Big data has had a dramatic impact across many industries, allowing corporations to define their futures in a more significant way. With the growing ability to process big data, an era of more knowledgeable corporate leaders and more precise decision making has begun to take shape.

Even with all the benefits big data can deliver, data processing at that extent isn’t necessary for every company. Similar benefits can be reached by analyzing data on a smaller scale, opening up the opportunity to start seeing the benefits of data insights to small and medium-sized organizations.

Let’s Talk Small Data
The more common concern for companies in the construction industry isn’t that they haven’t embraced big data, it’s the fact that they’re doing too little to even understand—let alone take advantage of—the powerful and underutilized small data that can propel their business forward.

An organization’s sales information, profit, equipment run time, machinery down time, personnel productivity, asset life cycles, and seasonal surges and dips are all examples of small data. These add up to a very big deal with regard to monitoring, predicting and optimizing the overall health of the organization.

How do companies track this type of data now: pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets? Aside from their clear technological shortcomings, antiquated tracking tools like these are putting companies at a tremendous strategic disadvantage. Old techniques are only dependable in terms of reporting past results. Even at their best, they can only record best guesses at future outcomes. 

What they lack is the ability to track and report on business performance in real time, as well as to reliably predict future performance based on precise and multiple data points that tell the true and complete story behind a company’s co-dependent operations.

See It, Then Believe It
In the past, companies would attempt to decipher fiscal health data by displaying a big visual chart in the conference room—literally a poster board outlining either goals or targets hit. It is possible that companies still may be using a variation of this today (e.g., sales revenue chart, line graph or marketing timeline).

Though one-dimensional, these charts were useful when it came to informing not only management, but also employees, about the company’s targeted performance metrics. However, these charts were fixed, past-reflecting, and not looped into the systems that were actually monitoring performance.

Times have changed, transforming such charts into flat-screen monitors (e.g., a giant screen in various “water cooler” locations around the office) that can capture, process and report live data streams that instinctively and easily report simplified performance metrics. These systems are dynamic, function in real time and are completely customizable provided the firm implements the appropriate technology into its various business operations, such as logistics, HR and sales.

Companies can wait on big data, but not on data visualization.

A game-changing process is happening inside companies across the country. Companies that have leveraged emerging technology and even moderately refined systems are discovering that, with real-time data visualization, managers and employees alike are gathering around the proverbial water coolers and are actually seeing their company perform (or underperform) in real time.

The outcome? Rather than reviewing a paper chart or report that outlines past performance, employees are watching real-time data insights unfold right before their eyes.  
  
Construction Goes Mobile
To keep pace with the competitive landscape (or better yet, outpace it), construction companies need to modernize their business processes to adapt to the modern work environment. The use of data visualization can add amplified quality, accuracy, accountability, efficiency, efficacy, predictability, profitability, cost and safety into a business.

For many construction companies, even the simple process of tracking hours and projects efficiently and accurately is becoming an increasingly burdensome task, especially with a large employee base working in the field on offsite projects. However, accuracy, accountability and efficiency are critical in this business. Now is the time to remove uncertainty and optimize the performance of people, projects and processes, without adding levels of repetition and authority.

The answer is data visualization.Custom systems and software can be developed to help track teams by analyzing personnel, machinery assets and project workflow to identify areas that could become more efficient. Systems can be created to empower employees, track processes and machinery in the field, report and analyze performance, and then be powered by, and monitored with, mobile applications and devices.  

With the use of mobile applications, processes can be created that allow workers to meticulously track projects, time and equipment used on task via an end-to-end employee engagement program. Mobile applications cannot only make project tracking and time management more efficient and accurate, but also help enhance a business process that is typically timely for both employees and management.

When companies implement these systems, it is typical to see some resistance at first, especially in an older industry with many different generations working together. However, after experiencing how much easier and practical these new systems and processes are, reactions start to change.

Turning Small Data Into Big Intelligence
To understand the true impact of data, an organization needs to do more than merely collect data and store it in a file. Leveraging intelligence requires turning raw data into something attainable and then sharing it in a way that creates meaningful strategic conversations. It’s the difference between tracking past outcomes and optimizing future performance.

Remarkably, even at a time where companies are hunting big data and there’s nearly universal access to technology, the construction industry often relies mainly on paper and reporting of past performance. However, wise companies are hustling to decode data to provide intelligence and analysis in real time.

Firms that ignore small data and data visualization do so at their own peril. Not only will they be watching archaic displays of unfinished and potentially inaccurate information about the state of their company, but they may be watching their more modern competitors pull away from the pack.


Paul Tibbert is cofounder of GRID, Troy, Mich. For more information, email paul@workwithgrid.com or visit workwithgrid.com.