Laepple, Eberhard Sebastian (2005-08). Exploring project collaboration systems in the building industry. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The use of Web-Based-Collaboration-Systems (WBCS) continues to grow as part of information technology development in the Architecture-Engineering-Construction (AEC) industry. WBCS provide different media channels to support collaboration across geographical distributed teams. However, many companies are still hesitant to integrate WBCS. This research provides an understanding of how WBCS are used in practice. Most distinctively, it obtained practice data from several major US architecture firms and examined about 30,000 transactions produced during actual design and planning projects as practicing architects, engineers and consultants used WBCS. The study investigated what information was used and exchanged among participants during the different design stages. This was related to the different media channels of WBCS. The raw project data has been coded and transformed into secondary data through computer-supported content analysis. Based upon categories from previous literature, such as communication, coordination and design theories, the data has been analyzed for sender, receiver, channel and content of information transmitted. The content has been characterized into work tasks, information handling behavior and design activities. Additional interviews with industry professionals produced information that had not been documented through WBCS and that corroborated the analytical findings. The combination of theory, quantitative, and qualitative analysis has been synthesized into a portrait of WBCS usage that was validated through triangulation. The analysis of digital records of design communication from practice through content analysis is a new research methodology in AEC. The evidence supporting design methods theory shows the changes in tasks and information handling in regards to the project phases. It indicates that the most frequent loops of design activity are Evaluation- Analysis-Synthesis and Evaluation-Synthesis-Evaluation. It documents the actual usage of WBCS based on descriptive statistics and Markov models. WBCS was used primarily as a document repository and calendaring tool. The remote team members used it more frequently than centrally located participants. The study shows the limitations of WBCS: none of the verbal communication was captured. More significant, the entire email exchange took place outside the WBCS. WBCS was used very extensively, if the implementation of the system supported the organizational structure and vice versa.

publication date

  • August 2005