Advantages of data-driven decision making in manufacturing and construction

Experts from Airbus, Setec, and IDC explain why they’re using data-driven decision making to drive business growth.

real-time data throughout architecture, engineering, construction, and operations

Mark de Wolf

May 17, 2022

min read
  • The effectiveness with which firms apply data to real-life business challenges will determine whether digital transformation initiatives succeed or fail.

  • To mount a successful post–COVID-19 comeback, leaders need to find ways of turning information into business value.

  • Experts from Airbus, Setec, and IDC explain why data can yield stronger business outcomes.

illustration of a digital twin in architecture, engineering, and construction using real-time data
Digital twins are game changing for optimizing processes in design, engineering, construction, and building operations.

What’s a data point worth? On its own, not very much. Information must be sorted, combined, and translated into action before it generates value. But the number of organizations turning data into tangible business assets is still surprisingly small.

Following IDC’s Global DataSphere Study, analysts have found that less than 3% of data currently created is used to drive business decisions. As data-centric business models become the norm, using all the information at a company’s disposal will be crucial to post–COVID-19 recovery.

In a world marked by the pandemic, geopolitical upheaval, and seemingly endless disruption, IDC believes the coming business recovery will be “K-shaped.” On the upward branch of the fork, companies will accelerate growth and lay the foundation for future success. On the downward fork, companies face falling behind—leaving little choice but to fight for survival.

The direction of that path will depend on how much value firms can draw from their data and digital investments.

Architecture, engineering, construction, and manufacturing in the spotlight

Airbus uses data-driven decision making to design airplane cabins
Worldwide aviation industry leader Airbus is highly dedicated to using data to design their airplane cabins of the future.

From real-time supply chain monitoring to predictive maintenance with digital twins, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics on the manufacturing and architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries is significant. According to the IDC study:

  • 42% of organizations globally have increased their planned AI and machine-learning budget in the past two years.

  • By the end of this year, a quarter of G2000 firms will have deployed enterprise technologies for data visualization and manipulation, driving greater collaboration and productivity.

Keeping digital and business strategies in alignment has to be a board-level concern, with C-suite execs promoting a culture that encourages data-driven decision making at all levels of the organization.

That’s the only way to get an acceptable “return on digital” (ROD), IDC says. Data must be seen for what it is: a gold mine of information to help companies recover and thrive.

Giulia Carosella, IDC’s European digital transformation practice lead and principal analyst on the study, says the amount of data created during the next three years “will be more than all the data generated in the previous 30.” That’s a massive amount of raw material, but using it to build insights remains challenging. “It’s clear now that data is the new gold,” she adds. “The question is, how successfully will companies be in mining it?”

One company that’s found the alchemy between information and business value is Yamato Scientific, a Japanese firm that operates at the intersection of AEC and manufacturing. “They undertook a journey to unify data from multiple design and manufacturing systems in order to grow their revenues,” Carosella says. “As a result, the company optimized workflows and won more business, including bids for one of the largest pharmaceutical development laboratories in Japan.”

Using data to shape product development

data-driven decision making in AECO industry
AEC firms are increasingly sophisticated in the ways they process data, which enables them to develop new data services for clients.

Another company embracing data to drive critical business decisions is Airbus. Europe’s largest aeronautics and space company uses data extensively to shape cabin product development with three dedicated data teams, each seeking different kinds of insight. Their task is to guide the future design of Airbus cabins.

“One data team is looking at the longer-term trends, conducting data analysis to better understand the driving forces behind the cabins of the future,” says Stefan List, head of Cabin Market Insights at Airbus. “The second conducts market research and manages surveys and market data. The third data team is dedicated to customer experience. Before implementing a new feature or cabin change, we invite airline customers to test the concepts, collect their feedback, and then gauge their reactions.”

The complexities of making changes to cabin configurations can be daunting. For instance, when considering a new overhead storage compartment design, more than 125 airline allowances for onboard luggage have to be factored in. For the last such change, List and his team conducted surveys at nine large hub airports and measured more than 3,300 pieces of luggage. Then, they spoke to nearly 2,800 passengers worldwide to understand what they brought onboard.

“This is just one example of how we use data in decision-making around the design of our products,” List says. “We’re using data to anticipate change over a 20-year timeframe. How will the passenger experience change? How will crew operations change? And how will cabins be equipped to enable a traveling experience that’s profitable for the airline, manageable for the crews, and comfortable for passengers?”

Building better relationships

Data and analytics are also helping the AEC sector keep up with increasing demands to plan across a building’s entire lifecycle.

David Thomas, chief technology officer of French engineering and construction firm Setec, says data has been steadily altering working practices since the dawn of building information modeling (BIM).

“At Setec, we were early believers in the power of data and computerization,” he says. “We began in the ’90s with [Autodesk] AutoCAD and the early stages of 3D modeling, which was a major step forward.”

Today, Thomas says, 3D modeling has grown in sophistication and value, with digital twins becoming established practice—a development perfectly in tune with evolving client demands.

"We’ve completed phase one of our digital roadmap, which was to drive adoption of leading BIM tools,” Thomas says. “If we go back 20 years, AutoCAD was the identical projection of what we did on the drawing board, so adoption happened quickly. As BIM grows in sophistication, adoption takes longer.

“Now, we’re moving to a phase where the data in 3D models can be integrated with other data types to enable engineers to improve how they work,” he continues. “The third stage will be to apply artificial intelligence and sell new data services to clients.”

Two industries in reset mode

Looking across both sectors, IDC’s Carosella says AEC and manufacturing are in the midst of a deep reset. On average, her team found that 37% of companies are in the most advanced stages of digital maturity—up from 31% in 2019. The acceleration has come about thanks to pandemic-related demands, such as the shift to remote work, but more crucially by the need to find new ways to understand customers and outpace competitors.

“From remote field service operations to augmented and predictive asset maintenance to digital twins, digital investments have become a critical source of competitive advantage for companies and will keep growing at double-digit rates through 2024,” she says.

Mark de Wolf

About Mark de Wolf

Mark de Wolf is a freelance journalist and award-winning copywriter specializing in technology stories. Born in Toronto. Made in London. Based in Zürich. Reach him at

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