Fewer cost overruns, fewer missed schedules, fewer safety incidents – the benefits of using quality data to inform decisions in construction projects are many.
“We are using project data to alert us to things before a problem arises,” one BIM coordinator surveyed for Autodesk Construction Cloud’s recently released global report Harnessing The Data Advantage In Construction told us.
“For example, we can track the number of encountered defects. We know once they exceed a certain number the schedule is going to be delayed. Having these insights allows us to address things when we can still do something about them.”
Our research found the construction industry is collecting more data than ever before but many are struggling to translate raw data into actionable insight.
In many cases, what is missing is the clear overarching data strategy, encompassing how data is collected, analysed and acted on.
Bad data has clear costs – our research found it caused 40% of the average construction firm’s poor decisions. Despite this, many of the more than 3,900 construction industry professionals we interviewed listed multiple roadblocks to establishing a formal data strategy.
Of those without one, the chief reasons why were:
- Not knowing where to start
- Lack of leadership and organisational support
- The cost and resources required.
So, how can the motivation and momentum needed to better harness data be built?
Opening the black box
As useful as knowing where your destination is, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t also know where you currently are. That’s why a good place to start is with a software audit.
When we speak with potential clients and ask what they’re doing with their current software and why, they often don’t know. It’s a ‘black box’, they tell us.
It’s difficult to compare what benefits a new approach would bring if it’s not clear how the current approach is functioning.
A basic software audit can give decision makers a better understanding of where they are at right now including what their systems are capable of doing, and how they’re being used. That, in itself, can be a revelation to many organisations as they start to map a smarter way forward.
Once an audit has been completed, processes can be benchmarked and compared against the concrete benefits of making a switch.
Engage the right stakeholders
Next, a broad and diverse group of people from within and around the organisation should be convened to help guide the process. This group should represent all stakeholders and potential data users – including major suppliers and contractors.
Their first job is to come together with decision makers to discuss how they currently make decisions and where their frustrations lie.
- Where can manual, repetitive and time-consuming tasks be automated?
- What is it that slows decision-making down?
- Where are each department’s blind spots in terms of data?
- Where is data held and who can see it?
- What should be defined as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ data?
- In what situations are people relying on ‘experience’ and ‘know-how’ rather than accurate, real-time data to make decisions or implement changes?
- This can be an eye-opening process as there are always frustrations. Staff have been using technology in their private lives for long enough to know when the systems they’re using at work are inefficient.
It’s important to consider even the little things that can introduce errors. One CIO, during the research for the Harnessing The Data Advantage In Construction report, told us, “When we started to review the quality of our data, we encountered no fewer than 20 different spellings for the same supplier.”
All of this gets in the way of developing data you can trust and base important decisions on.
At this stage, the group is in a discovery period, learning from each other the benefits to be had from a smart data strategy.
The outcome here should be a clear understanding and prioritisation of the data categories and data capabilities that could alleviate the issues identified.
Imagine the future
It’s normal for a project manager to understand where a specific project is at. But it’s rare for a business executive to have the confidence to say they know for sure that a specific project is on schedule, on budget, has particular challenges that need to be solved, etc.
Executives in businesses that have smart data strategies can say this, and much more.
Data-driven systems offer such powerful insights that it can be quite a mental leap to imagine their business uses. Many organisations continue to discover new and exciting use cases for their data years after the system has been implemented.
First and foremost, it’s vital to develop buy-in. This means teams and individuals at all levels should be able to fully appreciate how a data strategy will make their jobs better, and make them better at their jobs.
“You have to take a human-centric approach,” a Senior Digital Delivery Manager told us. “You have to show them that you are reducing the amount of time wasted for them personally.
“If you are cutting down on their work by reducing time spent on administrative tasks, people are more likely to make the transformation.”
Take small steps
Building a wall begins with putting a single brick in place, not placing all the bricks in a single movement. The same principle applies to instituting a successful data strategy. A successful pilot project will demonstrate the benefits better than any PowerPoint deck.
By focusing on the project data that you know can bring the most value to the business, you will be able to demonstrate results and return on investment quickly. And good data platforms are modular and easy to integrate, meaning elements can be introduced one at a time.
Best practice is not to change anything mid-project. Start with a new project and compare results with another project that is still using traditional methods. The more clearly you can quantify the benefits, the smoother the introduction of a full data strategy will be.
Ready for what comes next
It is vital for the future of many organisations that a strong business case is created.
Up against challenges such as the labour shortage, ever more aggressive schedules, greater quality assurance expectations, more competitive bidding processes, sustainability pressures and more, the insight offered by a strong data strategy is a powerful driver of performance.
To learn more about how your competitors are making use of data, download the Autodesk/FMI Harnessing The Data Advantage In Construction report.