An Investigation and Identification on Functions and Features of Project Extranet in Construction, N Liu, M Kagioglou

Tags: function, functionality, project extranet, system vendors, system, systems, document management, Wilkinson, project extranets, workflow management, Mobile Computing, communication, UK, System administration, potential technology, London, UK, Skibniewski, M. J., NSTISSI, Information Transfer, Web-based Information Transfer, Hurtado, M. C., IEEE Std, Department of Building, School of Design, IEEE, project participants, communication tasks, authors, existing systems, research, BIW, Industrial Management & Data Systems, Categorization, Carnegie Mellon University, functionality issues, collaboration, Project Management, Engineering News Record, Professional Engineering, construction processes, construction collaboration technology, information system, University of Salford, Software Engineering Institute, Construction Project Management, Centralized Digital Information Management, Construction Organisations, Document Management System, International Journal of Project Management, Information Management, International Postgraduate Research Conference, Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Mobile Computing in Construction, Feature-Oriented Domain Analysis, Software Requiements Specifications, National University of Singapore
Content: An Investigation and Identification on Functions and Features of Project Extranet in Construction N. Liu1 and M. Kagioglou2 1 School of Built Environment, University of Salford, UK, M5 4WT 2Research Institute for the Built and Human Environment, University of Salford, UK, M5 4WT Email: [email protected] Abstract: Project extranet has been proven a potential technology in improving information transfer, communication and collaboration in construction. However, although many research efforts have been made on discussing its development, implementation and deployment, only very little literature was found aiming to analyze its functionality. This more or less prevents the system vendors from designing their systems clearly and simply; and prevents the end-users understanding and selecting a suitable system among all available ones. To eliminate this obstacle, this research aims to review some existing systems, to analyze the systems' provision on functions and associated features, and to investigate the differences among systems. The result will be beneficial for the stakeholders to improve their understanding to project extranet, particularly in the functionality issues. Keywords: Project extranet, Functionality, Function and feature. 1. Introduction 1.1. Background construction industry plays an important role in the economy, as it provides buildings and infrastructure on which all sectors of the economy depend. However, it's also well-known for its notorious fragmentation and complexity and is one of the most information intensive industries (Bennett 1991, Howell 1999). Thus, the timely and accurate information transfer and communication, together with the partnership and collaboration among all partners, are crucial to the success of projects. Project extranet, or web-based construction collaboration technology, has been acknowledged as a potential technology in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of information transfer, communication and collaboration in construction processes. According to Hamilton (2004) and many other researchers (CNPlus 2001a, Breetzke and Hawkins 2002a, NCCTP 2005, Wilkinson 2005), project extranet is defined as a network linking the various parties to a construction for the exchange and storage of project information in digital form; and for the collaborative works during construction processes. It is based on the universal Internet platform and employs integrated web-based applications and tools, to provide the communication platform and help construction collaboration more effectively. Normally, 89
project extranet is hosted by an Application service provider (ASP) and the service is typically leased for a period and / or per-user / project. Project extranet makes use of the advantages of Internet for being a global network that is not restricted by location, time or different computer operating system. The benefits from using it have been well documented, which include: no extra hardware and software investment; application and location independent (Nitithamyong and Skibniewski 2004); up-to-date information retrieval and improved communication (Bryant and Pitre 2004); cost and time effective (Tam 1999, Sulankivi 2004, NCCTP 2006); and some intangible benefits such as few claims, greater flexibility and so on (Wilkinson 2005). Because of the benefits, project extranet has been implemented in practice during the last decade and some successes have been reached in its initial stage. In 2003, Engineering News Record (ENR) in the United States reported that the number of A/E/C (Architectural, Engineering and Construction) firms using web-based systems has risen by 16% within the past two years (Hurtado 2003). In the UK, research shows up to 1,500 projects with a combined capital value of over Ј20 billion are already using Internet-based communication tools and there are an estimated 25,000 individual users, which is an increase of 50% on three months ago (CNPlus 2001b). This increase has been widely acknowledged and a number of such systems are reported by researchers and practitioners worldwide (Breetzke and Hawkins 2002b, Leung 2002, Alshawi and Ingirige 2003, Nitithamyong and Skibniewski 2004, Wilkinson 2005). 1.2. Research Needs and Questions Given its short history started in late 1990s, project extranet is still a very young technology and the market is immature. previous research has stated some difficulties and barriers such as lack of standards, over-dependent systems, resistance to change from the employees, security, and so on (O'Brien 2000, Rozell and Gardner 2000, Dawood et al. 2002, Becerik 2003, Nitithamyong and Skibniewski 2004, Liu and Kagioglou 2005, Wilkinson 2005). Some new topics have emerged for further studies, to ensure it can be effectively deployed and used to its potential. Recently, some studies have discussed the importance of functionality of project extranet. Among them, O'brien (2000) suggested A/E/C firms to have a specific feature and think through how this feature would interact with the job tasks of project team members. Andresen et al. (2003) stated that there is a continuing need to improve the functionalities of project webs. Becerik (2004) also agreed that web-based project management and collaborative technology is bound to replace the old ways, but only if these tools can adequately fulfil the specific needs of users. However, the function-related issues are not well analyzed so far because of some difficulties. At first, the existing functions and associated features vary greatly depending on the vendors' origin, history, experience, target market and financial status. The functions and associated features are normally supplied in different combinations with different highlighted features by different vendors. It is therefore difficult to extract a standard feature list. Secondly, project extranet essentially isn't a creative technology but only a combination or integration of several existing technologies such as web browser, Internet connection, and computer. Thus, this is difficult to clarify the differences among systems in the functional aspect. Thirdly, the functionality that systems can provide is uncertain. Intense competition often forces the vendors add new features or release new version to stay ahead of the competitors. The speed of IT development can also quickly make the feature studies "out-of- 90
date" or very short life-span (Bjork 2003). Last but not least, previous researches (Breetzke and Hawkins 2002a, CICA 2003, Wilkinson 2005) have shown that the vendors will be reluctant to say their system does not possess a particular capacity. When being investigated, most of feature options usually get ticked by them. On this condition, it is difficult to gather the accurate result from the vendors. The absence of in-depth analysis to the function-related issues brings about some negative results. On the one hand, some vendors are unable to clearly define and describe what they provide in the systems. The functions and features are sometimes scattered, overlapping and confusing.i On the other hand, the systems accumulate a large number of functions and features which somewhat are unnecessary while the most usable features might not be highlighted, or sometimes ignored at all. This situation will consequently increase the difficulties for the users to choose the right system and use the system as they planed. Therefore some research questions can be developed as: 1. would there be a commonly acceptable function category covering fullest function list? 2. what about the availability of these functions and associated features in the existing systems? 3. Are there any systems covering the fullest functionality? 4. are there any difference among existing systems? This research will aim to answer these questions below through an investigation to the existing systems. 2. Feature and Function Definition Project extranet is classified as a web-based information system. So, like any other information systems, it is comprised of an integrated set of features or functions. A clear understanding of the concepts of function and feature is therefore a decisive prerequisite to the function-related study. Information system may be defined as a set of elements. It is a set of information resources organized for the collection, storage, processing, maintenance, use, sharing, dissemination, disposition, display, or transmission of information (NSTISSI 2006). The aim of an information system is to provide procedures to record and make available information, in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization (Flynn 1998). To fulfil this aim, the system must have some different components of functions and features. Feature has been defined in various ways. In general, feature is a service that the system provides to fulfil one or more stakeholder needs (Leffingwell 2000). It is a coherent and identifiable bundle of system functionality that helps characterize the system from the user perspective (Turner et al. 1999); or a prominent or distinctive user-visible aspect, quality, or characteristic of a software system or systems (Kang et al. 1990); or an externally desired service by the system that may require a sequence of inputs to effect the desired result (IEEE 1998). Function is what the feature does. It is an abstraction of the main activities carried out to achieve organizational objectives. According to the definition given in Oxford English Dictionary, it is an activity that is natural to or the purpose of a person or thing. The definition further explains, in computer science, function is a computer operation corresponding to a single instruction from the user. Usually, a couple of features would be needed to fulfil a function. This also implies that a functional module may contain one or more features and provides us a basis for grouping associated features. 91
In project extranet, the main and purposeful function is to share project documents among project participants. This function is the core of such systems. In addition to this principle function, the latest project extranets provide many supporting functions to facilitate the information transfer and communication tasks, to streamline the work flow and to collaborate with the other partners during construction process (see details in below). Moreover, some extra functional modules, e.g. e-tendering service, are being added into the systems, which seem to be the add-ons to the end-users and add values to the existing systems. 3. Categorization of Functions and Features in Project Extranets As aforementioned, the existing project extranets provide a large number of functions and associated features in different structures and combination. The system vendors usually have their own function matrix according to their preferences and target markets. They vary so greatly that it's impossible to generate a commonly acceptable category from the systems' provision. Previous studies have provided some function categories (refer to Table 1). They can give a snap-shot of functionality of project extranet but are not enough for further analysis. It is firstly admitted limited by the researchers themselves (CICA 2003, Wilkinson 2005). And, the categorizations are lack of acceptable standard and therefore are only "customized". Furthermore, some categories have one or more missing or overlapping functions and features. For example, in the category made by Leung (2002), the general system module may easily be overlapping with the administration module. The category of Becerik (2004) missed the non-functional features that play the important roles to set up and administrate the systems. 92
Table 1: Previous Categorization of Project Extranets' Functionalities
Leung (2002) General system Document management Workflow management Administration User centric workplace Team communication ASP server performance
Nitithamyong & Skibniewski (2004) Document management Project workflow Project directory Central logs and revisioncontrol Advanced searching Confenrenceing and white-boarding Online threaded discussion Schedule and calendar Project camara
Becerik (2004) Team communication and document management tools Workflow and process automation tools Process and project management tools
Wilkinson (2005) Organisation communication management Collaboration
File conversion
Website customization Office access
Messaging outside the system Wireless integration Archiving of project information Information service Financial service
E-bidding and procurement
These issues make the previous categories unusable for our research. There is neither a commonly acceptable function category nor any category covering the fullest function list. Therefore, the authors have to propose another 4 groups' category for this research, which comprises of System Administration, Document management, Workflow management and Communication tools plus add-ons. This categorization is based on the tasks that all functions and associated features will fulfil in every module respectively. It tries to cover the existing functions and associated features to date. It also considers the potential upgrade that the vendors can add into as add-ons. This category including full description of all functions and associated features will be discussed in detail in the following sections, together with their adoptions in our analysis.
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4. Research Method Fieldworks, e.g. survey or interview to the system vendors, have been proven not suitable for identifying the functions and features from the vendor's perspective. The major reason is, as aforementioned, the system vendors would be reluctant to say their system doesn't have a specific function and will click most of options when investigated. As the result, the survey will normally produce an inaccurate result. Thus, the authors have selected desktop research as the research method and so this research is mainly based on the document analysis to the available materials disclosed by the vendors. The steps include: 1. identification of functions and associate features for developing a category for this research; 2. identification of project extranet vendors for the selection of sample system; 3. investigation into the selected systems for listing and scoring the existing functionalities. 4. analysis to the results and conclude the findings. Following these steps, the authors firstly selected some systems as the samples (refer to the following section for the sample systems and selection criteria) and then collected the materials which include vendors' web-pages, brochure, WHITE PAPERs, demo software, reports and some results of previous. The authors have then viewed all of the available materials, browsed the online contents and used the available demo system one by one carefully. For those vendors providing more than one product, the authors did a wider investigation among all products available. The authors have also contacted the selected system vendors by emails or filling out the request information form on the vendors' websites. However, despite several requests for information, only a couple of system vendors responded with their features lists or white papers. The functions and features are then categorised with descriptions as below. To analyze the functionality, a scoring system showing the feature's availability has been adopted. This scoring system is based on the "Yes or No" pattern and was adopted by Raol et al. (2002) to analyze functionality of enterprise portal. When adopting this system, a table will be built which combines the to-be-investigated sample systems and features in a crossing way. If a certain feature is found in a specific system, a Y note will be given in the corresponding cell in the table. If this feature is not mentioned or unavailable in a system, then an N note will be given. After full investigation and all marks are completed, the total amount of features belonged to a system will be summed up and the percentage of availability for a feature will be calculated and used for the further analysis. 5. Investigation and Identification of the Functions and Features 5.1. Sample Systems Selected In 2005, ExtranetNews (2005) listed more than 250 project extranets worldwide. Since then, some vendors have been merged or disappeared while some new ones emerged although the exact number is unknown. The market is very lively and competition is on a quite high level. Some system vendors often claim their success in their white papers or press releases, but no any single system is in a dominant position. Also, some small companies that only sell a single service (e.g. document management) are still alive, although many Market leaders are providing much more comprehensive functionality or so-called full solution to the end-users. 94
In order to gather as much information as possible in a short time and with limited resources, the authors have decided that the major criterion for the sample selection is the functionality that the systems can be capable of providing. In another word, the samples should be those systems that indicated they provided solutions in all 4 function categories as we proposed above. Therefore the eight systems, which form a consortium in the UK (NCCTP - The Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers), would be the ideal samples and are all selected. As the leading systems in this area, AutoDesk's Buzzsaw & Constructware and Bentley's Viecon have also been selected. Apart from these samples, other systems are then randomly selected from the directories which include eProject, HotProject, CTSpace and The-project. However, they are all identified to have the solution in our category.
Table 2 shows a list of selected systems and their providers with the websites respectively. An abbreviation-style symbol was given to each system. Table 2: Selected Project Extranet Providersii
No. Symbol
Product
1 4P
4Projects Extranet
2 ACO
Aconex System
3 AD
Buzzsaw & Constructware
4 AS
Asite Solution
5 BC
Business Collaborator
6 BIW
BIW Technologies
7 CAD
CadWeb.net
8 CT
CTSpace Solutions
9 CWT
Causeway
10 EP
eProject
11 HP
HotProject
12 THE
The-Project
13 PP
ProjectPlace
14 VIE
Viecon by Bentley
Vendor 4Projects Ltd. Aconex Ltd. Autedesk Inc. Asite Solutions Ltd Business Collaborator Ltd. BIW Technologies Ltd Cadweb Ltd. CTSpace Ltd. Causeway Tech Ltd. eProject Inc. Hot Project Ltd. Sarcophagus Ltd. ProjectPlace Int'l AB Bentley Systems Inc.
Website www.4projects.com www.aconex.com www.autodesk.com www.asite.com www.groupbc.com www.biwtech.com www.cabweb.co.uk www.ctspace.com www.causeway.com www.eproject.com www.hotproject.com www.the-project.co.uk www.projectplace.com www.viecon.com
5.2. Features' Investigation and Identification This section groups the functions and associated features into the proposed 4 groups' category and describes all features in detail. All feature associated with a specific function are highlighted in bold characters. Afterwards, the scoring tables are generated showing the features' availability. System Administration System administration includes the features occurred in the initialization stage and daily maintenance. It includes three sub-functions: 1. User management, which enables the client to manage their user group by setting a hierarchical user profiling and creating a user directory or address book to facilitate the contact among all participants; 2. Project administration, which manages project web throughout the whole process of web site utilization. The user can design its own customized project web by using wizard or templates and manage multiple projects in a single project panel or dashboard. Another useful feature is project inbox or notice board which shows instant message or notice to the users as soon as they log into the system; 3. System settings enable the maintenance and configuration of systems. When required, the user can set language options for the purpose
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of localization. It can also monitor and control the system's access, usage and health. It can set the level of system security and protect user's data and privacy. Some system vendors may design special features for those mobile people to access the system by using hand-held devices. Also, although the project extranet is mainly a web-based system, some vendors provide the user desktop or client-end software for their convenient and alternative use. Table 3 shows the availability of features associated with system administration in the sample systems. Table 3: Features Associated with System Administration
Characteristic User hierarchical profiling User directory / address book Project panel / dashboard Multi-projects support Customization of project web Project inbox / notice board Project wizard / template Access control / monitor Hand-held devices support Security Localization / multi-languages Client-end software support Feature number Percentage
4P ACO AD AS BC BIW CAD CT CWT EP HP THE PP VIE % Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y 93 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 93 N Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Y N Y Y 71 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 N N N N N N N N N NN N N N 0 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y N N Y N Y N N N N Y Y 50 Y N Y N Y N N Y N Y N N N Y 43 10 10 11 8 10 11 7 10 9 10 9 8 10 11 83 83 92 66 83 92 58 83 75 83 75 66 83 92
Document Management Document management is the major function of project extranet and is the main benefit from using this technology for the users. It establishes a single and central location to allow the users store and manage project-related files generated by various applications, such as project photos, contracts, drawings, specifications, cost data and etc. The associated features and characteristics have been well discussed (Watson and Davoodi 2002, Asprey and Middleton 2003). In the first instance, the files' transfer (upload & download), sharing and publishing, viewing, searching and printing are the essentials of a document or content management system. In addition, to make the better utilization of the documents, some other features are introduced in the systems to help the users view the files in multiple formats remotely, either online or offline. They can then revise, redline, mark-up and modify the files when required. The file version will be recorded and the history can be retracted. File encryption is applied to enable the documents' security during transmitting and reviewing procedures. The files would be back-up in a second server or other storage devices, to protect them from any possible crash down or disaster. information storage and archival allows a project team to copy the entire or part of project database to a set of storage devices or media after the completion of a project, to keep all necessary project records for any dispute and future operation and maintenance of the facilities. Also, the archived data could provide the reference for the future bidding. Currently, the document management systems usually provide the supports to workflow management as an integrated solution. All files should be used seamlessly by other features such as Request for Information (RFI) and Technical Queries (TQ).
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Table 4 shows the availability of features associated document management in the sample systems. Table 4: Features Associated with Document Management
Characteristic File upload / download File encryption File sharing / publishing Remote viewing Mark-up / revise Notification of change / new Search tools Track record and history Printing-out Muilt-format support File storage and archival Workflow Integration Disaster protection Feature number Percentage
4P ACO AD AS BC BIW CAD CT CWT EP HP THE PP VIE % Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Y 86 Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N N N Y 64 Y Y Y Y Y Y N N Y N N Y Y Y 71 13 13 13 13 13 13 10 12 13 10 11 12 12 13 100 100 100 100 100 100 77 92 100 77 85 92 92 100
Workflow and task management Project workflow is a process that involves the automation of construction process and the activities among project players, e.g., the process of approving a change. Standardized workflow management is achieved through the monitoring of project progress and automatic completion of some specific tasks (e.g. query management, change order and approval) and timing response to the Request for Information (RFI) and Technical Queries (TQ). The benefit of workflow management can also be gained through the real-time event management and automatic task reports and meeting minute. To keep the work going as planned, it's also necessary to use Web-based calendar or schedule and task reminders. Table 5 shows the availability of features associated with workflow and task management in the sample systems. Table 5: Features Associated with Workflow and Task Management
Characteristic Integrated project calendar Progress management TQ, RFI management Change order and approval Real-time event management Reporting on workflow Feature number Percentage
4P ACO AD AS BC BIW CAD CT CWT EP HP THE PP VIE % Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y 86 Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y 86 N Y Y Y N Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 79 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 56 6 6 3 6 5 6 6 6 6 6 46 83 100 100 100 50 100 83 100 100 100 100 100 67 100
Communication Tools & Add-ons Improved team communication has been proved another major benefit from using project extranet, which are achieved through online platform and with the help of some brand new or
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mature applications and tools, such as email, instant messaging, discussion forum, online audio / video conferencing, and etc. As a real-time appliance, web-cam can act as a monitor or recorder and all participants can be informed with real-time updates. These features provide supplement for and facilitate to formal communication. It is expected that wireless and mobile communication will add more values on this feature. With the development of technologies, users' expectations to the system integration are continuously increasing. As the response to their expectations, some system vendors have developed a number of add-ons or functional modules, which are sold / leased either separately or as a bundle. Among them, electronic tendering function should be a potential one and the feature of recording healthy and safety status during construction process is also a positive response to the more and more strict requirement in law. Table 6 shows the availability of features associated with communication tools and add-ons in the sample systems. Table 6: Features Associated with Communication Tools and Add-ons
Characteristic E-mail Instant messager (IM) Discussion forum Audio / Video conferencing Web-Cam facility e-Tendering / bidding Healthy & Safety file Feature number Percentage
4P ACO AD AS BC BIW CAD CT CWT EP HP THE PP VIE % Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 100 N N NNN N N N N N N N Y N 7 Y N Y N Y Y N N Y Y N N Y Y 57 N N NNN N N N N N N N N N 0 N Y Y N N Y Y N N N N N N Y 36 Y Y N Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y N Y 64 Y N Y N N Y N N Y N N N N N 29 4 3 423 5 2 2 4 2 1 2 3 4 57 43 57 29 43 71 29 29 57 29 14 29 43 57
6. Findings and Discussion 6.1. Differences of Functions and Features ­ Answers to the Research Questions The tables presented in the previous section form a basement for further studies. After checking and comparing the tables one by one, the authors have reached some results that can answers the rest of research questions. With regard to the availability of the functions and associated features, the first impression for the authors is, of all selected systems, not anyone has had all listed features. It means no any system can be regarded as a total solution like they claimed in their disclosure materials. The thorough examination shows that only Autodesk's Buzzsaw plus Constructware, BIW and Bentley's systems can supply the most comprehensive functionality, although they are still lack of some features that may exist in other systems. In addition, it is found that only 6 systems have more than 80% listed features in all modules excluding the communication tools and add-ons module. They are 4Projects, Aconex, Buzzsaw & Construtware, BIW, CTSpace and Viecon by Bentley. On the one hand, it implies that there exists a great difference among all available project extranets. On the other hand, this once again gives the evidence that the availability of features to all systems is not in a satisfactory level. Furthermore, we can say that the myth of total solution is not really the
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truth. Or, in another more gentle way as Raol et al. (2002) used, the term of "total solution" may not have the same definition among the different developers. Looking into the tables, the authors have found that the extent of availability for all functions and associated features is quite different, which means the system vendors have different bias on the feature options. As the principle function, document management module has been proven a well-established one. Of 13 features associated with this function, 10 of them are produced by all system vendors, which include file upload / download, file encryption, file sharing / publishing, remote viewing, mark-up / revise, notification of change / new, search tools, track record and history, printing-out, and multi-format support. In comparison with document management, the communication tools and add-ons module gets the lowest percentage. This means the features associated with this function are either optional or immature for an on-sale product. After looking into this module closely, instant messenger is found in only one product and audio / video conferencing has no any presence in products. Considering their popularity in personal use and entertainment, they are surely not immature but are unacceptable by the industry on the corporate level. Other less-adopted features are believed to be either immature (e.g. e-Tendering), or easy accessible (e.g. WebCam), or substituted by other features (e.g. discussion board and healthy files). Another two functions are in the middle place. Of all 12 features associated with system administration, 8 are found in more than 90% systems which include user hierarchical profiling, user directory / address book, project panel / dashboard, multi-project support, customization of project web, project inbox / notice board, access control / monitor, and security. These features could be classified established and mature ones. Project wizard / template is only found in 71% of all systems, which means this feature is still needed to be further improved and wider adopted. Localization / Multi-language support and Client-end software are found in less than 50% of systems. They are therefore classified maturing features and their deployment is greatly dependent on the target market and users. The absence of hand-held devices support is an surprising findingiii, as there have been a number of publications discussing its implementation together with wireless communication in the construction industry (De La Garza and Howitt 1998, Rebolj et al. 2002, Beyh and Kagioglou 2004, Rebolj and Menzel 2004, Kimoto et al. 2005, Aziz et al. 2006) and it was regarded very suitable for the mobile construction process. This phenomenon needs to be paid attention and in-depth research is required in the future. Of all 6 features associated with workflow and task management, three have been found in all systems and another three have also got a satisfactory percentage (above 79%). So, all of these features could be classified established ones. It reflects that the concept of integrated working has been widely accepted by the industry. The workflow management and document management are now remaining a close relationship and the integration is achieved in project extranet as well. The differences of availability for all features can lead to a hierarchical classification on them, i.e. all features could be grouped into three levels according to their presence: core features, established features, and immature / optional features. The core features include all of those that have had more than 90% of availability, while the established ones include those that locate between 70% ­ 89% in availability and all of the rest are put in the lowest level. This classification can then be illustrated as Fig. 1 and shows the difference among all features again. 99
Immature
Features
Established Established
Features Features
Core Established Immature / optional
Profiling Access control Mark-up Calendar Template Hand-held Web-cam
Directory Security Notification Progress Storage Localization e-Tendering
Dashboard File load Search Workflow report Disaster Client-end H & S files
Multi-project Encryption Track record E-mail TQ / RFI Workflow Conferencing
Customization Sharing Printing Change order Messenger
Notice board Viewing Multi-format Event Forum
Fig. 1. Features' Hierarchical Classification
6.2. Supplementary Findings Besides the differences of all features discussed above, another finding from using the system demo is that some features are not developed as properly as they should be. As an example, localization / language option would be a serious consideration for most of system vendors if they want to develop overseas market. However, although there is some multiple language support, it seems only an advertisement. When investigating this feature, the authors tried to set up a sample project on some systems in a pure Chinese environment which the vendors claim the support exists. But the efforts failed in most of cases, because either the system only provides an English interface or produces wrong characters in the web pages. This kind of exaggeration will certainly result in the disbelief and abandonment to the implementation of such systems for the end-users. Yet, there are also some other positive findings. At first, we find from the tables that all the systems have no significant shortage in major functions and features. For the users selecting a suitable system, it is therefore a good news as they will not fear any absence of critical features. It can surely enhance their belief in using such systems. Secondly, all systems have the same bias on document security. The related features of User's hierarchical authentication, File encryption and Security get 100% presence in all systems. This could then effectively reduce the user's worry about securing their documents and protecting their privacy. Thirdly, the usability of project extranet has been paid enough attention. In most of systems, the user can set up their own project web with the supplied wizard. Easy-to-use has
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often been a highlight for the vendors when marketing their system. This is also the case in compatibility issue as all systems provide multi-project and multi-format supports. Together with the service of file archival, the migration from one system to another becomes possible. 6.3. Function Overload? Suggestion for Further Study This research has generated a complete list of features. The extent of availabilities and differences among all sample systems are discussed above. These features more or less are the components or possibly a part of further evolution of existing systems. They represent the developer's perspective in the provision of functionality. However, whether or not these functions and features are really what the users want? Satisfactory answers to this question should be significant, as previous research has found that information systems often provide some redundant functions and features. These excessive functions will result in very loaded or complex sites which will purely discourage the users. Hurley (1998) called this "overload", she added: "The overload of features and functions forces us to navigate more and more complex routes to more and more obscure asks. We are working for the technology rather than having the technology work for us." This overload can be judged in many ways. The rule of "20/80" seems applicable to demonstrate this issue although it might be difficult to conclude a quantitative result. This rule is known as Pareto principle and it is often used to describe a phenomenon that, for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In computer science the Pareto principle can be applied to resource optimization by observing that 80% of the resources are typically used by 20% of the operations (WiKi 2007). In this research, this rule may be used to describe that the 80% of users only use 20% of functionality, or 80% of all features are actually used by 20% of the users effectively. However, this judgement needs solid evidence to validate it. So, there is another urgent need to undertake a research to analyze the functionality from the users' perspective, to make a comparison with the systems' provision. In this topic, Ruikar et al. (2005) have done a Case Study aiming to analyze users' acceptance to project extranet and found that "visionary" and "market leader" will encourage the adoption of this technology. But the users' requirements to the specific functions and features are still not disclosed. We believe the awareness to the user's exact needs must be taken into account, as the successful use of information technology requires an analysis approach which takes into account a thorough understanding of the organizational role (Shaefer 1988). Our next research will then investigate users' real needs, aiming to find the users' attitude and expectation to the functionalities, and to find the gap between the existing functionalities and users' requirements. 6.4. Limitations Although this research method can effectively extract the provided features from the existing systems, it has some obvious limitations. 101
At first, considering the amount of existing systems in market, the amount of selected sample systems is limited. Therefore the selected samples can only reflect the selected vendors' perspective and show a partial image to the researchers. This is a key limitation of this research. Another key limitation is that the information used in this research is mainly based on the disclosure materials supplied by the system vendors. Their attitude and bias on features' presence will somewhat impact on the result of this research. The authors have made continuous efforts to use the demo systems offered by the vendors, to try to find the facts that the disclosure materials don't state. However, not all systems have available demo software for this usage.
Despite the limitations stated, this research was undertaken independently and therefore the outcomes of this research are not biased in any way. The authors have paid emphasis on eliciting the existing features in a reasonable way and great care was applied in interpreting the results as well. If the further improvement on the result is required, the suggestion is testing the systems one by one with the participation of developer's software engineering or system analyst.
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