There is a seismic shift underway in capital projects that will change the way we build. The era of data-driven construction has arrived.

The era of data-driven construction has arrived.
The era of data-driven construction has arrived.

By Catie Williams, director of connected analytics, InEight

In the past, data on the performance of a big construction project were scarce and hard to come by. Now, spurred in part by the accelerating digital transformation of the construction sector, most organizations have access to more data than ever before. However, many have no strategy for using the data they have and no good way to connect knowledge from one phase of the project life cycle to the other, much less to glean strategic insights from multiple years’ worth of projects.

That is understandable when you consider how difficult it is to find comparability in construction. While it is rare to find any two builds the same; companies can be misled into thinking that it is impossible to compare projects or alternatively become so overwhelmed by the possibilities that they do not know where to start.

Start with the End in Mind

One of the main pitfalls for companies starting their journey to data-centered decision making is approaching it with too much focus on the application and the process, and not enough on the outcome.

Without taking the initial steps to determine what insights would be most valuable, companies run the danger of getting too far along in the project before realizing that the outputs will not support what they had hoped to achieve.

To avoid that potential nightmare, you need to start with the end in mind. Knowing what insights you want will help you determine what it is that you want to measure and why. Oftentimes, the best places to start are with those insights that have the potential to drive the greatest business value such as improved productivity. At a project level, construction companies will be interested in using data to increase their confidence in how projects are being executed.

How it Works

Once a wish list of insights has been drawn up, organizations must evaluate them on a case by case basis and prioritize those that are most likely to produce immediate value. Every new insight generated must drive the business to make better decisions.

For smooth execution, all your data needs to be stored in one place. Then you need to identify the gaps in what is already being collected.

Most businesses will find it easier to build on what is already there than dream up the perfect dashboard or scenario. For example, maybe you already track project wins and losses, and you want to improve the potential of winning. The new strategy should factor in the key pieces of information that will make future decisions easier, such as comparing the business against who the bid was lost to, and by how much. It is an iterative process, where feedback from the people who will be using it is crucial to success.

Who to Include

The next most pertinent challenge is that of buy-in, and not just at the board level. The people consuming these reports need to be excited and engaged about the forthcoming changes, so it helps if they are involved from the start and understand the value and benefits it will deliver.

We often find engineers at the forefront of these types of projects because their mindset is about finding a solution by whatever means necessary – they are the type to create comparability from crafty Excel hacks and who just need a partner to take it enterprise wide.

That said, it is best to work with the willing, regardless of role. Many of the most willing will be those that compare datasets and generate insights through a painfully manual process. They understand the complexity and are impassioned to drive change among their colleagues and to advocate upward too. Avoiding the “heavy hammer” top down approach empowers staff to do what they do best – build.

When to Start

The best time to start is now. When you begin your transformation into a data-driven construction business with the answers to these questions in mind, the project will be set up for success. The end product is likely to be a dazzling new dashboard, but it is important to not rush in with preconceived notions. Any new process or application will need to work for all parties involved, which is not easy on highly complex projects with hundreds of potential stakeholders. The key is to always seek clarity on the outcome required, explore different options to bridge the gap and bring the right people together to execute the plan.

catie williams ineight
Catie Williams

Catie Williams is director of product management at InEight where she helps large enterprise customers achieve excellent results through the power of connected data. She is also an adjunct professor at Bellevue University where she directs the undergraduate program in data science. For more information visit InEight.com.