Ensuring delivery is on time for construction projects can be a difficult promise. Project planning and technology solutions can certainly help, and this is where VDC (virtual design and construction) enters the equation. While VDC certainly isn’t a new concept, have we made any strides with leveraging it in the past two decades? What are we still doing wrong? Why didn’t it work on your last project? Let’s explore in more detail now.
While seeds of this idea date back to the 1970s, it really began to take root in 2002, when Dr. Martin Fischer and Dr. John Kunz of Stanford University officially used the three-letter acronym. They used VDC as a way to describe multi-disciplinary performance models of design-construction projects including the product, work processes, and organization of the design-construction-operation team.
As we always say here at Constructech, VDC is not a technology in and of itself, but rather it centers on business objectives. Often, construction companies will leverage integration and digitization to meet those goals and to ultimately improve how projects are done. As I always say, with any digital transformation, we need people, process, and technology in order to meet our objectives.
This is precisely what is conveyed in VIATechnik’s VDC Maturity Curve, which explores where we are with VDC today. The report suggests VDC must start with objectives, and through the integration of people, process, and technology, allow the team very early in the project, and with a high level of certainty, to answer critical questions about the project. This then flows down through the supply chain, making it possible to achieve the best results.
While there are benefits for all types of stakeholders including architects, general contractors, and subcontractors, a 2007 survey overwhelmingly showed more than nine in 10 believe owners receive value. Also, one in four attributed an improvement in the number of unbudgeted change orders to using VDC and almost half reported an improvement in response latency during design and/or construction. About 15% saw improved monthly cost performance, with half of these citing an improvement of 10% or better.
Here’s the challenge. Like anything else, there is a learning curve—something many teams are still working through. In fact, VIATechnik calls it the VDC Maturity Curve. The first level (0) is when a team has the right software in place, but places control and management in the hands of the 3D content creation team. The next step up (1) is when VDC is not linked to the strategy but is functioning in its own world. VIATechnik calls this headless VDC.
Next, we move up (2) to awareness where the organization has a champion seeking best practices and metrics have been enabled and the next level (3) is where the champion links to multiple groups in the organization, working in cohesion to achieve a common goal. Teams reach excellence (4) when VDC is linked across the project lifecycle of a project, and mastery (5) when all feedback loops are closed. Where does your project team fall on this curve?
VDC suggests—and I agree—that the onus is on senior leadership to take initiative. Phase I is setting the foundation and focusing on alignment to the organization’s business strategy. Phase II is identifying where a team is on the VDC Maturity Curve. Phase III is determining how VDC can be operationalized into the fabric of the project and taking into consideration the people, process, and technology.
Opportunities abound when we use VDC, but only if we use it effectively for projects. What have you seen? Has VDC worked for your company? Where have there been struggles and opportunities? What would you have done differently?
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