The construction industry’s slow but steady adoption of data collection was a challenge even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, now more than before, every member of the project partnership team — financiers, owners, designers, engineers and contractors — depends on a steady flow of information during these nervous times.
It’s not that there isn’t an abundance of technology available to gather the information everyone is seeking. The challenge is to avoid “data silos,” which are situations when only one group in an organization can access a set or source of data, and instead, collaborate and share information. The need to develop transparency has become more acute as COVID-19 forces many involved in the process to work from home.
Collaboration is improved, of course, when authorized parties can enjoy access to apps and portals in order to share information, drawings and permits.
Once project construction is underway, virtual tours using drones or 360 cameras keep parties up to date on progress without the time and health risks associated with personal visits. Material tracking using a number of software/hardware combinations ensures projects stay on schedule. Virtual meetings throughout the entire process are another effective way to bring all parties together under one tent to plan, co-ordinate and resolve issues.
The ultimate goal of these technologies should be to reduce hard costs, avoid preventable mistakes and increase site and planning efficiencies, says James Benham, founder of JB Knowledge. There’s plenty of room for improvement. Benham cites research that suggests 61 per cent of projects finish behind schedule and 49 per cent go over budget.
For technology to be truly effective, however, corporate-wide data strategies must be forged.
Every project is “an ocean of information unto itself,” says Bruce Orr, founder and CEO of U.S.-based ProNovos, a U.S. provider of cloud-based data analytics. He says that as a result, decision-makers need to be selective with their time and energies.
In AEC Business, Orr describes how contractors, “have little time to think about how integrating the likes of artificial intelligence, robotics, large-scale 3D printing or modular construction could benefit (their) organization. In fact, when multiple projects are plagued by major challenges, even maximizing existing data analytics tools can seem like a job for another day.”
Escaping from what Orr calls “triage mode” can free up time and resources for higher-order data analytics than can deliver benefits over the long term.
However, even finding the data you need when you need it is a challenge. It takes time, says Benham. He suggests analytical software like Dado and Briq, which create customized corporate search engines.
Compliance is another area that can be overwhelming if done manually but can be made simpler when integrated into analysis software.
“We decided to upload documents from 2013 until the present day and we couldn’t believe how quickly they were ingested and analyzed,” LBHF said. Now LBHF can load as many as 1,000 gas certificates into their system at one time and are able to read and accurately report on each one within the hour.
The move towards e-permitting among small and mid-sized municipalities in Canada, reported in the Daily Commercial News recently, is another example of data gathering and sharing.
It’s not that data is dead, says The Compliance Workbook founder Ryan Dempsey in PBC Today. It’s about avoiding the tunnel vision that often accompanies the data already gathered and mitigating employee concerns that more data only creates more work.
“We are learning that new technology, processes and, most importantly, a wider understanding of things should make life easier,” says Dempsey. “All of these things do. The trick is to find the natural implementation of change. There’s so much data available which will make everyone’s life so much easier to plan, check and act when it is turned into information and knowledge.”
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to email@example.com.