How civil contractors are gathering, analyzing & using data today

Civil contractors have always relied on project data. Whether for tracking productivity, payrolls, schedules or budgets, greater access to rich data has and will continue to be what enables them to expand beyond siloed project data to cross-organizational analyses that best optimize their work.

New research from Dodge Data & Analytics — published in the second 2021 issue of the “Civil Quarterly,” in partnership with Infotech, Hexagon, Command Alkon and DCW — suggests that the digital revolution among civil contractors is well underway, including use of data and analytics.

While promising, the findings also suggest that civil contractors are still in the process of actually shifting from the manual gathering of that data (i.e., through paper forms and their own homegrown electronic forms), to the use of dedicated apps and software that enable access to more current, comparable, accurate and consistent information.

According to the report, over 85% of civil contractors collect data on safety, work item progress, material/project delivery, project inspection and tracking personnel and equipment. Many of the contractors are gathering this data through multiple means.

More than 40% report doing so using electronic forms created by their company, and many are still using paper methods, especially for safety (38%) and material/project delivery (31%). On the other hand, about half leverage dedicated apps/software to gather this information, whether through off-the-shelf commercial products or through proprietary solutions.

A similar pattern is visible for the analysis of data gathered as well, though this area lags slightly in the overall digital evolution. Around 60% to 70% of civil contractors rely on general use software like Microsoft Excel to analyze the safety, material/project delivery, project inspection, work item progress, and personnel tracking data they gather, whereas only around half are using dedicated apps/software for these tasks.

The research also examined whether these companies are using the data they gather and analyze strategically, tactically or just to track progress on projects. Not surprisingly, large companies (those with annual revenues of $50 million or more) are using data more frequently — both strategically and tactically — based on the role within the company than their smaller counterparts.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents from large companies report that company leadership uses data strategically, compared with about 28% of
smaller ones.

Seventy-six percent of large companies report that their project leadership uses data tactically, compared with 54% of midsize companies (i.e., annual revenues of $10 million to $49 million) and only 38% of small companies (i.e., annual revenues of less than $10 million).

Site leadership at large companies also deploy data tactically more frequently, with 57% doing so compared to 37% of midsize companies and 25% of small companies.

This may be the result of large companies more frequently acting as early adopters for digital technologies and tools. It might also suggest that large companies could be the bellwether of how data will be used across the industry as a whole, especially as the proliferation of digital tools allows for lower barriers to entry than in the past, and as people generally become more comfortable with digital tools.

Certainly, the study reveals that the lack of tools to use is not a significant barrier. Only a small share of civil contractors (fewer than 20%) report that they cannot analyze the data because of a lack of good apps/software to do so or existing tools being too difficult to use.

Instead, nearly half of civil contractors (45%) consider lack of consistent data one of the biggest challenges that prevent them from analyzing it, and when asked about the drivers of this obstacle, civil contractors acknowledged lack of field staff training for data gathering and the challenges associated with the process itself. Again, far fewer contractors are concerned about the quality of apps and software (of which there are many available) impacting their data-gathering processes than with people-related issues — actually gathering the data is the biggest challenge.


The message from these findings is clear. Data gathering and analysis is aided by good digital tools, but, as with all other advances, it is the proper deployment of those tools in the field that determine their usefulness in the end. For a tool to be useful, it must be useable.

And while tools used to analyze data are important, intentional engagement and training of field staff is even more critical
to ensuring the consistency needed to
be effective.

In fact, successful digital advancement involves engaging staff across an organization, especially on-site workers, on not only the means of gathering data, but also how their efforts contribute directly to the end result. This includes not just that specific project, but all of the company’s projects moving forward. Ensuring that your employees and project managers understand how and why the company is gathering and utilizing the data being collected is key to properly bringing your business into the digital age.