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Informed Decision-Making and Digitized Management Processes

  • 14 Pages
  • Published On: 23-11-2023

Summary

The performance of construction projects by attainment of stipulated goals through informed decision-making incorporating substantial information and data management is crucial for the success of building projects. Organizational dynamics, pricing swings, and efficient management of construction information are important variables in construction projects. For a project to be successful in terms of cost, scope, quality, planning, and communication, effective planning and management are essential. Construction experts make quick and precise decisions in the early phases to reduce financial losses and handle constraints like quality, cost, and schedule. To improve decision-making and project performance, the construction sector is implementing digitized management processes, including industry 4.0 tools like decision support systems. It's crucial to strike a balance between sustainability and historical preservation, and sustainable building practices to account for both internal and external issues. The industry's use of resources and effects on the environment highlight the need for sustainable methods. The digitization of the construction industry will increase production and efficiency. A systemic data collection and analysis coupled with a Decision Support System that helps project managers navigate uncertainties and optimize project execution enhance construction supply chains, optimize decision-making, and evaluate sustainability key performance measures.

Some existing DSSs address aspects of project management from a design, cost, duration, or human resource perspective. However, they lack a global vision that ties all these aspects while being centered around sustainability. This research addresses this lack of a comprehensive DSS for minimizing long-term building costs. While this research proposes such a DSS for a typical construction industry, it further considers the particularities of projects undertaken in Saudi Arabia, such as (i) the influence of social, economic, and environmental aspects on the sustainability of buildings, and (ii) the flexibility of the building sector. The interaction of environmental, social, and economic elements, industrial flexibility to impediments, and optimized cost trade-offs are crucial issues that have not yet been investigated. As such, this study focuses on a model-centric, formal, decisional DSS for sustainable construction projects in KSA.

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Chapter 1: Introduction

Introduction

Global warming, climate change, extreme weather and unprecedented levels of carbon emissions have called for reactive and proactive action at all levels. This has translated into calls from environmental proponents and policymakers for the integration of sustainability principles into all aspects of urban living, industrial and service infrastructures, and logistics. For instance, to balance the rapid urban growth, policy makers are urging the construction industry to adopt best practices towards mitigating climate changes and ensuring sustainable development (Taroun, 2012); thus, encouraging the construction industry, for the public and private sectors alike, to adopt sustainability models that minimize the adverse effects caused by construction (Tokbolat et al., 2019) on the environment and attain sustainable buildings. In addition to the common challenges that most industries face during their transition toward sustainability, the construction industry faces additional unique challenges, caused by the difficulty of collecting pertinent data and analysing it. The accuracy of construction data and its effective analysis are fundamental for generating useful insights and undertaking corrective actions if needed. Consequently, decision support systems (DSSs) have emerged as a useful tool for construction project management. While DSSs have existed as tools for better economic and time management of construction projects, they are herein considered for sustainability enhancement of construction buildings (Gunatilake, 2013).

Background

The success of construction projects depends on the attainment of their performance targets and objectives. This, in turn, requires judicious decision-making that explores the proper handling and management of extensive knowledge, data, and information. Construction projects are based on several main features such as organisational dynamics, price volatility, and systematic management of construction information (Wang et al., 2013; Son, 2022; Adekunle et al., 2022). As a result, it is crucial to plan and manage construction processes efficiently to make the projects successful in terms of project cost, scope, quality, planning, and communication (Kazak and Hoof, 2018; Khan et al., 2020).

Construction projects undergo different stages. During their preliminary stages, construction project managers and practitioners such as engineers, architects, and quantity surveyors make important decisions in addition to identifying relevant risks, such that they are required to make decisions fast, accurately, and efficiently regularly for minimizing financial losses. These decision-impact three key constraints i.e., quality, cost, and time (Gorecki and Nunez-Cacho, 2022). However, as the project evolves, new data prevails, and changes to the economic or environmental conditions occur, stakeholders (designers, clients, and contractors) must adapt their prior project planning and decisions. This allows them to mitigate problems and maintain the feasibility of their project (Zhu et al., 2020; Khan et al., 2020). Furthermore, construction projects comprise five key stages including planning and development, design, pre-construction, procurement, and construction.

Project management processes involve various building information handled via different applications; the non-interaction of these application could yield to conflicting or to suboptimal decisions in the construction industry; thus, the need for formal processes that classify the wide-ranging information and channel it for coherent informed decision making (Fallahpour et al., 2020; Son, 2022). This has resulted in an increasing trend of digitized management processes in the construction sector. Increasingly complex construction projects and complex decision-making processes compounded by heightening demands on operational performance are making the industry restructure data use and communication channels (Smith and Wong, 2022). The utilisation of intelligent industry 4.0 tools, specifically decision support systems in combination with management information systems, can potentially facilitate better decision making (Smith and Wong, 2021) and significantly increase project performance. Furthermore, Shafei et al. (2022) suggest that implementing decision support systems as a construction industry 4.0 tool has a potential of yielding benefits such as decreased time and cost during the decision-making process.

In construction projects, external constraints such as historical monuments underscore the importance of balancing the preservation of unique architectural and historical features with efforts to improve and maintain their efficiency, particularly given that contemporary government buildings are typically designed with a 50-year lifespan in mind. Failure to maintain these distinct architecture and historical aspects of a building in incorporating sustainability features can diminish and damage the heritage value and importance of the building (Nguyen et al., 2022). Zavadskas et al. (2016) explained basic principles of an efficient building lifetime analysis. These principles included functional aspects, complex analysis, application of interlinked sciences, cost-benefit analysis, and simulation of a building lifetime process. These principles should focus in addition on sustainability practices, brought up by climate change and environmental degradation. That is, building designs and construction projects should shift toward more sustainable sources of energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, fossils fuels are still used to meet more than 85% of the primary energy needs (Alhazmi et al., 2021). Sustainable principles in the construction sector should meet current urban development needs without jeopardizing the needs of future generations (Zhu et al., 2020).

To achieve sustainable construction projects, organisations need to consider both external and internal factors such as quality, budget, and deadlines. However, the construction industry faces unique challenges due to its fragmentation, its largest scale, and its diversity. It is a major consumer of natural resources, including materials (concrete, steel, and wood) and energy for transportation, heating, and cooling (Mahamud, 2019). The construction industry and operation of buildings account for 40% of global resource use including energy and materials (UN Environment Programme, ????). The production of cement, a core component and widely used building material, accounts for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Global Alliance for Building and Construction, ????). In terms of energy use, the industry consumes 36% of the global final energy consumption in construction and operations on buildings (International Energy Agency, ????). These pose significant environmental hazards across the building lifecycle from planning to resource consumption.

Availability and analysis of construction data are key to achieving sustainable construction projects, to understanding what makes a sustainable building, to rating the sustainability of building designs, and to transforming buildings into sustainable infrastructures (Labonnote et al., 2017). This requires the collection of information from different stages of the construction process. Analysing this data requires DSSs that can account for uncertainty of task duration, resource availability, and costs (Velázquez et al., 2019).

3. Research Context

The United Nations (UN) proposed the 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) displayed in Figure 1. These goals motivate entities, organisations, and countries to attain resilient-built sustainable development. Housing and the construction industry are key players in attaining goals 1, 6, 7, 11, and 13. The 1st goal of “no poverty” focuses on eradicating poverty and involving poverty eradicating actions, such as giving access to basic services. The 6th goal of “clean water and sanitation” focuses on enhancing the water quality by reducing pollution. One way to reduce pollution is through sustainable construction and management. The 7th goal of “affordable and clean energy” focuses on expanding infrastructure so that sustainable and latest energy services can be provided. The 11th goal of “sustainable cities and communities” focuses on providing technical and financial help in construction of resilient and sustainable buildings that use local materials. The 13th goal of “climate action” is to incorporate climate change measures in the construction sector through green buildings. These goals may help attain the environmental goals by cutting household greenhouse gas emissions. This would require integrating sustainable building practices into construction strategies (Galjanić et al., 2022).

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Even though these goals are pertinent worldwide, they have some particularities in hot arid countries such as Saudi Arabia. The UN uses a common strategic model for cooperating with Saudi Arabia so that the country can be supported in attaining of SDGs. Considering the Saudi Vision 2030, different policies have been applied by Saudi Arabia to attain SDGs. These policies range from programs, initiatives to projects which are associated with SDGs and the UN agenda (Banani et al., 2016). Furthermore, as per statistical findings, approximately 80% of the generated electricity is consumed by buildings in Saudi Arabia. Large amounts of material are used in its construction industry which amounted to $52.6 billion worth of contracts in 2019 (Jamoussi et al., 2022). This spending is bound to increase with the rising trend of new mega projects in the country, the population growth, higher demands for new buildings, and more resource usage. The construction industry can enhance significantly through incorporation of sustainability strategies in construction projects (Mallick et al., 2022).

In 2010, the Saudi Green Building Council (SGBC) was established to incorporate sustainability in the design, methods, and processes of construction projects. This was to support the Kingdom’s Housing Program set to construct quality affordable family housing for 70% of families by 2030 (Asfour et al., 2022). Other latest environmentally friendly and human-based mega-projects include the Red Sea Project and NEOM. Similarly, the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK) mega-project focuses on promotion of sustainability by deploying various cutting-edge construction solutions (Dadlani, 2020). The purpose of all these projects is to diversify economy of the country and enhance sustainability. These latest projects show that the construction industry in the KSA already focuses on integrating sustainability in the construction projects.

4. Research Problem and Research Gap

Currently, the expansion of cities in Saudi has stimulated the gradual infrastructure development. However, increasingly longer, and hotter summers in KSA will exacerbate the consequences of global warming (Mallick et al., 2022). As such, Air-conditioning systems are projected to be responsible for high energy consumption in buildings, but this can be reduced through energy-efficient building design. Achieving this requires retrofitting existing buildings, developing suitable structural guidelines and policies, and promoting sustain design practices for new buildings. However, the success of such initiatives depends on incentivising the construction industry to overcome individual, organisational, and project-based barriers towards sustainability (Kazak and Hoof, 2018). These barriers include factors such as limited information, high capital investments, unaware end-users, hesitant developers, lack of training, non-supportive management/funders, absence of guidance for contractors and designers, inadequate monitoring and inspection of construction violations, and limited involvement of local councils in reinforcing clear policies and guidelines (Smith and Wong, 2021).

Several studies have explored sustainable construction and management concepts and proposed DSS for construction industry. Guerlain et al. (2019) suggested a DSS to improve construction supply chain and logistics in European cities using an evidence-based decision-making mechanism. Johnson-Ferdinand (2015) proposed a Spatial DSS model, dashboards, and a 3rd party rating system to facilitate decision making in the construction sector in New Jersey. Storey (2010) modelled a DSS as a multi-criterion decision-making tool that combined qualitative and quantitative sustainability metrics, enabling decision makers to compare building designs’ simulated performance in a competitive industry. Velazquez et al. (2019) proposed a decision-support methodology for designing sustainable office building in France, considering economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Fallahpour et al. (2020) developed a DSS model to assist project managers in selecting the best construction project using an integrated multi-criteria decision-making approach. Other studies proposed DSS models for selection of sustainable construction materials (Jalaei et al., 2015; Bakhoum and Brown, 2014; Kim and Hammad, 2022; Sivasubramanian and Lee, 2022; Minhas, 2021, Yang and Ogunkah, 2013).

Few researchers have explored topics related to construction project management, sustainable construction, and construction project sustainability. Labonnote et al. (2017) provided an overview of empirical evidence on various DSS frameworks related to the construction industry. Smith and Wong (2022) assessed the current research on AI-based DSS for enhancing the sustainability of construction projects, revealing a greater focus on economic sustainability than social and environmental sustainability. In their study, Minhas and Potdar (2020) provided bibliometric insights and proposed future research direction for DSSs. Similarly, Galjanic et al. (2022) identified the absence of digitization in the construction industry, and emphasised the need for its adoption in construction businesses. The authors emphasised the advantages of adopting digitalisation, including increased productivity, improved documentation quality, streamlined working methods, time savings, faster response times and improved work speed.

The existing literature on sustainable construction management primarily focuses on proposing DSSs for specific countries, but no study has yet considered aspects similar to those that arise in Saudi Arabia or countries with similar weather. Furthermore, the current literature neglects essential aspects: (i) the impact of environmental, social, and economic factors on building sustainability, (ii) the adaptive behaviour of the construction industry in response to prevalent barriers, (iii) the absence of sustainable construction management DSS that applies advanced optimisation tools to optimise long-term building costs, and the trade-off between societal loss, operational costs, and exploitation and maintenance costs.

5. Research Aim and Objectives

The aim of this research is to propose a DSS for sustainable construction and management. Its main purpose is to incorporate sustainability criteria (economic, environmental, social) into the decision-making process, so that sustainable construction and management practices, tools, methodologies, and processes can be supported in construction companies throughout the country. The study will focus on developing and implementing the DSS, testing and validating it, and assessing its impact, cost, and CO2 savings for two cases studies: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). This aim will be attained through the following objectives, as listed below:

  • To define and explore basics of sustainable construction in the construction industry, and determine key performance metrics;
  • To investigate sustainability challenges and opportunities faced by key professionals during the management of Saudi construction projects;
  • To design and test a sustainable construction management DSS exploring 3-D visualization of the architecture plan and assessing different selection options in terms of cost, energy savings, lifetime impact, materials and CO2 savings;
  • To validate the proposed sustainable construction management DSS by recruiting a sample of voluntary key professionals and requesting they test it; and
  • To assess the long term impact of the proposed DSS on reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry in KSA.
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6. Research Rationale and Significance

Integrating sustainability into the design, development, and management stages of construction projects through good practices is a complex decision-making problem that persists globally. To address this issue, this research proposes a DSS that enables the integration of key metrics and yields more intelligent and sustainable constructions. This research is significant as it facilitates the design and implementation of sustainable, cost effective, energy efficient buildings. The DSS developed in this study proposes alternative design solutions, including the choice of material, equipment, methods, and architectural designs, as well as optimal project management strategies that account accounting for uncertainty of costs, future weather conditions, and budget availability, while ensuring energy efficiency. The implementation of this DSS will enable the design and construction of lower societal loss green buildings. Furthermore, the research intends to contribute to the construction sector by demonstrating effective management of construction using sustainable techniques, instruments, methods, tools, and procedures. Therefore, this research aims to present a DSS model that can provide sustainable and beneficial solutions to construction project managers. The model will not only show ways to handle current challenges and situation in the construction industry but also facilitate evidence-based decision-making.

7. Research Structure

This dissertation comprises six chapters. Chapter 2 presents the main theorised concepts, provide a detailed overview of Saudi construction industry, synthesizes the existing literature, and state the literature gap. Chapter 3 outlines the research design, approach, and method. Chapter 4 details the 3D architecture of DSS model. Chapter 5 implements, tests, and validates the proposed DSS in 5-7 Saudi construction companies. The final chapter summarises the research findings, draws conclusions, offers recommendations and future directions, and outline research limitations.

References

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