Digital Builder Ep 56: Why Data is at the Heart of Construction’s Digital Transformation

As digital adoption in construction continues to accelerate, companies face new challenges around data. Collection, verification, standardization, and utilization are all vital data processes for every company to implement properly—but where to start?

During Autodesk University, Eric sat down with Jit Kee Chin, Executive Vice President and Chief Data Officer at Suffolk Construction, to discuss how companies can properly implement data standardization, how data transformation brings value to every level of an organization, and more.

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Why Data is at the Heart of Construction’s Digital Transformation

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On this podcast episode

We discuss:

  • Contributing factors to the acceleration of construction technology and digital adoption
  • How technology has made transparency easier to achieve
  • Why building trust in data is so important
  • The risks and rewards of data standardization
  • Why organizations need to build trust in the data they collect
  • How Data Democratization empowers workers at every level of an organization

How completing a "project post-mortem" can lead to better project outcomes

Collecting project data and analyzing it once a job is complete is one of the best ways to improve future performance. Post-mortems, which involve gathering critical lessons from each project, help you document vital learnings, making them accessible to the broader organization.

Doing so allows teams to learn from previous jobs and apply relevant insights to the projects they're working on. This leads to continuous improvement over time; project execution becomes more streamlined, risks are kept to a minimum, and teams can move forward with confidence.

Three ways your data journey can lead to transformation

There are numerous advantages to having a better handle on your construction data. To showcase these benefits, let’s dive into how data transformed Suffolk’s teams and processes.

1. Using data to improve transparency

The Suffolk team understood that what gets measured gets managed. That's why they built a dashboard that could surface information from various sources and make data easily accessible in near real-time.

This helped Suffolk streamline how projects are executed. People could see things faster, take action faster, and give each and every project manager the high-level picture of the project.

APMs that are added to a project mid-flow, for example, can get the info they need and gain an understanding of a project even if they weren't necessarily involved in it.

In addition, data transparency empowers folks to collaborate better. APMs can have meaningful conversations with executives and senior leaders because they understand that high-level view.

The benefits of the dashboard go beyond that. Aside from helping teams with current projects, Suffolk's data transparency allows folks to look back at previous jobs and gain insights that can be applied to the present.

2. Using data as a safety net

Gathering data isn't enough. For it to be useful, you need to find ways to succinctly surface that information to the right people. Since stakeholders have different roles, the data presented to each person must be tailored to them.

The Suffolk team understood this, so they created a dashboard view for different roles – one example is the management view.

The management view was built by synthesizing the information, showing trends, and ensuring all aspects are measured. We also set tolerances. When it's out of tolerance, we flag it and make that visible to management.

By creating this view, the firm's management team can spot issues earlier and take action before they blow up.

In a sense, Suffolk's management view creates a safety net, so teams can get support if problems start looming on the horizon.

3. Looking forward, not just back

Looking at previous project data doesn't just help you better understand the past. It can also provide insights into the future.

By collecting and analyzing various types of data—e.g., the weather, time of year, manpower, risk observations, etc.— you can forecast the safety levels of a project and make decisions accordingly.

By tapping into that data, construction pros can issue safety warnings and ensure reinforcements are made when necessary.

By looking at previous projects, teams can spot historical trends more efficiently and thus make accurate forecasts and decisions for current and future projects.

How to measure and navigate your data journey

There is no question that data is a game-changer for construction pros. But we must also recognize that transformation doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to create change—both from a cultural and technical perspective.

The best thing you can do is start early. Invest in data and processes that would surface the right information, to the right people, at the most appropriate time. Like Suffolk, this could mean pulling data from different sources and showcasing insights via dashboards and custom views.

On the cultural side, leaders should recognize that people adapt to change differently. Make sure you have solid communication processes when rolling out new data systems. Promoting a "no-fault" culture is also essential. Rather than punishing failure, emphasize learning and encourage curiosity.

New podcast episode every week 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. Learn more about Suffolk's data practices and transformations by watching Jit Kee's full AU 2022 session here.

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Eric Thomas

Manager, Construction Thought Leadership at Autodesk + Host of Autodesk's Digital Builder Podcast