Lean Construction Management – How Much Digital Is Ingenious?

Ralf Schneller in an intercview on IT in the construction sector and efficient simplicity

Ralf Schneller is responsible for IT procurement at Drees & Sommer, an international consultancy for the construction and real-estate industries headquartered in Stuttgart. The company’s main services are development, process and infrastructure consulting as well as project management and engineering. Before Ralf Schneller joined Drees & Sommer, he was key account manager of an international IT company for more than 17 years.

How did you come to join Drees & Sommer?

I had looked after Drees & Sommer for many years in my previous position as a key account manager of an IT company. When I learned that the position as head of IT procurement became vacant, I simply changed to the other side of the desk.

What is the core business of Drees & Sommer?

As a leading European consulting, planning and project management company, we provide support and advice to private and public builders as well as investors on all issues relating to properties and infrastructure. Both analog and digital.

Digitization and the construction industry – how does this work?

Digitization in the construction industry is noticeably lagging behind the development in other industries. There is still a lot of room for development in the future, where we are pioneers in terms of digitization.

Where and how does Drees & Sommer use IT?

The question is no longer where we use IT today – we are literally surrounded by it. The challenge today rather is to find good answers to the key question: How much digital is ingenious? Add to this all the requirements given by the market. I am thinking building information modeling (BIM) solutions, LCM (digital lean construction) or smart city. Our major asset is that we have both comprehensive know-how in strategic corporate consulting approaches and great competence in the design and support of projects at the interface between digitization, IT and construction. We thus combine all the competencies required to actively and profitably drive forward and shape the digital revolution in the construction industry.

Where exactly does simplicity play a role?

I believe every one of us feels that the variety of tools available to us today can become counterproductive someday. Just look at today’s communication possibilities! Even in our private lives, we are hardly able to control the flood of information with all the tools and platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, email, text messages, fixed line, cell phone and Facebook. We note that the building construction projects and infrastructure projects in our core business become ever more complex as well.

What are the reasons?

There are several factors which come into play. For instance, an ever-increasing variety of project participants. Cost and time pressure increase, while the quality of the process flows declines. The design variety and the requirements for safety and sustainability have grown significantly as well. The consequence: It is becoming increasingly difficult to purposefully manage construction projects and to achieve set goals, e. g. in terms of costs, deadlines and quality.

Which solutions are possible here?

One trend driven by this demand is lean construction management, which is focused on an integrated project solution. This methodology is based on lean management in automotive production and the agile approaches in software development which are transferred to the execution respectively the planning phase of construction projects. Simplicity arises from transparency, which helps to better coordinate planning processes in a target-oriented manner.

In which way does IT make it easier for your customers?

I think we generally perceive something as easy when we have a feeling of control. Things we do not understand or comprehend are automatically perceived as difficult. IT-supported systems help us understand complex systems and to break them down into easy – because straightforward – steps and to provide tools to handle these steps. Clear arrangements, e. g. dashboards, provide the necessary security through control.

What were the most striking changes and milestones of Drees & Sommer?

What we have learned from building: If the foundations are wrong, the most beautiful building on top is of no use. However, you do not see the foundations anymore, once the building is finished. I think we have done our homework properly when it comes to foundations, and therefore can build on it on a grand scale. This holds true for both our IT and the other company segments. We can look back on a successful business development of almost 50 years.

How did the cooperation with DATAGROUP start?

We had already advanced quite far in the outsourcing process for our helpdesk, when a mailing on CORBOX arrived on my desk. I was especially impressed by the handwritten accompanying letter.

How did you proceed?

It was soon obvious that the CORBOX really is a valuable collection of professional competence and complete processes for us. We also got along really well on a personal level. All of this contributed to DATAGROUP winning the project.

What do DATAGROUP and Drees & Sommer have in common?

The mission of Drees & Sommer consists of eight statements which express how we tick, how we collaborate and what defines us. In DATAGROUP we have found a partner whose value system is comparable to ours and who therefore is a good addition to our own capabilities. Like pot and lid …

Is there something at work you do not consider simple enough?

In IT procurement, we constantly strive to improve our processes and operations. There is definitely room for simplification. Just recently, for instance, we have analyzed our procurement processes together with our colleagues from Consulting, which led to a couple of measures which we will fine-tune in the next few months.

Thank you very much for this interview Mr. Schneller!