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Why School Boards Should Invest in Construction Management Software

If you ever doubted the impact of good construction project management oversight by the facility owner, read my last post. A few years ago, the community I live in (Broward County, FL) got lots of bad press about the mismanagement of school construction projects.
Many of the issues that the school board faced, including the cost overruns and delays, can be avoided with a good process and a technology platform that supports the process. A construction management system, especially one that is designed for facility owners, will greatly improve process and policy compliance. At a minimum you will increase accountability, and provide an early warning system for potential issues. e-Builder is a system that can do these things and more.
Here are a few examples of how e-Builder could be useful to the Broward County School Board. (Note: Broward County is not an e-Builder client).
PROBLEM: Projects are over budget. In Broward County, the initial contract for building Beachside Montessori Village in Lincoln Park was $16.2 million. As of July 15, 2010, the price had escalated to $19 million. I don’t know the reasons for the increased cost, and they may have been completely necessary. But the difference when you have a construction management system in place is that you can create detailed and accurate forecasts of the total cost as the project progresses. The minute the forecast exceeds the budget, the system functions as an early warning alarm. At a minimum you can use the information to communicate with the Board and even the public at large to eliminate a surprise later. Even better you can take action to bring the project back within the original budgeted amount.
PROBLEM: Projects are behind schedule. In Broward County, a renovation project at Royal Palm Elementary school in Lauderhill was scheduled to be completed in 14 months. The contractor took an additional year to complete the first phase of work. Again, some delays are unavoidable and I don’t know enough about this particular situation to provide an opinion one way or another. But with a system like e-Builder, the projected completion date is always visible. It’s updated in real time and it changes based on actions taken on the project. So when a seemingly minor delay occurs at a beginning of a project and that information is entered, everyone in the system is notified of the impact to the overall schedule. The information is ‘front and center’ in a project or program dashboard. Once again, the earlier you can spot the potential delay, the higher the probability to do something about it.
PROBLEM: Duplicate payments are issued. In Broward County in 2007, a subcontractor was mistakenly paid twice for new stadium seats at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. Taxpayers were charged an extra $500,000. Most people don’t realize the amount of paperwork and administration associated with a construction project. With so much complex detailed paperwork (e.g., sometimes one contractor invoice with all its back up documentation could be six inches thick!), keeping up with it, especially on a fast paced project, is tough. Without structured process and controls, it’s very possible for an invoice to be paid twice. For this reason, one of the most utilized features in e-Builder is the structured workflow module. It provides the capability to structure and control any construction business process. You can configure all kinds of approval setting and institute checks and balances to prevent this sort of overpayment from occurring.
In the United States alone, there are more than 13,000 school districts that spend 50 Billion dollars on school construction each year. At best, only about 2-3 percent use capital program and project management software for construction. I wonder how many millions could be saved annually if all districts adopted these systems? How great would it be if we could repurpose the tens of millions saved each year to increase teacher salaries or reinstitute music, art and physical education in some of our schools.