Data has become the most valuable asset in the world. Data is responsible for revolutionizing the world as we know it, both at the consumer level and within the business-to-business realm. While the AEC industry receives criticism for its lack of digitization, it’s one of the first industries to use data to transform the world around us, from skyscrapers to state-of-the-art healthcare and education facilities to infrastructure. And the industry is pushing towards greater levels of digitization, especially as project delivery becomes more complex. This push has created opportunities to unlock additional use cases for data that create more value for our people, processes, and projects. That said, the industry still struggles with data silos. Silos are the greatest obstacle to getting value from data, and solving that problem has tremendous implications for the industry.
We are all familiar with how Amazon uses consumer information to provide personalized product recommendations. While architecture and engineering firms won’t use data like Amazon does, project data has tremendous value that can be monetized by providing more insights, driving better decisions and superior project delivery. The challenge is the ever-growing volume of data. Research from IBM reports that 90% of all data has been created in the last two years, suggesting that the growth of data is exponential. Industry solutions must be able to scale appropriately.
As project complexity continues to grow, the number of applications used during the project lifecycle will grow, too. On average, a small business utilizes 40 applications. Connectivity between systems is therefore essential. Yet, we need specific solutions to solve the unique challenges, especially within the design process. While a new piece of software solves one challenge, the issue remains that your data is still siloed. When it comes to the vast sea of data and the ubiquitous need to connect it all, the complexities can be unfathomable. It’s the familiar yet troubling comfort to continue working in silos that pushes the status quo.
Unfortunately, projects and project team members ultimately suffer the ramifications of conventional project information management practices which inhibit unstructured and disparate data.
Email remains a primary channel for project information exchange and a massive data silo for firms to manage. All the information shared over email related is vital to the project, especially if team members are replaced or supplemented mid-project. We often hear of “missing context” because crucial data is trapped in the great email abyss. The absence of true digital collaboration has enabled the growth of email management through short-term fixes such as cc’ing the entire project and using public folders.
Throughout the project lifecycle, design teams work with developers, design-builders, subcontractors, owners, and more, all of whom have a penchant for wanting to use their preferred software. Additionally, design teams juggle project data and deliverables that require workflows to maintain project momentum.
Project Data and Advanced Analytics
With managing project workflows such as submittals and RFIs through disparate tools, there’s no way to analyze how a project or a firm is performing. Visibility into CA/CM performance allows firms to ensure they are meeting contractual obligations and allows them to see how their teams are operating for continuous improvement for project processes/training.
When companies think about risk mitigation from a data perspective, security comes to mind. However, even when considering security, many companies fail to identify all areas of exposure and address them proactively. Avoiding post-project litigation is a top priority for design and construction firms, although 30% of firms from Newforma’s State of Technology Executive Report struggle with maintaining proper audit trails. Yet when examining cases of disputes, the following scenarios were most common:
- Correspondence was not readily available by project team members, especially if employees left the firm.
- Project information fell through the cracks.
- CA/CM documentation was not logged properly.
Archival and Retention
Sometimes the project doesn’t end after the last fixture has been installed and the paint has dried. Project data archival and retention, knowing what records to keep, how long to keep them, and where to store them are common considerations. Like project communication challenges, having data stored in separate locations can be detrimental in many situations, especially if you need to retrieve information to answer customer questions or use the data for a similar project. Frequently, “tribal knowledge” is mentioned because the data and know-how from a project manager who no longer works at the firm have caused severe ramifications to the existing project team who would have benefited from having this information shared.
Software Is Necessary to Get the Job Done
The examples above are common amongst firms that are blockaded by their own data barriers. People often assume that the number of applications a firm uses is to blame for the persistent data silos and growth in data itself. And how could they think any differently? Have you ever perused the applications you use daily and astounded yourself with the amount of data you created in a single workday?
The problem isn’t the myriad of applications firms are using. This is only pushing the AEC industry towards increased digitization. The problem lies with our perception of software being a one-size-fits-all solution. You wouldn’t expect mark-up software to manage project email or modeling software to process RFIs and submittals. Software doesn’t fix all your problems, only the specific one you need to improve. This scenario can often lead to technology adoption issues within the firm as they struggle to deploy and integrate software to achieve their goals.
By nature, design and construction projects are highly collaborative, and success depends on how teams can communicate and share information with each other. Breaking down data silos and creating a connected ecosystem of information have enabled project teams to be collaborative. Take the cumbersome CA process as a prime example of a collaboration nightmare: the average project generates 800 RFIs and 440 submittals. When workflows are connected between software systems, and project team members can immediately the receive information without double logging or accessing multiple platforms, firms may save up to 310 hours of processing time. Software stacks are your friend, not the enemy, in the complex web of increasing project delivery demands.
Creating a Data Strategy
When Newforma coined the term ‘Project Information Management’ in 2004, the quixotic vision to bring synergy to project management and information management enabled firms to bring all sources of project information together, regardless of where it lived. As the industry progresses towards increased digitization, we continuously strive to create an environment where data, processes, and people are joined holistically. Bringing value to information has been the focal point of our value proposition and it’s time others do the same.
Architecture and engineering firms must consider the importance and growing need for a data strategy. Creating a successful data strategy can aid in technology adoption and increased digital transformation that can complement your organization’s strategic priorities and key business objectives. The priorities that you identify can further uncover what you need both in the short- and long-term. A vital component of a successful strategy is how data can be combined from various sources and formats to derive valuable insights. The questions you need to ask yourself are:
- What story do you wish you could tell with your data?
- Why are you integrating your data?
- What organizational goals are driving data integration?
- How do you plan to integrate your data?
- Will you require additional sources?
- How will data governance be established to maintain digital processes and adoption across the firm?
These questions are difficult but necessary to formalize a coherent data strategy. These questions foster a collaborative and strategic effort to ensure project teams and the greater enterprise can effectively organize, govern, analyze, and deploy data whenever needed. Implementing a data strategy propagates more clarity in today’s chaotic climate.
Marge Hart is vice president of Product Management at Newforma. She is a well-known figure in the software industry with 20+ years of experience in design, customer research, and validation. She has been with the company since 2006 when she was hired to contribute in a design role and transitioned into Product Management in 2015. Her Product Management leadership has contributed to a customer-centric focus for the company and commitment to prioritizing solutions enhancing the Newforma experience. Prior to working at Newforma, Marge held product roles at FRS Global, Incentive Systems, Kana Communications, and PictureTel, but has found her home in the AEC industry.
Aaron Kivett is director of Partnerships at Newforma. He spent nine years at BNIM Architects in Kansas City learning firsthand about information management in the design industry. He has spent the past 10 years as Newforma’s technical product manager, helping global architecture, engineering, and construction firms solve information management problems.
Kyla Natali is marketing director at Newforma.