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In an industry where an estimated one-third of costs are accounted for by material waste and rework, being able to quickly identify where there are cost overruns or poor quality control could make the difference between delivering on time and on budget or going out of business.

It’s no surprise then that some of the most profitable and productive construction firms can immediately see what’s going on across all their projects and make well-informed decisions to help them build higher quality projects faster, leaner and safer.

How do they do that? By mining usable data.

Leveraging vast amounts of data, or “big data,” to gain valuable insight is nothing new for science, retail and the automotive industries. The construction sector, however, has been slow in adopting the use of data. It’s not because the industry is resistant, it’s that the tools to capture, store and analyze this information have not been made readily available.

“We’re moving away from paper, filing cabinets and spreadsheets and finally moving to more digital data that is usable data in a usable format,” explains Kris Lengieza, director of virtual design and construction at Stiles Construction. “Everything is data. How we make sense of it is the hard part.”

Capturing Data in the Cloud
Consider the entire community of individuals involved in a single project––owners, general contractors, architects, engineers, superintendents, project managers, subcontractors, subcontractors’ subcontractors––and the thousands of emails, RFIs, change orders and other multiple transactions between them. Assembling and organizing the vast amount of data via paper-based documentation is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

In the case of construction data, size doesn’t really matter. Contractors don’t need big data; they just need the right data and the software solutions to help harness it and put it into action.

One of the ways more and more construction companies are leveraging usable information is through comprehensive, cloud-based construction management platforms, customized reporting and dashboards that capture and summarize valuable data throughout the course of a workday. This isn’t information that requires a computer science degree to understand.

Control Issues Ahead of Time
For instance, project or company dashboards make it possible to summarize large of amounts of information captured in real time that can give insights into projects in a way that is easy to understand and put to use. Contractors can monitor things like fee erosion or safety hazards before they occur. With this type of data, projects are easily managed, and identifying which ones are healthy and which ones are potentially at risk is simplified.

But, there’s more to data than just solving for the present risks that can halt a project. That very data can be beneficial for future project decisions. When contractors take a step back and look at data across all of their current projects, they can start identifying trends that give valuable insight into future work.

For instance, if the data shows a particular subcontractor doesn’t perform very well on projects that are four stories or higher, the contractor can choose another firm that is better suited for those types of builds. Or maybe one subcontractor does exceptional quality work, but has more challenges delivering that same level of excellence on a different type of project.

“We manage five or six projects at a time and need a snapshot of how our projects are doing,” says Lengieza, who recently rolled out Stiles Construction’s dashboards. “There have already been some quick wins, like someone using the information they were able to get instantaneously without having to run five or six reports.”

Use it or Lose it
The real value of data is making it work. Contractors can amass a mountain of usable information, but without having a system in place to turn data into action, that valuable insight is lost. The great news is the construction industry now has the tools to mine the data that will help contractors build smarter. Don’t let data go to waste. A treasure trove of insight is only a few clicks away.

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