Tips to Use Construction Data to Unlock Efficiency Across the Project
Your company is likely sitting on gold. No – it’s not the possibility of buried treasure under a project or a new piece of machinery – it’s data.
Across the world, companies are collecting massive amounts of data. In fact, the world produces more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. Leading companies are putting it to use to implement data-driven construction approaches to create better products, serve customers more effectively, and see increased ROI. But currently, many companies worldwide exhibit only partial use of data, incomplete planning and modeling, inability to analyze results, and a lack of streamlining that wastes time and money.
The truth is, whether you know it or not, the built environment produced an incredible amount of data. Nonetheless, according to an FMI study, 95.5% of all data captured goes unused in the engineering and construction industry. The question becomes: Is your company actually maximizing data with the right tools and processes to improve productivity on the job? Chances are your company has a lot of opportunities to make improvements. The good news is, it doesn’t have to stay that way for long.
In our blog, we’ll discuss 10 of the most successful data-driven design and construction approaches and strategies companies can implement to boost jobsite productivity, increase your ROI, and please customers. But before we get into specific strategies, let’s discuss the top qualities that all data-driven design and construction companies exhibit.
8 Characteristics of a Data-Driven Construction Company
If you want to implement top data-driven design and construction strategies, it’s critical to first build the right foundation. Building a data-driven construction company culture is the first step. Here are 8 traits data-driven cultures exhibit.
1. Extensively Collect Data
Data-driven design and construction starts with the right system and digital tools to collect quality data. It needs to be:
- Accurate: Free from error and mistakes, and without double entry
- Real-Time: Always updated in the cloud
- Trustworthy: Viable as a decision-making tool
It’s also crucial for construction companies to start thinking of data from solely a numbers perspective. While easily crunched facts and figures are essential for decision making, today’s construction data also comes in the form of visual information, for instance, the BIM models and even photos and videos throughout the project’s progression. Beyond that, there are immense amounts of qualitative data. Consider chains of communications needed for every project process and change. If you fail to include those, you won’t get an accurate picture of the construction process.
2. Focus on Accessibility
Even the best data is useless if it’s not widely accessible. One of the most significant components of data-driven design and construction is that anyone can easily obtain the data they need, from anywhere.
Extending beyond easy accessibility – creating a system where data is easy to see and understand is vital. For many companies, it might mean increasing the data literacy of their employees. There are several strategies to achieve this including offering training opportunities until the new data approach becomes truly embedded in a firm’s culture and ensuring frequent and cutting-edge continuing education.
Creating accessibility for data also includes buying into the right systems. The technologies that enable this need to:
- Be easy to use
- Be centrally organized with high-level dashboards
- Provide snapshots of insights for easily digested decision-making information
- Include customization and standardization options to fit with niche business workflows
3. Remove Paper and Other Manual Processes
Good data output requires good input. To eliminate the chance of mistakes and errors that could render data sets untrustworthy, data-driven companies do not rely on manual data entry for key workflows. Paper-based and manual programs put businesses and projects at risk, in addition to wasting time. Instead, they use digital tools that incorporate automation for processes like creating and managing submittal logs in real-time.
4. Create Uniformity Across Teams and Phases
Have you ever been on a project where there is a disconnect between a contractor and subcontractor because they are using two entirely different systems for plans and information? Without connection and unity across teams and the project lifecycle, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve data-driven design and construction. Instead, smart and forward-thinking companies aim to build buy into the same goals, using the same metrics, tools, and technology.
5. Work Off a Single Source of Truth
In a typical construction project, several tools and technologies are being used to capture, collect, and process data. However, much of this data remains siloed which perpetuates why approximately 96% of E&C data goes unused.
Data-driven construction companies think about where silos can be removed and how they can create one single source of truth for all information. This means that everything from 2D to 3D documents, financial data, plans, weather, and schedules can all be accessed from one common point.
6. Utilize Advanced Analysis
Data can be misleading; especially if it does not arrive in a clean and easy-to-use form. Advanced analytics can help you go beyond raw data and make innovative and forward-thinking decisions, as McKinsey & Company explains. As the graphic below illustrates, data increases in usefulness and generates a competitive advantage as it increases in analytical richness. Companies using tools like predictive analytics, machine learning, and simulation modeling are the ones who can drive the most effective data-driven decisions.
Source: McKinsey & Company
7. Measure Their Decision Making and Risk Management Effectiveness
Can you honestly say that the data you have on hand is being used to drive decisions and allows your team to deliver projects more efficiently and on budget? Data-driven construction companies use information as a proactive strategy, rather than just purely defensive. With the right insight and analysis, it’s easier to address risks and move forward before they become real issues.
8. Implement a Continuous Improvement Mindset
Data collection and analysis is a never-ending process, and data-driven design and construction rely on constant tweaks and improvements. Data-driven companies never consider themselves to be at their ultimate peak of data mindfulness, even if they have a competitive advantage and market leadership position. Companies that are data-driven know there’s always more work to do to improve their processes, efficiency, and overall projects.
12 Data-Driven Construction Strategies
With knowledge on how to build a company foundation for data to prosper and inform key business decisions – what’s next? There are many tactics companies can take to improve data collection, use, and analysis. Here are 12 of the top strategies today’s construction companies can adopt.
1. Building Information Modeling (BIM)
While the concept of Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been around since the 1960s, many companies have been slow to incorporate it. Nonetheless, the potential of the technology is massive.
BIM involves taking all the data of a project, then integrating and manipulating it to create an interactive, time-dependent 3D model of every substructure and process required for the full build.
According to a survey from the National Building Specification (NBS), 78% of building companies see BIM as the future of project information.
Although most major building companies are using BIM in some capacity, most firms aren’t maximizing the process to its full potential. That’s a mistake, especially since research shows that thoughtful BIM streamlines efforts, saves money, and results in timelier project completion.
If you haven’t used BIM on projects yet, now is the time to get started using this innovative method. Are you making the most of BIM? Download our eBook to find out.
2. Alternative Delivery Methods
Reorganizing projects with an eye toward the whole, rather than toward its individual components or people, results in a much more efficient workflow. Therefore, traditional project delivery methods like design-bid-build, are not always the most effective for data-driven construction because they can create even larger silos.
Instead, take a look at alternative delivery methods. Integrated project delivery (IPD), for instance, is a highly collaborative approach to project implementation. Brown University even used IPD and big data to determine where to place a new building on campus. While utilizing IPD doesn’t require specific standards for data collection, if implemented correctly, it empowers the entire project team to input and access data at every step of construction.
IPD in particular also embodies in lean principles, helps to reduce inefficiency and waste, as well as optimizes workflows through careful analysis. As the Lean Construction Institute puts it, “Traditional silos of knowledge, work and effort are broken down and reorganized for the betterment of the project rather than of individual participants. The result? Significant improvements in the schedule with dramatically reduced waste, particularly on complex, uncertain, and quick projects.”
However, getting teams to buy into new delivery methods can be challenging. This is primarily due to a resistance to change from traditional delivery programs. Oftentimes, you need to have the right tools in place to make a collaborative delivery method successful. For instance, if you are not yet using BIM, then it will be hard to institute lean construction or IPD, where all stakeholders pool resources and knowledge for the betterment of the whole project.
Hence, an essential first step is to harness data and technology and then put it into action using a formalized delivery method in order to optimize workflow and deliver more effectively.
Most construction projects rely entirely on on-site fabrication today. This involves manufacturing or modifying construction components on the actual jobsite, which is at the mercy of all variety of environmental conditions. As a result, weather and other factors commonly stall a project’s timeline or put it over budget.
Utilizing partial or complete prefabrication is a sound strategy for maximizing all of your project data from visualization. Prefab, or offsite construction, uses project data to maximize the efficiency of the built environment. By knowing exactly what components are needed for a project ahead of time, firms can make them offsite, and transport them to the jobsite once they are completed. Of course, getting started with prefabrication as a construction strategy is complex and involves the efficient use of data.
While it’s challenging to entirely rely on offsite construction to complete a major project, you can start utilizing prefabrication on a smaller part of your project to increase overall efficiency.
When it comes to game-changing construction strategies, data standardization is an underrated hero. With essential standard processes and workflows in place, construction firms are empowered to capture and measure accurate data throughout the life of a project. Standardization is critical for today’s leading construction companies because it allows uniformity to be applied to the input and measurement of data. Ultimately this helps teams to systematically maximize efforts and reduce inefficiencies.
In addition to creating a foundation for more regular data, improved standardization can actually stem from good data itself. Gathering, analyzing, and implementing the conclusions from data can go a long way towards setting up and optimizing standards across a project.
Having immediate access to view and input data is almost as critical as the data itself. Equipping your team with a wide-range of mobile technology is one of the leading construction strategies to improve the quantity and quality of the data that’s being collected. Here’s one statistic to digest:
According to a study from Dodge Data & Analytics, 50% of construction companies surveyed said mobile technology increases the volume of quality data they can obtain onsite.
However, construction has been traditionally slow to change and mobile connectivity has not been a priority. Many companies are not using mobile devices on the jobsite, let alone real-time mobile applications. Even the companies who have mobile devices available readily for workers are seeing usage decrease over time. According to an FMI study, construction professionals cited “a poor fit with current processes and procedures” as the leading reason why technology failed.
A better approach? Give field teams not only the mobile devices and the right software to do their jobs, but invest in training, so they have the know-how to access plans, create markups, and develop new workflows fast.
6. Collaborative Technology
As we mentioned above, quantitative data isn’t all there is to a project’s success. Knowing how to utilize and distribute qualitative data is equally important to the process. Collaborative technology ensures all the qualitative (i.e., comments, communications, and reports) and quantitative information of a project can be found and integrated in one central location.
When all the needed quantitative and qualitative data is available at workers’ fingertips, it improves team cohesiveness, reduces rework, and streamlines the delivery of a project. Through enhanced communication and a stronger meeting of minds, projects are less likely to go off the rails.
7. Internet of Things (IoT)
To operate today’s construction equipment and tools at optimal levels, you need a steady stream of data. When used in the construction industry, the Internet of Things (IoT) helps keep devices connected. More importantly, IoT can constantly feed relevant information, not only just to stakeholders and workers, but it can actually talk to other devices and objects needed for the completion of any project. Project stakeholders can use this rich information to make data-driven decisions about the likelihood to impact project success and meet key performance indicators (KPIs).
Wearables on site can also be powered with IoT. Wearables, which have already saturated the health and fitness markets, can provide detailed data to project managers about their crews. From measuring efficiency levels, evaluating safety risks, and keeping staff healthy, IoT linked devices have endless potential for data collection and analysis.
8. GPS Technology
Just like in IoT, more data about equipment, tools, fleet, and even staff is useful to any construction manager. However, many companies struggle to physically keep track of all the individual components involved in a project–especially when a project is large, sprawling or in multiple locations.
GPS systems can also be used to relay important project information, like photo locations embedded in plans and documents, something particularly important to those working in heavy civil construction. With an accurate idea of where and what the issues exactly are, and data to back it up, project teams can provide solutions more effectively.
9. The Cloud
The cloud is where data unification occurs. It’s the digital place where you can store and access all designs, models, RFIs, submittals, and communications until you need them. As we noted above, construction companies often struggle with accessibility of information. Project information is hard to track down and if it does live in one central jobsite trailer or office, it’s not easy to access. Workers waste precious time and resources traveling back and forth to find what they need, or they go without it in the field, resulting in errors that delay project completion and result in less-satisfied owners and developers.
Cloud-based construction management is secure and improves project productivity. As data-driven construction strategies go, cloud-based document management is one of the most critical to adopt immediately.
Data-driven construction only works if the data is correct and error-free. But it’s easy to see why construction projects are prone to error considering that:
Currently, 47% of construction managers still use manual methods to collect essential project information, according to a recent study.
Using automation for administrative processes and data compilation is crucial because it ensures accuracy. Take, for instance, a process like submittals, which is typically manual and therefore exhibits a large degree of error. Construction software is now available to instantly create submittal logs from spec books, error-free. It then streamlines the entire process to make it more efficient. Not only does this result in a more productive workflow, it means you save on non-optimal human power, helping you to maintain submittal quality control, as well as get to work quicker.
Submittals are just one example, however. Today, there are a wide variety of systems that can help to create streamlined processes to help projects remain on time and budget.
11. Common Data Environment
Above, we noted why creating a single source of truth is essential for a data-driven construction culture. One way to do that is to utilize a common data environment.
According to Designing Buildings, “The common data environment (CDE), is the single source of information used to collect, manage and disseminate documentation, the graphical model and non-graphical data for the whole project team (i.e. all project information whether created in a BIM environment or in a conventional data format). Creating this single source of information facilitates collaboration between project team members and helps avoid duplication and mistakes.”
Essentially, a CDE is a digital hub where information comes together. Creating one starts by adopting technology that integrates and centralizes all project information.
Think you know where your company stands when it comes to data-driven decisions that effectively evaluate risk? You could be under or overestimating your capabilities. That’s why it’s essential to run a benchmarking health check to evaluate where your business currently stands and how you can make meaningful improvements.
Get Started with Data-Driven Construction
At the end of the day, data provides big organizational value. Construction companies are just starting to mine the surface of deep data dives. If you’re embracing a comprehensive data strategy with the right structure, tools, and processes, you’re ahead of the game–but there’s plenty of room to grow.
The beauty of construction in this day and age is that project teams are starting to wake up and embrace tech. There are plenty of opportunities to gain the leading edge, but you’ll have to act fast or you’ll be left behind. Now is the time to make the change and proceed full speed ahead.
How many of these data-driven strategies are you implementing on your projects? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments below!