PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
data driven construction strategies

10 Data-Driven Construction Strategies to Boost Productivity  

How to Use Data to Increase Efficiency and ROI

We’re just going to say it: It’s time the construction industry gets serious about data.

Across the world, big data is taking over. From marketing to medicine, aeronautics to agriculture, everyone is jumping on the data bandwagon. But construction, sadly, does not seem to exhibit the same enthusiasm for this world-changing development. While the industry is making strides to keep up with digital times, the majority of projects are still falling short of its responsibility to owners, investors and developers.

This is more than just a philosophical stance on construction strategies; the proof is in the pudding. Across the world, companies that implement data-driven approaches create better products, serve customers more effectively and see increased ROI. On the other hand, many companies worldwide exhibit only partial use of data, incomplete planning and modeling, failure to analyze results and a lack of streamlining that wastes money and hours.

The truth is, whether you know it or not, the built environment receives a strong and steady stream of data. The question becomes: Are you maximizing it with the right tools and processes to improve productivity on the job? Chances are the answer is no. The good news is, it doesn’t have to stay that way for long.

Below, we’ll discuss 10 of the most successful data-driven design and construction strategies you need to implement in some capacity if you want to boost jobsite productivity, increase your ROI and please your customers.

1. Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Building information modeling (BIM) involves taking all the data of a project, then integrating and manipulating it to create an interactive, time-dependent 3D model of every substructure and process required for the full build.

While the concept of BIM has been around since the 1960s, many companies have been slow to incorporate it. Nonetheless, the potential of the technology massive.

According to a survey from the National Building Specification (NBS), 78% of building companies see BIM as the future of project information.

Although most major building companies are are using BIM in some capacity, they have yet to implement this construction strategy because they feel they don’t see enough return on the steps they’ve already taken. That’s a mistake, especially since research shows that thoughtful BIM streamlines efforts, saves money and results in timelier project completion.

If you haven’t used BIM on projects yet, now is the time to get started using this innovative method.  

2. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)

Reorganizing projects with an eye toward the whole, rather than toward its individual components or people, results in a much more efficient workflow. Integrated project delivery (IPD) is a highly collaborative approach to project implementation. Recently, Brown University even used IPD and big data to determine where to place a new building on campus. While utilizing IPD doesn’t require specific standards for data collection, if implemented correctly, it empowers the entire project team to input and access data at every step of construction.

This concept also embodies in lean principles, helps to reduce inefficiency and waste, as well as optimize workflow through careful analysis. As the Lean Construction Institute explains, “Traditional silos of knowledge, work and effort are broken down and reorganized for the betterment of the project rather than of individual participants. The result? Significant improvements in the schedule with dramatically reduced waste, particularly on complex, uncertain and quick projects.”

However, IPD remains one of the most underutilized construction strategies. Primarily it’s due to a resistance to change from traditional delivery programs like design-bid-build, resulting in fragmented data capture. If you are not yet using BIM, then it will be hard to institute lean construction and integrated project delivery (IPD), in which all stakeholders pool resources and knowledge for the betterment of the whole project, rather than working simply for the completion of their own tasks.

Hence, your first step needs to be to harness data and technology and your second is to put it to work in novel ways to optimize workflow and deliver more effectively.

3. Prefabrication

One of the most common construction strategies, yet ineffective, is on-site fabrication. This involves manufacturing or modifying construction components on site, which is at the mercy of all variety of environmental conditions. As a result, it can stall the project’s timeline or put it over budget.

Using prefabrication for a section or your entire project is a sound strategy for maximizing all of your project data from visualization. Prefab, or offsite construction, uses project data to maximize the efficiency of the built environment. By knowing exactly what components are needed for a project ahead of time, you can make them offsite, then transport them to the job site once they are completed. Of course, this requires careful attention to detail through the efficient use of data.

While it’s most likely impossible to entirely rely on offsite construction to complete a major project, you can start utilizing prefabrication on a part of your project to increase overall efficiency. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get started with prefab, we created a guide on our blog, “Everything You Need to Know About Prefabrication.

4. Standardization

When it comes to game-changing construction strategies, standardization is the new reigning king. The right standard processes and workflows in place can ensure accurate measurement of data throughout the life of a project. Standardization is critical because it allows you to uniformly set up the input and measurement of data to best maximize efforts and reduce inefficiencies.

In addition to helping provide more regular data, improved standardization can actually stem from data itself (how meta). Gathering, analyzing and implementing the conclusions from data can go a long way toward standardizing many processes. For instance, one careful analysis of tests predicting the strength of concrete demonstrated that data mining models resulted in significantly more accurate information as well as increased automation in the extraction of results.

Lost in the weeds? You can learn more about the benefits of standardizing projects as well as the seven steps to standardization strategies with this free guide.

5. Mobility

Having immediate access to view and input data is almost as critical as the data itself. Equipping your team with mobile technology is one of the best construction strategies to improve both the quantity and quality of the data you’re collecting. 

According to a recent study from Dodge Data & Analytics, 50% of construction companies surveyed said mobile technology increases the volume of quality data they can obtain onsite.

Again, though, construction is an industry stuck in decades past. Many companies are not using mobile devices on the jobsites, let alone real-time mobile applications. Even the companies who have mobile devices available readily for workers are seeing usage decrease over time. A better approach? Equip field teams with mobile devices, the right software to do their jobs and training, so they have the know-how to access plans, markups and any other element of the project within seconds.

6. Collaboration Technology

Quantitative data isn’t all there is to successful construction projects. Knowing how to utilize and distribute qualitative data is just as important to the process. Collaboration technology ensures all the qualitative (think real-time issue reporting and field reports) and quantitative information of a project can be found in one central location.

With both rich quantitative and qualitative data available at worker’s fingertips, it can improve team cohesiveness, reduce rework and improve delivery of a project. Through increased communication and a stronger meeting of minds, projects are less likely to go off the rails.

7. Internet of Things (IoT)

With a large portion of construction’s success relying on equipment and technology, you need a constant stream of data to make the most use of it. The Internet of Things (IoT) in construction helps keep devices connected and constantly feeding information, not just to stakeholders and workers, but also to other devices and objects needed for the completion of any project. Project stakeholders can use that info to make better, more informed decisions about the likelihood to impact project success and meet key performance indicators.

It’s possible also to connect your field team to IoT with wearables. Wearables have already saturated the health and fitness markets, but it can provide rich data to project managers about their crews. From measuring productivity levels, tracking health information and keeping staff healthy, IoT linked devices on those in the field have endless potential for data collection and analysis.

8. GPS Technology

Similar to IoT, knowing the data of your equipment, tools, fleet and even staff is useful to any construction manager. Keeping track of all the individual components involved in a project, however, can prove difficult indeed–especially when a project is large, sprawling or in multiple locations.

GPS systems can also be used to relay important project information, like photo locations embedded in sheets, something particularly important to heavy civil construction. With a better idea of where and what the issues exactly are, and data to back it up, project teams are more likely to solve issues effectively.

9. The Cloud

The cloud is where data unification occurs. It represents a place where you can store and access all your sheets, RFIs, submittals and so on until you need them. Too often, such documents live in a central jobsite trailer or even office where workers have a hard time accessing them throughout the day. They either waste precious time and resources traveling back and forth to find what they need, or they go without it in the field, resulting in errors that delay project completion and result in less-satisfied owners and developers.

Having this information readily available in the cloud is secure and improves project productivity. Cloud-based data provides access to everyone who possesses clearance, wherever they are, as long as they have an internet connection. As construction strategies go, cloud-based document management is one of the most critical to adopt right away.

10. Automation

Today, construction strategies are only effective if they generate data that is already error-free.

Currently, 47% of construction managers still use manual methods to collect essential project information, according to a recent study.

To keep projects running, stakeholders don’t have time to go through the massive amounts of paperwork and Excel spreadsheets to clean up data, looking for discrepancies and trying to fix them within the sometimes cramped time frame of building projects.

Using automation for administrative processes and data compilation is crucial because it helps create error-free information. Take, for instance, a process like submittals, which is typically manual and therefore exhibits a large degree of error. Construction software can instantly create submittal logs, error-free, and then streamline the process to make it more efficient. Not only does this result in a more efficient workflow, it means you save on human power, helping you to maintain submittal quality control as well as get to work quicker.

Submittals are just the beginning, of course. You must automate a wide variety of systems if you hope to create streamlined projects that remain on time and budget. Think employee time sheets, project updates, data backups, requisition orders and more.

Construction Strategies that Include Big Data = Big Organizational Value

At the end of the day, data provides big organizational value. Construction companies are just starting to mine the surface of deep data dives. If you’re embracing it with the right tools and processes, you’re ahead of the game–but there’s plenty of room to grow.

The beauty of construction in this day in age is that project teams are starting to wake up and embrace tech. If you don’t, though, you’ll be left behind. Now is the time to make the change and proceed full speed ahead.

How many of these data-driven strategies are you implementing on your construction projects? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments below!

Further Reading:  Everything You Need to Know About Prefabrication

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.