Data was recently described by the Economist as the ‘oil of the digital era’. Few could deny the fact that data is already a priceless resource for almost every type of industry. The construction sector is, of course, no exception.
Digital technologies are just around the corner and a significant change is expected in the way we work and build in construction. Nonetheless, it seems that the building industry is still struggling with its data. A much better job could be done in regards both to its collection and management.
As reported in the Roland Berger ‘Think Act’ review about digitisation in construction, 100% of construction materials firms mention that they haven’t managed yet to take full advantage of the digital tools that they have at their disposal. Furthermore, 93% of the survey participants are convinced that digitization will soon have a strong effect on every phase of the construction process, while only less than 6% of the surveyed construction companies are using digital planning tools to their fullest.
Data can cover a wide area of activities in a building project lifecycle from its initial design to its completion. Some good examples could be weather, modeling and traffic data or data generated by building sensors and construction equipment. Whatever the type of data, if read properly it can provide great insight into the whole process and accelerate the progress of a project.
How data can help construction
As we already noticed above, data can have critical and multiple impacts on the way construction is doing business. In a nutshell, these are the main ways in which data can revolutionize the building sector:
1. Add transparency
Data can play a drastic role in adding transparency through all the different phases of the building process. The reason for that is the unlimited flow of information between the various project stakeholders. Real-time communication can help construction agents to keep close track of everything that’s happening on site. In that manner, everyone can be confident that their tasks are progressing according to plan. Even in the case that something doesn’t seem right (eg. materials are delivered on site too early), the involved parties can detect the problem on time and solve it before it becomes harmful to the whole project. In simple words, data can provide a crystal-clear environment for a construction project to develop and thrive.
2. Provide a solid knowledge source
The use of data can be proved fundamental in the effort to reduce the project steps in construction. It can be the knowledge source that the industry is desperately looking for. At the moment, the building sector has great difficulties in documenting progress and accumulating experience. Big data can help construction agents to overcome this issue and learn how to analyze the main takeaways of a project for future cases. This process could in long term contribute to the establishment of certain building patterns and methods which would allow for a more productive construction industry with smarter management of the available resources.
More analytically, predictive analytics could be a really good example of what we described in the previous paragraph. After the analysis of several similar construction projects, it would be possible for the building sector to establish certain requirements or analyses depending on the construction location or the type of project. For instance, the optimal use of construction equipment (renting or buying) and the smarter fuel strategy could be decided based on the outcome of previous projects. And that’s not all. Based on the existing historical data of an area, construction stakeholders could set certain criteria for a project to initiate and develop in a way that would minimize the impact on its surroundings. Tasks related to building maintenance could also be another way that data could function as a knowledge base for construction.
3. Solid decision-making
The more information you have about your project, the better and more precise decisions you can eventually make. By having a structured way of reading and analyzing the data, you can achieve to introduce an undivided strategy throughout the whole project, as every member of the project has the same information and remains up-to-date for any potential problems that might emerge. For example, if a crane is required to be on site for conducting a task next week, someone has to make sure that the crane will be there on time. Otherwise, valuable time and money can be wasted. This is why data is considered to be crucial for the construction process. It provides the necessary ‘safety net’ for the project members to perform at their best and to surpass any costly obstacles that may appear along the way.
4. Reduce waste
Waste is a problem of tremendous significance in the building sector. Only in the EU, construction is responsible for 30% of the produced waste. As construction waste, we could define a vast amount of materials, such as wood, asbestos, glass, concrete, bricks and many other. This percentage is really harmful both to the environment and the building industry, and that’s why construction stakeholders have to exploit the full potential of data and try to find a functional solution to this issue. A good way to achieve it is the creation of a smart procurement path that could make the initial stages of the Designing Out Waste project phase more inclusive for contractors. That could be extremely helpful for both sides (designers and contractors), as they would be able to understand better and calculate with higher accuracy the necessary materials and resources for their project.
The Site Waste Management Plan, also known as SWMP, could be built in an easier and more straightforward way with the help of data. Depending on the existing information, the project designing team can introduce stricter and, hopefully, more effective rules about waste management.
5. New construction workforce
The construction industry is changing and as a result, its workforce is changing, too. Knowledge workers are the future for the sector and to a significant extent, that’s due to the arrival of data and digital technologies. It’s true that this shift in terms of workforce needs will most probably eliminate some of the current worker positions. However, it is also anticipated to provide new opportunities for a new and highly competitive type of workforce. That can also be a unique chance for the construction sector to build a more appealing profile in the job market. Young and technologically savvy people, who are after a prestigious and long-term career, may see construction as the big step that they were searching for.
To sum up, data is, without doubt, a game-changer for the building industry. It is expected to bring more transparency and accountability on the field and accelerate the construction process. Information is power and in that sense, a data-driven future can be a powerful future for the construction sector.
About the author: Anastasios Koutsogiannis is Content Marketing Manager at GenieBelt.