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To see how quickly technology is changing, just look at the jobsite. Think about the dirt and coffee-covered plans on every square inch of a plan table, the stacks of drawings already outdated tossed in the cornernot to mention the rolled-up drawings tucked under the project manager’s arm as he or she walked the site. Now, it’s not unusual to see construction professionals checking iPads and smartphones—technology that only emerged 10 years ago.

New technologies are transforming personal and professional lives, with huge implications for what is built and how it is built. But given the pace of development, it has become very hard for construction businesses to anticipate the next big thing and keep ahead of change.

What these new innovations do have in common is that they’re powered by data. Wherever construction businesses are on their digital journey, they can benefit today and prepare for the future by creating a strong data strategy. 

Why Data Management Matters explores some of the big tech developments coming to the jobsite and across construction organizations, and why creating a proactive data strategy will help construction companies be ready.

The Next Stage of the Jobsite

New technologies designed for the jobsite are enabling firms to work more productively and create more sophisticated builds. One transformation in progress is the growing use of 3D models. Traditionally, much of the rich information created by architects had been lost before it reached the jobsite, as 3D BIM data was “flattened out” into PDFs. Now mobile digital technology is available that makes it possible to access 2D and 3D BIM data from anywhere. 

The evolution of virtual reality and augmented reality is also set to enable teams to visualize designs on-site, to build more accurately, quickly, and develop more sophisticated building projects. AR can be used to support workers remotely, enabling people onsite to communicate with specialists and experts, who can send guides and manuals directly to remote workers’ screens to facilitate more complex construction. 

But these on-site capabilities will depend on the integration of multiple systems—and access to data that’s detailed and nimble.

How Business Strategy Is Evolving

New technologies are also helping businesses improve their planning, with construction firms using digital platforms to share data needed for each job. Data collection and analysis is then enabling firms to more readily review past projects, identify any issues and recommend future improvements.

With analytics built into many platforms, it’s already possible to spot common issues, such as the causes of project delays or skills gaps in the business. Data analytics is growing in sophistication thanks to the emergence of machine learning: using large datasets to detect patterns. 

Machine learning can provide key business insights for the leadership team, such as modeling the “best” projects for the firm to take on, predicting potential project risks or identifying the most profitable contractors to use. To use machine learning effectively, firms will need high-quality, well-structured datasets and an effectively data strategy that’s in place now instead of waiting for the “future” to arrive.

Creating an Adaptable Data Strategy

It’s difficult to anticipate the technologies around the corner—and even harder to see which will bring the most value to a business. However, it is possible to create a data strategy that will help the business use new tech as it emerges with three simple considerations.

  1. Focus on data quality—and portability. The quality of data within a business, and particularly its portability, will determine how easily technology can be adopted in the future. With older digital platforms especially, it’s common for data to be created in a proprietary format that can’t be read or used by other platforms. This can “lock” businesses into a particular solution, and make it harder to integrate existing data into new tools. When developing a data strategy, construction executives need to assess the quality of their business’s data and how it can be improved. Choosing software that creates “nimble” data—data that is easy to export and manipulate—will help to improve data quality, not only delivering immediate benefits but also creating a strong foundation to use technologies like machine learning in the future.
  2. Look at integrations. A closely related issue is how data is structured as well as the links between different datasets. Integration between different technology platforms impacts the flow of information during the construction process and how readily leaders can assess the performance of the whole business. In the past, transferring information from one system to another has involved coding “hacks” or even time-consuming manual data transfers. Now, many digital tools come with in-built APIs for straightforward integration with a whole host of other systems. That means businesses can choose the best digital tool for the job and feed data through the whole construction process—from design to close-out. Importantly, ensuring systems can talk to each other will make it easier to integrate innovations that arise in the future, be it drones, wearables or augmented reality systems.
  3.  Have a vision for the business. Like the technology strategy, a data strategy should be part of the overarching plans for the business. Consider where the business needs to be in the future and what needs to happen to get there. This needs to include keeping an eye on new tech developments, and how they can impact and benefit the business.

But in addition to technology, a sound data strategy should include a people element. Who will take responsibility for the strategy—someone on the board, a tech team or even an innovation lab? What tech skills will be needed in the business, both on the jobsite and in the technical team? By looking not only months but years in advance, and regularly updating the strategy, businesses can be ready to adapt and thrive.

A Bright Future

Technology offers incredible potential to shape what and how buildings are built—but it will depend on high quality, accessible data. Construction businesses that have a proactive —not reactive—data strategy can improve their performance today and be ready for the technology of tomorrow, whatever it turns out to be. 

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