Mobile technology has brought a new look to the face of modern information society.
A lot is changing in terms of how much more can be done with a help of mobile computers. What is more, the rate at which this is happening is faster than it can be documented and published. In effect, what the society is facing is a situation when technical solution unveils and releases into the market, it happens so fast that sooner than later another more reliable and innovative solution is developed. As a result, mobile computing has taken central place in the construction industry leading to the effective use of IT in linking field work, integrating various project partners, ensuring high level of less formalized process specification, and other components of the construction and operations phases of the construction process (Rejolj and Menzel, 2004).
Nonetheless, mobile computing is very important in construction not only because of its technological aspect. It is also crucial because of the way it has been integrated into the construction industry to solve various problems and to make work much easier. Modern technology has been impressively helpful and effective over the years. However, there has been a missing link, which is convenience of technology in terms of mobility, that would enable someone to change physical location while still working on a project. Mobile computing with its constantly emerging trends and developments have since filled this gap.
First, before going deeper into the concept of mobile computing in the construction industry, it is important to understand what is meant by the term "mobile computing". Imielinski and Korth in their book "Mobile Computing" (1996) explained that mobile computing involves the use of any gadgets that can have access to information from a remote physical area, either through cellular communications, wireless LANs, or satellite services. They claimed that the need for mobility would soon make millions of people carrying palmtops or laptop computers. Also, they had predicted that users will soon need to use light and powerful gadgets, like computers with larger memories and more powerful processors and be able to process whatever information they want away from a fixed location. This is also called "nomadic computing" (Imielinski & Korth, 1996). In brief, mobile computing components can be categorized into three major categories. First is computers which can be used indoors and outdoors while the user is in motion. These include tablet PCs and all kinds of pocket computers, wearable computers and palmtops. The second category are the networks, which should have a significantly strong bandwidth and can be accessed while in motion. It actually includes all wireless networks. The third and final category of this framework consists of mobile applications supporting context-sensitivity and personalization, which means "supporting the work-process, being aware or making use of user location, responding to specific characters of mobile computers and wireless networks (Rebolj & Menzel, 2004)".
An observation of the construction industry shows that the mobile computing concept has not yet been fully exploited. This is because most of the practicing professionals remain somewhat conventional and prefer using their traditional methods. However, mobile computing technologies have proven their effectiveness in specific construction operations and have a high potential to be used in highly sophisticated constructions. Moreover, application of this concept is very effective for higher levels of collaboration between project or task team members since it improves the working environment in the construction industry.
After looking at some of the ways in which mobile computing can be used in the construction industry, a quick scan of the "Feasibility Study of Field Force Automation in Swedish Construction Sector" by Rebolj and Menzel is very revealing (2004). In this study authors speak about "Field Force Automation", which is a generic term for mobile applications used in real-time support of orders, scheduling, supervisions, and reporting in the field. Having conducted interviews during the research, the result of a study showed that these applications significantly increase the number and speed of many construction related field operations through real time planning support, work allocation and follow-up provided that the technical solutions are adapted to the end user (2004). It brings multiple advantages to the users in terms of reducing the lead-time and, apart from enhanced quality of work, it ensures that resources are used effectively.
In another incidence, Rebolj and Menzel discovered through a research that mobile computing technology can be used on a construction site to implement, control, and collect data. They found that through a wireless protocol, a construction site can employ a site level data collection system. This system can be used by managers and other members of the workforce for real-time data collection and storage on a site based server through a mobile wireless LAN (2004). Authors argue that mobile computing technologies can be used to manage projects in a timely manner, since it enhances the flow of information throughout the site and reduces the remedial cost of improving the contract performance. These technologies also allow workers to easily access and manipulate construction data. In general, this research found that by introduction of this application to the construction site, the construction process becomes more time efficient. Further, through conducting a cost-benefit analysis, it is apparent that substantial amount of materials is saved on remedial works that would otherwise be used. In brief, there is a big potential that is still untapped about how much can be done at a construction site with the help of mobile computing. This notion is supported by Chen and Kamara’s statement in their work "The Use of Mobile Computing in Construction Information Management". Authors claim that "the advancement of mobile computing gives the construction industry a powerful potential to extend the boundary of information systems to construction sites (2008)".
Building Information Modeling (BIM)
According to Lee, Marshall-Point, Aaouad, Tah, Cooper and Fu, BIM is the process of “generating and managing building information in an interoperable and reusable way". Also, they define BIM system as a "system or a set of systems that enable users to integrate and reuse building information and domain knowledge through the lifecycle of building (2005)". BIM systems use 3-dimentional object oriented CAD for designing and managing virtual building elements in 3-dimentional objects. These objects have more advantages as compared to 2-dimentional objects because they represent actual buildings geometrically in terms of their spatial relationships, functional relationship, and geographic information of the building elements. This form of system displays building objects in multiple viewing angles (three dimensional) and is used for designing and modeling domain specific problems. Because of this 3D capability, the BIM framework is perceived as "intelligent" and superior to two-dimensional computer aided designs (Shen & Chua, 2011).
In addition to their importance in procurement and delivery of construction projects, BIM systems are able to give elements a parametric design, meaning they designs objects as parameters with relationships to other objects. IBM, therefore, eliminates potential problems related to drawing while increasing the project's productivity through automatically updating any changes of the parametric elements.
In another instance, Lee et al explained that BIM enables transition from three-dimensional CAD visualization to interoperable n-D CAD modeling and analysis (2005). This allows to use better levels of service than using a single 3D object CAD model. This special characteristic of a BIM system eliminates the ability of other individual specialists to recreate the geometry data, thus cutting out errors that may result from many people working on one project. Additionally, BIM systems allow using other BIM tools, which could be from different vendors. This advantage, referred to as "interoperability" enables the BIM system to synchronize its data with data from other CAD models, thus reducing the effect of fragmentation at the interface management level and collaboration management in the workflow.
In summary, BIM systems take the construction industry a step further when it comes to delivery of projects due to the way they link and model the spatial relationship, the functional relationship and the geometrical information of buildings. It is a model that uses
3D CAD in designing and modeling building elements, which is significantly more efficient than previously used 2D CAD models. Additionally, BIM is the best in completion of projects because it allows many specialists to work on the model, while eliminating their ability to recreate or destabilize work done by other professionals. It allows project partners to automatically save their contributions to the model based in the set rules. What is more, since the system is interoperable, it easily synchronizes with data from other sources like BIM tools that could be from different vendors. In this way chances of fragmentation that could interfere with interface level management and workflow are reduced through segmented collaboration management.
Finally, because BIM systems are gaining big popularity at the construction industry due to their effectiveness and efficiency, many companies may refrain from using them because of the high upfront investment required for the purchase of hardware, software, and training. Apart from that, the total migration cost to BIM may be very high.