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Working faster, safer and more efficiently are key goals for any general contractor and many are realizing the role that data can play in helping them achieve these goals. Contractors today have made great progress in collecting different types of data on the jobsite, yet they are still in the beginning stages of figuring out how to best leverage it.

Over the past few years, construction firms have begun to capture more of their data and digitize it. Although much of the data is still collected manually, e.g., by walking around the jobsite to count the workforce. Some forward-thinking firms are beginning to automatically collect this information passively through IoT and software. This not only frees up time for managers so they can focus on other tasks, but it also ensures better, more accurate data. 

So how can firms begin leveraging the data they are collecting for business benefit in 2020 and beyond? Following are four best practices to help get them started:

  • Invest in infrastructure. Now is a good time for contractors to invest in project management software to begin centralizing their data in one place. Previously, each domain, such as planning, risk and operations, has been managing its own data in silos. In order for contractors to effectively analyze the data they are collecting and its business impact, they need access to a broad range of data from across the jobsite as well as the organization as a whole. The integration trend that is currently underway will further this process. Technology providers are integrating their solutions with others, which not only provides richer, broader data, but also allows contractors to make correlations between data sets. For example, material tracking and management providers are exploring ways that their supply chain data correlates to workforce readiness via wearables on site. Also, by linking headcount and budget, contractors can see if they are on schedule to hit their numbers and project deadlines.
  • Hire data experts. It’s not feasible nor advantageous to rely on field personnel for collecting and analyzing data. Just as other industries are doing, it’s important that construction firms begin bringing in data experts to help them get the most value from their data. This includes hiring data engineers to collect the data and liberate it out of silos, as well as to clean and enrich it for analysis; and data scientists to develop and continually fine-tune algorithms to address business problems. Data specialists, who can provide rudimentary analytics, can begin the process of helping contractors find insights in their data. 
  • Begin with the end in mind. Instead of looking at the data and trying to determine what to do with it, a contractor should first identify a business problem that needs to be solved and then determine how to use the data to accomplish that. For example, a contractor might want to know how much cash is needed to make payroll for specified periods throughout the course of the project. By looking at how far along the project is at a certain point in time and the manpower hours that were needed to date, the contractor could extrapolate the number of worker hours needed to complete the project by trade (depending on the work that still needs to be done) and estimate the cash that would be needed for payroll.
  • Focus on change management. After identifying a business problem, and collecting and analyzing the data, contractors should determine a course of action or a decision that will provide the desired outcome. Then, the next step may be the most difficult of all: changing behavior to act on data insights. Contractors should create a culture that empowers people to work differently based on what they learn from the data. This involves making key data points transparent to everyone and incentivizing workers to act on this information to improve the jobsite.

In the coming year, many companies will be implementing these best practices to varying degrees. But 2020 isn’t just the start of a new year, it’s also the start of a new decade. After addressing more immediate business issues, such as the budget needed to complete a project, contractors will be able to more effectively tackle difficult challenges in the future, such as the worker shortage. For example, they will increasingly leverage data to avoid incidents and days off for injuries and improve productivity, enabling projects to be completed more safely and efficiently despite the worker shortage.

Data from all sources will be integrated and different parties, such as contractors and their subcontractors, project owners and insurance carriers and brokers, will interact with the data more collaboratively. The data will become integral to operations, and as companies continue to see value from their data, they will focus on continuous improvement, honing their processes based on data insights.

While some of these practices may be years away, it’s clear that in 2020, contractors will be further along on the path to digitalization. They will be focusing on the best ways to use their data for business benefit, which will go a long way in making jobsites safer, more productive and more profitable.

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