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Rise and shine! The construction sector is waking up to the importance of data, whether it’s the use of 3D BIM systems to advanced onsite tools used to manage and capture as-built conditions.

But while data is everywhere, managing that data isn’t always a priority for construction stakeholders. Figuring out how best to organize, and more importantly maximize the numbers and insights called “data” can feel like someone else’s responsibility—or frequently isn’t a consideration until further along with plans to incorporate technology across an organization.

Wherever contractors are in their digital journey, however, it’s crucial to improve data management to ensure the data being amassed delivers greater value, both for the building process and the business. 

Owners, contractors and specialists should all take a proactive approach to data management and the benefits it can bring.

Often Invisible, But Always Important

Data management might not be a term that’s often heard on the jobsite. However, everyone in construction is involved in data management, whether it’s keeping records as an overall business or contributing to the flow of information on an individual project level. 

However, because data management is just one part of any given construction team member’s job, it can be relatively invisible as a concept, and many organizations don’t have a specific data management strategy. 

Data management usually only comes to the foreground when something goes wrong. It’s even harder to spot when data management is failing to deliver the best value for a business, especially over the long term. 

A Smarter and More Competitive General Contractor

General contractors are often the engine behind the collection and distribution of data on the jobsite. This can be a significant challenge if there isn’t a way to easily access and manage this data from tablets or smartphones while in the field. The challenge is even greater if the jobsite still relies on paper plans and documentation.

Once the project is complete, the data generated throughout the building process is also used to inform the handover, which can be a hugely time-consuming process at the end of the build. A more streamlined data management process, starting from day one, can not only deliver greater efficiency but provide higher quality, more dynamic data for the owner—and create a competitive advantage.

Collecting and analyzing data on multiple builds can also help general contractors improve their processes, project management strategies, procurement methods and even the selection of subcontractors and partners. By centralizing and analyzing data, leaders can improve productivity and profitability in the long run.

Security for Subcontractors

Today, data is often under the control of the general contractor, who might not have an easy way to share it throughout a project team. Subcontractors are often highly dependent on having the right information at the right moment, and waiting for it can seriously damage efficiency. Currently, 35% of all time in construction is spent on unproductive activities, with the average worker losing 5.5 hours a week just looking for information. 

Subcontractors may not have their own data collection tools in place, unless these tools are specified for the job. Yet, a more transparent project reduces the chance of disputes and litigation and protects valuable relationships with contractors.

For example, technology such as time-stamped photos and project-based tasks can create a record of completed work to protect subcontractors from a liability perspective. 

With their own tech tools to access up-to-date digital information on the jobsite, subcontractors can better protect their margins and collaborate more effectively. Greater access to information can also help subcontractors learn from every project how to improve their processes and productivity.

Greater Insights for Owners

The format of data used on a project is typically determined by the owner, written in the specs by the architect and delivered by the general contractor. But historically, owners haven’t given much thought to data management on their projects, and buildings aren’t being set up for ongoing maintenance and long-term success.

In short, construction is a relatively small part of the building life cycle. The right data can improve the management of buildings for many years after a project is completed.

With data that’s easily accessible and usable on mobile devices, facilities managers both in the office and onsite can benefit from detailed information about how a project was actually built (again, not just planned!). For example, a maintenance team member running toward a water leak on the fifth floor could be checking for the exact shut-off valve location at the same time, rather than running back to their office to find this information. Similarly, a manager could check on precise component specifications before scheduling a repair.

A richer digital record can also support future changes to the building. In sectors like healthcare, renovations might be needed regularly to support the latest treatments for patients. A detailed, as-built digital record can enable owners to plan changes more effectively—and even learn from past projects for future builds. With greater input into data management strategies from the start of the build, owners can benefit for many decades from the information they need.

Proactive Data Management is Fundamental to Construction

General contractors, subcontractors and owners need to take a view of how their own data is collected and stored at each stage of the process. While it’s often invisible, data impacts everyone in the building life cycle. 

It’s also critical to think about the systems that support data management at every stage. Choosing technology that delivers data that’s easy to understand, export and share will ensure that data isn’t only accessible, it’s actionable.

Taking a more proactive and considered approach to data management will deliver benefits for many years to come—and create true value for the business. 

The next article in this series, Industry 4.0: Blending the Physical and Digital Worlds, explores three key considerations for managing data: data ownership, structure and portability. 

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