Construction Industry Innovation: Data Analytics and Technology Tools

  • Innovation and disruption
  • 9/24/2019
Drone Construction Site

Predictive technology tools can be hard to explain and almost surreal to apply. Drones, wearable technologies, and virtual reality are changing the way companies approach safety, efficiency, and other industry challenges.

To stay relevant, contractors are always having to find ways to cut costs, become more competitive, keep their workforce, and innovate. The construction industry, by most standards, has been slow to adopt new technologies. However, as painful and slow as it has been, we are starting to see the paradigm shift with the use of drones, wearable technologies, virtual reality, and even some robotics. Such changes are changing the standards on safety, efficiency, and customer experience.

Innovation in the construction industry

The fundamental challenges of the construction industry have been managing its many parties (engineers, construction managers, sub-contractors, owners, employees, etc.) and finding ways to beat the labor shortage, increase efficiency, and decrease safety-related issues. Traditionally, the industry has had silos of information that interact very little with each other, which creates project management headaches. Applying new technologies and innovative data analytics tools could help address these challenges in ways that had never been envisioned before. However, those who are unwilling to innovate and adapt to new technologies that use data to connect those pools of information are going to find themselves with a huge competitive disadvantage in coming years.

Applying data analytics

The use of predictive data analytics will play a large part in the companies of the future. The ability to make decisions, not by opinions, but rather based on proven historical data, can be an empowering tool for any industry. Data can enhance industry experience and expertise, provide transparent and streamlined information, and drive more efficient work processes across a construction organization.

Before trying to use data in new and different ways, a company must first and foremost understand the questions it is trying to answer with it. For instance, if a company were trying to improve worker productivity, they could track workers via smartphones or GPS, as well as have sensors on materials and equipment to digitally track how workers interact with the job site. Analyzing that data might show that employees are walking clear across the job site several times an hour to obtain specific tools or materials. A simple job site improvement might be to change the placement of equipment, vehicles, or materials. Such gains may seem nominal in nature, but when repeated on a larger scale and over the life of a job, they can provide valuable efficiency improvements and significant cost savings.

Modeling and estimating

Not only will employees and companies benefit from these technological advancements, but customers will see a shift in how contractors approach potential builds and preconstruction. Access to real-time data and current technologies will not only be expected, it may be demanded.

Using technology to pair systems, such as a company’s modeling and estimating tools, can provide clients an opportunity to “view” customized building designs long before a site is even staked out.

Owners can also look at designs, make changes (e.g., add a third floor), and have costs directly tied to it in real time. Every element in the design would be tied to a cost estimate, which would give the company and the owner a unique approach to a project build.

Couple that technology with “augmented reality” (AR), where a customer can stand on a job site with a headset and see the project as it would look upon completion. As the owner, architect, or engineer walk through the dust of an empty lot, they can discuss and view the completed building via the headset, and make real-time changes (e.g., adjust layouts and redesign rooms) as part of preconstruction. Not only does the customer get a complete walkthrough of the project, but the associated cost structure is automatically updated as changes are discussed. These technologies are not science fiction. They are readily available and being used by companies with an ambitious approach to construction.

Putting data to work

Internal data can be gathered from nearly every aspect of a job and can potentially provide meaningful insights into job or site improvements. Some simple examples include:

  1. Safety on site — Companies like SmartSite and Pillar Technologies have deployed site sensors that can be used across a construction site to monitor temperature, noise levels, dust particulates, and volatile organic compounds to help limit exposure to workers. The sensors are mounted throughout a site, and data are collected and analyzed in real time to warn of issues before they occur.
  2. Equipment and employee utilization — Wearable GPS and units mounted on equipment are relatively inexpensive and can be used to track utilization of a workforce or purchased equipment. This can improve decisions on subcontracting or buying versus renting equipment. The information could be used to predict part or equipment failure based on historical use so that those components could be on site before they fail.
  3. External data — External data from meteorological reports and historical weather trends can be imported into a predictive model to determine how weather might play a role in the upcoming job. A model that determines the number of anticipated weather delays and related delay costs could substantially change a bid strategy. Not only would the true cost of a weather delay be captured, but change orders could be produced that accurately reflect the costs of such delays.

From data to change

Today, we produce data in almost everything we do, and we have systems to capture and retain it. We are sitting in the middle of a mountain of data trying to figure out how to make sense of it all. Most individuals in the industry understand the importance of predictive analytics in construction, but the concepts behind tools and algorithms are daunting. They can be hard to explain and almost surreal to apply.

For organizations to embrace the changes in the industry, key leaders will have open their minds, research the technology, and advocate for the most applicable tools for their situations. But beyond leadership, the organization as a whole must commit to adapting to new ways of doing things, because in the end, this path isn’t just about growth, it represents a culture change.

How we can help

CLA construction professionals keep a close watch over current issues and trends. As a national firm, we track the broad changes in the industry, but we also understand that each company’s environment, contracts, and books of business are different. Our deep industry knowledge and experience can provide valuable resources, and our data analytics professionals can guide you every step of the way to develop your data analysis approach.

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