Knowledge sharing in construction is too often woefully inadequate. Especially when considering that most of the work needed to improve knowledge sharing already happens – again, and again, and again.
Every time an employee leaves a company, a whole library of knowledge goes with them. Considering the amount of experience and knowledge lodged in the brains of technical experts, engineers, site managers and quality surveyors, it is little wonder that companies want to keep it in the organisation.
The solution is knowledge sharing.
However, knowledge sharing is too often hampered instead of encouraged. Complex legacy systems need to be replaced by technologies as easy to use as taking a picture with your smartphone.
At the core, this is what robust knowledge sharing looks like: easy recording and structuring of knowledge in ways that make it easy to access and understand.
With the right approach and systems, knowledge sharing can seamlessly become part of daily life and improve efficiency on a company-wide level.
This begs the question: why is knowledge sharing in many instances so woefully inadequate? For example, where quality assurance, documentation, and inspections are concerned?
My argument is that much of the blame must go to legacy digital systems.
An illustration of the points mentioned above might be a structural engineer or surveyor tasked with ensuring and documenting a building’s fire protection of wooden beams.
The first step is developing definitions and structures around what constitutes correct fire protection. Simultaneously, what counts as incorrect fire protection needs to be defined. Furthermore, there may be a need to develop guidelines for constructors and contractors around implementing the correct way of ensuring fire protection of wooden beams. Finally, you need to decide on how to document that it has been done correctly.
All of this knowledge resides with the individual – or team – carrying out this project. But, all too often, that will be the end of the whole affair. The fire protection is carried out, the developed structures and knowledge are described and embedded in a report and then seldomly, if ever, used again.
More than 50% of an app
In the example, the person or persons in charge of fire protection have, in essence, formalised their unique knowledge and insights - and then forgot about it. One of the main reasons is often, as described in a research paper on knowledge sharing in the construction industry, that it takes too much time.
This is a shame because the team has completed more than 50% of the work needed to easily reuse the knowledge time and time again to ensure and document proper fire protection. In addition, the same knowledge can potentially be developed over time to cover other kinds of building protections.
Such knowledge production takes place in almost all construction projects. There are many instances where sharing that knowledge could help improve efficiencies and generate insights that could be used on subsequent projects.
One possible solution is to use a different approach to technology than is most common in construction today: using clunky off-site solutions that add many hours to the average workweek and thereby hinder efficient knowledge sharing.
Instead, companies would do well to develop and implement an app that can run on-site on today’s most prevalent piece of technology: a smartphone.
“An app? Isn’t that going to take a lot of time and effort? We don’t have the budget for that,” might be your response. But, to don my sales cap for five seconds, this isn’t the case.
What you need is a platform-style solution that essentially functions as the base of developing app-like solutions that can be tailored to your situation. A solution that makes it possible to set up specific categories and processes built on your insights. In essence, it is an electronic, easy-to-use way of storing work like that needed to develop and document fire protection of wooden beams.
Since you will invariably be carrying out the work anyway, formalising them in an app takes little time. Thereby, employees feel that they are saving time, and you have a solution that enables seamless knowledge sharing.
Furthermore, you can reuse this knowledge and the categories you have created again and again. Compared to traditional, more siloed approaches to technical work and documentation, this is what I would call true digitisation.
Not only that, for many engineers and technical experts, the registrations and reports you create to document quality are part of the products you are selling to your clients more often than not.
Here, the quantified and digitised approach allows you to reuse formats and layouts easily, thereby spending more time creating superior reports that keep clients happy – and coming back.