Influence of computers and information technology

The use of computers, e-mail, and the Internet for transfer of designs and data has now become commonplace. Copies of drawings and documents produced in one office are now sent via the World Wide Web to other offices anywhere in the world, so that the recipients comments thereon can be returned without delay. Thus specialist engineering guidance centred in one part of an organization can service the needs of others in distant locations. Computer aided drafting (CAD) has also become the norm for production of all formal drawings and to some extent for engineers sketches.
A further development has been the integration of the design process with
the requirements for construction. An Intranet can be set up to link people together within their own organization. Drawings and design information,
specifications and bills of quantities for a construction project can be stored centrally and accessed by all authorized members of a design team, with only certain members authorized to alter the details. This means that drawings and data being used are always current, there are no delays caused by awaiting
information, and the process of making changes can be controlled and audited.
Adesign change can, for instance, lead to an immediate change in the contract drawings and the relevant specifications and bills of quantities.
A natural development has been to extend the availability of data to other parties concerned with a project such as the employer, the principal contractor, and perhaps to certain specialist suppliers or advisers involved by
setting up an Extranet using the Internet. Such arrangements can be variously termed project collaboration or project portal systems. But greater care then has to be exercised in the selection of information made available on-line, in restricting access to it by only certain authorized parties, and in providing adequate security protection. This type of Extranet collaboration is also useful between firms when Partnering, Alliancing, or Joint Venture (see Sections 1.9 and 1.15) arrangements are adopted. An Extranet system is usually procured from a specialist website service provider, and has at least two main divisions (i) a data division containing the basic information deemed necessary; and
(ii) a division for recording inter-party communications. Computer software must be compatible and the set-up cost can be high, so that Extranets are
mostly used for large projects.
Some difficulties can arise with computerized project collaboration. There is doubt whether a contract instruction from one party to another via such a system is legally valid in UK where contracts normally require instructions to be issued in writing. There are also potential problems in preserving copyright of designs. Whereas hard copy contract drawings provided to a contractor must usually be returned to the design engineer on completion of a contract, there is no equivalent precaution that can be taken when drawings can be archived on disks.
The fact that the various parties inter-connected can communicate freely
with each other can also tend to blur responsibilities. Care must be taken to ensure that communications conform to the contractual position each party holds, so that misunderstandings do not arise. Also the ease with which key specialist advisers or project managers can be contacted can result in them being overloaded with requests to assent to some proposed action. The danger this creates is that, with limited time for the specialist or manager to consider all the ancillary circumstances applying to the often complex problems arising in civil engineering, incorrect or insufficient advice is given. The sending of copies of a communication for information only to parties additional to the main intended recipient may also have to be restrained to prevent too many documents cluttering computer screens. The indexing of data files covering much diverse data also needs careful pre-planning to provide an adequate definition of the contents of each file and avoid mis-filing of further data added.

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