SSOT: Why Everyone in Construction Should Care About this Acronym

Do You Have a Reliable Single Source of Truth on Projects? 

As children, we’re taught that honesty matters above almost everything else. When we grow older, this changes a bit. For instance, we gradually learn the concept behind the white lie, like why it’s crucial to tell your grandmother that you love those eccentric knitted holiday sweaters she gives you every year. Come young adulthood and college, the major philosophers step in, meditating on truth and its merits (or lack thereof).

Nonetheless, later in life, as we enter the construction workforce, we learn that once again, only the truth matters. But telling and finding that one truth isn’t as clear cut as it should be. Whether we like it or not, there are certain sources of information that we can deem more trustworthy than others in construction. The trouble is when you’re talking multi-million- or billion-dollar budgets, there’s not a lot of room for misinterpretation or trial and error.

That’s why it’s so critical to have one, single source of truth in construction. It’s more than just a saying; it’s an absolute must in today’s building industry. Again, though, you run into the problem of figuring out what that truth is, whom you should trust to provide it, which models you should use to display and transmit it, and how you will implement all of the above in your business.

Today, let’s take a look at what the single source of truth in construction is, why it matters and how construction companies can work towards the ultimate truth today. 

What Is a “Single Source of Truth”?

This concept contains its meaning within the title, but it’s essential to drill down a little further into what exactly is a single source of truth (SSOT). In construction, it’s the practice of storing information, so all plans, pictures, correspondences, line items or pieces of data are stored in one place without duplications, and with a clear path to find each piece of information.

According to Information Week, a single source of truth can be defined as “one source [of data] that everyone in a company agrees is the real, trusted number for some operating data.” This is different from pure documentation, which involves collating and filing/uploading information for later. SSOT means taking the time to create systems for storing information that eliminates redundancies and other potential pitfalls of disorganization and misinterpretation.

In construction, an SSOT is getting more critical to achieve. Here’s why it’s so essential.

Why a Single Source of Truth is Essential in Construction

Without a single source of truth in construction, projects are far more likely to get off track in both budget and time.

According to recent statistics, “52% of rework is caused by poor project data and miscommunication.”

That’s about 9% of the total project cost, and translates to “$31.3 billion in rework … caused by poor project data and miscommunication in the U.S. alone in 2018.”

Clearly, this is a massive cost to construction companies working with tight margins, to begin with. Luckily, by adopting systems to preserve a single source of truth in construction, we can:

  • Reduce mistakes, errors and rework
  • Help teams meet schedules/budgets
  • Improve communication and the quality of construction
  • Achieve better decision making
  • Improve trust and transparency on the whole
  • Reduce risk and fear of moving forward with the wrong information
  • Enhance the turnover package for owners and operators 

While the benefits are clear, challenges remain. 

Challenges Posed by a Single Source of Truth in Construction

It’s easy to think that the more data, the better. But in construction that’s not always the case. 

Most large projects and organizations have information and data from multiple sources. These include project plans, emails, vendor information, workforce data, material specifications and more. These don’t always connect, and when data is stored in separate databases and systems, it’s far likelier to be duplicated or even to conflict.

To see the truth of this, we need look no further than the fact that a full 30% of construction professionals report that none of their applications are integrated. 

In addition to lack of integrations, other primary hurdles to creating an SSOT include:

  • No standards: Within departments and teams, there is a lack of consistent definition and standards on the input of data and information.
  • Lack of input: Without constant documentation and buy and from staff to do so, there’s no chance of achieving an SSOT on a construction project.

Clearly, the time has come to turn the problem around.

8 Qualities of a Single Source of Truth

To achieve a single source of truth in construction, it’s important to put new methods and models in place. That can feel overwhelming at first, so at the beginning, just pursuing more transparent values and ways of doing business can provide excellent results. 

Without further ado, here are eight qualities of a single source of truth in construction to pursue today:

We dive into each attribute below.

1: Open Access for Teams

When we discuss accessibility for data and information in construction, we mean it’s available for all to see, easily. With systems that prioritize SSOT, teams don’t need to go to a separate portal to access data. It’s at their fingertips, whether they are on their phone, tablet or desktop computer. Additionally, data is available both online and offline–especially important on jobsites where Wi-Fi and cell service aren’t available.

Of course, you’ll need some controls in terms of external stakeholders and administrators, but there should be ample flexibility to do so if you use the right data and document management system. A single source of truth in construction should make it easy to add information, update and view, and use for all staff, no matter department, role or level.

2: Always Up to Date

A single source of truth in construction is always up-to-the-minute, with the most relevant information synced to it in real time. Teams need to build off the most recent set of plans and documents. They cannot afford to rely on something that is even missing the tiniest of recent details.

That’s why, if you want to create one source of truth today, you need to make it cloud-based. Manual updates become a thing of the past, and the role of human error is greatly reduced. Sending information to the cloud is hands-down the best way to preserve SSOT (and get in front of the competition while doing it).

3: Hosts Not Just Information, But Communications and Workflows

Consider a single source of truth in construction not only a tool to access documents; it also facilitates conversation and communications to create a more collaborative environment. After all, these interactions are part of the full story of your data and information, so having them in one place is essential to keeping the facts straight. 

For instance, let’s say in an environment where there is no single source of truth, you have an RFI. This RFI might have valuable information that a contractor is trying to access, but it might be deep within the email of a subcontractor, not searchable for the one in need of info. That’s a misunderstanding or delay just waiting to happen.

Instead, in an SSOT, this RFI is housed within the system, and people accessing it can see relevant notes and updates on the status. 

Here’s an example of how a single source of truth in construction could look, extending beyond pure documentation:

4: Speaks the Same Language

Unfortunately, while this seems obvious, too many companies maintain different standards and lingo for different departments, causing confusion, miscommunication, turf wars and bruised feelings. 

An SSOT should be standardized across the organization. There should be the same metrics, workflows, dimensions and definitions used for all similar data and information so everything it contains is entirely clear.

Nonetheless, achieving standardization can be a lot more complicated than it seems. If this is the case for you and your company, check out this guide

5: Quality Information

A single source of truth in construction is not missing anything, and everything is documented thoroughly. Information is rich: It includes photos, support documents and links everything to related files and directories.

One step beyond this is that SSOT is visually rich. If the project uses BIM, these models should be available not only in design but for field use in construction as well.

6: Integrations Across Systems

Like we mentioned above, most companies have multiple systems that don’t connect at all. SSOT should integrate across systems to break down data silos in the organization. Most (if not all) of your data is being pulled into one central system, or at least your most critical project information is, the data that is needed to inform decisions. 

Speaking of decisions …

7: Empowers Informed Decisions

You might feel as though because you have data in front of you, you are “data-driven”–but that’s not the case always. Overload and duplication still exist, confusing decisions and creating situations in which discord is rife. An SSOT needs to cut through the noise of data overload and help workers make the best choice possible. 

The good news is, due to the quality of information and the way users can access it, if executed correctly, SSOT does empower better decision making across a project and organization.

8: People Believe in It

Ultimately, what is SSOT about? It’s about building trust. 

Workers must believe in the source they are referencing, must see it as the only go-to for information and answers. In order to create this, you have to set up your system so that everyone can access it, everyone agrees that the SSOT is valid and empirically backed and everyone has ways to contribute.

Time to get started.

Getting Started with an SSOT

While the benefits of creating an SSOT are clear, it’s easier said than done. Not only is it hard to create change in established industries as large as construction–which generates $1.3 trillion in new structures every year in the U.S. alone–SSOT requires sometimes complicated systems to be put in place. 

Moreover, getting buy-in from relevant departments and stakeholders can be a nightmare, which is enough to shut down initial conversations on the topic fast. 

For that reason, try a test case first. Maybe it’s at the start of one mid-size project, say, or when working with a trusted client who is willing to experiment with you. That way, you can tinker with your model to find the approaches and systems that work best.

Remember, finding a single source of truth in construction doesn’t require companies to completely overhaul their business or go “cold turkey” on current systems. Instead, strive toward the above characteristics one-by-one with cloud-based systems that prioritize your SSOT. Over time, you’ll make more progress in budget and productivity than you ever thought possible.

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.