Gain Control of Your Construction Data: 6 Steps to Standardization

control your data - construction standardization

The amount of data used in the construction industry is staggering—and only poised to grow in the future. Consider that some of the world’s largest infrastructure projects require an average of 130 million emails, 55 million documents, and 12 million workflows, according to a recent FMI report. With so much data being captured from a vast range of sources, many construction firms can’t manage and process this massive amount of information on their own. That’s why 95.5% of all data captured in the engineering and construction industry currently goes unused. 

So what should we make of all of this data, and, specifically, how can we actually use it? The first thing to note is that there is such a thing as having too much project data—so much information that it becomes inaccessible, illegible, or unable to provide insights. In short, an excessive amount of data can easily become unusable.

When things get to this point, you’re basically swimming in a lake of data that is unstructured, with its insights, actions, and value, essentially unclear. Even worse? This can cause projects to lose out on potential profits. Getting out of this murky, debilitating lake starts with one vital step: standardizing data.

Why Data Standardization Is the Key to Digital Transformation

Right now, the construction industry is full speed ahead on a path to digital transformation. This journey was already well underway when the current landscape only sped things up, according to a recent McKinsey report, which found that, “Taking the good with the bad, we expect that the continuing COVID-19 pandemic will drive a net acceleration in the use of technology and the construction industry will continue its transformation from a highly complex, fragmented, and project-based industry to a more standardized, consolidated, and integrated one.”

The key to unlocking success in this new environment of transformation? Data. But this only works if you know how to transform it to derive insights. And it all starts with standardization to break down the data in a useful way. But today, many firms are not standardizing their data or are just beginning their journey. Take these statistics into consideration from a recent survey from Autodesk and Dodge Data Analytics on data standards and process:

  • Only 21% of contractors say that all their data inputs are standardized.
  • Only 17% of contractors say they have standardized terminology that allows users to consistently and accurately track information.
  • Almost half (47%) of contractors cite a lack of clarity of their data for later analysis.  

Beyond ensuring clear processes and frameworks for breaking down data, standardization is about making the construction industry more efficient than ever. This will allow teams to proactively manage risk and extract insights to propel the whole industry forward.

Here’s how you can start to build and create better construction data standards: 

1.  Start with Your Strategy

Do you have a data strategy? Data is an extremely valuable asset—some say it’s the new currency, like a commodity worth its weight in gold. Like any asset, having a strategy is essential to leveraging it more successfully, and will ultimately help you make better decisions to meet your business goals.

As Dwayne Gefferie deftly put it on the blog, Towards Data Science: “The idea behind developing a data strategy is to make sure all data resources are positioned in such a way that they can be used, shared, and moved easily and efficiently. In other words, having a data strategy ensures that data is managed and used as [an] asset and not simply as a byproduct of the application.”

No matter where you’re at in your digital journey, understanding what you want to do with your data and how to get there, like standardization, is essential for meeting your goals. In addition to cultivating an action plan, a strategy will also help foster alignment across your organization before the specifics of your data standardization process are implemented. Some critical components to include in your strategy are how you identify, store, provision, process, and govern data.

 2. Centralize 

Data is only as valuable as its engine, or the driving force behind its generation and activation. When data lives on multiple, disconnected engines, it loses much of its value. In some cases, like duplicates and information loss, disconnected data could be detracting from your overall project outcome, and making any standards you put in place worthless. 

To ensure a healthy engine powering your data, you need to create a single source of truth for all data and information you are using on a project. A couple key ways to do this include:

  • Leveraging a Common Data Environment: Choose a construction software solution to manage the foundation of your data in a common data environment, preferably in a cloud-based environment. A common data environment is a single source of information used to collect, manage, and disseminate project data, and creating one both facilitates collaboration between project team members, and helps you avoid duplication and mistakes. A quality common data environment should be easy to use, accessible, integrated, standardized, scalable, and secure.
  • Supporting Robust Integrations: In many cases, when creating your common data environment, you’ll likely have to use multiple software solutions, particularly for very niche functions. Still, you want these technology solutions to be integrated into your common data environment. The software you choose for your foundation needs to support these integrations across your common data environment to better connect data and workflows. One integration area, in particular, is for business intelligence tools that help teams visualize and compare larger amounts of data. For instance, through a single click, the Data Connector in Autodesk Construction Cloud and BIM 360 takes your data out of the platform so that it can be aggregated with data from other construction tech solutions like an ERP system. This empowers teams to look at all their data together in a single view through their BI tools. 

3. Structure the Details

Garbage in, garbage out, or “GIGO”, is a commonly used phrase to describe when bad data produces bad results. Structuring your data will help you create better standards—whether that’s for inputs, analysis, or management. 

To properly structure the details of your project information, you first need to adopt solutions that federate the data. In broad terms, data federation allows two or more databases to appear as one. When it comes to construction, this means identifying tools that can aggregate all data from design and construction (across various applications, accounts, etc.), and transforming this information into a comprehensive view of the project data.

Once you have a structured data system in place, you can refine the details based on your project or business needs. These details include everything from file formats to data sharing standards. Keep in mind that you might be working with country or contract specific standards, and security often plays a huge role in these guidelines. 

4. Templatize and Automate

How you collect and input data impacts everything from timelines to budgets and even site safety. Templates are one way to give teams the tools they need to set up company-wide standards to ensure everyone is entering information in a consistent way. By implementing processes that can easily be repeated and standardized, teams can save time and drive better decision making and analysis downstream. For instance, the new Library feature built into the Account Admin tool of the Autodesk Construction Cloud unified platform product serves as a single source of truth. It helps teams standardize to improve project data and enhance quality across all projects.

Automation can be another powerful tool that improves how you collect, manage, and analyze data. Machine learning capabilities are playing an increasing role in the construction industry to help teams automate standardization and reduce risk. For instance, Construction IQ for Autodesk Construction Cloud uses text language processing to scan through all inputted text fields and then predict potential root causes and risks for certain items like Issues or RFIs. This means that teams don't always have to input information in the same way. Instead, the tool’s machine learning capabilities identifies and tags high risk items on its own.

5. Cultivate the Culture

If you want to create and implement standards for your construction data, your firm’s culture needs to be up-to-speed on the importance of data standardization. To build a data-driven culture, you must ensure that “digital” is not just a term within your organization, but a mindset. 

You can do this by appointing a digital officer for each business unit within your firm. If every team has a digital leader, the importance of data will not just be an intangible idea but a mindset across your entire organization, allowing you to standardize data via a more collaborative and efficient process.

Training and development is also critical to building a data-driven organization in the long-term. According to Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics, to manage the quality of non-standardized data inputs, most contractors (62%) say that they rely on experienced staff to complete data entries and use consistent terminology. Upskilling teams with data management and analysis skills will give firms a competitive advantage to create more sophisticated and impactful data programs and strategies moving forward. 

6. Focus on Your Metrics

At some point, you must ask yourself, what do you want to achieve with data standards? Is it to improve data collection or access generally? Or do you have more specific needs, like improving safety protocols? Are you looking to pull advanced insights to proactively improve processes and workflows? Whatever your needs, you need to create systems to track your goals and metrics and make sure your data is working for you.

Looking for a useful framework? Check out this blog: Measurement Matters: A Model to Improve Construction Performance

Raise Your Standards Today

For the best results on any project, standardizing data is critically important, especially as data becomes an increasingly vital part of the construction industry. The best way to start your data standardization journey is with a sound strategy. From there, you should focus on centralization and structuring the details of your data to get the most value out of your project information. Don’t forget to cultivate a culture of data standardization across your organization. Finally, focus on the metrics you want to achieve by standardizing your data for the best possible project outcomes in the future.

With these above strategies in place, you can start to get the most out of the valuable data you are collecting on projects today. 

To learn more about data standards and processes in the construction industry, download the latest report from Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics.

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Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.