PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
Data Portability in construction

Don’t Play Telephone in Construction: Why Data Portability Is Vital to a Project’s Legacy

Is Missing Facility Data Costing Your Project?

How much do you enjoy playing the game telephone? If you’re not familiar with the classic children’s game, players sit in a line and whisper one word or phrase into each neighbor’s ears until it reaches the last player. When it’s time for the last player to say the message out loud, the phrase is so morphed, that it’s usually indistinguishable to the original transmitter. This, of course, is the fun of the game telephone. In construction, a similar game is played with data, but instead of fun, it can feel like the bane of the final receiver’s existence–the owner.

Consider how many individuals, companies and teams it takes to build a project; it’s no surprise that construction data is disconnected. Each group and trade has their own methods, systems and standards for collecting data. When the time comes to bring everything together at handoff, the owner is more often than not missing valuable project information due to poor technology compatibility.  

Nevertheless, it is possible to retain the mass amounts of data created in design and construction. But it involves capturing, managing and retaining portable data throughout the entire project lifecycle to close the disconnect.

While the concept of “data portability” has been gaining more buzz in construction recently, it’s still a relatively new concept in the building sector that few owners are taking full advantage of. In our post, we’ll dig into why information is lost to begin with and how more portability can reduce the significant amount of design and construction data lost by closeout today.

Where Did All the Data Go? A Common Case of Data Leakage in Construction

While the construction industry is becoming more collaborative in coordination, for the most part, teams still operate in technology “silos.” The owner, architect, contractors and even subs are often using their own technologies specific to their needs on the project. Since data and systems are not structured in a standard and compatible format, a certain amount of data loss is incurred in nearly every phase of construction.

For instance, a design model could collect 100 different data points regarding equipment installed in a building. However, when that data is transferred to another coordination modeling platform, it might only be able to keep about 10 or so of those data points. As a result, a large portion of data is lost or corrupted because of a lack of system integration, looking similar to this:

Data portability loss to owner in construction

Project owners are increasingly relying on general contractors (GCs) to manage the flow of information and technology. But as GCs try to collect data from designers, consultants and dozens of trades, the same problem occurs that happens in the game of telephone; a lack of a common transceiver and receiver to retain the integrity of information.

The fact is, without a standard or compatible platform, each time data is transferred and manually exported, there are significant opportunities for error and loss. In fact, this problem is so common that according to JBKnowledge, 49% of construction professionals manually transfer data when it doesn’t integrate. Furthermore, 43% use spreadsheets. If you’re thinking, “Well, the project administrators are data entry wizards, so the loss doesn’t apply to our project.” Think again. According to a Carnegie Mellon study, 94% of spreadsheets have errors. From these statistics, it’s easy to understand why one-third of construction data is lost by hand-off.

Why Owner’s Suffer When They’re Left with Disconnected Data

Owners are making considerable investments in construction–but they aren’t always reaping the full benefits of their funding. Due to poor interoperability of systems, the 30% of initial data created in design and construction that’s lost by closeout results in a huge expense–adding up to nearly $11 billion annually for owners. The costs result in facilities’ data being re-collected, at cost, by building owners during initial occupancy of a facility.

Like any relationship that’s built, fostered and maintained over time, no one wants to find skeletons in their closet years down the road when it’s too late. Similarly, when owners have all the data up front, they can better plan for and meet issues head-on, rather than scrambling to pick up the broken pieces in the event of a fallout.

Poor Data Increases Routine O&M Costs

First, consider the fact that design and construction is only a small investment of the project’s entire lifecycle. After closeout, direct operations and maintenance (O&M) costs will be about three times the amount of design and construction over 30 years. 

To put things into perspective, take a moment to think about all the hours lost as facility teams search through file cabinets in archive rooms full of hard copy closeout data to find historical building information. Every small hurdle it takes for O&M teams to find a piece of data, adds up. If the information doesn’t exist, to begin with, the resources needed to recreate this data can be a significant (not to mention avoidable) expense especially in the event of a redesign or a renovation.

Over time, the lack of data in a centralized, easy to access location could increase total facility costs by 1-2%. While that not might seem like a lot as a percentage, in reality, that could easily be hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in a large facility like a college campus or hospital.

Bad Information Raises TCO

It’s also important to consider data’s impact on the total cost of ownership (TCO) or the sum of all expenditures an owner will make over a building’s service lifecycle. Naturally, as a building ages, more maintenance is required to maintain functionality. Typically, major maintenance decisions are made based on all the available information to the owner. Without comprehensive design and construction data, important maintenance decisions could be delayed or entirely overlooked, leading to a shorter lifecycle on the whole. Alternatively, with the right data available, monumental facility upgrades and decisions can be predicted and sufficiently planned well in advance.

Given the many different stakeholders and other challenges of construction, how can owners control the amount and quality of data they are left with at turnover? It starts by enabling portable data to centralize all project documentation.

What Is Data Portability?

As mentioned, data portability is a relatively new concept in construction. First, when referencing construction data, we mean each touchpoint that information is generated in the construction process. This includes the immense amount of design plans from first concepts to final drawings, all construction specs, submittals, progress photos and RFIs and even up to date facility data once the building is fully functional. But the keyword is “portability”–both physically and digitally.

Below, we’ll share the critical physical and digital components that make data portable in construction, and how owners can establish a framework that supports data portability success.

Physically Portable

The iPad and other mobile devices have genuinely revolutionized the construction industry. Now, everyone in construction has the power of a computer in their pocket. Equipped with the right software made with the mobile user in mind, field teams can effortlessly access plans and documents, send reports and respond to issues on the fly.

Having the freedom to physically access construction data, especially in the field, is no longer a nice to have, it’s essential. This access keeps construction moving with a single source of truth as well as captures all changes at the moment, reducing the risk of data loss. All these recorded details can be critical down the road when maintenance teams are repairing equipment or structures.

Digitally Portable

Across Project Phases

As previously exhibited in our graph above, when data is transferred between stakeholders and project phases, a certain amount of data leakage occurs. To truly be portable, data needs to be seamlessly transferred without a loss incurred. To do so means using a standardized software solution across the project to store updated plans and documents, in addition to recording real-time project changes. Meaning that a complete record of what occurred in design and construction can be accessed and updated in one platform even when it’s time for a renovation many years down the road.  


Imagine the following scenario. A facility operator at a large, sprawling college campus needs to service something as small as a filter. Without instant access to facility information, they might need to drive back to their head office, perhaps 20-40 minutes away to look up the filter size and location. By the time, they fix the issue, they could have wasted an hour or more–just for a simple filter replacement. These wasted minutes and hours add up in massive unnecessary labor costs for owners. Additionally, even more serious costs could be incurred if an emergency or urgent issue occurs.

At the core of data portability in construction is cloud-based access to data. Whether it’s in design, construction or operations, teams need access to information whenever and wherever they are–online and offline. In addition to in the moment access to data, the cloud also empowers project stakeholders to input changes in real time.
If you’re looking to learn about the ins and outs of cloud-based software for the construction industry, read our blog, “Why Your Construction App Needs to Be Powered by the Cloud: How to Get the Most out of Your Software with Cloud-Based Project Management.”

Easy to Use

How easy–or how difficult–technology is to use directly correlates to its portability for the user. For example, if your smartphone was complicated and cumbersome to use even to make calls, no matter how awesome the voice quality was, you’d likely not use it. Similarly, while some construction software might have the potential to collect and access solid data, if it’s not easy to use, it’s virtually worthless. That being said, a small investment to ensure technology is adopted and standardized is also crucial with any new onboarding.

Complements Your Current CMMS System

But wait you say, you already use software for operations. Yes–there are solutions in operations that are very database and process heavy solutions known as Computerized Maintenance Management System, or CMMS. While these systems are not always user-friendly or built for the field, they’re standard solutions in operations to track facility assets. In this case, it’s not an either-or situation–construction software can coexist with and complement operations software. To reduce O&M costs, on the whole, today’s owners need the heavy data in CMMS to be supplemented with the mobile and portable visual information for their operations teams manning their campuses and facilities.

The Final Key to Data Portability–A Portable Mindset

So you’ve implemented the right framework and tools to enable data portability on your projects. However, you’re finding that information still isn’t being collected and transferred fully through closeout. The final ingredient to successful data portability in construction is a change of mindset.

According to Karel Dörner, Principal at McKinsey & Company, “A digital mindset institutionalizes cross-functional collaboration, flattens hierarchies, and builds environments to encourage the generation of new ideas. Incentives and metrics are developed to support such decision-making agility.”

Construction and operations teams have been historically resistant to change and digital technology because there’s one way things have been done for so many years. Nevertheless, it’s unreasonable to add a new piece of technology or process to the mix and expect it to spread like wildfire just because it’s in place. Portability needs to be built into a project’s culture in order for it to work, meaning training, reinforcement and a little bit of hand-holding is necessary to get teams to start using it initially.

To achieve full adoption, teams need to understand how data portability benefits their job. During design, preconstruction and construction, workers should be fully aware of the collaboration and business benefits of accessing and adding data to a central documentation system. Likewise, O&M teams should be briefed on the information they can access and how to make decisions at the moment.

Getting started with new digital technology can be a hurdle to any project. If you’re looking for a resource to help build a process and culture for data portability to flourish, download this helpful ebook.

Don’t Start O&M in the Dark: Why Data Portability Is the Future of Construction

Owners own their facilities. So why do many of them fail to truly own their construction data that tells the story of their facility? It’s time to stop starting O&M in the dark because data and information slipped through the cracks like in a high-risk game of telephone. By prioritizing physical and digital data portability to capture, manage and retain critical information in every project stage, owners can gain more control of the maintenance of their facilities–for many years to come.

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

Add comment