Technology

Simplify Workflows and Drive Growth With Connected Construction Data

Connected construction software is changing the way businesses consume, analyze and use data.
By Rachel Blair Winkler
August 9, 2022
Topics
Technology

From the field to the office, construction businesses have no shortage of data. While they’re practically drowning in it, many solutions lack the data connections and standardization to drive smarter and more predictive decisions. Data cannot live in silos between the phases of construction. Data can be the key to increasing productivity and elevating profits, but the connected data environment is a must.

In addition to the sheer volume of data to corral, construction businesses often have numerous teams using their own technology tools, most of which don’t communicate seamlessly with each other (if at all). As a result, manual data collection and input is common, requiring valuable time and resources that could be spent on more productive tasks, and leading to errors and omissions that trigger design changes and rework. Without a connected construction environment that standardizes data and makes it available to the right people at the right time, making good use of data simply isn’t possible.

Standardizing and Democratizing Data

Using multiple software programs for accounting, project management, document management and field tools typically leads to increased work in reconciling data among each system. Having the wrong or outdated data then leads to project mistakes, conflicts, miscommunications and safety incidents—all situations that eat away at bottom lines.

Today, cloud platforms are powering a single set of connected data and bringing teams together in shared workspaces, using the same workflows. With connected construction, contractors are streamlining their operations and working with data in real-time rather than making sense of it days, weeks or even months later.

The cumbersome challenge of collecting and inputting data from the field is being powered by intuitive, connected mobile applications and web-enabled data portals, and data sharing is streamlined through automated workflows. As a result, contractors are armed with the instant construction intelligence they need to make the best decisions for their projects and bottom lines.

With data standardized and accessible in real time, different stakeholders can use it in ways that make sense to them, including the following.

  • Executives can gain real-time insight into projects as they happen, which means being able to catch something before it goes significantly off-track.
  • Accounting, HR, and payroll teams can keep bills and employees paid and cash flow fluid.
  • Project teams and subcontractors can access the financial and project data they need, and ensure that everyone is working from the same information and aware of changes when they’re made.
  • Owners, designers and architects can quickly respond to change requests or issues with a real understanding of how they’ll impact construction.

By providing real-time insights to stakeholders as a project progresses, connected construction turns out to be safer, smarter projects with improved profit margins. Additionally, with data stored in the cloud, backups are virtually automatic and information is more secure. Encrypted user-level permission controls, single sign-on and multi-factor authentication help block unauthorized access to critical data and reduce risk. As a bonus for construction IT professionals, hosted cloud environments also mean no more servers to maintain or software updates and patches to administer.

Opening the Door to Powerful Data Analytics and Insights

Data-driven contractors that have connected the dots and streamlined workflows through a single source of shared data are also equipped to leverage the processing powers of the cloud to dig deeper into projects and do more with the mountains of data they collect. A connected construction environment makes it possible to take advantage of advances in technology, such as machine learning, to spot trends and better forecast future project performance, identify risks ahead of time as well as set and achieve stronger, clearer benchmarks.

Machine learning uses computer algorithms to detect patterns in large data sets and predict outcomes. It can look at terabytes of data, identify patterns and determine project risks before they happen. While it may sound complex and futuristic, machine learning and analytics are helping fast-growing contractors make smart use of the vast amount of data they collect today.

These advances in technology are also helping contractors attract the next generation of problem solvers who are more tech-driven and crack the stagnant construction productivity challenge by helping construction professionals access data for quick decision making, and break down, sort and study data quickly and in new ways they never imagined possible before.

Below are some of the ways contractors are using technology, machine learning, and predictive analytics to filter through terabytes of job data, assess patterns and make informed decisions.

  • Closely tracking job costs, change orders, material and equipment usage and worker productivity from previous projects for smarter bidding on future projects.
  • Identifying best practices and lessons learned, such as delivery timeline delays, weather patterns and staffing levels from previous projects that have similar criteria as current projects.
  • Using factual data to deliver accurate bids and timely projects, leading to strong customer and vendor relationships and positive project references.
  • Optimizing transportation routes and load sizes for a fleet of vehicles traveling to and from multiple job sites.
  • Providing real-time project updates, including up-to-the-minute reports and dashboards, to quickly make smart decisions.
  • Improving emergency response mapping to enable faster response times.
  • Digitally tracking data on injuries and safety inspections to reduce risk by identifying high-risk tasks and dangerous conditions.
  • Analyzing data on employee movements (collected from wearables or smartphones) to understand how much extra movement takes place in the course of a day, and improve efficiency by relocating materials.
  • Pinpointing key employees, based on past jobsite performance, for general career or project-specific opportunities.
  • Identifying current customers for potential cross-selling opportunities.

Real-World Stories of Connected Construction

An electrical contractor with projects located throughout the Northeast was using spreadsheets and a mix of proprietary software programs, which they cobbled together decades earlier, to manage its data and day-to-day operations. This included all of its billings, which prohibited management from timely access to important financial information and slowed down the company’s accounting and billing cycles.

Moving to a connected cloud environment gave the company a single source of data and opened the door to leverage predictive analytics. Today, the company can self-serve its data needs, including deep dives into projects and predictive data analysis.

“The ability to drill into information and get a 30,000-foot view all the way down to details as specific as an image of the invoice that was entered is invaluable to us,” says the company’s business analyst.

Another company, specializing in steel construction throughout North America also had a mix of disconnected data. While it leveraged an on-premise ERP solution for its accounting, project job costing and other back-office management workflows, it couldn’t easily connect much-needed financial data between its back office and prefabrication shop operations.

By upgrading its operations to a connected, cloud-based suite of solutions, the company can now connect much more financial data between its ERP and the prefabrication software where it manages the work. Not only does this data flow in real time, but by using a single set of shared data, there is no longer a need for time-consuming (and error-prone) manual administrative efforts or data rekeying. Connected construction technologies have brought powerful, real-time job cost capabilities into its workflows.

“Our job costing prior to the a cloud-based, ERP solution was spreadsheet-based—and believe me we had a lot of spreadsheets. Now, the information is much more accessible and easy to obtain,” says their executive vice president. “That goes to time and accuracy. Anything that costs you time, costs you money and anything that costs you money, costs you profit.”

With data, technology and process automation, the opportunities for advances in construction are endless. Connected construction software is changing the way businesses consume, analyze and make use of data to make the business of construction and the future of the industry better, faster, safer, greener and more profitable.

by Rachel Blair Winkler
About the author: Rachel Blair Winkler is the Vice President & General Manager of the construction-specific finance and human capital management (ERP) business at Trimble Viewpoint. Trimble Viewpoint’s SaaS solutions help contractors around the world operate more efficiently, safely, sustainably and predictably. She has roughly two decades of product development, go-to-market and management experience working in the transportation, geospatial and construction industries.

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