The power of visual documentation

Documenting construction projects pays off long after completion
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
by Russ Bollig

Along with a user-friendly construction management platform, one of the most critical investments you should make ahead of any new construction project is visual documentation. Photographic documentation will yield a positive return on investment throughout the lifecycle of a building, and now, new technology enables companies to have comprehensive as-built visual records of every project that they can use during and long after construction.

Putting technology to work during the build

At each phase of construction, visual documentation allows for a permanent installation record of in-wall, in-ceiling, or in-slab components, such as mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems, hydronic heating elements and underground utilities. As each of these components will be permanently covered throughout construction, it is critical to visually capture their installation before the next phase of construction begins. This is compounded by the fact that there will be different subcontractors working on site at any given point of construction. Visual documentation gives all stakeholders an indisputable record of as-built conditions and eliminates costly knowledge gaps between contractors.

Crews can also use visual documentation as an important tool for planning, QA/QC, and inspection activities. For instance, the same drone-captured aerial imagery can be used by site superintendents for logistics planning while allowing other stakeholders the ability to efficiently inspect roofs or potentially hazardous areas from their desktop or mobile device, without adding an unnecessary safety risk.

Documenting for when (not if) something goes wrong

Another aspect of construction that professionals are very familiar with is that moment when something doesn’t go to plan. Despite all efforts to the contrary, we know that construction personnel are human, and global labour shortages add an additional layer of pressure on the weight of fewer qualified workers. That’s why visual documentation is critical for making sure that stakeholders have all the data that they need, especially when it comes to dispute resolution. Actual visual records of the project taken throughout various milestones of construction helps all stakeholders resolve disputes or quickly troubleshoot.

It can also save building owners a significant amount of money when construction defects are identified. Is that improperly-installed window present in every room or just an isolated number? Costly destructive verification can often be completely avoided by simply reviewing the visual documentation of the weatherproofing installation of each window.

Having visual documentation also helps to eliminate communication and data silos across stakeholders on the construction sites. Today’s cloud technology gives owners or developers real-time access to construction progress, often on a platform that can be shared with all relevant stakeholders, like architects, engineers, and construction personnel. Additionally, comprehensive visual records ensure a smooth turnover of the building and eliminate the knowledge gap between the departing construction crew and incoming facility team.

Referring to documentation throughout the building’s life

Often, the largest return on your investment in visual documentation will come after the build is complete. Visual construction records allow owners and facility managers to see the many systems encased in walls, floors, and ceilings – even as the people who work on and in the building change, ensuring knowledge transfer about the building. Knowing what you have, where you have it, and how it was installed can significantly reduce operations and maintenance costs. If there is a need for renovations down the line, facility managers will already know what’s behind the walls, in case there are hidden critical systems that might need to be avoided or addressed for the upcoming project.

While 2D imagery of now-covered systems provides incredible context, new technologies have added an additional layer of accuracy. 3D image technology, for instance, allows users to accurately calculate measurements of any object captured in that image in seconds. Taking measurements from a pre-slab 3D image before coring, for instance, reduces the costly and dangerous risk of hitting a post-tension cable. The latest 3D imaging technology is revolutionary – accuracy within several millimetres is now possible at a far lower price point than traditional methods like laser scanning.

Visual construction documentation can act as an insurance policy for when something goes wrong, but the most forward-thinking companies use it proactively, substantially increasing their return on its investment. Do your wallet a favour and avoid settling for the sporadic smartphone pictures that end up in a folder on someone’s computer. Instead, invest 0.1 per cent of your construction budget on an unbiased, third party professional to comprehensively capture your project from ground break to ribbon-cutting. This helps the bottom-line by tapping into their expertise and their technology to make the most out of your investment – and that’s what all construction stakeholders want.


Russ Bollig is the global product manager at Multivista. Multivista, part of Hexagon, is a leader in construction documentation services, offering a full suite of solutions on an intuitive cloud-based web platform.

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