Ironically, for a country that serves as a back-shop for a lot of outsourced technology, India still lags when it comes to technological advancement, which in turn hampers the progress of construction projects.
A recent survey by New Delhi-based Satellier, a firm that provides global workshare solutions and Building Information Management (BIM) services for architects, engineers, and the construction industry, found that 93% of survey respondents see a significant gap between international design practices and construction realities for large-scale developments in India.
Michael Jansen, CEO of Satellier, talked with NREI about how Satellier’s Indian design management services could help the country's construction industry become more efficient.
NREI: What sorts of problems does the construction industry face in India?
Jansen: In India right now, the construction industry is facing a myriad of problems with respect to the entire building process. There’s an escalating raw material crisis, and there are massive inconsistencies and inadequacies with the consultants who provide services in the architecture and engineering space. The process itself is actually in many ways immature. The level of documentation produced is scant. Contractors experience enormous trouble during the course of the project. They end up compromising the integrity and quality of the project, and also their ability to deliver on time and on budget.
NREI: How do Indian construction standards differ from international design standards?
Jansen: There are a number of fundamental differences in terms of construction methodology and technology. This is largely a masonry and concrete-driven construction industry with a largely unmechanized labor force, which is a problem. There is a need, at a basic construction level, to raise the bar and introduce new technologies to accommodate the new world-class building types that are coming into India. You now have multimillion square feet mixed-use complexes — tall buildings. All these were not here 10 years ago, or even five years ago. There was no need for them. You can’t really blame the construction industry as it were. On an individual basis, owners are developing the means to address these projects on their own, and they’re obviously facing a massive problem.
NREI: How does the BIM technology help sort out the issues in the Indian context?
Jansen: We act as the owner’s representative and the local architect of record who interfaces with the design architect and all the agencies that report to the owner, including all the consultants. And we manage their efforts through our practices and our technology. BIM is one of those.
We can digitally prototype the building prior to construction. We can take input from all of the trades — the architect, the electrical engineer, the mechanical engineer, the plumbing engineer — and actually model the entire building to be able to analyze and see whether the building is being coordinated or not. One of the biggest problems in construction is a lack of coordination between the disciplines, which results in conflicts onsite and cost overruns that result in delays.
Traditionally, consultants work somewhat in isolation and if they coordinate, it is in individual meetings. In the BIM scene, they are all contributing their input to the same shared project model and therefore clashes are immediately detectable. Beyond that, the model is embeddable with various types of data, including cost data and material data, engineering data and so on. We have a living cost model that we can work with, that we can value-engineer and we can adjust as we move along. It is quite a powerful tool. In India, where there is so much discord among the agencies, I think it is a great unifier.
NREI: Do you think use of improved technology will be able to smooth out the inherent problems in India, such as the sluggish Indian bureaucracy and corruption?
Jansen: I don’t know that the technology itself will have a direct impact. That’s more of a regulatory issue. But technologizing what these regulatory agencies do certainly will help with the approval process. And in my experience of being here 14 years it has improved considerably in the last five years. It is still an issue and there is a procedure of facilitating the movement of plans through the building department. But I think honestly, in many cases, that situation is in the process of improving in India right now and becoming professionalized, as are many Indian government agencies.