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Industry Updates

How Contractors Can Prioritize the Use of Data

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As projects become increasingly complex and technology continues to advance, contractors have an incredible opportunity to do more with project data. Once resistant to change, many have moved away from manual processes to more connected construction operations with data and collaborative communication flowing seamlessly between the back office, the field and extended project teams. 

How are Contractors Collecting, Analyzing and Using Data Today?

For a growing number of contractors, the need to better leverage data has become a priority. In a recent Viewpoint and Dodge Data & Analytics report, 64 percent of contractors reported improvements in data gathering and analysis capabilities on construction projects in the last three years. More than half (53 percent) noted improved ability to complete projects at or under budget and nearly half (47 percent) experienced improved productivity. 

The report also revealed that most contractors prefer and are satisfied with construction-specific management software or ERP (enterprise resource planning) platforms for collecting, parsing and analyzing data. Of the standard data reports available via construction software, solutions cost and productivity insights appear to be the most important among contractors.

Project financials are the most commonly used (93 percent), followed by project logs (83 percent), safety reports (73 percent) and equipment maintenance and costs (52 percent). More than half of contractors noted they are looking at data in some form of predictive modeling, leveraging information to help them better understand trends and when/where future events or triggers will occur so they can plan in advance.

As technologies and software become more accessible and intuitive, project stakeholders at all levels can easily analyze data in formats that are relevant to their roles. Increasingly, project leaders in the office and in the field are analyzing project information and making key decisions. As many as 34 percent of general contractors and 41 percent of specialty contractors are now performing some form of data analysis while in the field. 

Taking Data to the Next Level

Contractors that have already begun to modernize their operations are ready to take digitization to the next level and looking at leading-edge technologies to help them better collect, store, segment and analyze data. The answer? Powerful data analytic and business intelligence (BI) tools with cloud accessibility and mobile connectivity are giving contractors the ability to make smarter, real-time decisions and automate workflows and processes. 

BI tools make it easy to segment and analyze data in virtually any way. From in-depth reports to dashboards, creative charts, graphs and even geographical mapping of data, these tools put contractors in the driver’s seat and take away the headache of trying to manually make sense of the mountains of construction data. They can help contractors make decisions based on past and present project performance without the burden of waiting for specialized reports from IT staff or external consultants. Furthermore, advanced predictive data analytics can help contractors uncover trends, better forecast future work and open new roads of business possibilities. 

Just analyzing current project data and identifying potential issues before they occur can have a significant impact on contractors’ bottom lines. In fact, unnecessary rework due to project errors accounted for 20 percent of a project’s contract amount, according to the Construction Industry Institute. Even if rework were just 5 percent of total expenditures in the construction industry, that’s still a staggering $62 billion in lost revenue — revenue that could be recaptured through integrated BI.

However, BI requires that data capture is accurate, timely and complete. Contractors that embark down the path to BI often realize that project data is missing, duplicative or inaccurate. This leads to costly mistakes, such as using the wrong materials or missing a key step in the construction process and can be a roadblock to making smart project decisions when they’re needed the most. However, modern software with integrated BI solutions can quickly point out where data gaps exist. 

Choosing the Right Technologies

The technology choices a contractor makes for storing, processing and sharing data are key to their ability to extract value from it. In particular, the following will impact a contractor’s ability to effectively implement a BI strategy:

  • The Cloud — By moving operations to the cloud, contractors improve data capture in the field. Information becomes accessible when and where it is needed, giving contractors freedom from dependency on hardware requirements, operating systems and upgrades. 
  • Mobile Connectivity —While the cloud promises anywhere, anytime access to information, the proliferation of mobile devices helps it deliver and creates the opportunity to share data between the office, the jobsite and all project participants in real time. 
  • Software Platforms  The right construction management platform can also make or break BI success. Fully integrated cloud-based solutions prevent data silos, utilize a uniform data set across the organization, and allow users to collaborate and work in real-time.

Changing the way data is captured, analyzed and shared can open the door to better planning, more efficient projects and higher profit margins. From access to real-time information for making critical decisions to the peace of mind from having electronic documents and data backups, the era of the digital contractor is here. 

Jenn Said is a freelance writer covering the construction industry.