5 ways to boost productivity in construction

At the core of constructions productivity crisis is data and analytics. This is the unlock to higher productivity. Here's how it's done.

At this point, it shouldn’t be news to anyone in construction that the industry is lacking in productivity improvements. Between 1995 and 2014, the construction industry has seen an increase in labor-productivity growth of 1% per year compared to the total world economy that has seen annual labor-productivity growth of 2.8%. If we look at an industry such as manufacturing, we find an average increase of 3.6% per year. There are, of course, many variables that come into play here and we aren’t saying there is a universal solution to solve this entire problem across the industry. However, there are a few core solutions that would provide the industry with an immense amount of value and substantially increase productivity.

At the core of this productivity crisis is data and analytics. Yes we know, this is an overused, oversaturated buzzword that has become hollow. Odds are, you want to stay as far away from data and analytics firms as possible because it just means more work, another task to keep track of, and quite frankly a waste of time. Well, bear with us here. In this article we are going to talk about a few very specific ways that data can be applied in construction and what the results will be. Now, if we haven’t caught your attention just yet, consider the following. Analysts at Forrester Research have identified a new type of organization that they label as insights-driven business. These businesses are growing at an average rate of 30% per year because they have fully leaned in to applying data and analytics to their businesses. Let’s find out how this can be applied to construction.

1. IoT and The Cloud

Let’s start at the beginning. To implement a data-driven approach to construction, you need a steady stream of data flowing from your projects. In construction, the Internet of Things (IoT) allows construction companies to establish the right environment to let the data flow. By setting up physical sensors across the construction site, the project team can be fed real-time data from virtually any area of the build and act on it immediately. With full integration of IoT in construction, there is no need for anymore retrospective, damage control. Construction teams can deal with issues as they occur and substantially improve productivity as a result.

Another major headache in construction is the storage of data and sharing of the information. Who has stored what data? Where is it? Who do I have to speak with to access exactly what I need? It’s a digitally logistical nightmare. Time is wasted tracking down relevant information, miscommunication often occurs, or site crew go without the data they need which can cause project errors and result in severe delays. The Cloud solves all of these problems. This is where all data is stored and the people who need access will be able to find it from anywhere at any time. These technologies should not be underrated and fully embracing them can have a tremendous impact on your business productivity.

2. Incorporate data analytics

There are actually quite a lot of companies that achieve the first step. Since data has been all the rage among many big corporates the past decade, most of them have tried to incorporate some form of data collection process. Unfortunately, this is where they get stuck. This can be due to a range of reasons, such as not having the right expectations for what your data can do or simply by selecting the wrong software vendor to work with. The key here is to have a system in place that will process the constant stream of data in accordance with your business objectives. This will allow you to extract the most relevant insights that will have the biggest impact on your business.

Ideally, you partner with a software provider who offers you both the collection and analysis of data. This will provide you with more control and less effort. A strong software partner will work with you every step of the way and take care of all the heavy lifting on their end. When insights are available through thorough data analysis, they will notify project managers of the findings and recommend a course of action. This takes a massive amount of stress and strain off project teams and enables them to work on other important areas, rendering them much more productive.

3. Standardised data

Once you have a steady stream of data and the support of a software platform to power your insights, you’ve got the bulk work done. Now it’s time to dig into the details. To achieve exceptional results from your data (and others), the format of the data needs to be standardised, or at least move towards standardisation. In a recent round table on carbon hosted by Qflow, construction professionals agreed that the best way to track and manage carbon in the future would be to fully standardise the data across the industry. That way, it becomes much easier to collaborate and learn from multiple teams in your organisation, but also from the other players in the industry. It’s a tremendously powerful way to improve productivity in many different areas of construction. However, this is no easy feat, primarily due to the many different nuances of construction. Luckily, there is another way to leverage standardisation to improve productivity.

By standardising your workflows, data collection processes, and measurement strategies, you can maximise your efforts and reduce inefficiencies. This supports consistency and accuracy of data which leads to greater results down the line. Similarly, if you adopt software that can easily integrate into other platforms, the standardisation of this process leads to greater efficiencies and streamlined workflows.

4. Train your workforce for the future

Improving productivity and becoming an efficient construction firm in the short term is one thing. To stay ahead of the curve and sustain labor-productivity growth in the long-term it’s important to look at the state of the industry and invest accordingly. Digital tools are becoming an increasingly central part of the construction process. Whether your organisation is digitised or not, the fact is that suppliers, developers, investors, etc. are digitising at an ever increasing rate. Sooner or later, digitising your construction business will be a matter of catching up to the bare minimum rather than getting a jump start on the future. Luckily, we aren’t there yet. By investing time and capital into training your workforce on new digital technologies as well as upskilling them on using these in the field, your organisation will be future proof. With the right training in place, your most important asset, your workforce, will be ready for all the future holds and help carry your construction business to a greater level of productivity and profitability.

Furthermore, the construction workforce is ageing rapidly. As an alarming portion of the workforce are approaching retirement age and the influx of younger construction professionals has been on a steady decline, it is important to create incentives for millennials to join construction. By offering a program to train workers in modern technology, the millennial generation are more likely to be interested in joining a modernising construction industry.

5. Invest now, reap later

On multiple occasions, we have found that construction firms have overestimated the cost of investing in technology against the expected returns of the investment. Sometimes, there is resistance from construction professionals who believe that technology will cause more harm than good. However, we have now hit a time where clients are demanding more complex projects, lower costs, and reduced environmental impact. Naturally, this adds pressure on construction firms to deliver. With outdated construction processes and strategies, this will become increasingly more difficult. The wave of new construction technology has come at a critical time and will allow companies to deliver on all these new demands with ease. But there needs to be a change of mindset. There is too much fear the costs of data driven technologies will outweigh the return. It’s worth considering the compounding rewards of investing in technologies today that will help grow your organisation over time. Construction firms simply need to switch from a short-term, margin defensive mindset to a long-term approach. Invest today, reap the rewards tomorrow.

Now despite it being conveyed as a simple feat in this article, it’s worth highlighting that its most certainly not easy. There is a lot of work that goes into implementing these various solutions and maintaining them in your organisation. The goal of this article is to convince you that it is worth the investment. Over time, the returns will compound and you will be left reaping the rewards of a thriving business. The questions is, when will you take action?

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