Analytics, big data, and even drones are coming together for better project management in the construction industry.
In 2016 research conducted on the construction industry, McKinsey & Company concluded that "Large projects across asset classes typically take 20% longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80% over budget."
This is an enormous cost burden for construction companies and an unhappy outcome for customers. It's also why there are very serious efforts underway to use data from different sources to make large-scale construction projects easier to manage.
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"The construction industry uses many different subcontractors and systems and is plagued by too many silos of data that can't speak to one another," said Scott Unger, CEO of Kahua, a construction analytics company. "Construction companies understand the dilemma. This is one reason why they're trying to analyze the data they get from projects in new ways."
By seeing exploding cost trends before they reach overrun status, companies can be proactive to keep these costs in line.
"Before you can run these predictive analytics, you have to do several things," Unger said. "First, you need the right data to perform your analytics on. This is a challenge, because so much of the data is siloed and not in a form where it can be easily shared. Second, you need the right tools to look at the data."
In most cases, this data is in fixed-record format; it might include purchase orders for materials, construction work orders, etc. In other cases, the data could be unstructured big data—like a construction site photo captured by a drone that can tell you how much a pile of material has been consumed, or camera monitoring of rooftop building activities, or a building inspector in wearable glasses being able to inspect a building and see the blueprints of the electronic wiring as he inspects.
"Organizations want to bring together all of this data, but for most, the use of images and image analytics are not yet very far along," Unger said. "But with new technologies coming online like 5G and Wi-Fi 6, it will soon be easier for a worker in the field to upload and download photos and images to and from his or her mobile device. This gets the information directly into the hands of the people in the field."
Whether project data comes in fixed-record formats or as unstructured big data, Unger sees construction project management as a situation where everyone engaged in the project has full visibility of all activities. This improves collaboration. "Where we want to get to is a better exchange where anyone on the project can exchange information and workflows with anyone else," Unger said.
How far away is the construction industry from this level of project information exchange and collaboration? Companies like Kahua are providing platforms that enable information and workflow sharing in the cloud. Heliguy is using drones for construction site monitoring and data collection. Samsara uses sensors and geofences to track on-site equipment and other assets. Both standard and big data technologies are being marshaled into large-scale construction management to help projects flow better and stay on budget.
"To arrive at 360-degree project management, companies now need to aggregate all of this data and find ways to share it," Unger said. "The construction industry sees this and is beginning to move forward into new technologies that can improve project performance."
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