Though the construction sector creates and manages some of the most costly and complex projects, the industry as a whole has been notorious for lagging in the adoption of technology tools.
That’s changing as firms adopt BIM and systems to gather data, for example. Analytics, too, is helping firms make better use of the masses of data that they’re collecting, giving them the ability to predict risk, reduce cost, and solve problems quickly.
According to Kiran Penaka, product manager with software firm Viewpoint, data is a valuable asset which has often been under-utilised because firms didn’t have the software to manage it. Though business intelligence, or BI, enabled firms to provide reports for executives, directors, and managers, more granular reporting was not always possible.
Analytics expands on those functions, and enables more “self-service” reporting, where employees can build their own reports dashboard for analysing data.
“BI gives you the data, in the form of the dashboards, and analytics is the output of that data, where you can look at what’s going to happen next,” Penaka said. “You can ask, ‘Why did that perform this way in the past and how do I plan to make it different or better?’”
As firms in the construction sector see margins tighten, analytics helps them evaluate heaps of data that can inform all phases of the construction process, which enables them to boost margins. With bidding, for example, firms can use data in addition to experience to produce more granular bids, forecasting material costs that are likely to change before the contract is awarded and materials need to be ordered.
At the preconstruction phase, analytics provides insight into equipment planning, such as the number of bulldozers needed, and planning labor needs.
“That information helps contractors with being as accurate as possible to get the work done on time,” Penaka said.
At the construction phase, real-time reporting enables the project manager to evaluate the progress of the project on a daily basis. This allows for course correction before situations get out of hand, delays become onerous and costs are run up. Firms not making use of analytics and data may not be able to notice in real time that the work is behind schedule.
“For example, the guy who was supposed to pour concrete today at the rate of 10 square feet per hour is only doing five square feet per hour,” Penaka noted. “Traditional firms would say, ‘It happened last week, it’s too late now.’ Using analytics, however, firms are more nimble and can respond to on-site developments as they’re happening.”
Risk management can also be optimised through use of analytics, Penaka said. A floor in a large commercial project that’s delayed by a month can result in huge costs for the contractor, but seeing that delay in real time with analytics can allow the contractor to correct course and adjust the schedule.
Accurately forecasting the risks of material and supply costs rising can also make a huge impact on profitability, not just getting the contract.
“Recently, we’re seeing a lot of supply costs are going up, raw material costs are going up,” Penaka said. “Being able to see that coming is crucial to maintaining profitability on the project.”
Firms that understand the value of their data as an asset need to choose the right partner, as well.
“Having the right partner that can treat that asset with care and give you back an analytic view of how everything is going is very important,” Penaka noted. “And I think that’s what people are driving towards now when they are embracing analytics. They have a lot of stake and realise that they need to invest in the right tools and have the right partner that can leverage their data.”