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For general contractors, owners and subcontractors who have been in construction for many years, data management may seem like a relatively new concept. However, how to best utilize data is now a fundamental part of the industry—and impacts everyone across the building lifecycle, whether a subcontractor delivering work or an owner looking after the site long-term.

However, challenges still remain in collecting and distributing data, caused in part by the different digital tools everyone uses during the build process.

There are three critical considerations for data management: data ownership, portability and structure. These elements can help every construction business gain the greatest value from data – regardless of how far along they are in their digital journey. This article on why data management matters explores why every stakeholder in construction stands to benefit from a more proactive, collaborative data management approach.  

Consideration One: Data Ownership

Data ownership refers to who controls data and where it sits in the long term. Until now, data has often been owned by the businesses creating the data (subcontractors and general contractors), with the general contractor then pulling together elements of the data for final handover to the owner for future operations.

The  often determines the format and level of detail required to be submitted across the project. As a result, a lot of information remains on different tech platforms used by either the general contractor or various subs – and the information never makes it into the hands of workers who could benefit the most from it.

Owners, however, are now becoming savvier about control over project data and the level of detail preferred. The quality of information provided in a handover can impact long-term building management and more detailed data can also support future renovations. Owners are no longer happy to be told what data they’ll receive—instead, they are dictating it. 

While this might appear a challenge for general contractors and subcontractors, there’s an opportunity for these businesses to gain a competitive advantage by providing higher quality, more dynamic data at the handover stage—essentially, returning data ownership to the client. But to optimize data ownership, construction stakeholders need to think about two other considerations: data portability and structure.

Consideration Two: Data Portability

One reason data ownership usually lies with the firm that created it: data often isn’t nimble. It is frequently created and held in proprietary formats that can only be read on one platform and not others. It’s not “agnostic.” Information can become siloed as a result, stuck on one business’ servers and not available to other firms. The limited visibility of data creates issues for everyone in the building process, from hindering subcontractors’ productivity to creating headaches during the handover.

Making data accessible and portable—or, able to be transferred to other tech platforms—throughout the building lifecycle will deliver a number of benefits. Collaborators can enjoy greater transparency at every stage of the build; data loss can be reduced or eliminated; firms can work together more productively and owners can enjoy a more thorough handover package. At the same time, each business can export and manipulate data more easily—and avoid being tied into a single digital platform for the long haul, just to access their own data.

Ultimately, data portability depends on the tech platform used. It’s possible to choose a platform that delivers non-proprietary data and easily integrates with other services. For example, now there is mobile construction software available that imports 3D BIM data on the jobsite itself for field workers to use. 

Tech tools can also leverage APIs to link with other platforms; for example, connecting mobile construction platforms with enterprise resource planning (ERP), so the back office better collaborates with the jobsite. 

These kinds of improvements in data portability can also contribute to better data structure.

Consideration three: Data Structure

Data structure is the last, but certainly not least, consideration for improving data management. It refers to how data is stored, both within individual businesses and more widely throughout the whole building lifecycle.

To ensure easy access to information and seamless data transfer between stakeholders, information needs to be organized in a way that makes sense to everyone who will be contributing. Simply put, everyone should be looking in the same place for the same data, and likewise, be adding the data to the same place. 

A helpful analogy: Everyone is taking and putting away clothes from the same closet, and the closet needs to stay neat and organized. Sadly, everyone has their own organization methods for data—which can make for a very messy closet. Over the long term, disorganized data can prevent businesses from learning valuable lessons and hold them back from improving performance. 

In short, data needs to be actionable as much as it is organized. Improvements in data structure must be paired with new business processes to ensure leadership teams can regularly review and act on data analytics. Predictive insights such as risk analysis can be help identify the best general contractor or subcontractor to hire.

Continuing the Digital Journey

Data management impacts everyone in the building lifecycle. General contractors, specialty contractors and owners can all benefit from improvements in the flow of information, both during individual builds and in their business over the long term. 

By proactively addressing data management and taking advantage of predictive insights, construction stakeholders can improve their performance today – and lay the groundwork for greater digitalization in the future, as discussed in Part III of this series.

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