In any industry, especially those that thrive on numbers, the idea of possessing hordes of usable, sortable data sounds nothing short of tremendous. More data surely must equate to more informed perspectives and a more ironclad business strategy, right?

The construction industry is naturally positioned to benefit from “big data” for large-scale, complex projects requiring significant capital investment. While no one wants to be left behind in accessing data that software can bring forward, construction business leaders shouldn’t pursue a flurry of data simply for data’s sake.

One of the most common problems contractors face is not knowing what they have, as well as not knowing what they need. Following are a few ways to streamline and maximize big data without getting mired in it.

1. Determine What Is Needed
Software that promises visibility into the business is really only the beginning. A more important piece of the puzzle is figuring out exactly which metrics to care about. Will the productivity index provide previously untapped insight? If so, learn from this tool and adjust resources to ultimately improve workflow. Or, is it more crucial to get a deeper glimpse into how materials purchases are impacting the project timeline? Have a plan. Know what information to seek prior to evaluating the data.

To discover what to extract from internal data, sit down with other leaders in the organization to discuss where the company fell short in prior years. Usually, everyone wants a better handle on the scope, time and costs of projects, so try starting there. Define the company’s key performance indicators.

For example, maybe the human resources manager has been worried about the company’s craft-to-staff ratio and the costs of
managing the labor force. Take the time to examine data and uncover where these data points lie in order to optimize business practices.

2. Investigate and Evaluate

Next, explore the data to discover new elements. A company often will find itself deep in the financial side of data, and then realize more attention should be paid to time tracking instead. It’s common for things to be revealed only after poking around less traveled areas of a company’s data management system.

Company software should provide comprehensive analytics and then leave it to business leaders to parse out the pieces that matter. Remember that the system is there to serve the business, so if it’s lacking in user-friendliness, data, breadth or depth, it could be time to look for another solution.

The goals of big data are to gain better insight into operations and to improve business performance. Be sure company software is in sync with these goals before entrusting it with important projects.

3. Work Together
Contractors are naturally specialists, so they tend to compartmentalize information and activities (e.g., estimators handle estimating and project managers handle onsite coordination). As a result, these groups don’t often share details. While specialization is a strategy that can support efficiency, leaving associated project data in specialized silos hinders overall performance.

To overcome data segmentation, leverage analytics to bring separate teams together. Investigate pieces of data that show the mutual benefit of next tasks. Showing all stakeholders tangible information can motivate employees to work smarter and more collaboratively.

It’s important for data to work together, too. Don’t focus solely on the past or the future. The best use of data is to inform others about the big picture.

Project benchmarking reveals industry norms, the company’s norms, and what the company needs to do to strive for the best results. Without benchmarking against prior project performance and historical data, business leaders miss a big opportunity to maximize the value of analytics. Whether benchmarking financial objectives and labor utilization rates or materials procurement and schedule efficiencies, ensure these indicators are crucial to the success of the company and each particular project.

When it comes to improving company and project performance, complacency is the enemy. Data analytics can be very useful in discovering where a company performs well, and it also can reveal problem areas. Get a firm grasp on business realities by letting the data uncover nuances that otherwise might remain hidden. Frequently gauge the value of the current software system in helping achieve company goals, and use information to enlighten and motivate employees.
By keeping and using the most pertinent data, a construction company can trim the data fat and get down to what really matters.

Bill Ponseti is president and CEO of InEight, a provider of engineering, construction and operations technology solutions for the mining, oil and gas, and utilities industries. For more information, visit