by Sean Sweeney
Many colleges and universities know all too well the competitiveness and importance of developing a desirable campus environment with first-class facilities to capture the greatest talent. Growing capital resources through donations, revenues from sports or research, and endowments have all catapulted the nation’s top institutions as major owners of construction projects. Whether it be a new campus center, a new stadium, a state-of-the-art research lab, or an entire capital program, many campuses are saturated with construction activity. Like many owners in today’s construction industry, colleges and universities are looking for better ways to lower costs, meet schedules, and manage risks associated with their large capital projects.
Fortunately, for universities embarking on capital improvement programs, project management technologies have adapted to the changing construction landscape. Project management information systems (PMIS) have been a consistently growing trend over the last 20 years and can greatly contribute to the execution of capital projects and programs.
PMIS platforms are software solutions that can collect, compile, process, route, and synthesize project data in a manageable format. Although these systems aren’t exclusive to the construction sector, they are increasingly becoming the norm for the delivery of major projects and programs. They bring a multitude of benefits such as:
- Arming stakeholders with access to real-time project information 24×7.
- Allowing for proactive decision making, which leads to improved risk mitigation as well as budget and schedule performance.
- Increasing productivity through the standardization of processes, electronic forms, and report templates.
- Minimizing the likelihood of risks through the development, training, and enforcement of comprehensive policies and procedures.
- Enhancing accountability through a digital audit trail that shows when project data was modified or approved and by whom.
There are several key factors that should be considered as more universities embark on PMIS implementation:
Partnering with an implementation team with proven results. A successful implementation begins with ensuring you have an appropriate PMIS expert that is familiar with construction programs. An experienced consultant will evaluate existing processes and take industry best practices into consideration to develop a customized implementation solution, whereas an inexperienced individual may provide you with a static, out-of-the box system.
Defining a control environment. Another core element of a successful implementation is to have a clearly defined project governance and controls environment to accurately envision, communicate, select, and contour a system that best suits the university’s needs.
Right-sizing the system. Poor PMIS implementation can lead to unnecessarily cumbersome processes. It is important to recognize that depending on the size of the project, the system can be as detailed or as simple as the university needs it to be. For instance, a smaller project may not need a robust PMIS, as this would only create more unnecessary work.
Confirming system integration requirements. Downtime, redundancies, and manual processes due to ineffective connections or migrations from legacy software or data are recipes for PMIS integration failure. It is also essential to develop an escalation process and assign responsible technical and content stakeholders for each legacy system.
Training and fostering a new culture. A PMIS implementation, regardless of the factors mentioned above, will not be successful if users don’t know how to use it and are not encouraged or motivated to do so. Training has proven most successful when it encompasses various approaches to cover individual learning styles, such as classroom, self-study, written resource material, and support desks. To fully reap the benefits of a PMIS program, leaders need to drive the digital or technology culture within their organizations by setting principles and ensuring the department’s goals connect to the university’s overall transformative agenda.
In the end, it is the talent of your people: program and project managers, business and financial analysts, contract and project control experts, and other project teammates that deliver successful outcomes. Enhancing their effectiveness with the appropriate PMIS will produce even better results through greater transparency, efficient communication, earlier issue identification, and streamlined decision making for the benefit of all.
Sean Sweeney is associate vice president and a leader for the higher education sector at ARCADIS in Boston.