PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog

Why You Think Your Construction Company Is Data-Driven (And Why You Might Not Actually Be)  

8 Key Qualities of Data-Driven Construction Companies

If we’ve learned anything in life, it’s that perception is not always reality: Dad thinks he’s a good cook; politicians think they’re doing what you want them to; your boss thinks he’s “relationship first.” 

Fact is, we don’t always see what’s right there in front of our nose–and the case of data-driven design and construction is no different. When it comes to a company recognizing their own data-driven capabilities, they might be living with some serious misconceptions.

In the last 30 years, we’ve gone from interested in digital to completely, utterly beholden to it. It’s a rare organization that doesn’t live and die by devices and applications–and such companies usually do not last long in today’s cutting-edge world. Construction, however, has been slower to catch up to this new tech normal. In fact, it is one of the last remaining industries to embrace the digital revolution. As a result, many companies may be starting to digitize and capture more data, but they may not be actually be making moves to apply this new information in optimal ways. 

Whatever the case, data-driven design and construction can often be a false perception than a widespread reality. However, there’s good news. Starting with a few changes, construction companies can begin to build a culture that utilizes and applies data in a way that influences critical business decisions.  

Beware: You Might Not Utilize Data-Driven Design and Construction (Even If You Think You Do)

CIO reports that “According to New Vantage Partners’ Big Data Executive Survey 2017, only 37% of companies who pledged to become more data-driven, have actually successfully accomplished their goal.” 

Statistics being what they are, it’s more likely you’re in the “haven’t accomplished” category than otherwise. While number crunching is a familiar activity for many in the construction industry, this doesn’t mean your company is genuinely utilizing data to drive key decisions.

As CIO points out, “Unfortunately, simply putting a couple of tools on auto-pilot and using data as a reporting tool is no longer a viable option to stay lean or competitive. CIOs need to recognize the importance of creating a data-driven culture in 2018 or fall by the wayside.”

So, if the status quo isn’t working, what will? What does it mean to be data-driven in construction?

8 Real Qualities of a Data-Driven Construction Company Culture

“Data-drivenness is about building tools, abilities, and, most crucially, a culture that acts on data,” explains Carl Anderson in Creating a Data-Driven Organization. But while “Data undoubtedly is a key ingredient … it has to be the right data. The dataset has to be relevant to the question at hand. It also has to be timely, accurate, clean, unbiased; and perhaps most importantly, it has to be trustworthy.”
That’s not as easy as it sounds, cautions Anderson, who cites frequent reports that “data scientists spend 80% of their time obtaining, cleaning, and preparing data, and only 20% of their time building models, analyzing, visualizing, and drawing conclusions from that data.” Such a “tall order” makes it difficult for even the most well-meaning organizations to become truly data-driven.

That means, if you want to achieve true data-driven design and construction, it’s vital to ensure you’re taking the right steps to get the right data. A data-driven construction company culture will, therefore, exhibit the following set of qualities.

1. Robust Data Collection

Data-driven design and construction starts with the right system and digital tools to collect quality data. It needs to be:

  • Accurate: Free from error and mistakes
  • Real-Time: Continuously updated in the cloud by workers in a variety of environments
  • Trustworthy: Viable as a decision-making tool

It’s also crucial for construction companies to start thinking of data beyond pure numbers. While easily crunched facts and figures are great, today’s construction data also comes in the form of visual information: BIM models and even photos and videos throughout the project’s progression. If you fail to include those, you won’t get an accurate picture of the construction process.

2. Accessibility of Information

Even the best data is useless if it cannot be accessed and seen by workers when they need it. One of the most significant components of data-driven design and construction, therefore, is that it is accessible by all who need it, at any time, from anywhere.

Note that even if workers can access this data, it also needs to be easy enough for them to understand and make decisions based on what they are seeing. For many companies, that probably means improving the data literacy of their employees, offering additional training until the new data approach becomes truly embedded in a firm’s culture, and ensuring frequent and cutting-edge continuing education.

Accessibility also requires the right tools. These need to:

  • Be easy to use
  • Be centrally organized through dashboards
  • Provide snapshots of insights for easily digested decision-making information

The most advanced companies are taking that one step further with access to advanced models in the field and even a personalized data approach.

3. Automation of Data Entry and Workflows

It’s pretty simple: Good data output requires good input. To eliminate the chance of mistakes and errors that compromise the whole trustworthy element of data, ultimate data-driven construction companies need to automate data entry and workflows. 

Those that already use good data effectively don’t rely on manual data entry methods that not only waste time but put projects at risk. Instead, they use digital tools for processes like creating and managing submittal logs in real-time.

4. Tech and Data Standardization

Ever been on a project where there is a disconnect between a contractor and subcontractor because they are using two entirely different systems for plans and information? Let’s just say it doesn’t add to data-driven design and construction. Actually, because keeping data and technology standardized on a project is essential for high quality and reliable data, incompatible systems actively work against project success.

That’s where standardization comes in. When everyone is trying to achieve the same goals, using the same metrics, tools and technology, chances of success are much higher. Here’s a handy guide to building these standards for data in construction.

5. A Single Source of Truth

In a typical construction project, several tools are being used to capture, collect and process data. Unfortunately, often, this data remains siloed. 

When you implement data-driven design and construction, silos are broken down and data is integrated and available in one, single source of truth. This means that everything from 2D to 3D documents, financial data, plans, weather and schedules can all be linked and found in one place. If you’re curious what a single source of truth looks like, we have you covered.

6. Advanced Analysis

It’s not enough to supply raw data views. Data can be misleading; it does not arrive in a clean and easy-to-use form. Advanced analytics helps you go beyond raw data and make innovative and forward-thinking decisions, as McKinsey explains. As you can see from the following graphic, data increases in usefulness and competitive advantage as it increases in analytical richness. If you want to be truly competitive, you need to include all of the following data sources and formats, not just some.

McKinsey data infrastructure
Source: McKinsey & Company

7. Decision Making and Risk Management Effectiveness

Can you honestly say that the data you have on hand is being used to drive decisions and allow your team to deliver projects more efficiently and on budget? If not, you’ve got a problem, because without good data you are unlikely to turn a defensive strategy into a proactive one. With it, however, you can address risks and move forward before they become a real challenge to the company.

8. Continuous Improvement Mindset

Data collection and analysis is an ongoing process, and data-driven design and construction rely on constant improvement. No data-driven company should ever consider themselves at their ultimate peak of data mindfulness, even if you do have that coveted competitive advantage and market leadership position. Companies that are data-driven know they can always do more to improve their processes, efficiency and overall projects.

Data-Driven Design and Construction Starts Today

Whether you consider yourself among the data-awakened or know you have a lot of work left to do, there’s no time like the present to institute better systems and routines for the use and management of data. Don’t let your competitors pull ahead of you; instead, take your firm’s data seriously and make good use of it by shooting for the above characteristics today.

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.

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