Why Portable Data Is Vital to a Project’s Legacy 

portable data in the construction industry

Don’t Settle for Missing Facility Data   

Do you enjoy playing the game of telephone? Let’s rephrase the question, do you enjoy playing the game of telephone in a professional capacity? While telephone can be a fun children’s game, if played unintentionally on a construction project with communications, data, and information, it can feel like the bane of the final receiver’s existence–the owner. 

Nevertheless, take into consideration how many individuals, companies, and teams it takes to build a project, let alone the sheer amount of data they are producing. It’s no surprise that construction data gets lost and disconnected. Each team and trade has its own methods, systems, and  standards  for  collecting dataBut as a result, when it’s time for project handoff, the owner is often missing valuable project information due to poor technology compatibility.   

So, is it possible to retain the mass amounts of data created in design and construction? The answer is yes – but it involves capturing, managing, and retaining portable data throughout the entire project lifecycle to close the disconnect. 

While the concept of “data portability” has been gaining more traction in design and construction recently, it’s still a relatively novel concept to the building sector. Few owners are taking full advantage of a truly portable data structure on projects.  

Below, we’ll explore why information is lost and disconnected to begin with as well as how a focus on portability can reduce the significant amount of design and construction data currently lost by  closeout. Ready to go portable? Let’s dive in.  

Where Did All the Data Go? A Typical Case of Data Leakage  

Despite more collaborative technology options available for construction projects, for the most part, teams still operate in technology “silos.” For example, the owner, architect, contractors and even subs are often using their own technologies specific to their niche needs and workflows on the project. If data and systems are not structured in a standard and compatible format, a certain amount of data loss is incurred in nearly every phase of construction – known as leakage.  

To illustrate leakage, let’s say there’s a design model collecting 100 different data points regarding systems installed in a building. This is very useful to the specific teams accessing the model until it is transferred with another modeling platform. Due to how different the systems could potentially be, it might only be able to keep 10-30 points of data from the original model. As a result, a large portion of data is lost or corrupted because of a lack of system integration. This looks like:  

Data-portability-loss-to-owner-in-construction-Project owners are increasingly dependent on general contractors to manage the flow of information and technology. But as GCs collect data from designers, consultants, and dozens of trades, so again begins the game of telephone; there’s a lack of a common transceiver and receiver to retain the integrity of information. 

In truth, without a standard or compatible platform, each time data is transferred and manually exported, there are significant chances it will be corrupted or lost. In fact, this problem is so common that according to JBKnowledge Construction Technology Report, 49% of construction professionals manually transfer data when it doesn’t integrate. Additionally, 43% use  spreadsheets. If you’re thinking, “Well, the project administrators are data entry wizards, so the loss doesn’t apply to our project.” You might want to reconsider that thought. According to a Carnegie Mellon studyan astounding 94% of spreadsheets have errors. From these statistics, it’s easy to understand why 30% of construction data is lost by hand-off. 

Disconnected Data: Why Owners Suffer 

No matter how you look at it, a project is a considerable investment for an owner–but they aren’t always reaping the full benefits of their funding. Poor interoperability of systems and lost data adds up – equating to nearly  $11 billion annually for owners.The reason for the significant expense is because owners need to often recreate design, construction, and facility data to just operate a building effectively.  

Owners rely on all types of facility data, and a historical, accurate record is essential. Like any relationship that’s built, fostered, and maintained over time, no one wants to dig up skeletons in their closet years down the road when it’s too late. Similarly, when owners have all the data up front, they can better plan for and meet their facility issues head-on, rather than scrambling to pick up the broken pieces in the event of a breakdown. 

What are the biggest downfalls of disconnected data for owners? Let’s take a look. 

Increases Routine O&M Costs 

Consider the fact that design and construction are proportionally smaller investments of the project’s entire lifecycle. After closeout, direct operations and maintenance (O&M) costs will be close to three times the amount of design and construction over 30 years.  

To put things into perspective, take a moment to think about all the hours lost as facility teams search through file cabinets in archive rooms full of hard copy closeout data to find historical building information. How much does that add up on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis? Now, remember, an average facility is in operations for 80 years. Every small roadblock it takes for O&M teams to find a piece of information, adds up. If the information doesn’t exist, to begin with, the amount of time and effort needed to recreate this data can be a significant (not to mention avoidable) expense especially in the common event of a redesign or a renovation. 

Over time, lack of data in a centralized, easy to access location could increase total facility costs by 1-2%. While that’s a small percentage on paper, in reality, that could easily be hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in a large and high-tech facility like a college campus or hospital.   

Raises TCO 

Data also has an impact on the total cost of ownership (TCO) or the sum of all expenditures an owner will make over a building’s service lifecycle. Naturally, as a building ages, more maintenance is required to maintain functionality. Commonly, major maintenance decisions are made based on all the available and relevant information. However, without comprehensive design and construction data, important maintenance decisions could be delayed or entirely overlooked, leading to deferred maintenance and a shorter lifecycle on the whole.  

Alternatively, with the right data available, monumental facility upgrades and decisions can be predicted and sufficiently planned well in advance. And owners agree. According to a recent report, “71% of owners reported that retaining more data during design, construction and closeout would reduce or significantly reduce lifecycle operations costs.” 

Given the many different stakeholders and other challenges on a construction project, how can owners control the amount and quality of data they are left with at turnover? It starts by enabling portable and common data environment to centralize all project documentation. 

Defining Portable Data in Construction 

As we mentioned in our intro, data portability is a relatively new concept in the construction sector. First, when referencing construction data, we mean all touchpoints that information is generated in the construction process. This includes everything from design plans from first concepts to final drawings, all construction specs, submittals, change orders, progress photos, and RFIs and even up to date  facility data  once the building is fully functional. But the keyword is “portable”–in both a physical and digital sense. 

Below, we’ll share the critical components that enable portable data in construction. We’ll also discuss how owners can establish a framework that supports data portability’s success. 

Physically Portable 

The iPad and other mobile devices have transformed the construction industry as we know it. Now, everyone in the design and construction industry – from architects to superintendents – has the power of a computer in their pocket. Equipped with applications and software made with the mobile user in mind, field teams can effortlessly access plans and documents, manage tasks, send reports, and respond to questions on the fly. 

Having the freedom to physically access construction data, especially in the field and remote locations, is no longer a nice to have, it’s essential. This anywhere access keeps projects moving forward with a single source of truth as well as captures all changes in real time, reducing the risk of data loss. All these details – small and large – can be critical down the road when maintenance teams are repairing equipment or structures or planning for large-scale renovations and demolitions. 

Digitally Portable 

Across the Project Lifecycle 

When data is transferred between stakeholders and project phases, a certain amount of data leakage occurs. To truly be portable, data needs to be transferred completely and error-freeDoing this requires using software and systems that create a common data environment (CDE) to store updated plans and documents, in addition to recording real-time project changes. Ultimately, the right system should create a complete record of what occurred in design and construction that can be accessed and updated in one platform even when it’s time for a remodel 10 years down the road.   


Imagine the following scenario. A facility operator at a large, established university needs to service something routine filter. Without instant access to facility information, they might need to drive back to their head office, which could be 20-40 minutes away just to look up the filter size and location. By the time, they fix the issue, they could have wasted an hour or more–just for a process that should be simple and quick. Over the years, these wasted minutes and hours add up in massive unnecessary labor costs for owners. Additionally, even more significant costs and consequences could be incurred if it’s an urgent or emergency situation.  

cloud-based management system is the lifeblood of data portability. Whether it’s in design, construction, or operations, teams need access to information whenever and wherever they are–online and offline. Only cloud technology can power this type of access. In addition to in the moment access to data, the cloud also empowers project stakeholders to input changes in real time. 

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to cloud-based software for the construction industry, read the following blog, “Why Cloud-Based Construction Management Is the Future.

Easy to Use 

How simple–or how burdensome–technology is to use directly correlates to its portability for the user. For example, if your smartphone was complex, cumbersome, and not intuitive to use even to make calls, no matter how awesome the voice quality was, you’d likely be frustrated and not use it. Similarly, while some construction software might have the potential to collect and access useful data, if it’s not easy to use, it’s not providing value to your company and projects. That being said, a small investment to ensure technology is adopted and standardized can go a long way with any new onboarding.  

Works with Your Current CMMS System 

Likely, your facility team is already using software to manage operations. These are database and process heavy solutions known as Computerized Maintenance Management System, or CMMS. While these platforms are not always user-friendly or built for the field, they’re standard solutions in operations to track facility assets.  

Admittedly, these solutions have a time and a place for many facilities. However, it’s not an either-or situation–construction software can coexist with and complement operations software. To reduce O&M costs, on the whole, today’s owners and operations teams need the heavy data in CMMS to be supplemented with the mobile and portable visual information for their operations teams manning their campuses and facilities. 

A Portable Mindset: The Final Key to Unlocking Data Portability 

Let’s say you have implemented the right framework and tools to enable data portability on your projects. However, there’s a potential you are still finding that information isn’t being collected and transferred fully through closeout. Oftentimes, this isn’t about the wrong systems or technology; it’s about people. Therefore, the final ingredient to successful data portability in construction is a change of mindset. 

According to Karel Dörner, Principal at McKinsey & Company, “A digital mindset institutionalizes cross-functional collaboration, flattens hierarchies, and builds environments to encourage the generation of new ideas. Incentives and metrics are developed to support such decision-making agility.” 

Construction and operations teams have been historically resistant to change and digital technology because there are traditional processes and ways things have been done for many years. Nevertheless, it’s unreasonable to add a new piece of technology or process to the mix and expect it take off immediately with success just because it exists. Portability needs to be built into a project’s and firm’s culture in order for it to work. To get teams to start using it initially could require a bit of reinforcement, and a little bit of handholding 

To achieve full adoption, individual stakeholders need to comprehensively understand how data portability benefits their specific jobs. During design, preconstruction, and construction, workers should be fully aware of the collaboration and business benefits of accessing and adding data to a central documentation system. Likewise, O&M teams should be briefed on the information they can access and how to make decisions at the moment. 

Getting started with new digital technology can be challenging for any company, even the most technologically savvy. If you’re looking for a resource to help build a process and culture for data portability to flourish, download this helpful ebook. 

Don’t Start O&M in the Dark; Adopt Portable Data  

Owners own their facilities. So why do many of them fail to truly own their construction data that tells the story of their facility? It’s time to stop starting O&M in the dark because data and information slipped through the cracks like a high-risk game of telephone. By prioritizing physical and digital data portability to capture, manage, and retain critical information in every project stage, owners can gain more control of the maintenance of their facilities–for their entire project lifecycle. 

Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk

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