system. This is
also an iterative process and reflects the early days of system development
practice back in the 1960s and 1970s. Adoption of this methodology can
prove very risky as well as being open-ended. It does, however, enable
constant user feedback, but the users may become disillusioned and
frustrated with the process.
In the rapid prototyping methodology, initial effort is focused upon creating a
prototype that looks like and acts like the finished product to prove that
the concept is sound, before proceeding into detailed design and
development. The prototype will only cover part of the eventual scope of the
system, and the user interface will be rudimentary. It does, however, allow
the user an early appreciation of the system and the opportunity to give
early feedback. It also tends toward the iterative rather than the linear
development process.
The incremental methodology divides the project into sections or builds,
where each section of the project is developed separately. This is good for
finding errors in the users‟ requirements quickly as testing of each section
takes place after it has been written. Problems can however arise
concerning the connectivity of the sections in the finished product.
The synchronise and stabilise method combines the advantages of the spiral
model with technology for overseeing and managing source code. This
allows many teams to work efficiently in parallel. The code for the whole
system is brought together at frequent intervals, sometimes nightly, and
tested. System release dates are established, and at some point
development is halted and effort is focused upon the correction of faults
and bugs. This methodology is associated with the release of beta versions
for testing by users. Often product scope is limited to achieve the target
release date. In practice, several methodologies are often combined into
a new hybrid mythology for the development of a particular project.
Irrespective of the mythology adopted, documentation is crucial. Some
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methodologies are better suited to particular types of project but the most
important factor affecting success is whether the user readily adopts the
system or not and whether the system meets the initial users‟
requirements brief.

Systems analysis tools
Systems analysis or requirements definition forms a very important step in
the systems development life cycle. As identified above, this involves applying
analytical processes to the planning, design and implementation of new and
improved information systems to meet the requirements brief issued by the
customer organization. It concerns itself with what an information system
must do not how it does it. It has resulted in the role of “systems analyst”
being created, and involves the application of many techniques to achieve its
aims. The focus of the process is upon analysing and optimising the business
processes under review.
It comprises of studying the old physical system, constructing a logical
model of that system, optimising the logical model and finally developing
the new system requirements specification which is used as the basis for
the next phase, systems design. It is not simply concerned with
automating existing processes but in optimising existing processes or
identifying new working practices. Systems analysts consider the following
categories of the business environment:
Timing (when needed)
Control (quality/checking/accuracy)
You will recall that we discussed all of these factors in topics one and
The techniques employed by systems analysts are many and varied and
include interviews (shop floor), data collection (information collection),
observation (making sense of data/information), questionnaire
(generate discussion), research (how should you work) and presentation
(is this how you work?). Systems analysis is a structured process which
should include the requirement to graphically represent the system under
study, top-down partition the system under study, eliminate redundant
information and focus upon what the system should do not how it does
it. All of these requirements plainly evolve from Soft Systems Methodology
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Tools used to achieve these requirements include:
Data flow diagrams
Data dictionary
Structured English
Decision tables
Decision trees
The data flow diagram is a graphical representation of the business system
under study showing the active components of that system and their
relationships. It clearly identifies the system boundaries, external entities and
the data/information flows in the system. Note once again how well this
aligns with Soft Systems Methodology (SSM). An example is shown
below; a long narrow rectangle represents a data store, an eclipse an
external entity, a large rectangle a process and the arrows the
data/information flows. There are many different annotation methods used
to produce these diagrams.

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A data dictionary is a collection of data about the system‟s data
(metadata about the system data). It comprises of a list of names and
definitions of each data element and also contains the metaschema
(data types and organisation information of the data structures). Its purpose
is to help avoid ambiguity and data redundancy as well as including details of
data ownership, users, systems and programs as well as security and privacy
constraints. It is one of the tools used to specify the system processes.
Structured English is also used to specify the system processes. It is used to
define explicit, precise and concise statements of process. It has its own
vocabulary and syntax.
Decision trees also specify system processes and sound complicated, but
are really self-explanatory. They are hierarchical semantic nets bound by a
series of rules that couple search strategy with knowledge relationships.
An example is shown below which specifies what you should have for lunch,
e.g. if you are vegan have tofu and nut loaf for lunch.

Decision tables are just a variation on decision trees where the system
process is displayed in table format rather than a tree, see the example

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Decision Tables
Vegy =

Vegy =

Vegy =

Vegy =

Vegan =

Vegan =

Fish =

Fish =

Tofu & nut

Egg &
Cod &
spinach pie chips

Steak &

Options for computerisation
We have already identified that information systems development should not
be technology driven, and that the information technology strategy
should be subservient to the information systems strategy (topic three).
Nonetheless, when it comes to the development of information systems,
clients and system developers are faced with a choice of alternative
options for the computerisation of the system. The choice is between a
bespoke system, an off-the–shelf system, or an end user developed
system. In reality most systems are hybrid systems.
A bespoke system is software written for purpose by software
professionals “from the ground up”, specifically for the system being
developed. This has the benefit of producing software tailored to the
precise requirements of the business. Few built environment firms directly
employ software professionals, which means that in most instances this
task would be contracted to a third party software house. Bespoke
systems are expensive; they take a lot of time to develop, and because of
their uniqueness they can be prone, at least initially, to errors and bugs.
Bespoke software is normally only purchased by large corporations or
Small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), whom by far comprise the
largest number of firms in the Built Environment, do not have the resources
to acquire bespoke systems. Consequently off-the-shelf system
development is better suited to their needs. These are software applications
that can be purchased commercially, that have broad functionality across a
wide range of business functions such as accounts, sales, marketing etc.
The major benefit is low cost but these systems are also available
immediately and prove to be robust and reliable in use. Most also allow a
degree of configuration to better suit the needs of individual businesses. It
is also usually possible to achieve a high degree of integration between
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applications if purchased from the same vendor and it is even possible
to develop front end applications that seamlessly integrate the functionality
of the individual packages into composite information systems using
tools such as MS Visual Basic. Today this is often referred to as Enterprise
Application Integration (EAI). The down side is that off-the-shelf applications
are usually not a good fit in terms of the information system required
and often compromises have to be accepted, such as changes in working
practices to suit better the software functionality; the purchase of functionality
and components that are not required (because they come with the
package); hidden cost such as updates or annual licence agreements, and
being locked into a particular vendor (it can prove prohibitively expensive to
move between different software vendors). Off- the shelf-software systems
do however require less IT support and often this forms part of the annual
licence fee. Reflecting back to the Napier Blakely and Winter case study,
investigated in topic 3, it can be seen that it was this approach that was
principally adopted for the computerisation of their information systems.
End user developed systems are where non information system
professional people develop information systems, normally the
users themselves. These tend to be very limited in scope, personal
or at best departmental, and they also tend to be output driven
(rather than data driven) e.g. reports. These systems are normally
built using spreadsheets or databases. The scope and functionality
of these systems are very limited (by the expertise of the individual
developer) and often inappropriate tools are employed.
Consequently such systems are often very unreliable, are poorly
tested and difficult to maintain or extend as there is usually no
documentation associated with them. Once again reflecting back to
the Napier, Blakely and Winter case study, this was the development
approach chosen for the proposals database.

Further Reading
You should read the appropriate chapters in any information management text
book. Popular authors in this field include Kenneth C Lauden and Jane P
Lauden as well as Dave Chaffey.

Topic Review
Information system life cycles are methodologies for the
development and construction of information systems. There
are many different methodologies available but all are focused
upon the quality assurance of the finished information system
and its timely and cost effective delivery. It is recognised today
that an important part of these methodologies is the active
involvement of the end user. Systems analysis forms part of
the information system life cycle and is the stage where a
detailed investigation is undertaken into what the new
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information system should do and is often linked with the
development of new working practices. Most information
systems today are computerised and there are a number of
different options available to achieve this aim. The selection of
the most suitable computerisation option will depend upon a
number of factors including the size of the client firm, the
budget available and the uniqueness of the system being

Redundant information – unneeded or duplicated information.

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Topic 5: Information Systems and Change
Topic Preview
This topic will introduce you to the concept of how information systems
today are closely associated with the structural change of organisations and
industries. The influence of information systems on the motor, banking and
newspaper industries will be evaluated and then analysed as to why these
are not directly relevant to the construction and property industries. The
topic concludes by identifying characteristics of information systems that
would be beneficial to the construction and property industries.

Topic Content
In our studies so far we have identified that information systems are
socio-technical systems and that they should be focused upon supporting the
company‟s business objectives. This relationship is shown in figure 10.

All organisations adopt a structure of some sort and often that organisational
structure is a framework of business units (departments). These identify
who does what, as well as who has decision making power, control and/
or authority within the organisation. All of these business units are
focused upon supporting the overall business objectives. These
organisational structures are multivariate but can be rigid (inflexible)
or flexible (loose framework); a successful structure requires a balance
between both characteristics. Rigid structures are incompatible with change
whilst flexible structures readily accommodate change.
You will also recall that information systems are associated with decision
making. Corporate decision making is reflected in the organisation‟s
business processes, rather than its structure, consequently decision
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making is also reflected in a firm‟s information systems. In effect corporate
decision making areas are joined together by the firm‟s information
systems and these should ensure an appropriate flow of information to the
decision making areas.
Topic one introduced the concept of the information age, which is
characterised by a dramatic quickening of technological change and the
combining of telecommunications with computing technologies (convergent
technologies); access to vast amounts of information; introduction of new
working practices and the advent of business and social change driven by
digital technologies. These characteristics enable:
Geographic independence – work from a distance
Time independence – work when convenient for you
Emergence of new working practices
As a result, information systems in the information age are closely related to
business change. This is exemplified in business process reengineering (BPR), clover leaf company structures and the concept
of the learning company.

A bottom up approach
Information systems have had a profound impact upon other industries
over the last two decades, but not on the construction industry; why is
this so?
The adoption of new information systems has changed the banking industry
beyond all recognition and has led not only to the development of new
services but also, more importantly, to new ways of working. The banks
were quick to adopt information systems at the operational level and
this quickly led to the introduction of ATMs (automated teller machines).
The introduction of ATMs led to the introduction of new services e.g. 24
hour banking and POS (point of sale transactions). Next came telephone
banking and now internet banking. There is now less importance for banks in
having a high street presence, some have none at all; also the importance of
the relationship between the bank manager and the customer has
disappeared to the extent that bank managers have become an
endangered species. Indeed, it is possible to do all of your banking today
without having any face-to-face contact with another human being. The
introduction of these new information systems in the banking industry has led
to these systems becoming mission critical to the banks and fierce
competition in the market place. The banks‟ information systems have
revolutionised the banking industry.
However, the banking industry is not an isolated example. Twenty years
ago, the newspaper industry was, if anything, even more

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conventional in its ways than the construction industry is today. It was only
after a long, protracted and violent industrial dispute that employers were able
to introduce new working practices based upon new information systems
that enabled digital publishing. This exemplifies the fact that new working
practices and their allied new information systems are not always welcomed
into the workplace by everyone. In the newspaper industry, the emphasis
was on the introduction of new digital technology and the elimination of
historical working practices, combined with the irrelevance of some traditional
trades. The newspaper industry is one of the industries most changed by
new information systems, their core business is information but that
information is very time sensitive and they trade in a very competitive
market place, there being lots of alternative publications as well as
alternative information media e.g. radio, television and the internet. These
new information systems led to new working practices such as the direct
input of typed copy into the printing process, the electronic gathering of news
via online news services, the adoption of digital photography linked to
electronic communications systems and thereby direct copy, direct input to
copy by advertisers, a much more flexible product e.g. regional newspaper
editions as well as the possibility of publishing virtual newspapers and
personal newspapers. You can today subscribe to daily digital newspaper
editions that are configured to your personal preferences, delivered each
morning from the other side of the world to your email address. Indeed the
newspaper industry‟s continued existence is endangered by alternative news
media e.g. news websites.
Another example of the adoption of new information systems is the
automobile industry where once again the introduction of new working
practices such as computer-aided design and manufacture, just-in-time
materials deliveries, electronic ordering and bill payment has enabled
manufacture on demand. Here the emphasis has been upon the integration
of design and manufacture, supply chain management, and the introduction
of robotics. Automobile production is an assembly line process
characterised by the “Taylorist” approach (automation and de-skilling of
operations). This approach led to a highly standardised product, the emphasis
being upon the speed of unit production, resulting in poor job satisfaction for
the operatives. The adoption of new information systems has led to the
introduction of new working practices and the capability to
“manufacture on demand” as well as enabling a degree of variability in the
product regarding colours and specifications. These in turn led to improved
worker satisfaction and improvements in product quality. The integration of
design and manufacturing has also led to a considerable reduction in the time
it takes to develop and produce new models as well as enabling the virtual
modelling and testing of the product prior to manufacture.
These examples clearly show that in order to gain the full benefits of new
information systems, working practices have to change.
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Therefore, it seems likely that stakeholders in the built environment are
going to have to do more than merely become competent with a
spreadsheet. It is also worth noting that all of these so-called revolutions in
other industries occurred before the age of the all-pervasive Internet.
Historically the built environment has not been slow to adopt new
information systems. Quantity surveyors were amongst the
forerunners in the construction industry to adopt personal computers
and software such as spreadsheets, bills of quantities production software
and word-processing. However, one problem associated with the
introduction of new information systems into the workplace was that
technology competence tended to decrease in direct proportion to seniority
within an organisation. This lack of knowledge of new technologies on the
part of senior management, the very people who are identifying the
business objectives and managing the firm, led to scenarios where
investments in new technology were driven from the bottom up within
Typically, a graduate would identify a task that could be made more efficient
or less tedious by the application of a new information system. This led,
often after considerable persuasion, to a purchase being made to satisfy the
individual user‟s need. Another typical scenario was that a nearby
competitor would acquire some new information system and it was then felt
that the firm should do likewise so as not to be left behind.
These approaches led to “islands of computing” being established within
firms, where new information systems were acquired upon a task basis with
little or no attention being paid to the overall strategy of integrating new
information systems into the workplace for the benefit of the business
overall. Not surprisingly, many of these investments failed to provide the
expected returns, and in some instances they were even counterproductive,
leading to a fall in productivity.
Although the examples given at the start of this chapter regarding acquiring
new information systems are all on a grander scale than that of the typical
built environment firm, they are all typified by being championed at the
highest levels of management within their respective organisations. This does
not mean that senior managers in the banking, newspaper or the automotive
industries are more information system literate than senior built environment
managers. It does, however, identify that they recognised how new
information systems could be allied to their business objectives, and then
championed that cause through thick and thin, sometimes ruthlessly,
to achieve their aims. The bank clerk, the journalist or the assembly line
worker did not propose to senior managers how their daily work could be
made more efficient by the adoption of new information systems!

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Is the built environment unique?
Is it reasonable to compare the built environment with the banking,
newspaper and automotive industries?
Banking, just like the built environment, is a service industry; however its
product is less tangible than a building and it is also much more
standardised, in that the same products will be offered as a service
nationally throughout the bank‟s marketplace. Banks are also very
profitable (or at least some are), and are large commercial organisations
employing thousands of staff. In addition, they have a large base of customers
and principally deal in financial data. It was the computers‟ power of
storing, sorting and manipulating data that led to the original introduction
of new information systems into the banking industry. Therefore, because
the industry had large profits to reinvest in their business activities, a
standardised product, hundreds of thousands of similar data sets and a very
structured data format, it was very easy for new technology based
information systems to be introduced.
The newspaper industry introduced new information systems for a different
reason – introducing new working practices. Here the problem was archaic
working practices that had changed little from the days of William Caxton,
together with very powerful trade unions that were opposed to the
introduction of any new technology. The trade unions were acting in what
they thought was their members‟ best interests in trying to protect the
livelihoods of their members. However, in refusing to acknowledge or even
consider any new working practices, they eventually succeeded in making the
skills of their members irrelevant to the modern newspaper industry.
New technology based information systems were introduced by being
championed by the newspaper owners, and this led not only to new
working practices but also to new products. The lesson here is that the
advance of technology cannot be ignored or reasonably repulsed, and it is
inevitable that some traditional skills will become redundant in the process.
Furthermore, to be successful, the introduction of new information systems
requires a champion at senior management level. Once again the newspaper
industry is an example of an industry comprising of very large organisations
with high levels of profitability and a large workforce.
The introduction of new technology based information systems into the
automobile industry was for different reasons again. First, the aim was to
integrate design and manufacture via CAD/CAM and robotics; secondly, it
was to enable new working practices associated with supply chain
management to be introduced. Here, once again, the introduction of new
technology based information systems led to the development of new ways of
working. Senior management again championed the introduction of new
technology, and the firms in question were profitable, had huge annual
turnovers, employed thousands of staff, and manufactured very similar
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products in vast quantities under factory conditions.
These examples from other industries demonstrate that, to introduce
new technology based information systems into the workplace
successfully, it is necessary to:
Champion new technology at a very high level in the company.
Ensure that the new information systems are focused upon helping
the firm achieve its business objectives.
Re-engineer existing business processes, often leading to the
introduction of new ways of working, new services, and the
redundancy of some traditional skills.
The construction and property industries, on the other hand, have quite
different characteristics (see figure 11) in that they are typified by:
A proliferation of s m a l l f i r m s f o r m i n g t e m p o r a r y
alliances upon a project basis for the duration of that project.
The separation of the design and construction activity.
Uncertainty due to variable demand, onsite construction
hampered by inclement weather and the lack of a standard product.
Fierce competition for work that creates low levels of commercial
Each product being, to a greater or lesser extent, unique.
Hundreds of stakeholders in any one project, many of whom may have
conflicting business objectives.
Displaying considerable resistance to any change in working


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Is comparison with other industries reasonable?
Comparisons between the built environment and the banking, newspaper
publishing and the automotive industries are therefore not entirely
reasonable, but should not be completely dismissed. The principal
differences are that the property and construction industries lack a
champion to lead the introduction of new information systems, and that
the average construction and property firm is very small – typically
employing fewer than 12 staff – as well as unprofitable, many achieving
less than 3% profit margins. A further complication is the organisation
of the construction industry on a predominantly project basis, with a
proliferation of stakeholders, which leads to poor communications,
misunderstandings and errors.

Poor industry Communications
Poor communications has been recognised as being a problem for many
years in the property and construction industries and is evident in
inconsistent information, missing information, ownership of information not
being clearly defined and late information. As can be seen most of the
exemplars relate to communications between the design team and the
construction team. There are two principal reasons for poor
communications, namely poor co-ordination between project documents,
and the fact that industry fragmentation leads to poor organisational
The poor co-ordination of project documents has been, and continues to be,
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subject to Government sponsored initiatives. Two of these are the Coordinated Project Information initiative (CPI) in 1987 and the current
Construction Project Information Committee code of practice. These lay
down best practice for the transfer of information between designer and
contractor and are concerned with procedures for producing project
documents, technical content of documents and the arrangement of project
documents. The problem of poor organisational structures can be solved by
reducing the amount of industry fragmentation, a subject which we will
return to in another topic.

Where is the Champion?
Given the poor success rate of acceptance of technology based information
systems into the construction and property industries, you would be
forgiven for thinking that none exist. The most obvious champion is the
senior management of any large organisation active in the construction
and property industries, such as a large contracting organisation or multiprofessional practices, and there are indeed examples of this.
The new information systems in these instances are usually associated
with company-based information systems introduced to achieve company
objectives. These successes are due to the fact that they are contained
within the boundaries of one company or organisation, where common
standards can be introduced and enforced, and that a large company is
more likely to have both the vision and the funding to support the
appropriate introduction of new information systems. Typically, however,
these instances do not display the characteristic of introducing new working
methods, but are targeted upon the achievement of a company‟s business
The other obvious champions are the larger clients – those who are
constantly commissioning building works. Most prominent of these is central
government. The government has commissioned various reports, e.g.
Rethinking Construction, into the operation of the construction and
property industries, most of which have recommended greater use of
new information systems allied to the introduction of new working practices.
Interestingly, unlike the previous example these have been targeted at the
project level and are geared to achieving the client‟s objectives.

New information systems and commercial
Can the adoption of new information systems assure commercial
The adoption of new information systems is often thought to be associated
with commercial advantage, and there is a huge volume of published
material on the subject. One thing is sure; what is done today (should it
prove successful), the competition will copy tomorrow. Consequently,
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commercial advantage associated with new information systems is
often short lived.
Companies in the built environment are difficult to differentiate from each
other; they all provide a similar range of services, the setting up of new
firms is not prohibitively expensive or difficult, and none have the authority
actively to influence their own supply chains. These characteristics, along
with the high level of fragmentation in the industries, make it very difficult
to adopt new information systems with the aim of achieving any
lasting commercial advantage.
Furthermore, the large number of SMEs active in the built
environment do not have the time, resources or vision to investigate or
experiment with how new information systems could be adopted to gain any
commercial advantage. A more common scenario is that information
systems have to be adopted to enable them to compete with rival firms that
have already attained some advantage. Motivators of this type are unlikely to
result in either the successful introduction of new information systems into
the workplace or the attainment of the expected benefits.
Commonly, a new information system is adopted to achieve efficiency
gains and thereby a cost advantage over competitors.
Other businesses, fewer in number, have adopted new information systems
to develop new services that enable them to differentiate their services from
that of rivals. A few have adopted information systems to enable the
adoption of new working practices or structures, and it is perhaps these
that will prove to be the most enduring and valuable.
The successes achieved by the banking, automotive and newspaper industries all
resulted from the adoption of new information systems allied with new working
practices and organisational structures. The adoption of new information system
itself is therefore unlikely to result in any lasting commercial advantage,
although failure to adopt systems commonly used by competitors could lead
to a failed business. The most likely way in which new information systems
could be adopted to achieve lasting commercial advantage would be where it
is adopted to support new services, enable the restructuring of the
organisation, and/or introduce new working practices.

New information systems and people
For a new information system to be welcomed into the workplace, the
users must accept it. To be accepted by the users, new information
systems must be seen as benefiting them by making their jobs less tedious
or giving users new skills and responsibilities.

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It is also wise for the potential users of a system to be involved in its
selection, development and introduction, as this engenders a feeling of
Any attempt to impose a system upon users unilaterally is unlikely to prove
to be a rewarding experience.
The introduction of any new system into the workplace will require staff
training. Training is vitally important, and many new information
systems fail to produce the expected benefits owing to a lack of formal
training. It should not be seen as an afterthought but as an essential
ingredient, and it is quite likely that training will be required over an extended
period of time, rather than just a few days. It is also good practice to have
staff train each other, and for the user knowledge to cascade down through
an organisation. There should always be at least two people with intimate
knowledge of any one system to ensure continuity of expertise in the event
of illness or staff changes. Initially training must take place away from the
day-to-day workplace pressures, although latterly it can be integrated into
the daily routine.
The introduction of any new information system will inevitably result in a fall
in output as staff become familiar with that new system, and it is likely to
be some months before performance recovers to its former levels, and
perhaps a year or more before any productivity benefits become apparent.
Staff should work their way through the performance levels, from becoming
familiar with the system to becoming competent users and ultimately to
becoming innovative with the system. Many firms fail to progress beyond the
stage of becoming competent with the new system. It is a good idea for
each member of staff to become the guru with regard to any one system
and then to act as a focal point for queries relating to it.
Training is not free, and it is not unusual for the cost of training, including
the associated fall in staff productivity, to exceed the investment made in
purchasing the new information system itself. Training should also form part
of each system upgrade, and not be provided only when the system is
first introduced into the workplace.

Requirements specification for a built environment
information system
The built environment has a need for two differently focused but related
information systems. Firstly like all industries there is the need for
information systems to support the corporate objectives of

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the companies active in that domain. This is what we have mainly focused
upon so far.
However there is also a need for information systems to support the “industry
projects” themselves. We have identified that the built environment is
structured upon the basis of temporary alliances which are project based;
consequently there is also a need for information systems to support the
project objectives. The project objectives are to deliver the project on time,
within budget and to the quality level expected by the client.
Built environment projects involve the transfer and communication of huge
volumes of information between the project stakeholders and much of that
information is in a graphical format e.g. drawings, sketches etc. Yet we have
already identified in this topic that the built environment is weak in terms
of communication and it has been identified that one in four projects is
completed late because of poor information flows. Projects are also
becoming ever more complex and less traditional in constructional
form, which exacerbates the problem. Further, seemingly small project tasks
can result in project information explosions e.g. the raising of a
variation order to change the specification of a component in a project.
All projects have a need for information systems to ensure that the correct
information reaches the appropriate person making the decision when it
is needed. However the appropriate lines of communication on a
project are often dictated by the form of contract employed rather than
the optimum information management structures required.
Traditional project based information systems are strong in terms of cost
control but less so in terms of time control, some 71% of projects finish
late, and are poor in terms of quality control.
Projects involve three main classifications of information, namely, technical
information, commercial information and managerial information. Is it
reasonable to expect one information system to meet all of these project
based information needs? This is a subject we will return to in a later
Consequently in the built environment information systems are required to
support both individual company objectives as well as project success

Topic Review

Information systems link together corporate decision
making centres and also reflect company decision making
processes. Information systems today are closely
associated with the structural change of organisations.
Some industries have been revolutionised by the
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introduction of new information systems, but not the built
environment. Challenges to the introduction of
revolutionary information systems in the built environment
are the fragmentation of the industry and that the industry
is organised on a project basis allied to temporary
alliances. The built environment, unlike other industries,
has a need for both company focused information systems
as well as project based systems.

Business Process Re-engineering – The activity by which an

enterprise re-examines its goals and how it achieves them, followed by a
disciplined approach of business process redesign. A method that supports
this activity.
Clover leaf company – a new company structure comprising of three
leaves (or parts), one for core personnel, one for part-time contract staff
and the other for sub-contractors and contracted out work. This structural
format allows a high degree of flexibility in terms of workload and also
company focus.
Learning company – a concept of a company behaving as if it were a
human being that embraces the world of IT and where the acquisition of
new skills becomes a constant process and where change in the
continuance of improvement is constant.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 6: Analysis and Classification of Project
Topic Preview
This topic will analyse project information by type and by their characteristics
before exploring the role of classification systems in the building of
information systems. Classifications systems used in the built environment
will then be identified and we will examine how these have been employed
in recent years in developing bar code and RFID based information

Topic Content
In topic 5 we identified that built environment projects involved huge
amounts of information, much of which was in digital form, as well as
recognising that seemingly small tasks can involve information
explosions on projects. The built environment, like most creative industries,
relies heavily upon graphical information as a means of communication and
information transfer. This is unusual as most of the traditional information
systems we have studied to date have been text and or numerical based
systems. Projects involve different types of information, each satisfying a
different project need and having differing characteristics. In simple terms,
project information can be classified as being technical, managerial or
commercial in nature.
Not only does this information need to be grouped into general
classifications for analysis and understanding purposes it also needs to be
formally “classified”. Formal classification systems are the foundations of
any information system and are adopted for the classification and indexing
of information. These are the tools information systems adopt to store and
retrieve data and or information.

Commercial project information
This is the type of data/information collected and used by contractors
and sub-contractors and examples are shown in diagram one. This is
mainly commercial information associated with the administration of the
project and any statutory returns and payments required e.g. PAYE and

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The characteristics associated with commercial project information are that it
needs to be 100% accurate - get your VAT return wrong and you could finish
up being prosecuted by HM Customs and Excise. They must also be 100%
auditable and are historical in nature i.e. only becoming available after the
event has taken place. They are not time critical in terms of the project
objectives i.e. the project will not be delayed because the plant return is late in
being submitted. Commercial project information is also used for project
control in that it is used to predict future project events e.g. the calculation of
the final cost of the project.

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Technical project information
This is mainly the design information passed from the design team to the
contractor which specifies what has to be built as well as all of the
statutory approvals required for construction and development purposes
e.g. planning and building warrant approvals or environmental impact
analysis reports. These tend to be procedural, driven by the codes of
practice adopted e.g. the RIBA plan of work, as well as the conditions of
contract employed. We identified before how the conditions of contract used
on a project influenced the information systems procedures adopted and
that these were not always beneficial. Indeed most projects have both formal
and informal information systems. Often the informal is far more efficient
than the formal. All of this information can be considered to be “the
project knowledge base”, everything you ever wanted to know about this
project, and much of this will be retained in the expertise and experience
gained by the stakeholders employed upon the project as well as in the
project documentation. The technical project information needs to be near
100% accurate e.g. we would not want the building to be structurally
unsound because there were errors in the structural engineer‟s calculations.
They are approaching being 100% time critical as late delivery of this
information to the contractor could delay the works and thereby the project
completion date and consequently they do act directly upon project
control (success factors). They should also be auditable for quality
assurance and legal purposes.

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Managerial project information

This is the information associated with project control and thereby directly
with project success. It is generally associated with statistical trend
analysis and is forward looking. It does not need to be as accurate as the
other project information types and has no audit requirement but is
100% time critical.
It is time critical because its useful life span is short, usually measured
in weeks, and is used to control (manage) the project critical success
factors of time, cost and quality.
Unlike the other types of project data it is not historical in nature but is
instead forward looking (predictive) and is used by the Project
Manager/Architect/Engineer to manage the project.

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Project information requirements
Traditional information systems tend to be quantity surveying driven and are
strong in terms of cost control. Consequently they tend to focus upon only
one of the project critical success factors - that of cost. Further, these
systems are likely to be duplicated e.g. the contractor and the client‟s
quantity surveyor will both have their own cost control systems, leading to
multiple input of the same data into differing systems with little or no
electronic transfer of data between them, resulting in islands of
Time is the project critical success factor next best supported by project
information systems. Today the control and management of the timely
completion of the project is achieved by adopting computerised information
systems which are focused upon the commercial, technical and
managerial types of project information. Unfortunately, once again these
will be disparate systems with little or no integration evident. Nor are they
likely to be integrated with the project cost control systems and interestingly
there is not likely to be any real time control exercised pre-contact upon the
Quality is the most difficult of the project success factors to gauge and
manage, in many ways it is subjective. It is therefore very difficult to
develop information systems that are capable of supporting the critical
success factor of quality. Total quality management systems (TQM) are as
close as we can get today and these are more concerned with quality
assurance, a management process, rather than the control and management
of project quality. TQM often becomes more of a marketing tool and a box
ticking exercise than it does an information system for the management
and control of project quality. Consequently cost and time are the two
project critical success factors that are best supported by project
information systems.
Ideally if we were shopping for a project based information system we would
be looking for an integrated system that was capable of accommodating all
three types of project information (commercial, technical and managerial) as
well as one that interwove all of the project administrative functions into one
system. This should also improve the project information structures and
also solve the project communication problems. This ideal is currently
unattainable for numerous reasons but mainly because of the fragmentation in
the Built Environment.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Information systems and classification
Classification is a means of achieving “a place for everything, and everything
in its place”. Classification equals organisation; it is the process of grouping
together like entities and separating entities to make them easier to find. The
classification system adopted must be sensible, accord with some criteria
and be easily recognised by and be useful to the users. The emphasis is on
utility, otherwise it is not likely to be adopted.
Classification schemes are a means of organising data/information so that it
can be retrieved when needed and are based upon the ordering or
arrangement of data/information according to groups or classes according to
subject content. Classes need to be arranged in a useful order with respect
to one another if they are to be successful. Importantly information and
data become transferable when organisations adopt the same classification
schemes and preferably national or international schemes should be adopted.
Classification systems are the foundations of all information systems.
Computerised information systems use classification as a means of storing
and retrieving data/information. The detail of the information system
classification scheme adopted is contained with the system data dictionary
(topic 4). In the built environment classification is about organising
data/information relating to buildings, construction and design activities,
spaces, building elements, constructions, materials, plant, labour etc.; a
quite diverse and complex requirement.

Built environment classification systems
Built environment classification systems have a long history of development
extending back to the 1950s and beyond; most of these classify project
information. There is however a lack of consensus regarding the adoption of
these classification systems on a national or international basis. Part of the
problem lies in the fact that when a designer and a builder look at a building
they see different things. The designer has an analytical perception and sees
the building comprising spaces, elements, constructions and components
whereas the builder has a synthetic perception and sees the building as the
product of resources, activities and facets of construction. Bearing in mind
that a classification system should be meaningful and useful to the users, the
problem of identifying a common classification system is clear.

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Diagram 4

There are many classification systems in use in the built environment, all
developed for different purposes and users; many are ad hoc, whilst others
are national or international. Some classify technical documents and others
trade literature. Many, such as the CI/Sfb system, classify project
information. Diagram 4 above identifies some of the classification systems
currently in use in the built environment today.
The computerisation of information systems seems certain to drive the
adoption of common classification systems in the built environment in
the future however potential problem to be solved include; the identification
of an industry standard classification system; the sheer volume and
diversity of the project information that has to be classified, data ownership
problems and the ever changing patterns of construction procurement that
result in diversity of practice.

Classification and bar code/radio frequency identity
(RFID) systems
Classification is probably most easily recognised in the form of bar code based
information systems. Bar codes are based upon a form of OCR (optical
character recognition) technology and are very widely used by the retail
sector and are familiar to everybody. A bar code is a means of displaying a
unique identification number on a printed label by means of a series of thick
and thin vertical lines. The sequence and width of the lines in the bar
code can be translated into a sequence of digits (numbers) when read by a
bar code reader. In the retail sector bar code numbers are allocated to
products using a classification system entitled the “Universal

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Product Code”. The Universal Product Code is a good example of an
industry-wide classification system.
The most common example of the application of this technology is at the
supermarket checkout. However it has been adopted for a variety of other
situations including inspection records (identification of components),
inventory control, patient/prisoner identification, sales feedback and
marketing (loyalty card systems). In the built environment bar code
technology has been used for the management of construction materials
including the automation of materials handling and the management of
project documents. Bar codes are associated with supply chain
Bar code technology however is not well suited to the rigours of the built
environment and the weak link is the bar code label itself. The technology
relies upon line of sight reading, if you cannot see the bar code you cannot
read it. Bar codes are fragile and can be easily damaged or can readily
become detached from products/components rendering the system
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a technology driven
development of bar code technology. RFID is a development of transponder
technology developed during the Second World War in the UK for aircraft
identification. RFID enables non-contact identification without line of sight.
RFID systems comprise of two hardware elements, an electronic tag and a
reader. There are different types of tags, some which enable writing data
to the tag, whist all allow reading of tag data. There are also a number of
different readers available in the market and tags and readers usually
have to be matched as neither is universal.
The range at which the tag data can be read/written is also variable
depending upon the technology employed. Tags can also be active or
passive, active tags are battery driven whilst passive tags draw their energy
from the reader. RFID technology is not yet mature and is still evolving but is
anticipated to have considerable potential in many industries including the
built environment. There are however a number of challenges to the
adoption of RFID technology. These are that the technology is not mature
and companies will be reluctant to invest in the development of information
systems based upon this technology until it is so; the life of the tags is not
known with any certainty, especially those which are self-powered and a life
of twenty to thirty years is anticipated; the robustness of the tags is not yet
proven especially in harsh environments such as the built environment; the
tags are comparatively expensive which is also a detractor to adoption;
lastly and importantly for the built environment, the lack of classification
standards is a real problem that remains to be solved.
There is currently very little evidence of deployment of RFID technology in
the built environment although there have been a number of pilot projects
undertaken that have proven successful in the tracking of construction
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materials or components.
The most notable trial is the maintenance records of fire vents at Frankfurt
Airport. The maintenance of fire vents is a German statutory requirement.
The operating company at Frankfurt Airport set up a pilot project in
December 2002 to November 2003 to investigate the possibility of managing
the inspection and maintenance of fire vents, adopting RFID technology.
Some 220,000 fire vents have to be inspected and maintained and the
current system adopted bar codes and manual records before being
recorded on a computerised information system. The use of RFID tags
instead of bar codes enabled tag information to contain information such
date last inspected, the identity of the inspector as well as other relevant
details all of which could be updated by the inspectors as part of their
maintenance activity. The benefits achieved included increased efficiency of
maintenance data record collection, improved data accuracy and improved
speed of data recording in the maintenance system.
The BRE (Building Research Establishment) have sponsored a number of
RFID based projects including the use of RFID tags for insurance and
mortgage valuations of flood prone buildings, where tag data is linked to a
database of properties and for improvements in supply chain management
for the tracking and handling of building materials. The DTI (Department
of Trade and Industry) have also undertaken built environment trials
associated with supply chain management of building materials. Given that
some 70 to 80% of a building‟s capital cost is accounted for by materials even
small savings in materials supply management are likely to have a major cost
saving effect upon the industry, and thereby society.
RFID opportunities in the built environment are thought to be: materials
and component tracking in the supply chain, construction plant and
equipment tracking and control, embedded installation/location
information for components and assemblies, embedded maintenance
records and information for components and mechanical and electrical
plant, embedded deconstruction information associated with health and
safety and recycling, site security via personal tagging of operatives and
visitors, Health and Safety information associated with materials, plant and
processes; and productivity recording of plant and operatives on site.

Whilst the list of potential uses is extensive, it remains to be seen how
widely this new tool will be employed within built environment information
systems. Bar code technology has had relatively little impact and RFID is
merely an extension of that technology. The current probable cost of
adoption, the lack of a champion to drive the adoption, the lack of relevant
standards and a complex supply chain are all hurdles to be overcome
regarding the adoption of RFID technology into the built environment.
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Further Reading
Caldas, C.H, and Soibelman, L., 2003. Automating Hierarchical Document
Classification for Construction Management Information Systems.
Automation in Construction, 12(2003), pp 395-406.
Ekholm, A., 1996. A conceptual framework for classification of
construction works. [online] ITcon Vol. 1, pg. 25-50, [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Chan, Z.; Li, H. and Wong, T.C., 2002. An application of bar-code systems
for reducing construction wastes. Automation in Construction, 11
(2002), pp 521-533.
Finch, E. F.; Flanagan, R. and Marsh, L.E., 1996. Electronic document
management in construction using auto-ID. Automation in
Construction, 5 (1996), pp 313 – 321.

Topic Review
Project information can be generally classified as being technical,
managerial or commercial however for information classification
purposes a much more specific classification system is necessary.
The built environment has a number of classification systems all
meeting different user needs. The drive towards integrated
information systems in the built environment is likely to lead to the
adoption of a common classification system. The lack of a common
classification system is also hindering the development of bar code
and RFID based built environment information systems. RFID

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based information systems for the built environment are currently subject to
many research projects some of which show promise particularly those
associated with supply chain management and also maintenance management.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 7: Integration
Topic Preview
This topic will investigate the drive towards the integration of built
environment information systems, why integration is desirable, what is
meant by integration and how integration can be achieved.

Topic Content
In our studies so far we have identified that some of the barriers to effective
and efficient built environment information systems are the fragmented
nature of the industry, and information system islands. The obvious
solution is to adopt integration, but what should or could be integrated?
The traditional separation of design and construction activities is one
obvious area where integration should be sought, particularly since this is seen
as being the principal cause of poor industry communications. There are
however, new procurement systems that integrate design and
construction but these, even when they occur within one commercial
company, still have information system problems associated with
communication between the designer and the builder. Often the “design and
build” organisation is a federation of separate companies or even a virtual
organisation that is in effect little different from the traditional procurement
routes where design and construction are disparate activities. Indeed there is
little evidence of new working practices being employed to support the
design and build procurement processes. Integration therefore is not as
simple as adopting design and build procurement.

Construction integration motivators
There are many motivators driving built environment integration in one form
or another. These include the need to improve the construction process, to
improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the participating firms in the
construction process, and not least to improve the effectiveness of an
important national industry; these motivators for change are acting at all
levels within the Built Environment.

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In topic 5 we identified how manufacturing industry was often identified as
an exemplar of how integration in the Built Environment could be
achieved and indeed this is another motivator behind the introduction of
integrated construction. Manufacturing industry has eagerly adopted new
working practices with these often being based upon new “production”
philosophies; examples are just in time delivery of materials (JIT) and
total quality management (TQM). JIT is concerned with integrating
suppliers directly into the production process by minimising materials storage
needs, introducing new working practices on the production lines and
eliminating production line waiting times. TQM is concerned with integrating
quality procedures into the production process and is associated with
“getting it right first time” eliminating production errors thereby eradicating
the need to correct errors post production. All of these initiatives are
closely associated with the adoption of new information systems and are also
based upon the adoption of new working practices.
All of these schemes have been trialed in the Built Environment and have
even been Government sponsored but none has led to a universally adopted
integrated solution to improving the quality and efficiency of the sector.
Other manufacturing industry integration exemplars include the adoption of
3D digital design/testing/evaluation; the introduction of computer aided
design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and also robotics. Like JIT and TQM
these have also only had limited success so far in the Built Environment.
Yet another important motivator behind integration are the Built
Environment‟s clients themselves, particularly
repeat/knowledgeable clients such as the Government and the financial
institutions. All clients seek to have their projects finished timeously, to
budget and to the specified level of quality, however repeat clients are also
desirous of their projects being completed more expeditiously and at less
overall cost; that their buildings be easier to build and maintain and they
would like to have more certainty in the design and construction processes
of their projects. Integrated construction is seen as being the tool that could
achieve these requirements.
Integrated construction and integrated construction information systems
are in many ways synonymous concepts. You cannot achieve integrated
construction without employing integrated information systems consequently integrated information systems are a prerequisite to achieving
integrated construction. In addition many of the processes employed in the
built environment are themselves concerned with the adding of value to the
project via the generation of new project information e.g. the design itself
and consequently integrated information systems can be considered built
environment production tools even although they are not themselves
directly employed in the construction process.
Integrated information systems therefore are seen as being essential
to achieving not only integrated construction but also many of the
benefits expected to be derived from integrated construction e.g. a more
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efficient national construction industry. Integrated information systems are
seen therefore as being highly desirable. The challenge is to identify what
should be integrated and how it should be achieved.

Degrees of Integration
Integration could be achieved at numerous different levels within the Built
Environment, e.g. individual, departmental, organisational etc., each of
which would result in the attainment of differing benefits. The degree of
integration achieved can also differ and could vary from being low to
Considering the individual level first, integration at this level is likely to be
based upon the integration of personal data and information systems with
those of others. The advantages of adopting integration here would be
to help eliminate islands of information and to empower team working and
it would probably also be beneficial in terms of personal efficiency gains. The
reasons why an individual may seek integration at the personal level are
many and varied but could include to stay in employment, to increase their
earning potential, to extend their personal standing and authority in an
organisation, to gain new skills and change employment and possibly even
to create a new job (become the office guru and thereby become
indispensable). There are numerous examples of this type of integration
having taken place in the Built Environment especially in terms of the
information systems used by professional people such as architects, surveyors
and engineers e.g. commonly today CAD systems are project team
collaboration tools rather than individual drafting tools (Pfemeter 2004)
The next possible level of integration is at the departmental level. Here the
aim should be to integrate information system models e.g. the integration of
multiple information systems used by one department. Once again, the
benefits are likely to be efficiency related and the reasons for wanting to
integrate at this level are similar to those identified at the personal
level and include departmental survival, increase profitability of
department and thereby departmental importance/ranking, assume
additional departmental roles/duties and responsibilities, and lastly to
possibly create new roles within the department (organisational empire
building). Examples of this degree of integration are more difficult to find
in the built environment.
Integration at the organisational or company level is the next level of
possible integration. Here the objective should be to integrate corporate
knowledge, a topic to which we will return later in our studies. You will also
recall that the information system focus here is upon supporting the
company‟s business objectives. Integration here is also likely to be related
to the integration of multiple departmental and or company based
information systems. The aim here being to achieve some form of
competitive advantage in the market place and thereby increase market
share. The reasons why integration should be undertaken at this level are
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similar to those already identified previously but are obviously enterprise
related and include company survival in the market place, to increase
profitability and or market share, to enter new markets and or create new
markets for your services.
So far all of the levels of integration have been enterprise or company
related but the next possible level of integration is at the project level.
Integration here comprises of integrating all of the project stakeholders
information systems to have a project focus enabling overall project success
in terms of the client‟s objectives and possibly beyond this to encompass the
whole project life cycle. This is an area that is receiving a lot of attention in
the built environment currently and one which we will return to study in
more depth later.
The pinnacle of integration is found at the industry or national level. Here the
objective is to integrate all project and industry knowledge and information.
The benefits being sought are to improve the performance of an
important national industry and also if possible to expand that industry
expertise into international markets. This is a very topical subject that has
been the focus of many Government funded reports and initiatives and
remains so today. Three such initiatives were “Construct IT – Bridging
the gap” (Anderson Consulting 1995), “Building IT 2005” (Construct IT
Forum 1996) and “Technology Foresight: Progress through partnership
2: Construction” (Cabinet Office 1995).
Building IT 2005 (Construct IT Forum 1996) made the following
recommendations, amongst many others:
IT should be viewed as an enabler rather than a driver for
change (this reflects the information systems analysis view).
By 2005 clients will have direct access to project data and will expect
teams to share this on serial contracts. Clients will buy services
If real progress is to be made in maximising the benefits of CAD,
complete 3D component libraries, linked with OLE and interoperability
standards, are needed.
Information Systems will increasingly form the basis for
redefining or re-engineering the building process.
The development of a unified information schema at project level
may become the primary vision for the industry (rather than an
industry wide database)
UK Technology Foresight: Construction 2 (Cabinet Office 1995) made the
following recommendations, amongst many others:
By 2005 most large client organisations will use workstations to
access design and engineering services.
By 2010 most buildings will be designed and detailed in virtual
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Construct IT (Anderson Consulting 1995), made the following
recommendations, amongst many others:
Integrated project communication frameworks based on a project
database will be employed.
Integrated industry wide information to improve and inform
construction projects will be used.
Develop a strategy for use of IT to integrate the construction process.
We will return to a number of these topics. Summarising these initiatives
reveals that “integration” is seen as being of a very high priority at
industry, project and at a national level.

How to achieve integration
We have already identified in our studies that virtually all information
systems today are enabled by technology, usually concurrent technologies
(computing and communications). Given the structure and working
practice adopted by the Built Environment any integrated information
systems are going to need to be able to transfer information/data in
electronic (digital) format between differing organisations. Further, that
data/information is likely to comprise mainly of graphics as well as text and
numbers and these will need to be transferred between different
computer/communication systems often over great geographical distances.
These requirements bring us into the realm of technology that is capable of
enabling these needs. Unfortunately the ability to transfer data easily and
readily between disparate computer hardware and software has not
historically been a priority for most technology vendors. Technology vendors
much prefer to tie you into their own technology thereby ensuring their
continued sales income. The ability to transfer data/information between
disparate computer systems is called “interoperability”. Interoperability is
therefore very closely associated with the development of integrated
information systems. Probably the most common examples of
interoperability today are the technologies upon which the World Wide Web
(WWW) is based. Not surprisingly interoperability is associated with
computer and communication standards.
The simplest way to achieve interoperability is for everybody to use the
same computer technology and software applications. This is the solution
adopted by most firms/organisations as the policy can be easily
implemented and controlled within the boundaries of the firm. The adoption
of Microsoft Office suites, operating systems and network communication
standards is a common example of this approach. The standards being
employed here are the vendor‟s standards.
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A second means by which interoperability can be achieved is that of accepting
that everyone will be using different technology and to develop translators
that are capable of translating data/information from one system to another.
Translators come in many forms and can range from being a piece of
software written specifically to translate data from one format into
another, to software that complies with an international translator
standard. The most common forms use file types based upon the most
simple of standards such as simple text files, comma delimited files or tab
delimited files. In terms of CAD applications AutoCAD‟s data exchange
format is a commonly adopted standard. However translators tend to be
problematic in use and often only enable a partial degree of
interoperability to be achieved in practice.
The third and last means is to adopt WWW technologies to achieve
interoperability. These technologies were built specifically with the aim of
achieving interoperability. They are based upon international standards set
by the World Wide Web Consortium (, or at least
they should be (Microsoft often does its own thing). Unfortunately not all
vendors and developers adhere to their standards, preferring to adopt
variations upon the standards for their own purposes which can lead to
practical problems such as having to use a specific web browser to access a
particular webpage. These are also developing standards and are not yet
mature and their continued evolution and development can be expected. The
technology is however primarily focused upon interoperability, based upon
international standards, widely adopted and in many instances virtually
free to adopt.
In practice interoperability is often achieved via a combination of these
techniques rather than being entirely based upon any one.

Further Reading
Hugues, R. et al., 2004. Case studies on the use of information
technology in the Canadian Construction Industry, Electronic Journal
of Information technology in Construction, 9(19-34)


Pfemeter, A., 2004. Coordinate design efforts with Team Work.
[online] USA: Cadalyst AEC. Available from
( [Accessed 17 September 2012].
Anderson Consulting for the Department of the Environment, 1995.
Construct IT- Bridging the Gap, An information technology strategy
for the United Kingdom Construction Industry. London. HMSO

Construct IT Forum. 1996. Building IT 2005 – Expert‟s views on IT in the
construction industry to the year 2005, CRC London.
Cabinet Office, 1995. Technology foresight: Progress through
partnership 2: Construction. London: HMSO.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic Review
Built environment integrated information systems are seen
as being a means by which to cure some of the industry‟s
problems, particularly those related to fragmentation.
Integration can take place at many levels within the built
environment but before proceeding, the aim to be achieved,
the degree of integration and viable business reasons for
undertaking integration must be established. Integration is
very closely associated with interoperability as an enabling

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 8: Building Information Modelling
Topic Preview
This topic will review the evolution of Building Information Modelling
(BIM) and look at how it is currently being adopted in the work place.

Topic Content
The advent of computer aided drafting/computer aided design (CAD), first
introduced to desktop computers in the 1980s, has had little impact upon
working practices in the built environment, as it has merely been employed
as an electronic drafting board thereby continuing the centuries old practice
of creating two dimensional drawings (2D) that are then distributed
throughout the design/construction team in hard copy format (Cohen 2003).
This is despite the fact that CAD software applications are capable of
providing much greater functionality and also that virtually all architectural
and engineering firms now employ CAD as a drafting tool.
In 1994, Sir Michael Latham‟s report, „Constructing the Team‟ highlighted
the industry‟s need to make better use of the available information
technology to redefine the construction processes, pointing out that cost
savings of up to 30% could be achieved through this approach. However,
more than ten years on from Latham‟s recommendations, Cohen
(2003), suggests that information technology has been applied in
“piecemeal fashion” to various tasks and procedures but not the construction
process as a whole, and as a direct result of this situation communication
within the industry has become worse rather than better. Cohen (2003)
refers to the “incompatible systems used by individual disciplines creating
artificial barriers that had not existed before”.
CAD developers have, despite the limited employment of CAD in developing
new working practices, been enhancing their products to support the way built
environment professionals work and think; the most recent concept being
the Building Information Model or BIM.
The building information model is an innovative approach to project data
integration. It replaces electronic and paper-based documents with a
knowledge base describing the entire project linked to a CAD 3D model.
Users have real-time access to the model throughout the life of the
project, contributing their own knowledge and data, and using information
contributed by others. Each discipline within the project team uses its own
specific software for performing its own aspects of the work, and these
tools have the ability to draw from and contribute to the common pool of
data and information that is the project database.
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The key change from present conventional CAD practice is that all
discipline-specific software can exchange information with the shared
building model, i.e. there is potentially complete interoperability
within the model environment.
Once the building information model is created, all other requirements
including 2D documentation, schedules, reports, 3D renderings, and
animations can be derived from it. Also, if changes and alterations are
made, they are automatically reflected in all individual views and
documents within the model environment, therefore eliminating
inconsistencies. Furthermore, the building information model can check
for conflicts such as spatial interferences (clash detection) between
individual building elements.

Why is BIM desirable?
According to Fisher (1997) “it is estimated that up to thirty percent of
the cost of building is lost due to the current processes in the
AEC[Architectural, Engineering and Construction] industry” and that

parametric object oriented 3D CAD (a form of single building model) is
needed by the built environment to solve its problems of fragmentation
and of each profession “contributing their bit to the process in a
territorial manner”. This view is reinforced by Cohen (2003) some six
years later when he identifies that poor communication and interdisciplinary coordination is caused by the many temporary projectbased organisations that exist within a typical building project.
Anumba & Amor (1999) cite the consequences of fragmentation in the built
environment as being the inadequate capture, structuring, prioritisation and
implementation of client needs, the inability to reuse design and construction
data downstream in the project, lack of integration, coordination and
collaboration between project disciplines, and poor communication of design
intent and rationale, leading to unwarranted design changes,
unnecessary liability claims, increase in design time and cost, and
inadequate pre and post-design specifications. The motivation behind the
single building model according to Lion (2003) is the need for
“collaborative design and engineering, based upon the increased
sharing of information between disciplines and across geographical
boundaries”. Lion, gives a detailed account of the current “fractured
information exchange process” in the construction industry, referring to

the adverse consequences such as delays, inflated costs and rework, and
how all too often the route of information sharing is reduced to a sequential
data exchange in which information is often not passed over to the next
stage of a project, and in many cases little is known regarding the information
required for future phases of construction or in what format it should
BIM is seen as being a solution to these problems.

Historical development of BIM
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Early developments in this field date back to the mid-1970s when the concept
of separate computational tools for design being integrated around a central
representation of a building were first mooted (Eastman 1999). Eastman
identifies that these early efforts to develop integrated systems “were
based on the assumption that the basic task of design was to develop a
specification of a building, supported by applications to define the
various components and to analyse the behaviour of the
compositions”. He identifies that the majority of early BIM concepts and

systems were of British origin and were funded by the National Health
Service and the Scottish Housing Authority. These early systems, although
limited by the hardware and software technology of the time, and which
“each defined a single, coherent representation of a building around
which all applications should be built – have provided foundations for
current integrated building model solutions” (Eastman 1999).

Systems at this time were built upon mainframe computers and interoperability
was achieved via neutral file formats and file translators. Neutral file
formats are almost exclusively associated with the transfer of graphical
information between CAD systems and were subject to international
development and agreement e.g. IGES (Initial Graphics Exchange
Specification - 1979). However, this standard was found to be too
general, and specific industries proceeded to adopt their own IGES
standards. Neither IGES, nor indeed AutoCAD‟s DXF format, are recognised
as UK, European or International neutral file formats. This led to the
development of a European ISO (International Standards Organisation)
standard neutral file format for the exchange of product model information
named STEP (Standard for the exchange of product model data- ISO
10303). STEP is concerned with information exchange generally, not
only graphical data, but includes the exchange of data between CAD
systems. It also includes the provision for automatic information exchange
between computer systems that is similar in concept to EDI (Electronic Data
Interchange), a topic we will return to later.
STEP requires translators to be developed and incorporated into products
by software vendors and involves considerable investment in time and
money. Consequently, it is not enthusiastically supported commercially.
Further, the STEP standard is constantly being refined and developed, which
further limits adoption. Although STEP and currently PDM (Product Data
Modelling) and CALS (Computer Aided Lifetime Support) are being adopted by
other industries, principally the automotive and defence industries, to achieve
the vision of an integrated project information model, they have not been
adopted by the built environment.
In the built environment by the mid 1990s BIM had evolved into “project
modelling in construction” (Fisher 1997) and was referred to as
“parametric object-oriented 3D CAD” due to it being founded upon the
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principles of object orientation. Object orientation has led to an entirely new
paradigm for the development of software. The concept is that the world is
made up of objects and that these objects can interact with each other.
Here an object is a self-contained entity that consists of properties and
behaviour. Essentially, objects are derived from classes, and are capable
of inheritance i.e. a new object can inherit properties and behaviour via the
object hierarchy, from more than one class. The advantages of object
oriented software are that the software is modular, reusable, compact, easily
maintained, readily enables abstraction and can be used to develop real world
modelling and simulation. Given that abstraction is also a very important
tool in building design and that real world modelling is also a highly
desirable tool for the built environment it is easy to see how object oriented
software was seen as being a suitable tool to develop BIM systems. This in
turn led to the development of built environment object oriented CAD
It was however quickly realised that a standard would be required to
support this view of a single building project model based upon object
oriented software and this led to the birth of the International Alliance
for Interoperability (IAI) in 1996. The aim of the IAI is to “define, publish
and promote common computing object definitions, known as Industry
Foundation Classes (IFC‟s) that can be used for sharing information
throughout the construction project life cycle and across disciplines and
diverse computing applications”. It is now known as buildingSMART.
In effect, this is a specification for built environment software objects
that can be used to achieve interoperability on single project models. This is
an international initiative that is supported by clients, designers,
contractors, manufactures and many others. The website of the
buildingSMART can be found at
It can be seen that the idea of the single integrated building model is not so
much revolutionary as it is evolutionary but its success is highly dependent
upon interoperability and the adoption of new working practices.

Evaluation of BIM
Consensus exists as to the benefits to be obtained from adopting BIM,
these being interoperability, integration, improved communication and
flexibility. Khemlani (2003) states explicitly that BIM can achieve “faster,
cheaper and better buildings”. It is clear that the benefits of BIM are
far reaching.
Some of the relevant literature sources do, however, portray positive
aspects in a rather vague manner, not linking them directly to the
technology, but seemingly trying to convince the reader that building
information modelling is a panacea offering a solution to all of the problems
in the AEC industry. Seletsky (2003), picks up on this issue saying that
“software developers would be advised to remember that the old
marketing techniques promoting one-thousand new features simply
© Robert Gordon University 2012


won‟t be enough this time around in selling the products”.

In identifying drawbacks and weaknesses of the building information
model, it is important to understand, from a technological perspective,
how the data in the model is structured. At present, the information model is
conceived and structured in two ways; the consolidated single database
and the federated distributed database. He concisely explains that in the
single database all information, graphic and non-graphic, is maintained
in one central database file that the various parties in the building
process can access, edit and maintain. In a federated structure the data
resides in several relational database files that are distributed and maintained
anywhere on a network. With the single database the primary concern
and potential weakness is the possible size and “unwieldiness” of the
single file. Bentley & Workman (2003), in the only promotional document to
identify any significant drawbacks of the technology, enlarge upon this
problem stating that many current building information modelling
applications face difficulties regarding the ability to comfortably handle a
large, shared, mixed volume of data, and serve hundreds of varied,
widespread project participants. They refer to this issue as “scalability”,
i.e. the ability to successfully handle both small simple and large
complex projects.
With the federated database structure this problem does not occur as all of
the project data does not reside in a single database. Concerns centre on
assuring that all files are well secured, coordinated and synchronised at all
Whether the optimum solution to data handling is the consolidated single
database or the federated distributed approach remains to be seen,
according to Bentley & Workman (2003), “the building lifecycle is very
demanding and requires a careful mix of tightly coupled and
loosely coupled data structures”.

With regard to further weaknesses of the technology, Holtz, Orr & Yares
(2003), interestingly point out that the building information modelling
solution raises, but does not directly address, key questions as to who
owns the data in the model, who is responsible for updating it, and how to
coordinate access and ensure security in the model environment. Are
questions of sensitivity and accuracy in the data i.e. how important is the
data? Does it benefit me to enter data I‟mnot going to use? and what if an
application misinterprets data I‟ve entered – who is responsible? It is
felt that these complex aspects of data characteristics in the model
environment must be resolved if the technology is to supersede traditional
CAD systems as the standard in the industry for integrating architecture,
engineering and construction.
In a short newsletter bringing together the main points of a study into how
designers currently use digital design tools, Khemlani (2003), highlights
© Robert Gordon University 2012


one of the main concerns expressed with regard to the use of a building
information modelling application as “its inability to easily model
organic shapes”. Based on her own analysis of current solutions
Khemlani suggests that present BIM systems do not provide sufficient
flexibility and fluidity and as a result “there will always be buildings
for which a BIM application would be out of the reckoning”.

Seletsky (2003) makes the valid point that architects and designers demand
software tools that adapt to their way of thinking, especially when it
comes to conceptual design and design development. Khemlani adds
that “one critical omission in the repertoire of most BIM solutions is a
set of dedicated tools for programming, space planning, conceptual
sketching, and quick 3D massing, which can allow building
information developed at the early stage to be intelligently reused
in the subsequent design development phase”.

A prime example of complex and innovative architectural shapes and
forms, highlighted by Seletsky (2003), is in the work of renowned
architect Frank Gehry, most notably for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao,
Spain. Seletsky states, in his enlightening article, that when questioned as
to whether their BIM solutions were capable of developing such a design, a
leading CAD software developer replied that they could not, and that
“Frank Gehry‟s work was an exception to the rule of what
mainstream architects required”.

The advantages of BIM heavily outweigh the negatives. The possible benefits
that accrue from adopting a BIM solution are undeniable, however, the line
between what BIM can actually achieve and what it is potentially capable of
achieving is presently ill-defined, most notably in the area of
„interoperability‟ and „building lifecycle management‟, and this can be
largely attributed to the software developers who, in desperately promoting
their BIM solutions, are raising user expectations above what can actually be
achieved by the systems currently available.

According to Fallon (2003), the emerging consensus amongst CAD experts is
that BIM technology is not perfect, but it is presently usable. However,
Fallon acknowledges that “even partial implementations are yielding
major benefits, especially in automating drawing coordination – fifty
to seventy-six percent reductions in hours reported”. Rocha (2003),
says that this “automation of drawing coordination and building
information management can give us more time to do what we like
to do and what we hopefully do best – design”. “The model
environment creates highly motivated more effective employees”,
according to Evans (2003), “who add value for their employer”. He goes
on to say that it is “more fun, as well as good business sense”.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


At this early stage in the development of current building information
modelling applications, the large majority of literature sources seem adamant
that the technology can remedy the present difficulties and limitations of
traditional CAD practice and institute a better and more efficient way of
working in the construction industry.

Barriers to BIM adoption
Current barriers to the acceptance of BIM are discussed in detail by Cohen
(2003), who refers to the “deeply ingrained” cultural inhibitors which
must be overcome in order for the model environment to gain
acceptance. Cohen presents a thorough overview of the cultural barriers,
initially raising the valid point that presently no one owns the whole building
process, and goes on to suggest that “the traditional insularity of design
professionals from the construction process mitigates against an
industry-wide focus on the customer and product”. Cohen subsequently

points out that there are few incentives for designers to innovate and
experiment with the technology and the risks in doing so are often severe.
The inequitable sharing of risk and reward that is rife in the construction
industry is certainly a major inhibitor to the adoption of BIM. Holtz, Orr &
Yares (2003), also emphasise this point – stating that implementing a
BIM system requires participants to “re-compute their „what‟s in it for
me‟ factor”. Cohen (2003) goes on to point out further barriers such as
weak investments in research and development that are not centrally
directed and shared to benefit the entire industry, and the legal and
insurance boundaries that inhibit experimentation in process delivery
methods. Khemlani (2003), supplements this last point stating that legal
barriers such as the nature of the deliverables specified in contract
documents present a significant professional obstacle to the adoption of
building information modelling. This raises the interesting question as to
whether the construction contracts will eventually have to adapt and
evolve in order to accommodate the new BIM way of working.
Long-standing traditional working practices and procedures present one of
the greatest challenges to the acceptance of building information modelling.
As Holtz, Orr & Yares (2003b) suggest, in an in-depth study into the
problems facing automation in construction,
“the automation of architecture must overcome the challenges of
well established traditions within the venerable architectural
profession”. They raise the interesting point that current architectural

processes reflect tradition more than considerations of efficiency or even
productivity. Holtz, Orr & Yares (2003), in a previous article analysing the
BIM concept, suggest that there are some project participants who stand to
profit from these existing process inefficiencies, and will strongly resist the
move to building information modelling fearing that they will lose out in doing
With regard to the obstacles which arise from traditional CAD practice,
Khemlani (2003f), discusses the difficulties in shifting the professional
© Robert Gordon University 2012


mindset from 2D to 3D and shows that this is likely to be one of the
biggest obstacles.
Evans (2003), in the article entitled „Who will pay for the Building Information
Model?‟ briefly identifies some of the fundamental barriers to acceptance.
The biggest of which, according to Evans, is the work culture in companies
along the construction value chain. Holtz, Orr & Yares (2003), supplement
this point, stating that implementing a building information model system
requires workflow changes that are often uncomfortable for all project
parties and participants and this is largely attributed to the simple fact that
all change is problematic.
The issue regarding the complexity of current BIM applications is raised
again, in a comprehensive article discussing BIM trends. Dakan
( suggests
that many architects and designers recognise the potential of the building
information model over traditional CAD, but are deterred by the
complexities and additionally, the incompleteness of present systems in
terms of their ability to fully model complete building information, such as
building services. Dakan says that few BIM solutions exist for completely
modelling building engineering elements and as a result many engineers
remain sceptical about using the technology in their work, stating that
“They still perceive the tools and techniques required to create the
model to be difficult and time consuming to use”.

Further Reading
Croser, J., 2004. In with the news, Architects Journal, 22 January
2004, P43.
Sanders, K. 2005., Why building information modelling isn‟t working
.. yet. Architectural Record, [Online] [Accessed 18
September 2012]

Amor, R. & Anumba, C. 1999., A Survey and Analysis of Integrated
Project Databases [Online] [Accessed 18
September 2012]

Bentley, K. & Workman, B., 2003. Does the Building Industry Really
Need to Start Over? [Online] [Accessed 18 September

Cohen, J., 2003. The New Architect: Keeper of Knowledge and Rules
© Robert Gordon University 2012


es.pdf [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Eastman, C., 1999. Building Product Models: Computer
Environments Supporting Design and Construction
Boca Raton: CRC Press LLC
Evans, M., 2003. Who Will Pay for the Building Information Model?
g_information_model.pdf [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Fallon, K., 2003. A/E/C Leaders Address Building Information
Modelling [Online] it.asp [Accessed 13 January 2004]
Fisher, N., 1997. Project Modelling in Construction
London: Thomas Telford Ltd
Holtz, B. Orr, J. & Yares, E., 2003. The Building Information Model Cyon
Research White Paper. [Online], [Accessed 18
September 2012]
Holtz, B. Orr, J. & Yares, E., 2003b. Architectural Automation:
Facing the Challenges of Work-Culture [Online]
Cyon Research White Paper. [Accessed 18
September 2012]
Khemlani, L., 2003. AECbytes Newsletter #1. [Online] [Accessed 18
September 2012]

Latham, M., 1994. Constructing the Team.
London, HMSO Books.
Lion, R., 2003. The Single Model Environment Explained.
Design Productivity Journal, Vol 1. Issue 3, p9
Excitech Computers Limited
Rocha, L., 2003. Comprehensive Building Modelling. [Online] [Accessed
18 September 2012]
Seletsky, P., 2003. Parametric AEC CAD is Reaching Critical Mass
[Online] [Accessed 18 September
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic Review
Building information modelling (BIM) is where an
integrated project database, based either on a central or federal
structure, is constructed around a 3D CAD model. The integration
can take many forms and can also span across the whole building
life cycle. Although real advantages have been proven to be
achieved through the adoption of these systems their acceptance
into the workplace is not yet widespread. Further the technology
supporting these systems is still under development and cannot
yet be considered mature. Most current examples of adoption are
associated with integration of the design team and to a lesser
extent testing and evaluation of the building model. The main
barrier to their adoption is the reluctance of built environment
professionals to adopt new working practices.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 9: Project Extranets
Topic Preview
This topic will review the evolution of Project Extranets and look at how they
are currently being adopted in the work place.

Topic Content
As we have already seen, built environment projects involve huge volumes
of information that have to be transferred between numerous different project
stakeholders throughout the building life cycle. Further we also know that
much of that information is graphical in format. Over the years, people in the
built environment have evolved ways of managing that volume of
information by employing various tools and techniques such as project
drawing registers. However being able to identify the current information
you require and retrieve it is still far from easy on most projects. This topic
will look at information system tools that are evolving to support the
dissemination of project information and enhance collaborative working
on a project basis.

The paperless office
The paperless office has been predicted for decades but few have actually
achieved this state. One information technology tool specifically designed to
solve the problem of the volumes of paper associated with paper based
work flows is electronic document management systems (EDMS). These are
founded upon digital imaging technology where paper based documents are
converted into digital images (photographs) which are then classified,
catalogued and stored in a record system. The classification is normally
undertaken manually and the paper originals are then commonly
destroyed. Advantages include less need for physical storage, ease of
duplication and backup and improved speed of retrieval. Importantly, the
adoption of EDMS requires the adoption of new working practices as
historical work flows have been organised around there being only one
original copy of any document. EDMS are intended to help in the task of
managing the document life cycle which encompasses the document
creation, review and annotation, modification, publication, distribution,
update, archive and destruction.

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EDMS systems led to the development of workflow management systems
(WFMS). These integrate the business processes with the EDMS, whereby a
document is passed from one person to another for action, in effect
mimicking the traditional paper based work flow processes mentioned above.
WFMS are employed to automate business processes by providing a
structured framework to support the business procedures. Advantages
associated with WFMS are that a uniform and consistent approach is
adopted to work flow practices. WFMS manage tasks such as assigning tasks
to people, reminding people about deadlines/timescales for completion of
tasks, allowing collaboration on tasks, retrieving information from the
system required to complete tasks and providing an overview for middle
management to manage departmental performance. WFMS systems are
usually associated with large banks, insurance companies and call centres.
They can only be implemented by re-engineering the work processes, are
expensive and tend to be highly structured.

Built environment electronic document management
Construction projects today have become larger and more complex resulting
in an even greater volume of project information being created and used.
Despite this factor the built environment persists in adopting traditional
communication systems such as paper copies of drawings, letters, faxes, and
probably also email (printed out and filed in hardcopy). These information
transfer tools, with possibly the exception of email, do not readily enable the
project information to be incorporated into other professions‟ processes
without being re-constructed. This, as we have already seen, may be
partly due to the formal communication systems incorporated into the
standard forms of contract commonly employed in the sector.
However, EDMS are becoming popular in the built environment and many
vendors are even marketing products specifically targeted at the AEC
industries (architecture, engineering and construction). The principal focus
here tends to be systems at the company level rather than the project
level, and the integration achieved is at company or departmental level.
Many small to medium sized firms in the built environment have adopted
simplified versions of EDM systems.
The main barrier to the adoption of EDMS is undoubtedly the requisite
change in working practices required by adoption. The main requirement
for an effective EDMS is that all information must be in an electronic
format. This necessitates that the original document be created
electronically or that paper based documents be converted into an electronic
format, normally achieved via scanning. This includes written notes, sketches
and records of telephone calls, not forgetting maps and drawings.
The following features are desirable in an EDMS; an efficient search facility,
the ability to view the document without the need to access to the original
software application which created the document, the ability to allow users to
© Robert Gordon University 2012


mark up (add notes) and red line (draw upon) documents, enable easy
printing and plotting of documents, that it support workflows and document
life cycles (create, store, retrieve, print, archive, delete), that it enable revision
and version control and tracking of documents, document security (only
people whom are authorised to see the documents should be able to do
so), enable document relationships to be created (tracking of
correspondence), document status reporting, issue/distribution management tools
and lastly enable remote access to the system.
As can be seen EDMS is more than just scanning your documents and
storing them in a database.

EDMS evolves into Project Intranet/Extranet
There is currently no universally accepted definition of a project intranet/extranet
as these systems are still in development and cannot yet be considered
mature. An extranet, however, is a network that links a number of
different organisations together for the exchange of commercial or technical
information. A project based collaborative extranet is a network linking the
various parties to a construction project for the exchange and storage of
project information in digital form. An intranet is a closed private network
(makes no use of the internet) whilst an extranet is a network that makes
use of the internet for all or part of its network infrastructure.
Project extranets/intranets can have a number of different forms, the
simplest being merely a network that enables the transfer of project files
between project stakeholders. At its most complex a project
intranet/extranet can comprise of a fully “hosted service” that includes
document management, requests for information (RFI‟s), project calendars
etc. There are currently some twenty different hosted services available
in the UK and users can subscribe to the range of services required to
support their particular project.
Note that the emphasis now is not on interdepartmental cooperation
but upon project integration.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Project intranets/extranets tends to comprise of two constituent parts,
namely, document management and process (or program) management. The
document management facilities are synonymous with EDMS in that they
provide features that allow the project team to issue, view, share, comment,
route and mark for action other documents. The process (or program)
management tools are very similar to WFMS in that they provide tools to
manage project participants‟ responsibilities and deliverables.
The adoption of project intranets/extranets does require a change in working
practices from being principally paper based to being a digital based
centrally hosted way of working. Architects/ engineers etc. are expected to
view and mark-up drawings on screen. In practice, however, many tend
to plot out drawings, mark up the paper copies and then update the
digital versions thereby somewhat negating the efficiencies that could be
achieved. All drawing revisions are uploaded onto the intranet/extranet
replacing the previous version. No drawing register is maintained as the
drawings available on the system are always the current versions; however a
drawing archive is maintained.
Investigation has shown that contractors tend to run Extranets
alongside their traditional systems, which also negates the advantages
that could be achieved. This is thought to be due to a lack of faith in these
systems and/or a lack of IT skills and facilities.
In use project intranets/extranets provide more “immediate” forms of
communications and result in shorter timescales being expected for decisions
to be made thereby leading to less user reflection and judgment being
exercised; somewhat similar to the problems associated with email
correspondence. This immediacy of communication may not lead to
better decisions being made or perhaps to a better end product being
Construction projects generate huge volumes of digital data, much of which
is graphical in format and this necessitates that intranets/extranets
have both high volume data transmission and large storage capacities.
Interestingly, some of these hosted services actually store the project
data overseas e.g. in California, a fact which in itself can lead to
transmission speed problems.
Clients are championing project extranets/intranets and are forcing project
stakeholders to change their working practices in order to win work e.g.
British Airports Authority (BAA). Initially project extranets were bespoke
systems and some firms even used them as a marketing tool to attract work,
however off the shelf extranet packages and hosted services are now
commonly available.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Success indicators for Project Intranet/Extranet
In addition to a champion, as identified above, the successful adoption
of a project intranet/extranet requires a good match between the project
needs and the intranet/extranet facilities employed. You will recall that in
our earlier studies we identified that new information systems must
empower users and be accepted by users if they are to be successful. It is
therefore important that users “buy-in” to the idea of the new ways of
working required for project intranets/extranets are to be employed. It is also
important that project intranets/extranets clearly display a commercial
benefit. Commercial benefits are notoriously difficult to ascertain however
given that project intranets/extranets are being championed by client
organisations then they must see some commercial benefit from their
deployment. The commercial advantage may not be financial, it may simply
be that the client can see better what is happening on their project.
The question of intranet/extranet scalability also needs to be addressed
i.e. are project intranets/extranets suitable for all projects? It is thought
that the adoption of project extranets adds some 1% of additional cost to
the project budget and that savings of some 4% of the project budget
can be achieved via their employment. These figures are difficult, if not
impossible, to prove and are subjective. Consequently it is thought that the
adopting of project intranets/extranets is not viable upon projects of less
than £3M in total cost. This however is only a heuristic and there is
evidence of project intranets/extranets being employed upon projects
costing only £1m. As a result, views differ as to the scalability of project

Problems associated with Project Intranet/Extranet

There are a number of problems associated with the adoption of these new
information systems. Firstly, there is the real possibility that their adoption
will lead to new incidences of fragmentation in the built environment.
Professional staff and contractors are often members of a number of differing
project teams concurrently and if all project teams adopt a different project
intranet/extranet system then this would quite clearly lead to new problems
associated with fragmentation. Since the adoption of project
intranets/extranets is client driven this is a distinct possibility. In addition,
as discussed above, the adoption of a project intranet/extranet introduces
an additional project overhead. Our studies to date have placed great
emphasis upon interoperability; however interoperability is a low priority for
extranet vendors as they have all developed proprietary

© Robert Gordon University 2012


systems. Once you start a project using one intranet/extranet product you
cannot change to an alternative system. Further, some systems publish
graphical information in a format that make it impossible to load the data
into a CAD system and work upon it, negating many of the benefits to be
obtained, and this introduces even more fragmentation.
Another problem is that building contract law is mature, yet e-commerce
law is in its infancy. Building contract law is clearly out of step with ecommerce law; what for example constitutes an instruction to a
contractor when adopting a project intranet/extranet? Further, who owns
copyright to the project data including the project communications archive?
This is especially important should a dispute or claim arise. How much
liability does the intranet/extranet vendor assume for the provision and
continuation of the service, as its failure even for a short time could prove
detrimental to the project success? Lastly, can any IT based network system
be 100% secure? No case law currently exists on the use of project
intranets and extranets.
Looking into the future, more possible problems can be identified. Historical
project data is used extensively in the built environment as a data
resource upon new projects, how then can the readability of project data be
ensured over the long term as technologies change and evolve? Further,
how can project stakeholders access project information for knowledge
management purposes (we will return to knowledge management in a
later topic)? Project intranets/extranets are presently mainly targeted at
the design and construction stages of projects but the vision is for them to
support the whole building lifecycle how then can project data be easily
transferred into the facility management life cycle?

How might Project Intranet/Extranet mature?
The obvious answer should be that they should mature to remedy many of
the problems associated with the systems identified above; namely that the
contractual, knowledge management, interoperability and working
practice problems be resolved.
The evolution of system standards as these systems mature would be an aid
to interoperability.
Other possible lines of maturity could involve the earlier adoption of these
systems in the project life cycle e.g. the conceptual design phase and the
integration of e-tendering and supply chain management. These systems
are also likely to develop from being project depositories and
communication systems into project management systems.
Rationalisation of the number of systems available in the market place
also seems virtually certain as there is currently an unsustainable
number of differing systems and suppliers.

Why adopt Project Intranet/Extranets
The most convincing of reasons is that the clients want you to.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Other reasons include the facts that these systems are capable of
greatly improving project communications between stakeholders;
that they provide an auditable trail of project communications; are
available to authorised project stakeholders 24/7 and that they
make communications more “immediate”.

Topic Review
Project intranets/extranets have evolved from EDMS and
WFMS and can be considered immature in that their
development is not yet complete. They are focused upon
integration at the project level and their introduction is
being championed by Clients. They are principally project
depository and communication tools but are evolving into
project workflow management tools. They do require the
adoption of new working practices and there are numerous
legal problems associated with their deployment.
Interoperability between systems is a further problem to be
solved. Their adoption is not suitable for all projects but
they generally do provide real commercial, communication
and control benefits.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 10: E-commerce systems
Topic Preview
This topic will review the historical development of e-commerce information
systems in the built environment and evaluate current systems and
postulate upon future developments in this field.

Topic Content
E-commerce is very much a topic of today but it is not an entirely new
idea. E-commerce predates the internet and involves more than just
shopping online. The advent of the internet has allowed new e-commerce
business models to be developed and these fall into three distinct models,
namely; business to business (B2B), business to consumer (B2C) and
consumer to consumer (C2C). E-commerce has many differing definitions
including “the transacting of business electronically rather than via
paper” (First Data 2005) to “E-commerce (or electronic commerce) is
any business transaction whose price or essential terms were
negotiated over an online system such as an Internet, Extranet,
Electronic Data Interchange network, or electronic mail system. It does
not include transactions negotiated via facsimile machine or switched
telephone network, or payments made online for transactions
whose terms were negotiated offline” (US Census Bureau 2002).

The lack of a definitive definition points to yet another immature field. Ecommerce is generally accepted in the widest terms as being “doing
business electronically over computer networks for both goods and
services”. Of the three possible e-commerce models the B2B model is the
most relevant to the built environment. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ( has produced a model for ebusiness that has three constituent parts, namely; Sales and marketing,
Transaction Completion and Management Information Support.
Interestingly, this is the model being adopted by Governments
internationally for e-business tax laws.

For the purposes of this paper e-commerce is deemed, as was stated
previously, to be “doing business electronically over computer networks
for both goods and services” focusing upon B2B systems. Consequently it
excludes electronic collaboration systems

© Robert Gordon University 2012


which have been studied separately in this module, although others may
include them within the e-commerce definition. Although e-commerce lacks
a definitive definition there are many initiatives to introduce these practices
into the built environment. These include the eConstruct initiative, the DTI
Partners in Innovation scheme and “The Construction Industry Trading
Electronically” (CITE).
E-commerce in the built environment is focused upon supply chain
management (SCM). SCM deals with the planning and execution of issues
involved in managing a network of facilities that performs the function of
procurement throughout the whole material life-cycle. In built environment
terms this could involve anything from procuring a building to purchasing
the screws to fix a door handle in place. The focus however is
procurement - the acquisition of goods or services at the best possible total
cost of ownership, in the right quantity, at the right time, in the right place
for the direct benefit or use of the governments, corporations, or individuals
generally via, but not limited to, a contract (Wikipedia 2005).
SCM is both a methodology and a process. As a methodology it involves
the modelling of real world processes for analysis and optimization - see, and as a process comprises of a number of
interlinked components e.g. demand planning, production scheduling,
transportation planning etc. Consequently e-commerce systems in the
built environment can be classified into two further sub-sets, eprocurement and e-tendering.
At this point, it is probably worth reiterating that the successful introduction
of new information systems should, amongst other facets, involve the
optimisation of business processes and the acceptance of new ways of
working. The CITE suggest a three step progressive methodology for
companies adopting e-commerce, each progressive stage increases the
business benefits obtained. The stages are; stage 1 – swap paper for
electronic data exchange to increase speed of information delivery and to
reduce data re-keying, stage 2 – integrate electronic data within existing
systems to cut out some existing work activities and stage 3 – use ebusiness to re-engineer the business process. They then go on to identify
the benefits of e-commerce as being improved customer/client
relationships, information processing efficiencies and cost reduction.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
EDI is a long established “e-procurement” system and forms part of electronic
commerce, but it is unique in that it is concerned with automated
(computer application to computer application) communication and
processing of business transactions and is devoid of human intervention.
Electronic Commerce systems, on the other hand, include systems that
have a need for human involvement in the business processing cycle.

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EDI origins go back to the 1960s in the USA and it is concerned with “the
electronic exchange of structured and normalised data between
computer applications of parties involved on a (trade) transaction
(orders, invoices, receipts etc.)” and can be considered one of the

earliest forms of e-commerce. EDI can only handle commercial text based
information and has been subject to the agreement and development of
numerous national and international standards. EDI is in effect computer
trading with computer without any human intervention and it is closely
associated with the management concept of “Just in Time” (JIT) delivery
of goods. EDI was developed around the concept that companies
participating in the process would have long trading relationships and high
volumes of transactions. EDI has two bedrock technologies, data standards
and communication standards.
EDI requires a precise, recognised and accepted method of structuring
the data and a lot of effort has been directed to the identification and
acceptance of these standards. Unfortunately whist national and
international standards are available, large organisations have developed
their own e.g. the supermarket chains, thereby introducing
fragmentation. Imagine you are a strawberry grower supplying both Asda
and Tesco. You will need to have two different EDI systems, one for each
customer, this is both cumbersome and inefficient. It is also expensive. Yet
another example of standards existing but being largely ignored. EDI
communication standards are based upon intra-company
communications across private networks this requires that compatible
communication protocols and file types be adopted in addition to the
requirement for data standards. Interoperability is achieved via the
adoption of these data and communication standards.
The adoption of EDI requires a high degree of co-operation between trading
partners, the adoption of new working practices, more openness and lack of
secrecy indeed trust between the parties, and lastly the involvement of third
parties to develop, run and maintain the systems. Strategic benefits to be
obtained include a faster trading cycle, the enabling of JIT processes,
paperless trading on a national or international basis and increased
competitiveness. Operational advantages include reduced costs, improved
cash flow, improved security and error reduction and acknowledged receipts.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


The international co-ordinating body for EDI is UN/EDIFACT (http
://www. htm) and they are principally
concerned with the agreement of international EDI standards.
In the UK buildingSMART is the agency concerned with the promotion of
EDI to the AEC industries (
EDI has been around for a long time and despite being widely promoted
has, with a few exceptions, not been enthusiastically adopted by the built
environment although there has been evidence of some success
(CICA/BCSA 2000). A report for the National Institute of Standards and
Technology in the US (Thomas 2000) however reports that in the US “use
of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) has become standard practice” but
then goes on to say that there is some confusion as to what is meant by
EDI and it may be that respondents were confused about EDI and electronic
commerce systems. Most countries however are actively pursuing the
adoption of EDI into their construction industries in some form.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and the Internet
The attraction of adopting the internet as part of an EDI system is that it
effectively eliminates the need for the third party networks, namely the VANs
(Value Added Networks). The VANs were the commercial private networks
that coded, packaged and transported EDI communications. Being private,
they were secure and reliable. In the 1990s the World Wide Web was
introduced, which provided a more or less free public network and it was
not long before people started thinking about replacing EDI VANs with the
internet. This was understandable as EDI is dependent upon network
technologies and the internet is a network of networks. The internet however
is not a secure regulated network and commercial data transmitted across it
could be open to interception and abuse. Early EDI internet based systems
were unable to provide the levels of reliability and security required of an
effective EDI system. There were also some interoperability issues between
the legacy EDI systems and the Internet standards.
The internet today has more to offer EDI than just a network
transportation medium; it has XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) “XML is a W3C-recommended

general-purpose markup language for creating special-purpose
mark-up languages. It is a simplified subset of SGML, capable of
describing many different kinds of data. Its primary purpose is to
facilitate the sharing of data across different systems, particularly
systems connected via the Internet. Languages based on XML (for
example, RDF, RSS, MathML, XHTML and SVG) are defined in a
formal way, allowing programs to modify and validate documents
in these languages without prior knowledge of their form” (Wikipedia


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That sounds complicated, but XML is a specification for writing internet
languages that are designed to describe data in documents. It‟s ideal for
developing internet based EDI applications. We now have the two
components necessary for building internet based EDI systems: a carrier
network with transmission protocols and a data standard. However since the
internet is unregulated and far from secure, an extra tool is required - an
encoder to code messages so that they are meaningless if intercepted by
anyone other than the intended recipient. Organisations such as
RosettaNet (http: // ) and ebXML
( are actively promoting web based EDI.
A number of UK XML/EDI case studies are available at : all are based upon builders‟ merchants/ materials suppliers.
The evolution of web based EDI has gone through three distinct phases,
namely: Stage 1 dated around 1997, EDI makes use of the internet
infrastructure and internet transmission protocols (TCP/IP); Stage 2 dated
about 1999, EDI additionally makes use of XML to describe the data
content of business documents; Stage 3 which started about 2001, led to a
new trend where XML/EDI systems are standardised around common
standards (various) and now include business processes, sometimes
referred to as EDI collaboration systems. XML/EDI development has been
progressive and although effective XML/EDI systems are now possible, the
original legacy systems remain in use and both systems have to co-exist in
the business environment.
Research undertaken by NIST (Thomas 2000) in the US reveals that EDI is
commonly used in the built environment for electronic fund transfers,
purchase orders and material releases and is under limited use for
transferring design specifications, supplier alliances and inspection reports
to vendors. The report postulates that EDI use is likely to expand into
drawing and specification transfers for bids (e-tendering) and more
alliances between contractors (e-collaboration). Best practice identified
in the report includes; EDI can support successful alliances with suppliers,
use promotes design efficiency and cost savings. Problems identified
include interoperability.
XML however is being adopted as a data classification tool for much more
than just EDI and is quite widely adopted to achieve interoperability
across a wide range of e-commerce systems in the built environment (CITE
2005) examples are aecXML (
) and bcXML (

Alternative e-procurement systems
Having already covered EDI this leaves us with two distinct areas of study, etrading and e-sourcing. E-trading roughly equates to the OECD
classification of “Sales and Marketing” and is inclusive of activities such as;
© Robert Gordon University 2012


selling through websites, online market places (portals), online catalogues
and e-models. E-sourcing equates to the OECD classification of “Transaction
Completion” and is inclusive of e-tendering, e-bidding, e-quotations and eauctions. EDI would also fall into this OECD classification.
The third and final OECD classification of “Management Information Support”
covers market analysis; information management and production support
and falls out with our classification of “doing business electronically over
computer networks for both goods and services” defined for this topic.

E-trading is all about selecting and specifying products and/or finding
technical information online. In its simplest form e-trading can be achieved
by having a company web presence (website). World Wide Web (WWW)
websites are known as a pull technology, you have to find and pull back
the data you want yourself. The converse is a push technology where the
information comes to you without any effort on your part e.g. emails. Many
built environment websites were originally little more than web versions
of the company‟s marketing brochures, these were passive and offered no
functionality. Why then should people want to read them? For people to
visit a website, the site has to offer something of value to the visitor.
Today you can visit built environment product manufacturers‟ websites
and download brochures, CAD details, exemplar specification clauses and
even in some cases 3D product object models that conform to the IAI
Later, web portals evolved. Portals in the built environment are websites
that collate like resources e.g. manufactured component indexes and
technical indexes such as the Barbour Index (http ://www. and Iconda
A variation on company websites are online catalogues e.g. Screwfix
Direct ( materials can
be purchased online. An extremely good case study on company websites
and portals is given in the Building Centre Trust Case Study 14 (Wilkinson
2000) available in hardcopy from the library.
E-sourcing is concerned with doing deals adopting e-commerce. Perhaps
surprisingly, this has been undertaken in the built environment for quite
a long time, indeed since the advent of the personal computer when
contractors asked quantity surveyors for digital copies of their bills of
quantities (BQs) e.g. WordStar or WordPerfect copies of their BQs. Later
following the development of computerised billing systems it became
possible to copy and distribute BQs in standardised formats that could
be read by computerised estimating systems, EDI was one standard format.
Once again the Building Centre Trust provides a good exemplar in a case
study (Cole 2000) also available in hardcopy from the library. Indeed the
electronic distribution and in some cases submission of tender documents is
quite well established in the built environment.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


These exemplars, however, are all based upon making traditional working
practices more efficient - adopting e-commerce techniques rather than
changing how working processes.
E-tendering and e-bidding both introduce new working practices into the
built environment and are considered to have considerable potential (Davis
Langdon Consultancy 2002). E-tendering is seen as having some problems
related to validity, security and of demonstrating fair dealings with
tenderers that need to be addressed before it is accepted widely (Cartlidge
2002 and Davis Langdon Consultancy 2002). E-tendering is multifaceted
and includes tendering for products, components, buildings and
professional services. E-tendering is subject to government sponsorship
in most developed countries and commercial e-tendering systems,
such as 4Tendering ( are becoming
available in the built environment. Interestingly, some major players in the
UK built environment consider e-tendering to be contrary to the principles
laid down by Egan in his report “Rethinking Construction and Accelerating
Change”, where competitive tendering is seen as being wasteful and
inefficient, and other forms of procurement such as partnering are proposed
as alternatives (Construction Industry Council (CIC) 2004).
Controversy surrounds the introduction of e-bidding systems into the UK
built environment. These concerns are well identified in the CIC briefing
note (Construction Industry Council (CIC) 2004). The concerns relate to
sharp practice being employed by contractors and clients to force down
tender prices by adopting Dutch Auctions (a descending price auction). The
CIC go on to recommend that e-bidding only be employed upon the
procurement of supply commodities and not for building design and
engineering services or for complex construction services. E-bidding can
be considered to be part of or a subset of e-procurement.
A Davis Langdon Consultancy (2002) report forecast that E-tendering was
likely to prove of small economic benefit to the UK construction industry and
that trading portals were likely to be of greater potential. Another report
(Strategem 2003) identifies that some major clients are contractually
obliging their main contractors to adopt e-tendering with their subcontractors.
E-commerce it would seem has yet to mature in the built
environment, however progress is being made. Although some aspects of
e-commerce are relevant to all of the built environment e.g. web portals,
other are perhaps subject to economies of scale e.g. e-tendering. Once
again the fragmentation and reluctance to introduce and accept new
working practices are barriers to the introduction of these information
systems into the built environment.

Cartlidge, D., 2002. New Aspects of Quantity Surveying Practice. Oxford,
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 075065256.
CICA/BCSA, 2000. Report: Benefits of improved information flow on
cost and lead time in structural steelwork., Construction Industry
Computing Association.
Construction Industry Council, 2004. Online Bidding: A CIC Briefing Note,
CIC. [online] Available from [Accessed 18
September 2012]
Cole, T., 2000. Electronic Tendering using the CITE standard,
London Building Centre Trust [Online] Available from
6923 [Accessed 18 September 2012]

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Davis Langdon Consultancy, 2002. A discussion paper: The impact of
E-business in UK construction. Department of Trade and Industry:
Construction Industry Directorate
First Data, 2005. Glossary. [Online] Available from
[Accessed 18 September 2012]
Strategem, 2003. Final Report: e-Business Sectorial Impact

Assessment for General Building Contracting within the UK
Construction Industry. Department of Trade and Industry [Online]

Available from
[Accessed 18 September 2012]
Thomas, S R., 2000. Impact of Design/Information Technology on
project outcomes, National Institute of Standards and Technology
(USA). Available from [Accessed 18 September
US Census Bureau, 2002. Glossary of terms for the economic
census 2002, [Online] Available from 18
September 2012]
Wikipedia, 2005. Dictionary, [Online] Available at [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Wilkinson, P., 2000. Specifying construction products on the web:
How construction product manufacturers and materials producers
can use the world wide web to market to specifiers. London Building

Centre Trust [Online] Available from
6924 [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Topic Review
E-commerce systems have a long history of use in the built
environment indeed going back before the term was even introduced.
EDI, E-sourcing and to lesser extent E-tendering have all had
some impact. E-commerce however could not be described as
being mainstream in the built environment and there is a large gap
in uptake between large and small companies. Where it has been
utilized, E-commerce has delivered decreased costs and improved
business relationships. Some E-commerce tools are attracting
some criticism e.g. E-bidding.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 11: Knowledge Management Systems
Topic Preview
This topic will review the historical development of knowledge
management information systems in the built environment and evaluate
current systems and speculate upon future developments in this field.

Topic Content
As we move from the industrial age into the Information Age the most
valuable asset that any company has is its intellectual capital. This
intellectual capital is, generally, held by people in the form of knowledge
(professional/technical), expertise, intuition, judgement and perception.
There are two types of knowledge, explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge,
sometimes referred to as intrinsic knowledge, is associated with details of
processes and procedures and lends itself to being recorded in meeting
minutes, manuals, books and business rules. Tacit knowledge, sometimes
referred to as extrinsic knowledge, is intuitive knowledge and that which is
held in the human mind and gained from personal training e.g. a trade
apprenticeship and one‟s own life‟s experiences. Sir Frances Bacon, back in
1597, is accredited with the quotation “knowledge is power” (the
Quotations Page 2005) and it still holds true today.
Knowledge management (KM) is about making the power of knowledge
available throughout the company as a resource, which can be something
of an anathema to some people as knowledge is not only power but is
also associated with status and worth. Consequently there are social
reasons why people may not want to share knowledge. Knowledge
management is as much about a “mind set” as it is about supporting
information systems, indeed BSI PD7500 (2003) defines KM as “The
creation and subsequent management of an environment which
encourages knowledge to be created, shared, learnt, enhanced,
organised and utilised for the benefit of the organisation and its

KM is not an entirely new idea and it is associated with the concept of the
“learning company”. Once again any attempt at identifying a current
definitive definition is difficult as there are many different definitions in use.
One thing however about which all agree is that KM systems deal with
knowledge not information or data. KM is a term that relates to a broad
range of activities that are focused upon ensuring that an organisation
makes the best use of its knowledge resources. For the purposes of this
topic, the following definition of KM is being employed; KM is “the
techniques and tools for collecting, managing and disseminating
knowledge within an organisation” (Chaffey 2003, P29). One aim of KM is
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to turn tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge (Gupta 1999). Lauden (1998)
identifies some other aims of KM as being the development of systems to
enhance the productivity of knowledge workers and the creation of robust
expert systems.
By the early 1990s it became clear that there were two distinct branches
of KM (Wikipedia 2005), namely first generation and second generation
systems. The first generation systems are associated with knowledge
capture or harvesting and the second generation systems with the way in
which people construct and use knowledge. The European Commission‟s,
Information Society Technologies Programme (Hearn 2002), identifies a
third generation which focuses upon human-centred knowledge
management. KM is therefore difficult to define and as such is also
subject to much confusion and is often marketed commercially as old
information systems under a new guise.

Is the built environment suitable for the adoption of
KM systems?
Most construction and property companies add value to their products by
applying their corporate knowledge to problems; further, most
professional people in the built environment also earn their living by the
application of their knowledge to problems. Indeed the built environment is
populated widely with “knowledge workers”. A knowledge worker (KW)
creates new knowledge and examples could be a building‟s design,
specification, estimated cost, reinforcement bar bending schedules etc. KWs
are highly educated and are normally members of the professions whom are
required to exercise judgement routinely in their work. KWs have different
information systems requirements from data workers.
There is also a vast amount of built environment explicit knowledge available
in the form of building regulations, standard and codes of practice, not to
mention all of the published technical knowledge in the form of
manufacturers‟ guidance notes that needs to be managed. Every
building is to some extent unique and poses the project team with a new set
of problems to be solved. These project based problems are resolved by the
application of both individual and corporate knowledge to meet the
client‟s requirements.

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A CIRIA report (Dent 2004) into “Benchmarking knowledge
management practice in construction” concluded by saying “... knowledge
management is not a purpose in itself. Companies in the
construction sector do not exist primarily to disseminate and
enhance construction-related knowledge; rather they exist to sell
the provision of services and products to the marketplace. But, as
competitive advantage relies on informed decision making within
such companies, knowledge management will be a decisive
component of successful future business”. An earlier report by

Anumbia (2000) acknowledged that KM was of key importance for all
organisations and also identified that KM can be used to capture and use
“best practice” knowledge.
KM management systems would therefore seem to be relevant to both
project success and commercial accomplishment in the built environment.

Knowledge capture systems
These first generation systems were targeted at capturing, coding and
storing organisational knowledge and experience. They fall into two
categories - those that capture explicit knowledge and those that capture
tacit knowledge.
Systems aimed at capturing explicit knowledge were primarily aimed at
converting information into corporate knowledge and were intraorganisational systems. The emphasis was the dissemination and
communication of knowledge throughout the organisation. Assume you
have to design a nuclear power station; it would be invaluable to speak
with the designers of existing nuclear power stations to learn from their
experiences. A first generation KM system would help you identify and
contact the appropriate people within your organisation. Consequently they
tended to take the form of corporate intranets and extranets,
databases and groupware systems. They all deal with “internal”
Although a lot of time and money was devoted to the development of
corporate intranets/extranets, they have had very limited success in that
they suffer from the same problems as the internet – how do you find what
you are looking for? Corporate intranets/extranets tended to swamp the
individual with “information” rather than knowledge and proved to be far
from the corporate knowledge asset that many had hoped. Indeed, such
systems often actually had a negative impact on organisations. According
to Wikpedia (2005b) their “failure to provide any theoretical
understanding of how organisations learn new things and how they
act on this information meant that first generation KM was
incapable of managing knowledge creation”.
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Expert systems (ES), another first generation KM system, predate KM and
has been around since the 1970s and form part of the science of Artificial
Intelligence (AI). AI programs attempt to mimic human intelligence and ES
are only one of the technologies used but are the most mature. Other AI
technologies, upon which systems are based, include case based
reasoning and neural networks. AI systems reduce problems to “symbols”
that the computer systems are able to manipulate. It is the manipulation of
these symbols that appears to display intelligence, however the computer
does not understand the meaning behind the symbols. ES process symbols in
the form of heuristic rules. Heuristics are “rules of thumb” people follow in
order to make judgements quickly and efficiently.
In the late 1970s ESs were invested in heavily by big business, however
many of the systems were poorly focused upon problems suitable for ES
development and ES also proved to be expensive to maintain and enhance,
consequently they fell out of favour. The advent of the PC in the 1980s led
to a resurgence in commercial interest in ES in the early 1990s. Today ES
tend to be an embedded technology i.e. they form part of other systems
rather than being a standalone technology.
One of the first successful commercial standalone ES in the built environment
was ELSIE (Brandon 1988) which advised upon built environment
procurement routes. ES attempt to record and mimic the expertise of a
human expert in a field, and are commonly associated with expertise used
for the tasks shown in table 1 below. ES are not normally used by lay
people but rather by practitioners in the field of expertise that the ES has
been designed to support. Consequently they are often used to confirm
decisions or actions and their output is normally subject to human
judgement and interpretation.
Table 1
Problem Type

ES Goal


Fault Identification


Component identification



Interpretation of data


Monitoring and control


Creative Design

Design suggestions

The technologies behind first generation KM systems are focused upon
knowledge coding and representation.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Knowledge sharing and shaping systems
Second generation knowledge management systems focus upon how
people construct and use knowledge; they recognise that learning and
doing are more important to organisational success than knowledge capture
systems. These systems attempt to link KM to business processes and
thereby support the transition of organisations into knowledge based
communities or learning companies.
The linking of KM systems to business processes as a success factor merely
reflects information systems theory, a topic we have already studied. Second
generation systems are also associated with the measurement or bench
marking of KM systems between organisations in an attempt to assess
the impact of KM upon knowledge life cycles within firms. Both of these
attributes are more management focused than system focused. Second
generation KM systems are concerned with adopting systems that
enable knowledge based collaboration and in creating innovative work
spaces i.e. the creation of knowledge based communities.
Second generation KM is really about cultural change. It is about knowledge
sharing in a culture of trust, openness and co-operation. Human knowledge
sharing tends to happen informally and without acknowledgement, further if
others do not reciprocate we soon stop sharing our own knowledge. The
supporting techniques for the second generation KM systems are those
that enable communication and co-operation, namely information and
communication technologies (ICT), generally accepted to be computing and
telephone technologies. The technology is focused upon supporting the
creation of knowledge based communities. In terms of the built environment
this could be within one firm or enterprise but is more likely to be project
team oriented. This takes us into the realm of project extranets where we
identified that these were developing from being project repositories into
project collaboration tools where social interaction and creativity become
the focus.

The emphasis in second generation management systems is much less on
technology or systems and more upon benchmarking KM progress and
changing people‟s attitudes.

Human centred knowledge management systems
Third generation KM focuses upon people as unique holders of knowledge,
and exchanges between people as primary generators of new knowledge
for innovation. It is also concerned with breaking down barriers and
identifying best practice in terms of KM. Like second generation KM the
focus is very much management rather than systems oriented. However
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systems to support knowledge workers fall readily into this category i.e.
knowledge work systems (KWS). KWS have been around for a long time
and predate the concept of KM.
KWS are used by knowledge workers (KW) a term first coined by Peter
Drucker in 1959 (Wikipedia 2005c). KWs‟ typically work upon many projects
concurrently and maximise their productivity via emotional intelligence and
trust (they network well). A definition of a KW was given earlier in this topic.
KWS are systems designed to leverage the productivity/creativity of KWs. A
KWS encourages the creation of new knowledge and ensures that new
knowledge and expertise are properly integrated into the business and or
project. KWs perform the following key roles, namely; keeping their
knowledge up to date, creating new knowledge, acting as centres of
expertise within organisations and or projects and acting as champions
for changing/updating knowledge in their areas of expertise.
KWS must empower KWs and should have some or all of the following
characteristics: analytical tools, document management tools, access to
internal and external knowledge stores, and in the built environment
powerful graphical tools. Sometimes these tools are developed into what is
known as a knowledge workstation such as that used by share traders. Group
collaboration systems such as Lotus Notes would also fall into this category as
they are capable of creating knowledge networks. Interestingly ES are now
commonly being integrated into KWS examples being the development of
intelligent CAD systems (Sulaiman 2002).
KWS do not operate independently in organisations and are usually
integrated, loosely often manually, to other systems as shown in diagram 1

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The advent of the information age and the fact that the built environment
is heavily populated with knowledge workers means that the productivity
of KWs is of great importance both nationally and corporately. In the built
environment KWs are fee earners and professional practices are heavily
focused upon maximising their productivity. Consequently KWS are any
system that is capable of increasing the productivity of KWs. Examples
in the built environment are CAD systems, BQ production systems, contract
administration systems, environmental and structural modelling and
analysis systems etc. some of which we have studied already.
Lauden (1998) gives a useful, if dated, diagram of information systems
that support knowledge workers, see diagram 2 below.

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As we have identified, KWS are very good examples of sociotechnical
systems in that they combine, people, systems and technology. Indeed in
KWS the emphasis is very much upon people rather than technology.

Further Reading
Dent, R.J.,, 2004, Benchmarking knowledge management
practice in construction, London, CIRIA. Available via CIS Online.
BSi, 2003, Introduction to Knowledge Management in Construction, PD
7503, London, British Standards Publishing Limited. Available via CIS Online.

Anumbia, C., et al., 2000. Managing and exploiting your knowledge
assets: Knowledge based decision support techniques for the
construction industry. Watford: BRE.
Brandon, P. S. et al., 1988. Application of Expert Systems to Quantity
Surveying, London : The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors,.

Chaffey, D., ed. 2003. Business Information Systems: technology,
Development and Management for the e-business. 2nd edition,
Harlow, Pearson Education Ltd.
Dent, R.J. et al., 2004. Benchmarking knowledge management
practice in construction. London, CIRIA.
Gupta, U., 1999. Information Systems: Success in the 21St Century.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Hearn, P., et al. 2002. Building Communities: Organisational
Knowledge Management within the European Commission‟s
Information Society Technologies Programme; ITCon; Vol.7 P63.

[Online] Available from [Accessed 18 September 2012].
Lauden, C.L. and Lauden, P.L., 1998. Management Information
Systems: New Approaches to Organisation & technology. 5th ed.,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
PD 7500, 2003. Knowledge Management Vocabulary, London, BSI,
Sulaiman, M.J., et al., 2002. Intelligent CAD checker for building plan
approval. Digital Library of Construction Informatics, paper w78-2002-23,
[Online] Available from [Accessed 18 September 2012]

© Robert Gordon University 2012


The Quotations Page. 2005. “knowledge is power”[Online] Available from [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Wikipedia. 2005a. Dictionary, [Online] Available at [18 September 2012]
Wikipedia. 2005b., [Online]
Available at [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Wikipedia. 2005c. [Online] Available at [Accessed 18 September 2012]

Topic Review
Knowledge management is not a new concept indeed
many of the information systems associated with it
predate the term and are actually old systems being
marketed under a new guise. Knowledge management
systems are relevant to the built environment and are
related to both commercial and project success. The focus of
knowledge management however is much more upon
changing people‟s attitudes to sharing knowledge than it is
to information systems and their supporting technologies.
Knowledge management systems can be classified as first,
second or third generation systems, each having a
differing focus and information systems tool set.
Knowledge work systems, in particular, are of great
importance to the built environment as it is heavily
populated with knowledge workers.

Learning Company – an organisation in which learning is an integral

part of the corporate culture (Gupta 1999, P355).

Groupware –Also known as collaborative software is application software

that integrates work on a single project by several concurrent users at
separate workstations. In its modern form it was pioneered by Lotus
Software with the popular Lotus Notes running in connection with a lotus
Domino Server (Wikipedia 2005).

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Topic 12: Decision Support Systems (DSS)
Topic Preview
In this last topic we are going to review decision support systems (DSS) in
more detail. They were originally introduced in Topic 2 but will be covered in
greater depth here with the focus being upon the Built Environment.

Topic Content
You will recall that decision support systems (DSS) are used at all levels in
the corporate management structure. Here we are going to look at how
DSS are employed within the Built Environment. In the Built Environment,
DSS are frequently used by knowledge workers. DSS are used for current
decision making and normally take an iterative approach to problem solving
being frequently associated with risk based decisions. Their scope
however can range from simple data analysis to reasonably complex problem
modelling. As they are generally used in an iterative way, DSS usually do not
come up with a single answer, they are more an aid to decision making
allowing the user to test the effects of numerous different problem
scenarios. They are commonly based upon spreadsheet software. These
systems were based upon what is called a model oriented information
system, in that the major area of development lay within the problem
logical model.
Within the built environment DSS are commonly built using
spreadsheets, CAD systems, planning software, geographic information
systems and graphically based analysis software. It is often difficult to
differentiate between DSS and knowledge work systems (KWS) in the
built environment.

Spreadsheet based DSS
Spreadsheet software is the reason why personal computers (PCs) became
so popular in the 1980s following the launch of the first spreadsheet
application, VisiCalc (Bricklin 2005). A software application is not an
information system, but they can be used to build information systems, in
this case DSS.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Spreadsheet based DSS are the most commonly used DSS in the Built
Environment. The spreadsheet is a truly amazing numerical processing tool
but it is surprising how many organisations take an unstructured freeform
approach to the development and use of spreadsheet based DSS. It is not
uncommon to find spreadsheets that contain logical and computational
errors in their structure in daily use, never mind the probability of incorrect
data having been inserted. This has probably come about due to the fact
that users have to develop their own logical models of the problems to
be investigated.
Spreadsheet DSS must be formally designed and tested before being
employed in the workplace. There are many books published on how to use
spreadsheet applications, but very little published upon formal spreadsheet
design methodologies. A review of typical spreadsheet errors is given by
(Rajalingham 2000) and concludes that spreadsheet errors are quite
widespread. A structured approach is vital to the development of accurate
spreadsheet DSS, especially where these systems are going to be used on
a recurring basis.
Within the built environment, spreadsheet based DSS are employed for risk
analysis, simulation and problem evaluation. Common DSS applications include
environmental and comfort analysis, structural design, estimating and cost
control, indeed any task that requires numerical processing. They also focus
upon “what if?” type problems.

CAD based DSS
CAD software applications can be employed as DSS in the built environment
when they are used for 3D modelling rather than just 2D drafting. Virtually
all CAD systems today are capable of 3D modelling, yet only a small
minority of users employ the software in that mode. CAD models are more
flexible, quicker to create and cheaper to build than physical models; they
also give a much more realistic view of the model as it can be viewed at
human eye level rather than from a god-like perspective. CAD systems are
used to create three types of building models, massing models, building
models and detail models. Massing and detail models are most commonly
used as DSS. Any model should only contain as much detail as is
necessary to solve the problem being studied.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Massing models are used by designers to evaluate how a new building fits
into its environment. Massing models are used to explore different
design solutions, and are one of the most commonly used tools in
conceptual design and is their use is an iterative process. Massing models
play an important role in design by allowing the designer to express,
communicate and visually explore their design concepts. When adopting
CAD as a massing model DSS, the technique involves the import of the
street plan digitally into the CAD system, the solid 3D modelling of the
buildings surrounding the site, and also the various design proposals for the
project. An example is shown in diagram 1. These are then subject to
discussion and analysis by the design team. The evaluation is subjective
and relies heavily upon human interpretation and analysis based upon
expertise and judgement.

Detail models focus upon how building components are organised and
connected and can be used to simulate on site construction before any site
work is actually undertaken. Typical applications are curtain walling, fixing
details and space frame connections. Detail model based DSS are used to
identify and resolve construction problems before work commences onsite
and to evaluate the use of differing components and connection methods. A
typical example is shown in diagram 2.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


Building models too can be used as CAD based DSS to evaluate the space
relationships and aesthetic qualities of spaces within buildings as well as for
clash detection. A good case study on the use of building models as a
DSS is given by NavisWorks at An example of a building
model is given in diagram 3.

A planning software application is not a DSS straight out of the box either;
however they can be used to build project planning focused DSS. Here DSS
are used to plan, evaluate and record different construction operation
methodologies, the aim being to identify the optimum construction process
or how to remedy some short fall in an existing construction project. Once
© Robert Gordon University 2012


again the emphasis is on the user modelling the problem domain and
iteratively assessing possible solutions via simulations and focus upon “what
if?” type problems.
They are commonly used for planning, resource allocation, budgeting
and control of construction projects. The output from these DSS is once
again subject to human interpretation and evaluation. They are more
complex to use than spreadsheets and are to some extent a “black box” in
that users may not always be conversant with how the software is actually
processing the data to arrive at a recommendation.
These applications tend to impose upon users a framework and/or
methodology upon which the software has been designed. Project management
software comes with inbuilt tables, filters and reporting functions. The
user however has to provide the expertise to model the problem,
manipulate the data into information as well as having to interpret and
evaluate the system output. It is therefore a tool for a knowledge
Andersson (1997) gives an insight into the use of project planning software
in practice and identifies that more emphasis is placed upon the
production of paper schedules than the use of the sophisticated
functions provided by project planning software thereby identifying that the
application of expertise and professional judgement may be lacking in the
adoption of these systems.
Current trends in project planning software are related to integration of
data upon multiple projects on a corporate basis or integration with CAD
modelling systems on a project basis (Bergensten 2001). An associated
commercial innovation is Constructor 2005 which is capable of linking 3D
CAD models and project planning software which is described as being
“a Construction Modelling System - designed to quickly create
accurate 3D construction models. The resulting model reduces
errors present in design documents, resulting in significant savings
in construction cost and time” (Graphisoft 2005).

The main benefits to be obtained from adopting planning DSS is speed of
data processing and flexibility of the data once it has been loaded into the
system. The accuracy of the problem model, the data, the data
manipulation and the evaluation of the output from the system is subject
to human expertise and judgement.

© Robert Gordon University 2012


GIS decision support systems
The term geographic information system (GIS) is really a misnomer in that,
like spreadsheet software and project planning software, it can only be
used to build information systems; it is only a software application out of
the box. However GIS software is usually purchased along with some
data sets and unlike spreadsheet and planning software is not completely
devoid of data when purchased.
Like the DSS we have discussed already they are socio-technical systems
in that they combine, people, systems and technology. GIS are not unique to
the built environment and have the following characteristics; they dynamically
model some aspect of world geography; the GIS data relates to
geographic scales of measurement referenced by a co-ordinate system to
locations on the world‟s surface. They can answer questions from their
database which is a data model of the real world and it is a system in
terms of systems theory having boundaries, processes etc. GIS can be
thought of in simplistic terms as a smart map. GIS are another form of built
environment DSS.
GIS are powerful and innovative tools that can combine spatial data,
such as a map or a building plan, with real world attribute data
(numbers, values and textual descriptions). All GIS data is related back
to a real world co-ordinate system just like a map reference. GIS are
created by gathering physical information about the environment by
purchasing the data (ordnance survey maps, census reports etc.), from
satellite or aerial survey (e.g. aerial photographs) or by tradition physical
survey on the ground. Once this data is loaded into the GIS that data can
be analysed and the underlying relationships between the data explored.
Output from the system is graphical, usually in the form of maps where
layer techniques similar to those used in CAD systems can be employed to
create different views of the data. GIS is capable of bringing together data
from many different sources and in different formats to support decision
making and communication.
GIS has wide and varied application within the built environment but is
popular for property portfolio management and maintenance management
often being employed by local councils for this purpose. There are also
instances of GIS being adopted for public consultation on planning and
development issues (Sipes 2005). Mapping of alternative road, pipeline
routes, etc. is also popular so that the optimum route or site can be
GIS are complex and expensive systems requiring experienced personnel
to operate them and consequently their use tends to be restricted to local
authorities, government departments and agencies, national and
international commercial organisations. Once again the output is subject to
human professional evaluation and interpretation.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


Graphically based decision support systems
CAD based DSS could have been included under this heading but
graphically based DSS are more than just visualisation based DSS.
Graphically based DSS are concerned with structural, fire or
environment analysis of CAD based models.
Usually the CAD model can be transferred between the CAD system and the
DSS but occasionally you have to build the model from scratch from within
the DSS. The aim here is to evaluate and fine tune building designs either
in terms of statutory regulations or optimisation. These systems are
generally not yet mature but are finding their way out of academia and
into industry.
Some of these systems are even available online on a subscription basis
such as “Green Studio” . Another example is
AutoDesk‟s “REVIT Structure” which is a structural analysis tool (Rundell
2005). A more comprehensive set of performance analysis and evaluation
tools is provided by Ecotect

A number of building control and planning departments are now happy to
receive applications from clients based upon the output from these
systems. It seems likely that these graphically based decision support
systems will become more prevalent in the built environment in the near

Andersson, M., 1997. Re-engineering of the project planning process
strategy implementation of project management software. Digital
Library of construction informatics and information technology in civil
engineering and construction, paper w78-1997- 33, [Online] Available from [Accessed 18 September 2012]
Bergensten, S., and Knutsson, M., 2001. 4D CAD – an efficient tool to
improve production method for integration of apartments in existing
buildings. Digital Library of construction informatics and information technology
in civil engineering and construction, paper
w78-2001-2, [Online] Available from [Accessed 18
September 2012]
Bricklin, D. and Frankston, B., 2005. VisiCalc: Information from its
creators, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston. [Online] Available from [Accessed 18 September 2012].
Graphisoft .com. Graphisoft announces its Virtual Constructionline of
products and services. 2004. [Online] Available from [Accessed 18
September 2012]
Rajalingham, K.,, 2000. Classification of spreadsheet errors.
© Robert Gordon University 2012


[Online] Available from
[Accessed 18 September 2012].
Rundell, R., 2005. 1-2-3 Revit: BIM for Structural Design.
Cadalyst Magazine, September 2005, [Online] Available from [Accessed
18 September 2012].
Sipes, J.L., 2005. Making Public Planning Accessible: GIS, decisionmaking software and 3D imagery combine to help communities
work together. Cadalyst Magazine, June 2005, P47-49. [Online] Available
from [Accessed 18 September 2012].

Topic Review
It is difficult to differentiate between DSS and KW in the
built environment. DSS are used in the built environment
upon evaluation and risk based problems and generally
the user has to model the problem domain being studied.
A wide range of software applications can be employed to
build DSS in the built environment including
spreadsheets, CAD, project planning software and
visualisation software. The output from DSS, in the built
environment, is always subject to human (professional)
judgement before any decision is made.

© Robert Gordon University 2012

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