The Age of Data in Construction

    As a civilization, we are most definitely in the age of data. For the construction industry, with its many unique projects and data flows from hundreds of sources, mastery of large-scale data col­lection and analytics still eludes many. Nonetheless, it is a task worth undertaking in order to exert more effective control, be more predictive, and produce best outcomes for everyone involved.

    But this is a challenging task. There is so much project data available that patterns are often lost to the noise of the details. However, consistently gathering data that is comparable, accurate, and timely across projects will support emerging tech­nologies such as AI, which in turn will help us derive meaning­ful patterns from diverse data. These insights will enable us to streamline processes, optimize pre­cious resources, and improve critical metrics of cost, schedule, quality, safety, and sustainability.

    Our recent study of how civil engineers collect and use data provides valuable insights to the industry. Featured in Issue 2 of the 2021 Civil Quarterly report, the findings allow companies to benchmark their own perfor­mance on data gathering, their use of dedicated apps/software, and their experience conducting meaningful analytics on a larger scale. Key trends from the research include:

    At least two thirds of civil firms currently use technology to gather critical types of project site data. This encouraging finding suggests we will soon be well positioned with the raw mate­rial for meaningful downstream analysis and action.

    Today about half of the indus­try still relies on general-use software or conducts analysis on paper. The other half are taking advantage of dedicated apps/software to make the process of analysis more consistent and less bur­densome from project to project and to support a shift to wider analytics across projects as their pool of accurate data continues to grow deeper.

    The findings about how data is used, and the reported benefits are extremely encouraging, with about half of the contractors reporting improved estimation, productivity, budget performance, safety and schedule performance.

    While small to midsize construction compa­nies are investing in data gathering and analysis, their smaller datasets severely limit the strate­gic or even tactical ways they can apply it. Yet if given access to larger, anonymized datasets avail­able from third parties/software vendors, they will be able to capitalize on cross-industry efforts to understand larger trends and practices and can benefit as much as their larger peers.

    The tools to gather and analyze data are available, so few respondents are concerned about that. Where they struggle is the training and time needed to use them.

    This research provides an important snapshot of where the industry is now, what it stands to gain and what is limiting its advancement. Overall, we are still in the early part of this transformative jour­ney. But much as how we advanced from the shovel to the excavator, the potential of data as a critical tool for civil construction is truly vast.

    To learn more about how civil contractors and engineers gather and analyze data, and the benefits and challenges they experience in doing so, download the complimentary Civil Quarterly issue.