A new report from Dodge Data and Analytics provides some interesting insight into how contractors are collecting and using data from the field. The report, “Improving Performance with Project Data: How improved collection and analysis is leading the digital transformation of the construction industry,” is based on interviews with 187 construction industry players, mostly general contractors and specialty trade contractors.

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The findings: clearly technology is changing the way contractors work in a positive way. In the past—like, a few years ago—there was a lot of information coming back to company leadership from the jobsite, but it was fractured, incomplete, inconsistent, and out of date. New data collection technology is changing all that.

“Mobil apps that just capture data that then sits on the mobile device and doesn’t get sent anywhere have little value, it doesn’t feed into the overall picture,” says Matt Harris with Viewpoint, the study's sponsor. “The value comes from apps that capture data and incorporate that data into the overall model for productivity and profitability. For example, a crew’s hours and progress is recorded in the field and then gets automatically entered into both the payroll and productivity portions of the project model saving time and providing data in real time.”

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Some of the report’s conclusions:

  • The most important information to contractors is project performance data, but also payroll, productivity , and safety data. Equipment tracking has not been deemed as important at this point but that could change as more sensors become available and as equipment is replaced.
  • Contractors generally agree that there is a need to improve data gathering and analysis capabilities—especially accurate and real-time data. Data that allows comparison across projects would be especially valuable.
  • The use of paper forms and spreadsheets is dropping rapidly while the use of custom and commercial software is doubling over 5 years.
  • Gathering data from the field has gotten easier with mobile device apps and cameras as the top ways things are improving. Fewer contractors have found appropriate uses for drones, sensors and wearables yet, especially among the specialty trades.
  • Contractors are sensitive to the need for data security and are using anti-malware software and enterprise-grade firewalls. This, however, remains an area of concern.
  • Safety data is important to all contractors (both GCs and specialty trades) and more than 80% say they will use software to track safety by 2021.

Harris notes that being able to gather all this data will provide some real advantages. “Your cost model assumes some productivity values but how do you know those assumptions are valid? With the new data acquisition methods you can measure productivity in real time and compare actual performance to the original model assumptions. You will know if you are ahead or behind on a project, if you are delivering on the assumptions. All of the production metrics roll into the overall picture of the project so there are no surprises at the end.”

Dodge Data & Analytics

One big concern contractors have with the use of technology is how difficult it can be to adopt and use for both field and office personnel. Harris agrees this is an important issue. “In the future all this must be simpler to use. It’s useless if the apps used to capture data can’t produce usable data. So an app for an iPhone or Android device needs to feel familiar to the user—must have a similar feel as other apps. The user experience is critical. And app developers also need to understand the different types of users. The field guys have different needs and expectations than the accounts payable clerk. It’s important to understand these differences. You have to tailor the user experience to the user. Also with apps we are always looking at ways to automate the process, the work flow. So when they collect hours worked for payroll that data is automatically entered into the productivity module. This can save huge amounts of time.”

The Dodge report concludes with three recommendations:

  1. Maintain a tight focus on what matters for your company. Start with the end in mind, identify what data you need and develop a plan to collect that data.
  2. Embrace the shift to software, the cloud, and advanced ways of collecting data. For a successful construction operation, this is no longer optional.
  3. Acknowledge that data expertise is a core competency for your construction company and recruit, hire, and train your people accordingly.

To encourage contractors to adopt these recommendations and to show an immediate benefit, Harris says that the best way to start is by looking at ways to solve current problems. “We start by looking at the immediate issues but try make sure they understand that now they have the data to use later, data that can solve problems they don’t even know about. This makes their projects more transparent and allows them to make big improvements over the longer term. There’s power in data.”

To review a copy of the full report, click here.

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