As I recently wrote in my September 18 post about “Beer, building, and big data,” the concept of big data is still relatively new in construction circles. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Sage, only 13% of construction professionals were even familiar with the term. That percentage will likely increase, however, as new technology helps us get our arms around big data, providing us with greater analytical capabilities.
In the meantime, I’m hearing a lot more talk about how construction companies can take advantage of big data, from using equipment sensor information to decrease job site fuel costs, to managing all phases of a building’s life cycle (Johnson Controls, for example, uses big data to improve building energy efficiency). However, many construction companies are still in the early stages of using data, in general, for decision making. How can you increase your use of analytics and take advantage of big data in the future? Check out the following four stages of data-driven decision making to determine where you are today and where you can take your company to gain greater business visibility and proactive performance:
- Stage One: automated reporting. In this stage, you have ready access to reports showing up-to-date project information and where your company currently stands financially. These reports are primarily a look back at what has already happened and often provide a way to drill-down for more detail if needed.
- Stage Two: data monitoring. Dashboards, automated alerts, and the tracking of key performance indicators are some of the main tools you are using to stay on top of major risk areas. The information provided gives you the ability to act quickly from a tactical perspective.
- Stage Three: data analysis. You are looking at data across projects and in different ways to understand why something happened in order to formulate your business strategy. This can include what type of work is most profitable for your business or how change orders are impacting your margins.
- Stage Four: predicting. You identify trends to predict what might happen next. Using a variety of data to make more informed forecasts and what-if scenarios, you are managing projects and your company more confidently, knowing you are prepared for both best and worse-case scenarios.
While big data can be used in all four of these stages, it is particularly helpful in the predicting stage, which is more likely to include large data sets from external sources (for example: economic, material pricing, and other trends that affect your business).
Big data promises some exciting possibilities for construction firms. But you don’t have to use big data immediately to benefit from improved data analysis. Just understanding which stage of data-driven decision making your company currently falls into and moving to the next stage will help you better manage your projects and business. And certainly by the time you reach stage four—if not sooner—you will be ready to investigate the additional possibilities big data offers.
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About the Author
Deb Carpenter-Beck is a writer and marketer with more than 25 years of experience in the construction and real estate industries. She often writes about technology and best practices and is passionate about helping contractors and real estate professionals achieve their business goals. You can follow her on Twitter @DebCBConstruct.