Construction Data Standards: New Research Highlights Challenges & Opportunities

Construction Data Standards New Research Highlights Challenges & Opportunities

Technology has permeated just about every aspect of the construction industry. And with COVID-19 accelerating the adoption of digital solutions, it’s safe to say that nearly every contractor has encountered tech in some way, shape or form. As such, it’s no longer a question of if or should they use technology; it’s a question of how they’re using it and if their investments in technology are yielding great results. 

A recent report from Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics, Understanding Data Standards and Processes in Construction, explores this subject in depth. Two hundred thirty-nine contractors and construction technology leaders were surveyed and asked to share their perspectives on construction data standards and processes. 

The report uncovered several interesting insights and takeaways that construction pros can implement to improve their data standards and processes. Download it below to discover key trends and learn how you can get the most out of construction technology. 

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Contractors Look to Achieve Better Data Standards with Technology

The report confirms what many of us suspect: the majority of contractors — 79% according to the study — are using software to capture data and manage information. The survey’s results indicate that technology is most commonly used for managing project schedules (93%), collecting and documenting change orders (92%), and creating a log of RFIs and responses (89%). 

On the lower end of technology use, just 75% of respondents are using software to capture errors, omissions, and constructability issues. Furthermore, while 69% use technology to record safety performance, only 37% of contractors use it on 75% or more of their projects. 

These findings show that many contractors have embraced technology, though there’s still room for growth and improvement in adoption particularly when it comes to digitizing error tracking as well as monitoring safety performance

But what exactly would get contractors to improve technology adoption? To answer this, the survey probed respondents on the reasons why they’ve adopted the software tools they currently use. 

The results indicate that technology and data use within GCs are driven mostly by internal factors. The top reason GCs adopt technology is to improve their current product delivery process (62%). Meanwhile, over half of GCs (53%) said that they had existing software in place and new features were added to the digital tools they were already using.

On the other hand, external drivers — such as owner compliance or the need to keep up with competitors — ranked much lower on the list of reasons contractors adopt technology. 

These findings tell us that contractors are drawn to technology because they feel that software would improve their processes, and not because the tools were forced upon them. 

Contractors Suffer from Pain Points When it Comes to Standardized Data Inputs

Contractors cited the development of consistent methods and standards as the most challenging aspect for implementing software. So, what percentage of data are contractors currently entering in some type of standard process?

The survey revealed a relatively even distribution of 15% to 21%  across the six ranges:

  • No data inputs are standardized 
  • Less than 25% are standardized inputs
  • 25% to less than 50% are standardized inputs
  • 50% to 75% are standardized inputs
  • Over 75% are standardized inputs
  • All are standardized inputs

The survey also found that standardized inputs were mostly used to track safety performance and labor productivity. On the other hand, tracking errors, omissions, and quality for closeout had the lowest usage levels. 

So, why the focus on standardized inputs? It’s simple: implementing consistent data standards has a major impact on data quality. The study found that most contractors consider the following benefits as either “high” or “very high”:

  • Accuracy of data that is captured (75%)
  • Ability to do analysis with the data that is captured (74%)
  • Completeness of the data that is captured (73%)
  • Speed with which data can be captured (71%)
  • Training required to use the software tools (65%)

Respondents also agree that not having standardized data inputs in technology tools can negatively impact their work. Forty-one percent said that non-standardized data input leads to inconsistent, inaccurate incomplete, and unusable data. 

Clearly, contractors recognize the benefits of standardized data, but many still struggle with implementing it. 

The study found that the majority of respondents (56%) feel they have an insufficient ability to fully explain or capture data. Forty-seven percent said their issue lies in the lack of clarity of captured data for later analysis, while 32% of contractors don’t fully understand the options in standardized data inputs.

To manage the quality of non-standardized data inputs, most respondents (62%) say that they rely on experienced staff to complete data entries and use consistent terminology. This is concerning because being too dependent on key individuals will make it difficult for organizations to scale or replicate their processes. 

Furthermore, only 17% of contractors say they have standardized terminology that allows users to consistently and accurately track information. 

Growth Opportunities for Construction Analytics

One of the key benefits of using technology to standardize data inputs is it enables contractors to unlock valuable analytics and insights. This leads to more visibility into the performance of the business, which can help contractors reduce risk and improve project performance. 

Most contractors already recognize the value of analytics, and according to the report, the top benefits that respondents see out of analytics are better predictability and control, better schedule performance, and less unplanned work. 

When asked about the top analytics they conduct from data, general contractors indicated the following:

  • Schedule impact (73%)
  • Potential impact on project risk (41%)
  • Response and turnaround time (37%)
  • Frequency of project schedule updates (35%)
  • Analysis to improve safety programs (28%)

Aside from the above, data can also be used to conduct root cause analysis — a practice that helps professionals identify systemic causes of project issues, particularly when it comes to areas like RFIs, quality, constructability, change orders, productivity, scheduling, and safety.

Unfortunately, only 23% of respondents report conducting root cause analysis on these issues. This isn’t particularly surprising, because of the subjective nature of these processes. However, contractors can gain more accurate and reliable insights by implementing a root cause analysis that’s backed by data. That’s why organizations should consider developing standard terminology in order to pave the way for consistent root cause analysis. 

In any case, survey results indicate that contractors are committed to using more data analytics in the future. Among survey participants, 80% of general contractors and 67% of trade contractors say they are planning to increase their use of data captured from software tools for analysis. 

Bringing It All Together

To recap, tech usage is widespread in the construction industry, with the vast majority of contractors using software for key processes. 

However, there is plenty of room for growth, particularly when it comes to data input standardization. Collecting data just for the sake of it isn’t useful; contractors should also consider how the data they capture will be used and ensure that the practice is standardized across the organization. In doing so, they can access better analytics and make more informed decisions during and after projects. 

As with any change, implementing new technologies requires modifying how contractors do things — and depending on the organization, this can be difficult. To overcome these challenges, contractors must be willing to adapt and put in the upfront work (i.e., training, documentation, standardization etc.) because when implemented correctly, consistent data capture and technology usage will pay dividends both in the short and long term.

Download the report to find out how other contractors are using software and data — and what you can do to get the most out of the construction technologies that you’re using. 

Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.