Thursday, August 28, 2003

The Social Construction of... Construction

The construction environment can be hostile... or at least highly competitive. Given the bid nature of contracts and the tight inspection processes required to maintain quality, it becomes very difficult to establish any sort of knowledge sharing process. Indeed, construction typically demonstrates adversarial confrontations. In most construction projects there is little incentive for the interacting agents --be they workers or companies-- to exchange knowledge. The only reason that they win contracts is because they have knowledge that their competitors don't and they operationalize it as a lower bid price.

An an owner or a client, why would you want contractors to exchange knowledge? You want them to compete head-on and drive down prices.

There are exceptions to this paradigm of warring parties. In the case of *large* projects, sharing knowledge can be beneficial. In this case a very large general contractor acts as a centralized agency to manage much of this knowledge largely because they act as the go-between for the various parties. Unfortunately, even large general contractors tend to hoard knowledge or try to gouge their subs for better margins. Large projects like Boston's Big Dig are hardly great examples of knowledge exchange.

In analyzing knowledge in construction it's important to recognize that a job site is a group of individuals and distinct agents. Knowledge exchange takes place at the interface between these agents. The sociologist Susan Star refers to artifacts that pass between these epistemic communities as "boundary objects"; Construction is loaded with them: plans, prints, progress reports, RFIs, specs, contracts, progress draws, assessments and reports, meeting minutes, etc. Even the classification schemas (CSI masterformat, WHMIS, etc.) and the specialized trade languages we use in construction become important objects with shared meaning. Through these objects the various agents can interact sufficiently to actually build something.

The problem with these objects is that they are used for another reason: litigation. In creating artifacts we are constructing some sort of "truth" that can be subpoened into the court of law. But are the documents true? Most engineers will admit that the as-built drawings are only _mostly_ true (regardless of their opinion of postmodern discourse). In attempting to create true documents we strip all the "modalities" from them e.g., in making a set of building plans as authoritative as possible we omit all of our design rational and calculations; they're relagated to our notebooks, only to be revealed if there's legal action! The socio-philosopher Bruno Latour refers to these stripped down objects as "immutable mobiles." Unfortunately, it's the sort of tacit details that get omitted from these black-box artifacts that is promised by KM.

All is not lost. As a site engineer I always had my own set of drawings that were very distinct from both the pristine office copies and the contrived as-builts (immutable mobiles). My own plans were covered with various scribbles, coffee stains, and notes from inspectors, surveyors, and contractors. In real life, I had reintroduced the modalities that had been stripped from the official drawings. Mine contained scribbles of joint details from the rebar-tier or perhaps I put notes from the geotech report on the subgrade detail. As Brown and Duguid point out in "The Social Life of Documents", we negotiate meaning with the actual physical artifact of the document and not just the information it represents. This meaning is missing from an XML schema or online database.

My final thoughts come from someone who is better known for the "construction of discourse" than the "construction of buildings." Karl Marx provides us with some insight into the capitalist microcosm that typifies the construction industry. In particular, Marx draws our attention to the wage relation and the importance of power and control. In looking at information exchange in construction, we must recognize what agents have the power, ability, and motivation to navigate between various communities... it's probably not going to be a journeyman pipe-fitter! Instead look to the site engineers, architects, senior tradesman, and inspectors that inhabit the upper reaches of the construction industry's wage echelon. Only these agents have the ability and opportunity to develop knowledge assets. Drawing on Marx we can even extend our analysis to the true capitalists of construction --the suppliers and vendors. How many of our best practices and methodologies are actually drawn from marketing material? How often is our "expert" on a particular method or a material also a merchant?

I know that someone is going to respond to my comment about the journeyman with Orr's study of photocopy repairmen. Since repairmen are not at the top of Xerox's wage scale my point must be moot! Repairmen, however, are a group of individuals who span a wide range of epistemic communities (customers, sales, service, etc.).

In short- in overcoming construction's confrontation look directly to those elements unaffected by the confrontation like the artifacts that people _actually_ use and the individuals at the top of the wage echelon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Some more notes about Knowledge Management and Construction

I received an email about resources. Here's my response...

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There are some other resources you may be interested in for a DI approach. You should check out the proceedings from a recent ASCE conference:

Molenaar, K.R., Chinowsky, P.S. (2003). Eds. Construction Research Congress: Winds of Change: Integration and Innovation In Construction (Proceedings of Construction Research Congress, March 19-21, 2003, Honolulu, Hawaii; Sponsored by Construction Institute - Construction Research Council, American Society of Civil Engineers; Construction Engineering and Management Program, University of Colorado at Boulder)

Some papers of interest include:

Agent-Based Document Control for Large Projects by Michael Terk and Arun Kumar Srinivasan

An Architecture for Knowledge Management in the AEC Industry by John I. Messner

Designer Construction Knowledge and Its Effects by Leslie C. Battersby and J. K. Yates

Another paper of possible interest:

Soibelman, L., Kim, H. (2002). Data Preparation Process for Construction Knowledge Generation through Knowledge Discovery in Databases. Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering, Vol. 16, No. 1, January 2002, pp. 39-48

Personally, I became disenchanted with the difficulties of modelling knowledge using reductionist technological approaches. Useful knowledge just seems to squish out of the confines of artificial ontologies... and all ontologies are artificial. Working as an engineer in construction and industry I noticed that the knowledge, information, and "truth" that we exchange don't necessarily follow rules specified by business models, codes of conduct, and legal guidelines.

I've forsaken my Civil Engineering degree and turned to the social sciences and humanities for help. My interest has shifted toward how information is actually exchanged in construction settings and how that information attains validity. If you're interested in issues of knowledge fabrication in science and technology, I highly recommend these --non-engineering-- resources:

Knorr-Cetina, K. (1999). Epistemic cultures : how the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Knorr-Cetina, K. (1981). The manufacture of knowledge : an essay on the constructivist and contextual nature of science. Oxford: Pergamon.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Milton Keynes: Philadelphia.

Star, S.L. (1995). Ed.Ecologies of knowledge : work and politics in science and technology. Albany: SUNY Press.

Bowker, G.C., Star, S.L. (1999). Sorting things out : classification and its consequences. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Bowker, G.C. (1994). Science on the run : information management and industrial geophysics at Schlumberger, 1920-1940. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Kranakis, E. (1999). Constructing a bridge : an exploration of engineering culture, design, and research in nineteenth-century France and America. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Vincenti, W. G. (1990). What engineers know and how they know it: Analytical studies from aeronautical history. Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Good luck with the thesis!


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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Multidimensional Icon App

I'm still working on my MD Icon tool. Here's a link to a trial version (I couldn't sleep last night!).

Another tool is an expert system that I recently put together

Monday, August 25, 2003

Knowledge Management in the Construction Industry

There's a growing body of literature on KM in construction. It depends a lot on which way you want to interpret "knowledge management." Is it related to Supply Chain Management, Quality Improvement, Risk Management, Resource Utilization, etc.?

Here's a list of resources to get you started. In general, the list proceeds from the most easily found and accessibly to the rare and esoteric:

:: Introduction to Construction KM ::

Construction Best Practice Intro to KM

:: Publicly Available Documents ::


The Role of Information Technology in KM Within the Construction Industry

Organizational Learning in the UK Construction Industry

Motility of Practiced Knowledge: An exploration within the UK Construction Industry

:: Schema and Ontology (based on CSI Masterformat)::

Construction Industry Institute: CII Knowledge Structure

:: Journal Articles ::

Rezgui, Y. (2001). Review of information and the state of the art of knowledge management practices in the construction industry. Knowledge
Engineering Review. 16(3). pp. 241-245.

Abstract: This paper focuses upon the contribution which adequate use of the latest development in IT can make to the enhancement, development and improvement of professional expertise in the construction domain. The paper is based on the author's personal expertise and involvement in several UK- and European-funded research projects. First, the paper gives an overview of the benefits that can be gained from improved information and knowledge management in the construction industry. The latest developments in information and communication technologies are then described and presented as an enabler for effective knowledge management. Finally, the paper reviews the most promising techniques for information and knowledge management in the construction domain, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of each of them, as well as future directions for knowledge management in construction

McRea, Anna; Langdon, Davis (2003). Knowledge management in construction. Structural Engineer. 81(13). pp. 14+

Abstract: A review on the development of knowledge management in construction industry is presented. Mechanistic knowledge management involves automatic collation of the appropriate information and instruction to perform a certain task. It also enables to attach and keep track of information relevant to individuals who are responsible for performing specific tasks.

:: Lists of Other Resources Like Proceedings ::

:: Disertations ::

P.-O. M. Sverlinger. Managing Knowledge in Professional Service Organizations: Technical Consultants Serving the Construction Industry. PhD thesis, Department of Service Management, Chalmers University of Technology, G?teborg, Sweden, 2000.

Abstract at:



Listing of Knowledge Management Companies

I've decided to compile a complete list of KM companies with sales info (if public):

 AZERTIA Tecnologias de la Informacion S.A. Barcelona $179.20 M Sales  

Software Futures Bramley $178.60 M Sales
Open Text Inc. (OTC) Waterloo $152.50 M Operating revenue
FutureNext Consulting Inc. McLean, Ohio $146.10 M Sales
SER Solutions Deutschland GmbH (SES) Neustadt/Wied $132.00 M Sales
Link Software Bruxelles $117.20 M Sales
Mofet Technology Fund Management 2000 Herzlia Pituach $74.40 M Sales
FutureNext McLean, Virginia $60.00 M Sales
FEC Infosystems Pte Ltd. Singapore $53.60 M Sales
UCC Group NV Nieuwegein $45.10 M Sales
U.S. Interactive Inc. Cupertino, California $35.30 M Sales
C. Berger Group Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois $30.10 M Sales
EC-Hold Ltd. Bramley $25.30 M Sales
OutlookSoft Corp. Stamford, Connecticut $25.00 M Operating revenue
National Consulting Bureau Safat $24.00 M Sales
Square One Solutions Group Ltd. Gallo Manor $22.90 M Sales
SydneyPLUS International Library Systems Corp. Richmond $18.00 M Sales
eLearning4all Solihull $15.50 M Sales
Stratify Inc. Mountain View, California $15.00 M Operating revenue
DIDA*El Srl Milan $12.50 M Sales
Knowledge Powered Solutions Manchester $10.10 M Sales
Liberty Information Management Systems Costa Mesa, California $10.00 M Sales
SimiGon Ltd. Herzlia $9.40 M Sales
Arabian Advanced Systems Riyadh $8.00 M Sales
Groupware Inc. Vancouver, Washington $8.00 M Sales
Action Multimedia Ltd. Birkenhead $6.70 M Sales
LeadingWay Corp. Irvine, California $6.00 M Sales
Godbout Martin Godbout and Associates Hill $4.80 M Sales
Multicosm Ltd. Southampton $4.70 M Sales
Alacrity Inc. Thornhill $4.00 M Sales
Casey Investment Holdings Ltd. Centurion $3.90 M Sales
Arisem SAS Paris $3.50 M Sales
Basex Inc. New York, New York $3.40 M Sales
Visionael Corp. Palo Alto, California $3.00 M Operating revenue
Hiawatha Island Software Company Inc. Concord, New Hampshire $3.00 M Operating revenue
Kruse Inc. Downingtown, Pennsylvania $2.00 M Sales
Electronic Online Systems International Carlsbad, California $2.00 M Sales
F1 Services Inc. Dallas, Texas $2.00 M Sales
Raymond A. Syms and Associates Long Branch, New Jersey $2.00 M Sales
A.D. Experts Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan $1.60 M Operating revenue
Fleet Training and Consulting Inc. Lilburn, Georgia $1.60 M Sales
Information Management Consultants Westlake, Ohio $1.40 M Sales
AGI - Information Management Consultants Neustadt / Weinstrasse $1.30 M Sales
Aaron/Smith Associates Inc. Atlanta, Georgia $1.00 M Operating revenue
Huckaba and Associates Shawnee Mission, Kansas $0.80 M Sales
Stuhlman Management Consultants Chicago, Illinois $0.60 M Sales
Loftin and Associates Newton, Massachusetts $0.40 M Sales
R.L. Kuper Inc. Forest Hills, New York $0.30 M Sales
LrnIT Publishing Colorado Springs, Colorado $0.10 M Sales
Ennov Paris
Alcatel Fycsa Madrid
KnoMan BV Geldrop
DOC6.Consultores en Recursos de Informacion Barcelona
Arcomia AB Taby
Cotoco Ltd. Southampton
Corporate Technology Ventures Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Leading Edge Corporation Toronto
Thunderstone Software L.L.C. Cleveland, Ohio
Intermedia PHD Ltd. Brighton
US Interactive (NY) New York, New York
Insight Technologies (Asia Pacific) Pty Ltd. Chatswood
Bright Station plc London
Endero Oyj Espoo
Rowecom Inc. Cambridge, Massachusetts
Comprehensive Technologies International (CTI) Fairfax, Virginia
Opportunity Solutions Copenhagen OE
Opportunity Solutions London
ISYS/Odyssey Development Inc. Greenwood Village, Colorado
IBEX Knowledge Systems S.A. Petie-Lancy Geneva
Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc. Palo Alto, California
Generation21 Learning Systems Inc. Golden, Colorado
White Spider Software Inc. Manchester, New Hampshire
Coriolys Saint Herblain
Bootstrap Institute Fremont, California
Acuity Group Holdings Ltd. Gallo Manor
Knowledge Associates Cambridge
Squid Inc. Woodinville, Washington
ExperShare L.L.C. San Rafael, California
Ariel Performance Centered Systems Inc. Grapevine, Texas
ICI Technology Redcar
Richard W. Garrett - Chartered Consultant Jackson Heights, New York
Forum New York, New York
Syntrek Inc. Toronto
Concours Group Kingwood, Texas
Enterprise Implementation Partners Inc. Kinnelon, New Jersey
PMA Consultants L.L.C. Ann Arbor, Michigan
Intellectual Capital Consulting Atlanta, Georgia
Compleat Business Solutions Calgary
Lenel Systems International Pittsford, New York
Institute for Intellectual Capital Research Dundas
Gingrich Group Atlanta, Georgia
Hughes Analytics Chicago, Illinois