We recently discussed the value of big data in our post How to Turn Big Data into Real Insight. In the article, we looked at the value of collecting data about construction operations, but we also discussed the hurdles involved in processing and analyzing that data. For most firms, hiring full-time data specialists is out of the question. But there are many other ways that construction companies can tap into the insights and foresight that data mining provides. The first step to developing a big data plan for your firm is to start with the basics.  

Data, Analytics & Intelligence

On its own, big data is useless. In order to use big data, it has to be turned into either business analytics or business intelligence. You can think of data as the raw building material that produces the final constructed building. Big data is collected about a firm’s operations (time logs, temperature readings, sensor data, digital plans, and RFIs for example), and intelligence and analytics help to put it into context. For example, ROI represents an analytic that is determined by gathering and analyzing raw financial data.

Now, it’s important to differentiate between business analytics and business intelligence. Business intelligence focuses on developing a clear picture of the state of the company. In contrast, business analytics are used to determine why a particular phenomenon is happening. Business intelligence is typically done manually by those involved in strategic leadership positions, while business analytics are produced by construction software and other data mining technology.  

Intelligence and analytics are both integral to a firm’s success, and knowing what you want to learn or investigate your company will help you match the data insight type to the right task. Business intelligence is more qualitative and is best for exploring areas of operation that are not as easily measurable, such as the state of day-to-day operations or customer satisfaction. Analytics, on the other hand, are quantitative and therefore useful for making predictions about future trends, analyzing financials or evaluating productivity.

How Construction Firms are Using Big Data

Big data can be used in many different ways, but here are some of the most popular ways that construction firms are using data to streamline operations:

1. Sensor Data

Many construction firms are investing in sensors, which they install in various places across the job site. Sensors can measure temperature, humidity, noise levels, vibration, toxicity levels and more. Gathering sensor data from the job site allows firms to predict the longevity and effectiveness of building materials and techniques. It also allows companies to ensure that workers aren’t exposed to harmful levels of noise, vibration or toxic chemicals.

2. Construction Safety

In Construction Safety: 4 Things You Need to Know, we looked at the safety issues the construction industry is currently facing. Data is an effective tool for ensuring that job sites adhere to the strictest safety standards. Data can help predict risks, avoid hazardous environmental conditions and monitor the maintenance and repair of vital safety equipment.    

3. Field Data

In the field, paper is still prominent. Unfortunately, when firms use paper, they’re not able to collect the rich and valuable data that’s generated on the job site every day. Information about change orders, task completion, safety issues and time logs can provide construction executives with valuable information about areas for improvement.

4. Materials Tracking

Conserving materials is an integral part of keeping construction projects on schedule and under budget.

Project Controls included in construction software systems like CMiC have tools for tracking materials inventory, allowing firms to:

  • Automate purchase orders and requisition management
  • Anticipate delivery schedules
  • Forecast supply needs
  • Automate general ledger updating

Turning materials data into actionable insights about the availability of supplies is one of the best ways for firms to gain an edge over the competition.

Flexibility & Adaptation

By transforming raw data into analytics or intelligence, construction firms gain a flexible, well-rounded view of productivity, efficiency and financial performance. Both intelligence and analytics allow construction executives to gain a bird’s-eye view of operations as well as a more detailed, zeroed-in look at the individual elements that impact the big picture. Data also allows companies to predict emerging trends and prepare for industry changes. In short, data allows companies to change and adapt quickly in a time where competition has never been fiercer.