Beyond big data
A route map to data maturity
Data is a powerful means of driving improvements across the global construction industry, but we need a coherent and unified strategy that will take the industry to the next level.
If our sector is to maximise the benefits from its data, we must take collective as well as organisation-level action to define, standardise and share data more widely.
Devise an industry route map
Elsewhere, industry bodies such as the Chartered Management Institute have developed a data maturity model. The built environment sector needs its own route map for handling data. Professional organisations should take the lead, developing certification, accreditation and training around this area.
Decide what to measure, and when
With such a vast array of data potentially available on a typical project, measuring the right things is key to driving better performance. So it’s important to define your priorities – and corresponding data needs – first, resisting the temptation of placing too much importance on the things that are easy to measure, but less useful to your objectives.
Adopt common standards for data
Interpretations of standards can vary from project to project within a single organisation, and this can lead to a lack of confidence in the data itself. For example, a key data point – the anticipated final cost (AFC) at a certain milestone of a project – is critical for forecasting outcomes and making decisions. But if it does not conform to a standardised measurement, it cannot be meaningfully compared with the other repeat projects that an organisation is undertaking around the world. Adopting industry-agreed definitions for data would not only help companies improve their internal processes, it could ultimately drive up standards across the sector as a whole as data could be shared more frequently.
Create a common architecture
If data is to have longevity, it needs to fit into a hierarchy or ‘architecture’ that is recognised across the industry. This common coding structure would standardise the way that data on every project is captured and stored, from an oil rig to a retail outlet. It would enable organisations to compare performance on areas such as cost and schedule against their peers, or even other industries.
Improve data management capabilities
In the coming years, data management will become central to the success of a built environment project. As an industry, we should start defining what the role of construction data manager or analyst entails
Collaborate across supply chains
There are commercial and cultural barriers to transparency, rooted in distrust and adversarial ways of working. Parties within a supply chain can be reluctant to share more than the minimum of data with each other. Organisations may justify this by citing commercial confidentiality, but the real reason behind the secrecy is probably lack of trust: they fear that the data will be used against them to substantiate a claim. To counteract this problem, common protocols should be established in the earliest phases of a project, long before work even begins on site.
At present, there is no standard model to define how technology should be integrated into a construction project and on many projects, the systems used by project and cost managers, contractors, architects and engineers are isolated from one another and do not exchange information efficiently. We need to develop best practice models for fitting this jigsaw of technology together so that data can flow efficiently between parties.
Acting with more vision
Technology is presenting us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Failing to act and muddling along with inconsistent data will lead to loss of trust, worsening relationships and stagnating productivity. We need to seize the opportunity, and to step up the pace of change. Moving faster to secure the quality of our data will accelerate improvement across the sector as a whole.