7 Ways Construction Contractors Can Leverage the Power of Big Data

Today’s real-time collaborative technologies are mining large data repositories to get game-changing benefits from keeping all project decision makers on the same page

Digitizing workforce management will help construction companies recognize impressive benefits including reduction in labor costs.
Digitizing workforce management will help construction companies recognize impressive benefits including reduction in labor costs.

Construction during the pandemic accelerated adoption of technologies that is changing the building business model, improving collaboration and productivity, and driving up salaries and profit margins.

Tools such as 5D BIM, data analytics, drones, mobile solutions, and collaborative tools such as common data environments, are becoming more common among larger construction companies around the world. While they improve productivity in real time, they are perhaps more significant in paving the way for more disruptive technologies to be adopted in the future.

Big data provides construction companies with a method to collect, analyze, and apply vast amounts of information to help solve business problems and provide critical, informed insight for future activities. It helps companies complete projects on time, bid more accurately, and build more efficiently. Big data in construction, however, also poses a significant challenge when it comes to collecting, sharing, and using the data generated across the complex construction ecosystem.

Today’s construction firms are starting to adopt collaborative technology such as real-time, cloud-powered analytics to mine large structured and unstructured data repositories to make sure all stakeholders – architects, consultants, engineers, subcontractors, specialty tradesmen, clients, operators, agents, and suppliers – are on the same page and informed with real-time data. These technologies have the potential to redefine the industry by offering game changing benefits.

Here’s what industry leaders need to know to manage big data better:

  1. Prioritize digital technology – Big data enables construction and engineering companies to collect and analyze cost-related information, site-based transactions, photographs, communications, planning changes, and more. The construction industry is awash with data – literally thousands of pieces of information are generated for every project. Without digital technology, it is nearly impossible to identify key data items to enable a swift reaction to potential problems or apply positive outcomes to future projects.
  2. Mitigate risks – Harvesting and analyzing big data from construction projects can help identify potential risks and problems. For example, by analyzing productivity of key resources such as labor and equipment, big data solutions can inform the project team of potential delays, possible fatigue, and overall project time and cost overruns. In addition, by collecting both structured and unstructured data, it is possible to overlay project-centric information with corporate data to help identify trends. If a negative trend is ignored, the entire business could be exposed to unacceptable risk.
  3. Leverage predictability – Using big data systems alongside disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) provides critical information and insight before a project even breaks ground. This allows potential issues such as coordination problems on construction sites, conflicts between different disciplines and trades, and even the weather impact to be addressed before it’s too late. Research suggests that 98% of mega projects suffer cost overruns of more than 30%, and 77% of mega projects are completed at least 40% late. The ability to pivot based on data insights could make a significant impact on reducing costs and time overruns.
  4. Utilize building information modelling – Big data transforms the construction industry as early as the design phase. Data can be harvested and applied to help facilitate the design process. With a proper data analytics tool in place, huge volumes of information can be quickly analyzed and used to determine probabilities and patterns that will help forecast potential issues that may impact construction projects throughout the construction phase. Feeding that data back into a BIM solution can create an even clearer and more accurate overview of the construction process. Integration of big data and BIM is worth the investment, as the long-term benefits are too good to miss. When the data-driven BIM solution integrates with the back office and operational ERP systems, the opportunity to drive further productivity improvements are significant.
  5. Eliminate waste – According to a report from Transparency Market Research, the volume of construction waste generated worldwide every year will nearly double to 2.2 billion tons by the year 2025. Considering the digital technology available today, there’s simply no excuse for this level of wastage, both in terms of resources such as materials, equipment, and time. With a recent focus on the principles of lean construction to reduce material waste, companies are turning to analytics tools. These tools provide the entire project team access to real-time information, which enables a more efficient delivery and utilization of materials, plant, and equipment.
  6. Improve plant and equipment productivity – Sensors are used on modern construction sites for gathering plant and machinery data to drive productivity improvements. Having these devices attached to on-site operational equipment generates a huge amount of information about the performance and utilization of instrumented machines. Sensor data can show the idle and active times of construction machinery, thus showing contractors how to boost fuel efficiency and productivity and tells them whether it’s more cost-effective to buy, lease or rent such machinery.
  7. Maintain a healthy and safe workforce – In addition to sensor-driven data providing crucial insights into the productivity and efficiency of plant and equipment, sensor-enabled wearable devices are having a profound impact on improving workplace conditions for site personnel. Not only can these sensors monitor environmental conditions that affect workplace safety, but biometric sensors within the wearable can monitor the health of the workers. A happy workforce is a productive workforce.

Familiarity with today’s technologies and improving operations by using the big data flowing from them opens the door for the next generation of technology, and its truly disruptive potential for construction. Five-D printing, IoT sensors, process automation, robotics, digital twins, cognitive machine learning, and AI have already proven to be transformative in other industries, and we can expect to see the same elemental effects in the construction industry.

Early adopters face a basic lack of knowledge and a limited number of success stories about application of these technologies in construction to support the investment. But one of the key benefits that can be derived from IoT solutions in particular address one of construction’s most pernicious challenges: workforce.  

Digitizing workforce management will help construction companies recognize some impressive benefits including reduction in labor costs through more accurate budgeting and planning, risk mitigation through simplified legal and internal policy compliance, enhanced employee experience through optimized scheduling, and improved productivity via automated administrative tasks.

It is time for the construction industry to embrace the digital age and start realizing technology’s potential to positively impact operations in 2021 and beyond.

Bill Vellante is vice president and general manager for business cloud-software vendor Infor’s North America Services Industries.