Over the past 10 years, big data has evolved from a concept to a reality that companies of all sizes face today. Projects can now easily generate gigabytes or even terabytes of information. Big data not only brings the challenge of managing huge amounts of information, but it also presents an opportunity to improve operations. Many construction companies are looking to transform themselves into data-driven organizations, in which everyone has access to the data they need, when they need it, giving them the ability to make decisions based on accurate information. Contactors face several key challenges in creating and maintaining meaningful data integrations, including:
- The decentralized nature of construction companies, often by market sector or geographical region
- Partnering models, which require the ability to share information across company lines
- The disparate nature of business functions on a construction project.
Though the deck may seem stacked against you, these challenges are not insurmountable if careful attention is paid to your company’s technology road map. There are several guiding principles to keep you grounded in your quest to determine the right software to help you become a data-driven organization, listed below.
- Focus on the big picture—Technology is a critical part of creating the foundation for a data-driven organization. There is a wide variety of solutions in the marketplace. Historically, many of these have targeted specific business processes or job functions, and only address the needs of a specific area. However, newer solutions provide value across the organization by creating a platform or common data environment to provide visibility to all aspects of your business by bringing together multiple data sources.
- Resist temptation to customize—It’s important to keep in mind that minimizing customizations to technology will significantly decrease the future risk in your data-integration strategy. Commercial software companies create and maintain application programming interfaces (APIs) for this specific reason. If you work with your vendors, you can request that they enrich their APIs. This will ensure the integrations put in place today are commercially supported tomorrow.
- Take a trip to the marketplace—As you look for technology vendors, focus on those who participate in the commercial marketplace. Vendors who understand the needs of data-driven organizations will be more open to making integrations available and sharing data openly.
- Set your own timing—When targeting an integration, take the time to understand how and when you truly need to use the data. Focus on that use case and the information timing needed. You will likely find that near-real-time information is all that is needed and much easier to manage.
Determine Your Strategy
With these guiding principles in mind, the next big step is to build your software or application integration strategy. Just like creating a project estimate, there are two unique lines of thought when building an application integration strategy:
- Linear (top-down) integration strategy—This approach is designed to improve project controls by following the progression of a project over time. The data integration path would be to initiate a project estimate where your cost items or work breakdown
structure (WBS) is synchronized with the accounting system. A schedule would then be initiated to coincide with the project WBS and your pre-bid submittal goes in for award. Upon award, your WBS is pushed to the project-control system, and from there, your budget conforms to commence construction. During construction, all work packages and claimed progress are measured against the WBS. At the end of the day, you have a hierarchical data model of your project.
- Nonlinear (bottom-up) integration strategy—Many forward thinkers in the industry are starting to view a project as a continuously enriched data model, which is an innovative way of looking at the data generated by the project. This integration approach centers around a lowest common denominator, instead of a top-down, WBS hierarchy. The model or visual representation of what you are constructing becomes the lowest common denominator or the foundation for the project data structure. A nonlinear approach focuses on how each role on a project provides information. In the world of BIM, the level of detail from each of these roles is assigned a relationship to your model, enabling a visual context to all your integrated data.
Depending on the near- and long-term objectives of your organization, consider embracing both strategies in your technology road map. The linear model will enable superior project controls. Using a nonlinear integration approach will foster a new era of collaboration for your projects. With that said, not all platforms live up to their hype or their price tag, so be sure to look carefully.