Digital Builder Ep 21: Bringing a Construction Data Strategy to Life

Digital Builder Ep 21: Bringing a Construction Data Strategy to Life

As the speed of decision-making in our industry continues to increase, data can help us not only make faster decisions, but better decisions too. Research shows that incredible opportunities exist for those who build a strong strategy for managing their data. Plus, with a well-designed data strategy, you’ll be setting yourself up to leverage more advanced technologies further down the line.

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On this podcast episode

Jay Bowman, Managing Director of Research & Analytics at FMI, and Andy Leek, Vice President - Technology & Innovation at PARIC Corporation, join the show to discuss the many benefits of having a strong data strategy in construction.

What we discuss:

  • The state of construction data today 
  • How to make sure you’re capturing useful data
  • How a baseline of data strategy leads to more advanced technologies
  • Improving data literacy in construction
  • The future of data in construction

Data strategy may seem optional today, but it’s really going to be a requirement tomorrow.” — Jay Bowman, Managing Director of Research & Analytics, FMI

Podcast highlights from Episode 21

Note: See "Four steps to building a data strategy" below.

In recent years, many perceived the construction industry as being behind the curve with technology adoption. And while there once was some truth to that, it’s clear that builders are now embracing technology at an incredible pace. 

In fact, the AEC industry has done a tremendous job in closing the technology gap. JLL’s State of Construction Tech 2020 report found that in the past year, the construction industry compressed three years of technology adoption and growth into just nine months. And as Jay points out, venture capital investment "has grown ten-fold in the construction industry over the last decade." 

"I don't know if there's another industry where there's really that much innovation going on. It's actually a pretty exciting time for us," he remarks. 

In line with all this progress is a rise in the amount of data that we capture. Our research with FMI revealed that construction data has actually doubled in the last three years. So it’s not that we don’t have data—we do. We just need to make sure that we can trust the data and we’re able to put it to good use. 

“What it's coming down to now is the fact that we already have the technology,” says Andy. 

“We are developing the data, and now it's coming to a point where people need to know whether or not they can trust it. Is the cadence high enough that they can get information in a reasonable amount of time?”

This is where having a data strategy comes in. 

A good data strategy enables teams to access reliable and trustworthy data so they’re empowered to work more productively, make smarter project decisions, and improve profitability. Having a data strategy in place also puts more time back into people’s lives, so they can focus on things that matter outside their primary responsibilities—both professionally and personally.

“I would like to think we get to a point where we are focused on the human side of things, in terms of helping people do a better job, to rest easier, and make sure they can go home on time and watch their kids play baseball,” remarks Andy. 

“That way, they can truly have a life. People work to live, they don't live to work.”

Four steps to building a construction data strategy

The conversation we had with Jay and Andy amplifies the most important takeaways from the data report we recently published, with FMI as our partner. This resource shares the findings we discovered from surveying nearly 4,000 AEC professionals on their data practices. 

The report also sheds light on the actionable steps that construction firms are strongly encouraged to take when building their own data strategy. 

Below is a quick summary of those steps, along with insights from Andy and Jay. 

Step 1: Select a single point of focus

Companies with good data strategies have one thing in common: they all began by selecting just one area to focus on. 

“In the case studies that we did, this was the common thread through everybody,” explains Jay. “No one tried to solve everything at one time, they chose one area of the organization where they could apply a solution.”

There are different ways to figure out the best point of focus. Andy recommends concentrating on places within the business where you already have measurable data.

“For us, we started in two basic areas—one was financial and the other was safety. And those were the two simplest places in our situation. We just decided to zero in on those particular areas and grow from there.”

You could also identify areas that would benefit most from data. Ask yourself, which component or department of the business would generate the most value if it had a data strategy in place?

Taking these steps narrows down the focus of your data strategy, so you can prevent being overwhelmed and get started quickly. 

Step 2: Get employee buy-in to reduce hesitancy

You can’t have a data strategy without the support and commitment of other stakeholders. That’s why before rolling out your plans, ensure that you have buy-in from the right people. 

According to Andy, the best way to do this is to "meet people where they're at." 

“You’ve got to get them comfortable with the terminology. When you start throwing acronyms at people, they turn off immediately,” he adds.

When educating teams about data, make sure you’re doing it in a way that they can understand. You can do this by starting with the basics to create a foundational education. 

Jay likens it to teaching someone how to drive.

“If I'm trying to teach someone to drive a car, I'm not going to tell them how an internal combustion engine works and how the metal comes together. I'm going to explain to them the gas pedal and the steering. I’m going to teach them how to use the brake.”

The same thing applies to your data strategy, he says. “We have to start at that ground level.”

You can also improve data literacy by making it easy and intuitive for teams to view and interpret data. 

Over at PARIC, Andy says they did this by creating curated dashboards for their teams. 

"We curated them based on their role or their phase in the project. That way, there are no endless bar graphs and pie graphs for them to try and noodle all the way through. They can easily see key insights relevant to them."

Step 3: Standardize your data capture across all projects

The outputs or results of your data strategy will only be as good as the inputs entered into the system. 

According to Jay, one of the killers of data integrity is having “multiple project inputs.”

“You would not realize that there are 30 different ways to spell the name of one supplier. Sometimes you can use all capital letters and sometimes you use just the regular capital at the beginning of the sentence… Those things, although they seem minor, actually add up and can complicate your project inputs.”

Having multiple processes is another problem, says Jay. When your data capture and QA processes aren’t uniform, you are hindering your ability to collect high-quality data and prevent your teams from gaining useful insights. 

This is why standardization is so important. Before capturing and analyzing information, everyone in the organization must first agree on the formats, systems, and processes to use. 

Step 4: Keep project data in a common environment

Using disconnected software and hardware isone of the top reasons for having bad data, says Jay.

In order for your strategy to be successful, you must ensure that all your data lives in one, centralized location that can be accessed by the right people. In other words, you need a common data environment (CDE).

As Jay puts it, “Standardization and creating a common data environment stood out more than anything in terms of what firms could do to address data integrity issues and limit the amount of bad data.”

If you haven’t already, decide on a single platform on which to host and analyze your data. Adopting a CDE not only ensures that teams have access to the right information, it also guarantees that they’re all working from the same data. With a CDE, project stakeholders can remain well-informed and they have the ability to collaborate more effectively.

The bottom line with data strategy

A formal data strategy gives companies a competitive advantage in today’s AEC landscape. 

So, don’t wait too long to roll out a strategy in your firm. Bets are your competitors are already making progress. Start by identifying a specific area to focus on and getting buy-in from your team. From there, make sure you establish standardized data processes and adopt a CDE to keep everyone on the same page. 

New podcast episode every two weeks 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. New episodes of the Digital Builder podcast go live every two weeks. 

If you can’t get enough of construction tech and data strategies, catch the full podcast episode of Digital Builder to hear more from Andy and Jay.

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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.