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Typically, more than 90% of data is “thrown away” on construction projects. How can a construction firm gather and use this data to increase profits and productivity?

David Wagner
Vice President, Product Marketing
InEight


First, let’s look at some of the root causes behind data loss. As a project progresses through its normal life cycle, the goal is to seamlessly exchange related data from one stage of the workflow to the next. But construction project teams are typically composed of dozens of companies, all using their own tools and solutions, and implementing their own best practices and standards. This challenging environment, coupled with historically poor communication, has led to massive data loss as the project proceeds to the next stage of the life cycle. 

Teams can mitigate this data loss by implementing a strong data exchange strategy—one that’s bolstered by robust construction project management software. With digital tools, data can flow smoothly through each phase of the project life cycle with minimal dropoff. 

For example, a digital solution can offer a single source of truth where data is collected and managed in a centralized repository. This normalization helps maintain the data’s integrity and move it from one project team member to the next. Along with validation, the data is cleansed of any irregularities for consistent downstream use. 

If you feel a bit like the character in Greek mythology who’s condemned to repeatedly push the boulder uphill, you need a digital strategy that will help you minimize data loss from one project stage to the next.

Mike Ode

CEO
Payroll4Construction.com


To be able to use their data effectively, contractors first and foremost need to bring their office staff and their field crews onto the same page. The result should be that the office gets the information they need, such as cost-coded timecards, and the field gets the most accurate progress reporting and estimated vs. actual—plus on-time payroll.

Whether they’re using paper timesheets or a mobile app, technology in and of itself won’t be the solution. First, superintendents and crews should be helped to understand how accurate timecard data will benefit them personally. Sure, it’s in their interest if the company doesn’t get penalized under a prevailing wage law or overpay on taxes, but when it’s a matter of their own paychecks and whether they’re able to get them on time, they have a personal stake. Second, field staff should be clear on all of the information they need in order to cooperate on detailed timecards. This includes making sure they’re versed and comfortable with the cost code structure and any rules governing earning types, like special overtime qualifications. When technology is being used in the form of mobile apps, crews should also be involved in the selection and implementation, as well as being thoroughly trained so issues and bad use habits don’t crop up later.

By working together to get more detailed, accurate labor data straight from the field, contractors won’t just prevent “throwing away” good data—they’ll also prevent themselves from collecting bad data that’s worth “throwing away” in the first place.

Fred Ode
CEO/Chairman
Foundation Software


There are two excellent ways for contractors to “throw away” good project data. The first is obviously not to capture it—don’t cost code your invoices and timecards, and don’t track progress against your budgeted labor hours and quantities. However, where a lot of contractors throw away data is simply by not maximizing how they use it.

For example, many construction businesses do fine using mobile apps and construction software to record job costs and other information. The problem is when these just stay in a software database or hide inside reports that sit under other piles of paper. Data is also “thrown away” when these numbers aren’t being used to monitor work-in-progress and over/under billing, allocate overhead to discover the true costs of projects or measure specific cost areas against detailed budgets. That’s like cooking a delicious steak and just leaving it to get cold!

At the same time, it can be hard to know where to begin with all of the project data contractors are able to compile today. From a business and job cost perspective, contractors can bring their construction-specific CPA into the picture to advise them on benchmark reporting, allocation methods and forecasting. They should also talk with their vendor to make sure they’re using the software to its full potential. A few hours of extra training or a day or two of consulting can help contractors discover additional ways to report and use their data.

You have to start somewhere, so start where you are and build gradually from there. If you aren’t tracking budget versus actual with a job cost structure, that’s a great way to begin. As you look at where you’re running ahead or behind, you might discover hidden inefficiencies in your projects—as well as new questions you suddenly want to ask. If your data’s good, it’ll have the answers.

Melissa Afkari
Business Functional Manager
CMiC


Historically in construction, data has been gathered and used mostly reactively or to satisfy compliance requirements, not proactively to support strategic decision making. Given the amount of data that can be collected, organized, analyzed and leveraged for operational optimization, it’s time for construction to change its mindset to become a data-driven industry. 

The current challenges—such as flat productivity rates, a level of skilled labor demand that continues to outpace supply, and siloed collection and handling of information—are clear indicators that data is not being tracked nor maximized to its full potential. This is especially concerning when you consider that 78% of executives and 89% of managers said data coming from their jobsites was important to their success, according to a survey conducted by TrackVia. 

A proactive approach can help. Resource schedules can be optimized and quickly updated with richer insights drawn from past project performance and real-time KPI tracking. Real-time KPIs could include a variety of factors that can be forecasted, such as the availability and costs of materials and equipment. Unified software platforms, purpose-built for construction, greatly simplify the process of collecting, organizing, analyzing and acting on historical and real-time data.

The time is ripe for a new data-driven mindset in construction: Rigorous data analysis of past projects married with real-time monitoring of project KPIs will set the stage for planning, forecasting and simulations that quantify the best/worst-case scenarios and deliver actionable insights to deal with unforeseen situations with greater agility and confidence.

Todd Wynne
Vice President, Strategy and Partnerships
Bluebeam, Inc.


The simple answer is “data collection networks,” but to really understand the answer, we have to break that question down and look at why data isn’t being collected. If an organization can understand why data isn’t being collected, it makes understanding how to collect that data much, much easier. 

Do teams understand why data should be collected in the first place? Are they capturing data but failing to pass it along? Is information being captured and passed along, but without the context necessary to understand it? All of this data might be seen as being “thrown away,” but in reality, the data is there, it’s just not being put to work.

So how do we put data to work? By making sure everyone knows specifically how they can benefit from it. And that’s where data collection networks come in. 

Data collection networks are public and decentralized processes that organizations can use to collect and analyze data. If everyone knows that specific data needs to be collected and that other teams are collecting it, and if everyone is aware of how that data will be analyzed and will be used to win more jobs and boost profits, then data collection becomes a natural and necessary part of the job. Data doesn’t work if it’s in a silo, it doesn’t work if it’s incomplete and it doesn’t work if it’s delivered without context. Everyone has to be on board for data to work.

Noam Reininger
Chief Product and Data Officer
Gordian

Throwing away data means losing insights that can affect your ability to achieve key business objectives. Creating a data strategy means you can actively manage data to drive immediate business value. I’ve outlined five steps you can take to kick start the process to boost productivity and profits:

1. Start with a data strategy. By assessing business goals and challenges, you can guarantee a data strategy that is tied to profitable growth. Then, analyze internal data and connect it to the business challenges you identified. By aligning data to company goals, your strategy will reflect key business objectives. 

2. Conduct a gap analysis. Now that you have an understanding of data sources that can help solve business challenges, conduct an analysis of data depth and quality. Is the data in your project management system detailed enough to understand where issues are arising? 

3. Define a prioritized roadmap. Once you have business objectives and gaps identified, you can formulate a roadmap that closes key gaps to achieve valuable insight. You may need to engage in data classification and cleanup efforts for answers. Map out the people, processes and tools you need to win. 

4. Score early wins. Start with easy challenges that quickly deliver value. Large data projects can be daunting, and your stakeholders may lose patience if results are not clear and quick. Start with smaller datasets and prototypes and validate assumptions quickly. 

5. Create a sustainment program. Managing data to derive real business insights should be in the DNA of your organization. Organizational structures, dedicated budgets and repeatable processes will lay a foundation for success. Data quality, data architecture and data management processes will build on top of that. 

By building a custom data strategy and sustaining the details and processes necessary for your business, long-term success will come easier and will be more realistic.

John Rosch
Regional Sales Manager
Explorer Software


As construction companies continue to increase the amount of data they are generating and unfortunately wasting, it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to store and analyze previously thrown away data and turn it into actionable information. Using the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform is essential when your company profits are on the line. Companies in the construction industry will need to invest in a fully integrated construction ERP solution, like our enterprise software Explorer Eclipse, in order to streamline data analysis through all facets of the company. Using data properly will lead to better budget and time estimates, lower project risk through better simulations and insight, and allow users to make the right decisions faster.

In order to use the wealth of information companies are creating, they first have to have a document storing module in their ERP solution. A good platform will utilize innovative technology, such as optical character recognition (OCR) and GPS tagging to automatically tag, file and store documents so users can quickly find what they’re looking for. By digitizing, storing and indexing documents in one single location, companies can empower their employees with easy, organized access to information. 

Once they have taken care of properly storing their information, companies will want to ensure that they are using that data to make the right decisions by utilizing an accurate financial reporting tool. Financial reporting can help companies lay down the foundation for developing strategies to tackle the constantly changing issues facing the construction industry by illuminating areas that might be having problems. Access to both the transactional data and the digital documentation improves the decision-making process dramatically.

Matt Harris
Chief Product & Strategy Officer
Viewpoint


The first step for any construction organization is to determine what your key performance indicators are, and then to put the right technology in place to enable everyone on a project—from the office, across their extended teams and into the field—to capture they data needed to track those KPIs. When you're looking for the right technology tool, the critical question to ask is whether all of those people gathering project data—superintendents using mobile devices on the jobsite, engineers on laptops, your finance team in the office on desktops—have the ability to work in one common set of data. If not, you'll spend as much time reconciling the data and refereeing disagreements within your team as you do analyzing the data to drive decision-making in your business. 

Gathering siloed data from across the organization to analyze and improve project outcomes is a key challenge we work with clients to overcome daily. Contractors are demanding easier, better and more consistent collection of data in order to enable better measurement of project performance and drive toward greater gains. Mobile-enabled, cloud-based software forms the backbone of a modern construction data platform and is the direction that leading contractors are moving to give them the data capture and analytics capabilities they need to win in the marketplace.

Norman Wendl
President
Corecon Technologies


Effective data collection and information exchange is critical for construction executives to maximize profits and productivity. Yet, this is no small feat due to the sheer volume of information created by various entities on every construction project.
 
Intensifying the challenge, each department within the construction company often uses different software. This siloed approach makes it extremely cumbersome to centralize and analyze individual and cross-project data, which is especially critical for comparing actual job costs with the estimating department’s rates to maximize profitability on future projects. A cloud-based total software solution that is broad and deep can effectively mitigate the data collection challenge while accommodating the mobile construction workforce.

Fortunately, construction software developers are working to minimize data silos by creating their own APIs and/or teaming with industry organizations to enhance collaboration within construction companies and among design and construction teams by standardizing data structures. Additionally, software firms are making a strong push to improve built-in reporting tools and provide optional data connectors to take advantage of business intelligence software, such as Microsoft Power BI, which provides the ability to review project data in unique ways.

Corecon v8, our cloud-based construction platform, is a total business solution that touches all aspects of construction operations—from estimating through project closeout. Freely accessible from a web browser or mobile app, the comprehensive platform includes modules for lead tracking, estimating, project management, job cost control, scheduling, quality control and safety. It also integrates with accounting software and has online team collaboration functionality via its TeamLink Portal.

Frédéric Guitton
Chief Strategy Officer
Redteam Software


During the course of a construction project, there are two key types of data to consider: information that is shared and data that can be captured passively (meta data, location capture, email delivery and open rate verification, for example). 

Everything about a construction project relies on information flowing between all the parties in a coordinated way so people know what they need to know, when they need to know it. The quantity of data associated with information sharing can be overwhelming. The challenge is that you don’t know what data you might need and when you might need it, so you should strive to capture as much of it as possible. The only realistic way to capture that data is passively, because asking employees to complete endless data logs would be extremely unproductive.

The use of software and mobile applications to create and share documents, collaborate and capture information in the field with all the associated metadata can be invaluable. Being able to verify if and when a document was viewed, andcapture photos and observations with metadata and have them organized in your project file is critical to maintaining context within projects.

Metadata can help in evaluating how good you are at creating and requesting project documents and can inform best practices. In addition, understanding the behavior of your partners will help you identify possible communication breakdowns. The bottomline? In construction you spend a lot of time problem solving, and measuring your efficiency through metadata can help you improve productivity and profitability.

IoT has connected the construction site like never before. How can a construction firm decide what technology will work seamlessly across all of its projects?

Korry Kobel
Director of Engineering
JLG Industries


IoT continues to evolve and is exponentially changing the way the construction industry operates. It is a true multiplier when it comes to jobsite efficiency. One area that we are seeing a tremendous increase in usage, which falls under IoT, is the influence and growth of BIM technology. 

BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct and manage buildings and infrastructure. BIM is transforming the traditionally siloed architecture, engineering and construction disciplines to work together more efficiently with integrated workflows. 

There are multiple benefits to using BIM files across all construction projects, including immediate updates when plans change. This benefit alone can dramatically impact the success of a project. BIM also helps to identify the best machines for the job, saves time by allowing access to relevant machine data and helps to ensure that essential equipment is transported to the jobsite at the right time.

An often-overlooked benefit to BIM models is the added value of designing a safer working environment before a project begins. In the case of access equipment, the JLG BIM library provides data on height and width clearances, weight restrictions, lift capacities and other important features that impact the safe and recommended use of the machines. 

BIM is a well-tested resource in the construction design arena and its application knows no boundaries. BIM models can be used in a variety of businesses beyond construction, such as laboratory sciences, municipal government and theme parks, to name a few.

What predictive analytics technology is available for construction projects?

Dennis Stejskal
Customer Experience Director
Sage


As an industry, we've traditionally analyzed projects using an assortment of leading and lagging indicators. Regrettably, they often gave us the story too late, long after significant production and expense had been wasted.

Technology is changing all that, as it moves us toward “real-time” access to data in the field, and at a more granular level. For example, tools today can more easily track man hours through field time capture solutions, allowing time to be tracked more accurately through mobile devices. This, in turn, can be used to create more accurate and timely analytics both in the field and back office.

Such daily feedback enables a superintendent or foreman to make adjustments to work plans and man hours on the fly. They’re recognizing the value of the data, and applying it sooner rather than later.

By more accurately collecting data and gauging job progress in the field, technology lends itself to more accurate invoicing and improved cash flow analysis in the back office. The more detailed the data, the more accurate the measuring stick. Some contractors are taking it to the next level by sending progress data from the jobsite to the office to develop realized revenue calculations on a daily basis, providing unprecedented analysis and forecasting capabilities.

Sage’s products can help significantly in that regard, as contractors strive to marry data from the field to their back office costing systems.

How has the shortage of skilled labor driven technology innovation?

Rajesh Ram
Chief Customer Officer & Co-Founder
Egnyte


Although there is no true replacement for hands-on experience, technology certainly has played a role in shortening the learning curve. What we traditionally saw was a career path that started in the field, and then moved into the office as a project manager. We are now seeing tech-savvy project managers’ straight out of college getting dropped successfully into sophisticated design-build projects. 

Today, more and more data is collected from sources like drones, robots and 3D scanners, and then moved to a central repository allowing the rest of the team to collaborate. The goal still remains to get information out to the field - especially to mobile devices - so that the right data, at the right time can leverage the ever-shrinking skilled tradespeople, with little to no downtime, and more importantly, costly rework. 

The need for skilled tradespeople still exists now more than ever. With that said, the skill set has changed with the increased use of prefabrication, CAD solutions and lean construction. When BIM is involved, more information is moved moved back and forth, putting a strain on infrastructure and potentially slowing project progress. Cloud solutions are now stepping forward with new and innovative hybrid options that can replace file servers, while still maintaining the integrity of the information and providing faster access to critical data.

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