You have a site manager facing a dilemma: A shipment of supplies just arrived damaged, making it impossible to work on the next stage of the project. There are a few options: Order replacements and delay work, change the plans to allow for alternative materials that local suppliers have on hand or adjust project strategies to allow for alternative work to be done while the supply issue is dealt with.

How would your site managers go about deciding which choice is best for this specific project? If you’re like most firms, your decision-maker will spend a couple of minutes thinking about the problem and make the choice based on anecdotal experience. Maybe the site manager knows that the vendor has a tendency to respond quickly to supply problems, for example, and determines that an immediate delay would be short and lead to less disruption.

This kind of instinctual decision-making is workable in small scale, but when you have a portfolio of projects running at once, you need your leaders to be able to make choices based on accurate data. This is where business intelligence tools come into play.

How BI works

It’s important to understand where BI fits within a broader analytics strategy. Big data is often approached as the process of gathering large amounts of structured and unstructured data and finding ways to put that information to use in day-to-day operations. For construction firms, the structured data can be transaction records, vendor performance profiles, and estimated and actual costs. Unstructured information can take the form of plans, equipment handbooks and similar forms of documentation.

As organizations engage with big data, they need to develop strategies to organize that information effectively and communicate it to end users. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system provides the backend database for all of this information to reside, making it accessible to users across teams. BI technologies then take the data within your ERP system and translate it into reports, visualizations and similar user facing formats that let individuals act on the data.

In simplest terms, BI saves users from having to sift through large quantities of information to find out what is relevant by automatically presenting them with what is most important.

Where BI fits in construction

BI enables stakeholders within an organization to quickly access the information they need to inform decision-making in real time. Going back to our hypothetical site manager, that user could leverage BI to:

  • Create a custom report for vendor shipment records and prices to identify which vendor is best suited to provide replacements and pin down the timeline for the day. This can be done in minutes, combining data from across the business.
  • Chart the average cost of supplies to determine if local hardware stores or similar sources could provide a cost-efficient alternative.
  • View big-picture financial details on how the business is performing to identify whether the organization can afford delays, possible overtime work or rush shipment of replacement parts.

With “embedded” BI at her fingertips, the site manager can go beyond making an estimate on the optimal decision based on experience and use real-world data to make the best choice relative to the specific set of circumstances in play at a given moment.

While these benefits are powerful in the field, they’re also extremely beneficial at the home office, where leaders can quickly ascertain business performance, monitor potential impacts to profitability across all projects and perform similar analyses in real time. CMiC makes these capabilities particularly powerful by embedding our BI capabilities into our ERP platform, creating a unified system that provides complete and timely visibility into a full range of actionable insights.

The CMiC BI advantage

Most BI solutions exist as specialized software systems that are designed to integrate with your back end databases and pull data at intervals. In many cases, this leads to limited functionality in terms of both the types of information the BI system can gather and the frequency with which it can do so. CMiC overcomes these limitations by embedding our BI solution into our ERP and field operations platform, allowing for seamless and complete access to real-time data across the enterprise. This results in a variety of benefits, including:

  • Greater adoption and usage of BI capabilities because users don’t have to jump between their ERP and a separate BI tool — BI exists within the ERP.
  • Simpler — and more effective — automation because the ERP can trigger automatic processes when the BI system identifies prescribed data conditions.
  • Better decision-making as BI is built into existing workflows, allowing users to make better- informed choices.

Choosing an ERP with embedding BI takes away the chaos of decisions made based on anecdotal evidence and creates a structured process in which choices stem from real data and established best practices. CMiC makes this possible by making BI “pervasive” — it builds data analytics into everyday processes, ensuring users get the insights they need, where they need them, and when those insights can have the greatest impact on decision-making. It’s a whole new way of thinking about — and using — business intelligence … and it’s only available from CMiC.