What To Do With The 95% Of Data Construction Companies Throw Away
The construction industry has a big data problem. Not when it comes to creating it but with collecting said data and then putting it to good use.
As Klaus Nyengaard, co-founder and chairman of the construction technology company Geniebelt, puts it:
“In 2017, as much as 95% of all data in the construction industry was either being thrown away - or not even collected in the first place.”
Many industry professionals have first-hand experience with projects running over budget and past deadlines. Something that better use of data can go a long way to remedy. Better estimates, real-time analysis of performance, more efficient equipment use, and lowering of project risks are just some of the advantages that construction companies can leverage through better use of data.
“The Construction Industry is missing an opportunity to collect a wide array of data. In a time where demand for qualified skilled labour is high, harnessing this data, if done properly, can be used to improve safety and efficiency on construction projects,” Ian Shapiro, Assurance Partner at BDO USA and co-leader of BDO’s Real Estate and Construction industry practice, says.
It will not come as a surprise to most companies that the construction industry faces severe bottlenecks. At the same time, the industry is confronted by a range of challenges:
- Job dangers: Construction workers are amongst the most likely to suffer on-the-job injuries.
- Productivity: Regardless of all the effort and money the $10 trillion construction industry puts into it, productivity rates remain almost flat when compared with other sectors, such as manufacturing.
- Project performance: Cost overruns and missed deadlines are all too commonplace. The industry also remains amongst the worst performing, measured on the amount of waste produced.
- Skilled labour demand: With a record amount of new construction, in particular public-sector infrastructure and facilities, having commenced or are set to commence, construction companies are having difficulty finding skilled labour to complete to complete these projects.
The increasing complexity of many construction projects further compounds the issues, raising the bar even further on performance both for employees and the industry in general.
Big Data-driven Opportunities
Better use of data could be the key to many of these challenges. Especially in the form of big data analytics.
Possible advantages and insights can be drawn from historical data like scheduling, project performance, historical weather data and other areas to forecast and structure upcoming projects. The same data can be used to better analyse risks that can lead to project overruns and finds ways of mitigating said risks. Other possible uses of data include, but is in no way limited to:
- Analysis of past budget estimates, project scheduling, management and actual costs to create better schedules and plans, as well as more accurate cost projections.
- Better prediction of market trends and understanding of evolving customer trends and preferences.
- Waste and pollution minimisation.
- Optimisation of work processes.
- Real-time monitoring of project productivity and safety.
Construction projects tend to be anything but predictable. For example, a shipment of below-quality parts or challenging weather conditions lead to delays and extra costs. A mix of analysis of data from past projects and real-time monitoring enables companies to create forecasts and simulations that reveal best and worst-case scenarios and plan accordingly, as well as better react to unforeseen challenges.
Real-time Insights Will Grow
In some ways, data analytics in the construction industry is still in its infancy. The further proliferation of mobile electronic devices and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on construction sites leads to new possibilities.
For example, GPS data for vehicles coupled with real-time traffic information around construction sites can help optimise routing of supplies and machinery to maximise efficiency and minimise fuel costs. In other words, there will be less time wasted, standing around wondering what is holding up the next shipment of building supplies. On-site sensors like internet-connected cameras can scan for potential safety hazards like staff not wearing protective equipment and send a notice directly to said worker’s smartphone to remind her or him of safety standards.
Data also enables better simulations and provides a stronger foundation for Building Information Modelling (BIM). In future, it is likely that construction companies will be following in the footsteps of manufacturing and create digital twins, virtual representations of all aspects of a construction project. This will include the ability to run simulations of what effect changing specific details will have on the rest of the project in the digital realm before rolling them out on-site in the real world.
Getting Automated Starts Now
Many places, construction dogma means that managers and construction workers still rely on paper-based management systems. Issues such as fragmented communication, budget overruns, bad decision making and no way of going through historical records arise in its wake.
A large part of the reason is the unique nature of construction projects, as well as the industry in general. Recording data and events on construction sites have historically been challenging. Today, mobile computing and other devices, as well as on-site IoT sensors mean that this is not necessarily the case anymore.
Perhaps the bottom line provides the best argument for investing in increased use of software and better collection of data. For example, JE DUNN managed to cut production time by 12 weeks and lower overall costs by $11 million on a $60 million project thanks to proper use of BIM and data.
There is a proliferation of new data-driven tools available to construction companies. CB Insights data charts more than 100 new construction tech companies, and funding figures indicate that many more tools are in the pipeline.
One starting point is looking into whether existing software, such as project management suites can be used to mitigate and even automate many of the laborious, time-consuming processes that have dogged managers and workers. This includes saving data for later analysis. From there, it is time to identify what the possible use cases of new data-driven construction technology are for you.
This step can involve allying yourself with consultancies that, among other things, bring expert insight and industry overview to the table.