Virtual Concept Use in the Construction Industry

Virtual Concept Use in the Construction Industry

O. K.B. Barima (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-943-4.ch065
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History is laden with many technological breakthroughs which have had enduring impacts on business affairs (e.g., automobile, mass power generation, etc.). It also appears that modern information and communication technology (ICT) tools, especially the Internet, have had some impact on the way in which business and other task deliveries are conducted. Aligned to this is the emergence of virtual model in business where people are able to operate independent of time and space via dependence on modern ICT tools to attain specific goals. During the previous decade (1990s) various virtual organizations (or “dot-coms”) emerged and they were touted to be the future of business, and hence with the potential to completely overthrow traditional companies (see, e.g., Mandel, Ho, Himelstein, Foust, & Muller, 2001; Ousthuizen, Koster, & Rey, 1998). Although the end of the 20th century saw the demise of most of these companies, however, a few surviving ones like the search engine company Google have made significant impact in recent times by overtaking traditional companies like General Motors and Ford Motor Co. in terms of market capitalization (via an estimated value of about $27 billion in year 2004) (see, e.g., Shinal & Kopytoff, 2004). Further to the above generic review of the impact of the virtual organizations, seminal accounts also exist on the significant use of the virtual concept to support engineering task delivery by traditional companies. In the aviation sector, for example, Boeing Co. pioneered the use of the virtual concept to support task value delivery processes via its first virtual collaborative design using 230 design/build teams which started in 1990 and resulted in the unveiling of Boeing 777 in 1995 (see, e.g., Rayport & Sviokla,1999; Russell & Flack, 1998). Boeing Co. thus avoided the use of traditional physical airframe prototypes of the proposed aircraft, and leveraged information-based virtual product prototypes (with the relevant laws of physics and material science) assembled on computer, and this aided the avoidance for physical means to solve conflicts of space (Rayport & Sviokla, 1999; Russell & Flack, 1998). This initiative led to massive gains in terms of 75% reduction in rework, testing of many designs at lower costs, better speed, and hence gains in efficiency (Rayport & Sviokla, 1999; Russell & Flack, 1998). On the other hand, Ford Co.’s first initiative via the Advanced Vehicle Technology project to use virtual model across geographic locations over traditional physical collocation resulted in efficiency levels which were a third less than physical collocation delivery (Russell & Flack, 1998). To sum, the accounts given above concern the potential success and “failure” in leverage of the virtual concept in business activities, from both generic and specific applications. One may extend this thinking to explore what lessons may also be learned from other industries like the construction industry on the leverage of the virtual concept to deliver value? With the virtual model depending to a great degree on the use of modern ICT, a track of diverse research on ICT in construction may be useful to enhance comprehension of the trends of research in this area.

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