The Big Deal About Big Data

December 12, 2018 Conley Smith

If your job involves bidding, winning, and building, the hype around construction tech has been unavoidable in 2018. Whether the headlines were a head-scratcher or a jaw-dropper, there was no missing the buzz surrounding everything from robots to drones to machine learning to 3D printing.

Consistently dinged for its resistance to tech and low productivity, the construction industry has gotten plenty of attention from Silicon Valley. Case in point: in the first three quarters of 2018, construction tech startups brought in $1.27 billion in venture funding—124 percent higher than the $563.5 million raised in all of 2017. The hot topics continue to be words you would never have associated with construction 10 years ago: robots, Internet of Things (IoT), drones, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.

For those still wrapping their brains around self-healing concrete, there is one more trend to get a handle on: Big Data.

What Is Big Data?

Call it the common denominator. Big Data is a means to connecting the dots to analyze materials, costs, timelines, and results as construction begins to harness the power of data-driven insights. Think of all the sources that produce lots of data—people, computers, machines, sensors, wearables, and other data-generating devices. As sensors get embedded in everything from hard hats to bulldozers, data gets gathered at a rapid pace.

During preconstruction, data gets gathered during the design phase. For example, Brown University recently used Big Data analysis to determine where a new engineering building got built after analyzing student and university input. Historical data can be used to analyze and determine patterns and pitfalls for project success. This information can also be put to work to influence the position of a building and then during construction, data can be used to analyze weather, traffic, and activity on the worksite. The goal is to improve productivity and reduce wasted time.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is part of this process as 3D models are used to plan, design, construct, and manage buildings more efficiently. Once construction is complete, Big Data can keep on flowing, thanks to built-in building and infrastructure sensors. This means malls can conserve energy and traffic stress information can be fed back about a bridge to ensure scheduled maintenance is done in a timely manner.

Putting Big Data to Work

While Big Data is not necessarily new to construction, data mining has finally started to gain traction as the tools used to collect and store large amount of data have improved. Here are some of the ways Big Data can help the construction industry:

Improve time management to prevent delays: When contractors can monitor production, they can stick to their schedules. Processing data in real-time will mean fewer project delays. When sensors on machines can help you determine whether it is best to buy or lease equipment, it can also help you figure out when spare parts may be needed or how to reduce downtime.

Make better decisions faster: Making the right call is easier when you have all the information at your fingertips. It is much easier to gain insights from everyone involved in a project to adjust on the fly. With each completed project you end up with a detailed historical record. This knowledge can be saved to improve budget planning for the next project so costs and project timelines are more predictable. For example, integrated estimating applications are designed to improve accuracy for material takeoff, estimating, and project tracking. By keeping a digital, historical record of bids and jobs, it is easier for contractors to get a jump on their next bid.

Lower project costs: When everything from the price of labor to the costs of materials and suppliers can be tracked and analyzed, Big Data means it is easier to save money and create budget efficiencies. For example, both Portland State University and Oregon State University saved $10 million on recent building projects because they relied on the collection of Big Data.

Internet of Things (IoT) Driving Big Data

For many contractors, it still comes down to moving dirt, making sure nails get hammered, roofs put on, and pipe laid. Big Data may seem like something too futuristic. For example, a 2016 KPMG global construction survey found that just 36 percent of engineering and construction companies–and only 21 percent of owners–were using advanced data analytics for project-related estimation and performance monitoring. Nonetheless, many experts say 2018 was the year that IoT (Internet of Things) finally took root on the jobsite as workers, equipment, and tools were increasingly generating data. The growing use of IoT will likely mean more data and pressure to use Big Data to improve efficiencies, lower costs, and reduce waste.

Not sure where to begin? Learn about how powerful end-to-end construction management tools are helping contractors realize major gains in speed, accuracy, efficiency – and profits. Check out On Center’s free Contractor’s Suite White Paper for step-by-step advice now.

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