How big data is impacting the construction industry

Not surprisingly, big data can provide benefits to every aspect of the construction industry. Qflow uses big data to improve sustainability in construction. Let's look at a few of the many benefits the construction industry can get from big data.

The construction industry has been lagging in the adoption of most technological trends over the past decade. Not surprisingly, big data has been one of those trends. However, times are changing and big data has finally made its way into the industry and the impact its having is revolutionary to say the least. Amar Hanspal, Senior Vice President of products for Autodesk says, “Data is the new dollar. Materials waste accounts for approximately 25% of a project’s cost and rework adds an estimated 10%. This is inexcusable given that today’s digital tools are readily available to stop this haemorrhaging of money”. In the context of the commercial size of construction contracts, these numbers are substantial amounts of money. Qflow uses big data to help improve sustainability, productivity, and profitability in construction.

To get an idea of what construction professionals are looking for, let us start by looking at some of the wants and needs of construction companies in the 21st century. In 2014, results from a survey of construction companies found that:

  • 57% want consistent and up-to-date financial and project information.
  • 48% want to be alerted when specific situations occur.
  • 41% want access to forecasted models to better prepare them for all potential outcomes.
  • 14% want online analytics to deconstruct specifically what factors are impacting profitability and by how much.

The exciting part is that big data can significantly help improve every single one of these points, just like Amar Hanspal clearly stated. Data is a global commodity, ready to be harvested by modern digital tools. In 2017, the value of data surpassed oil, and since then, it has grown exponentially. Think about that for a second. Data is now the single most valuable resource on planet Earth. And yet, the construction industry still needs convincing that data will help their businesses.

Let’s dive a little deeper into some practical use cases for big data and see how they benefit the industry players specifically.

Improved planning

In the planning stages of a construction project you have segregated groups of stakeholders, all of which are invested in the project in their own separate ways. Architects, who have more of a creative approach to a project, engineers who are trying to find the best way to make the design fit together to an actual building, contractors, who are trying to maximize their profit, and owners who are trying to contain costs at the best of their ability. Naturally, the relationship among these different stakeholders creates a level of disconnect that often isn’t beneficial to the project. With the right system leveraging big data, all stakeholders can see how their area of interest in a project is affected by the slightest change. The plans are stored in digital format with algorithms measuring every input to manifest a virtual output. With algorithms updating in real time, different stakeholders across a project can establish clearer communication and achieve a more successful plan prior to the construction phase.

Real-time project updates

In a short space of time, construction firms have seen a huge increase in the amount of data available to them. This wealth of data can be overwhelming to deal with and without proper systems in place, it’s simply a nightmare. However, with the correct technology to process and feed back the data, project managers can stay constantly updated on the projects status. No matter where they are in the world, they will have access to the project status along with a connection to other key staff of the project. This allows project managers to deal with any potential errors immediately, regardless of what they might be or when they occur. This level of connection keeps projects running smoothly and minimises the risk of errors.

Predict project outcomes

This is an interesting one because of how accessible it is. To build predictive models, companies can use both internal and external data to improve the power and accuracy of their predictions. If you are trying to create a predictive forecast for a future project that is similar to something your company has worked on before, using internal data is highly recommended as this will most likely provide the most accurate forecast for your company. However, let’s say you were looking to take on a new project that was unlike any project you’ve ever worked on before. By collecting a large data set from past construction projects similar to this, you can build a predictive model that can help you assess potential risks and rewards if your company were to take on such a project. There is another powerful use of predictive models for construction, less focused on the actual construction side of things and more of a business related feature; forecasting markets. Using tools such as SAS you can predict trends in the market that can help guide your construction company forward and serve as an operational guide.

Better decision making

A common recommendation throughout this article is finding the right technology. But once again, it is absolutely crucial that you have the right technology for any given outcome you are trying to achieve. Without it, it doesn’t matter how much data you have access to, it will all be useless. Once you have the right tool in place, data can be extremely useful in making better decisions. It helps clarify the current situation of a project or business and allows you to make more information-driven decisions. Additionally, it allows project managers to make decisions quicker and keep projects moving.

There is a good reason for using data to support decision making. Humans make errors based on irrational influences, such as emotion, or even ego. With data and numbers as your support system, decision making becomes less reliant on human errors, and data-driven. Numbers don’t lie. Trust the data.

Digital twin

It wouldn’t be an article on construction data without talking about digital twins now would it? They have been all the rage recently. There is a reason for it. These virtual representations of infrastructure projects provide access to incredibly detailed information through the course of a project and can help construction companies deliver greater output with fewer resources. Digital twins rely on copious amounts of data, updated in real time, to display an exact representation of an object or building.

 There are too many benefits of digital twins to list out here, but a few key benefits include:

  • Reduced risk of rework and delays by predicting errors in the build
  • Streamlined project performance and improved productivity
  • Increased profits as a result of more efficient project delivery

The point here being, digital twins are fueled by data and they can provide benefits in virtually every part of a construction project or construction business.

In summary

In 2020 and beyond, data is one of the most valuable resources to pay attention to if you want to improve your business and the world through construction. By carefully outlining the outcomes you are looking for, finding the right tool is not as difficult as it may sound. Simply identify what areas of your business need improvement and determine specifically what you want the data to tell you. That will help narrow the list of technological tools to choose from.

To learn more about how your construction project can benefit from data, check out this article!

At Qflow, we’ve found that data can significantly help improve the sustainability of construction and consequently, increase productivity and profitability. To learn more about how we leverage data to improve construction, reach out to our team!

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