There’s a common saying in business management: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Today, advancements in digital technology have led to an explosion of data, something that’s made measuring a whole lot easier.

With access to an abundance of data, managers in every industry including construction can measure performance more effectively than ever before. They can delve into minute processes and search for inefficiencies, and they can develop solutions to problems that have previously gone undetected.  

The term big data refers to a large volume of data that requires complex and powerful computing systems to process. As technology advances and computers become more powerful, we gain the ability to collect, analyze and process larger and larger amounts of data. And of course, the more data that’s gathered, the more accurate our insights become.

For construction companies, big data technology makes it possible to collect enough data to generate accurate analytics that can help with planning future projects, refining operations and streamlining processes. Rather than discarding project data after a project is complete, for example, construction firms can hold onto it, let it accumulate and mine that data for insights.  

But, to turn everyday project data into big data, construction firms need powerful software that’s capable of recording and processing a lot of data. Let’s face it, modern construction data is simply too complex to handle manually, especially when a large team of stakeholders is counting on the information. Even popular technology like spreadsheet programs are simply no match for the volume of data generated with just one construction project. As the industry standard for efficiency rises, constructions firms need an ERP platform that’s capable of capturing and analyzing all the necessary raw data.

The Many Advantages of Big Data   

Valuable data is already flowing through every construction firm, but only some of those firms are reaping the rewards. Bernard Marr, best-selling author and big data guru, explains the value of big data: “It’s an industry where 35% of costs are accounted for by material waste and remedial work. So, counting the cost of every screw could be the difference between delivering on budget and bankrupting an organization (or several organizations) financing a build.”

Put simply, big data helps construction firms predict outcomes and drill down into every detail of operations. As firms gather more project data, they’re better able to plan for future projects. While every construction project comes with its own set of unique variables, comparing similarities in landscape, scope and design can help the planning phase. With experience comes insight, and leveraging past project data helps firms anticipate and avoid problems.

The benefits of big data are far-reaching and go beyond monitoring the job site: Data can help firms preview potential change orders to see how the changes will affect timelines and budgets. Firms can use big data to evaluate spending and budgets and gain greater financial transparency across the organization. Data can even help construction companies evaluate potential partners and vendors.

More Data, More Problems

The use of big data is still new in the construction industry – a fact that is somewhat surprising. If data can help to eliminate much of the risk and uncertainty inherent to construction, why aren’t more firms making use of it? The answer is simple: complexity. For data to be useful, you need a lot of it. Collecting data is easy, but problems arise when that data needs to be processed, synthesized and placed in context. Most construction firms don’t have the resources to hire full-time data scientists, and many are unsure how to go about generating analytics from their databases.

Another challenge that comes with big data is accuracy. Any firm running separate solutions for project management and financial operations, for example, is likely to face issues with data accuracy. Distinct software tools will often collect and store data separately, making it difficult to gain a complete understanding of operations. Time is wasted rekeying information from one database to the other, where it may be copied incorrectly. When there are errors in data entry, it calls all your data into question. To foster real insights, data must be consistent, readily available and easy to compare.

Putting Big Data to Work

The best way to make big data work for you is with powerful ERP technology. ERP platforms consist of multiple applications, all connected to a single database. This database acts as a single source of truth, eliminating fears about data accuracy. In addition, having all organizational applications connected in a single system streamlines the process of extracting analytics and makes it easier to gain data insights.

If your firm is looking to unlock the power of big data, a robust construction ERP platform is the best place to start. The best options are built with customizable dashboards that help you make sense of real-time data. This consistent feed of relevant, updated information makes it easy for stakeholders at every level to understand project status. Once decision makers become comfortable with the key metrics, they’ll start to notice subtle differences and will eventually gain actionable project insight.

Looking for more ways to boost efficiency? Check out our blog on Improving Productivity with a Strong Integration.