Technology

The Critical Role of Vendor Data in Capital Construction Projects

Trusting the quality of data supplied by your vendors is just as important as trusting the quality of the vendors themselves.
By Houman Payami
May 28, 2024
Topics
Technology

For executing capital construction projects efficiently, an important aspect is the receipt of accurate and timely data from equipment and material suppliers, followed by its proper processing. While managing vendor data may seem like a mere administrative task, its significance cannot be overstated. This activity serves as the foundation of many engineering and construction tasks throughout the project lifecycle.

This article explores the detrimental effects of poor vendor data management and offers strategies to mitigate common pitfalls. Project leaders naturally strive for excellence in project execution; however, without robust practices to govern the flow of information from material and equipment suppliers, attaining such excellence becomes a significantly harder endeavor.

WHAT IS VENDOR DATA?

Vendors are indispensable partners on capital projects supplying the materials, equipment and services crucial to completing the project scope. Vendor data includes a vast array of information spanning technical specifications, engineered drawings, certifications, delivery logistics, quality procedures, warranties and more.

Receiving accurate, timely vendor data enables impacted parties on engineering teams to verify the viability of the overall design and finalize it accordingly. Correct and timely vendor information also streamlines procurement processes and facilitates construction efforts. Vendor data that meets quality and schedule expectations fosters collaboration throughout the entire project lifecycle.

WHAT'S AT RISK?

Delays

Delays in receiving vendor data can significantly hinder the project's design phase, as this information serves as the bedrock for all subsequent design endeavors. Delays can initiate a domino effect, causing disruptions across the entire project, such as:

  • Extensive Rework: The design team inevitably makes assumptions when the vendor data is unavailable. These assumptions could potentially lead to costly redesigns once the actual information arrives and contradicts the team’s initial guesses.
  • Procurement Paralysis: Delays in receipt and processing of the vendor data hinders procurement activities, reducing the likelihood of materials and equipment arriving on time.
  • Construction Standstills: Idle time by onsite crews as they await equipment stalled in the supply chain due to cascading delays could push out project timelines.

While a slight delay in data might initially appear inconsequential, it has the potential to quickly escalate into a significant scheduling predicament. This escalation highlights the crucial importance of reliable vendor data right from the outset of any project.

Inaccuracies

Even with timely vendor data, success isn't always guaranteed. While the project's engineering team meticulously reviews and approves vendor information, it's possible for some errors to slip through unnoticed. Unfortunately, even minor inaccuracies in vendor data can lead to significant cost overruns or scheduling delays.

For example, incorrect specifications might result in incompatible materials being delivered to the site, necessitating reorders, rework during installation and/or a substantial increase in overhead expenses. If mistakes remain undetected until equipment installation, onsite modifications might be required to accommodate the actual specifications, further escalating costs and extending delays.

Reliable Data, Reliable Asset

Flawed vendor data that becomes the basis of the design or is part of the manufacturer documentation provided to the owner to assist with the operation and maintenance processes, can severely compromise the quality, safety and regulatory compliance of the finished construction asset. Design errors, defective components, underperforming equipment or the use of unsuitable materials—all stemming from poor vendor data—pose a major threat to the integrity of the built asset and jeopardize the project's ability to meet required performance standards.

Attempting to remedy these vendor data quality issues after completion can be extremely expensive. Engineering and construction firms that fail to implement robust data vetting practices from the outset open themselves up to costly rework, just to bring the asset into compliance.

Reputation

The consequences of mismanaged vendor data extend far beyond the project. Mismanaged data can potentially damage the credibility and prospects of the project stakeholders—contractors risk losing client trust and jeopardizing future work opportunities; equipment vendors could see their brand equity tarnished; plus, strained relationships and legal issues harm all parties' industry standing.

MITIGATION STRATEGIES

Robust Data Validation

The first line of defense against mismanaged vendor data is establishing an effective validation process when the vendor data is received. Considering the advances in data processing automation, a practical approach would be implementing multi-layered data validation which is the combination of automated checks and rigorous manual reviews by subject matter experts. This one-two-punch approach reduces the likelihood of inaccurate vendor data finding its way to the final design.

Automated validation covers the fundamentals—checking for complete data sets, proper formatting, etc. But human expertise is critical for catching nuanced technical errors or omissions. The engineers assigned to review the vendor data should have deep domain knowledge that can apply proper scrutiny to weed out inconsistencies or flat-out wrong information.

Ultimately what matters is establishing systematic and institutionalized processes around data vetting. Validation can't be an ad-hoc or subjective effort. There must be clear, consistently enforced procedures that govern how vendor data is reviewed at each stage of the project lifecycle.

Leveraging Advanced Data-Management Platforms

Advanced data-management solutions give today’s capital projects the opportunity to leverage much-needed technology to effectively manage vendor data. These platforms help with the smooth integration and processing of design data from various project participants. Also, the cloud-based nature of these tools assists with centralizing all vendor information into a single, accessible source of truth for the entire project. These platforms put an end to separate data silos on the project and create a unified view of the latest design information.

Also, the built-in data quality checks and machine learning capabilities can be used to continuously monitor for discrepancies or missing information. This will result in establishing a proactive approach that enables early detection and correction of issues before they escalate.

Proactive Vendor Engagement

Construction firms can't do it alone when it comes to ensuring vendor data quality. Suppliers and manufacturers must be active participants in the process. That's why proactively educating and engaging vendors is so critical.

The vendors should be provided comprehensive training on project data requirements and formats upfront. Exactly what information is needed and how it should be provided should be spelled out, negating the assumption that they'll inherently know. Taking this educational approach sets clear expectations from the get-go.

But it can't stop there. Maintaining open lines of communication matters so vendors can efficiently get clarification on any ambiguities or issues that come up. Designating specific points-of-contact between vendors and project stakeholders facilitates collaboration. The smoother this back-and-forth, the easier it is to course-correct small data-quality problems before they escalate.

Most importantly, vendors should be treated as true partners. In an environment of mutual respect and shared stake in the project's success, vendors feel—and essentially are—invested and understand the "why" behind data requirements, and their motivation and care for providing quality data increases dramatically.

Feedback Loop

No vendor-data management process can remain static. Construction projects are dynamic, ever-evolving efforts. Maintaining high data quality requires mechanisms for continuous improvement based on real-world feedback and metrics.

The first step to accumulating these metrics is establishing robust feedback loops that gather insights from various team members working directly and daily with the vendor data. The firsthand experiences of these members can help with identifying what's working, what isn't and where gaps exist.

Beyond qualitative feedback, the project leadership should define and track quantitative data-quality metrics as well. Measuring indicators like error rates, number of revisions and time spent on rework caused by poor data could provide an objective view into the true impacts of data quality.

The organization should then analyze this multi-source feedback through the lens of the project's evolving needs and challenges. Such analysis should result in improvement in the vendor data process by identifying areas for improvement, realigning workflows to increase efficiency, and adapting practices to maintain data-quality integrity as the project moves through its lifecycle.

How vendor data is managed on the project can make or break its success. Recognizing the risks that substandard data causes, and then implementing advanced data-management practices to mitigate such risks is vital for achieving desirable project outcomes. In the competitive world of capital construction, mastering vendor data excellence becomes a key differentiator, fostering a reputation for reliability and excellence that paves the way for long-term success.

by Houman Payami

Related stories

Technology
History Repeating Cover Art

History Repeating

By Grace Calengor
Trimble used its scanning and data-sharing technology to bring the ancient Library of Celsus back to life in the virtual world.
Technology
The Benefits of Incorporating Smart Helmets Into Your Safety Plan Cover Art

The Benefits of Incorporating Smart Helmets Into Your Safety Plan

By Bart Wilder
Sometimes, introducing new technology at your construction company is as simple as strapping on a new helmet. But that simplicity can be lifesaving thanks to today's smart helmet technology.
Technology
Ensuring Secure Remote Access for Smart Buildings Cover Art

Ensuring Secure Remote Access for Smart Buildings

By Emily Newton
Smart buildings are powerful but not infallible when it comes to cybersecurity. Sometimes, the smarter the building, the bigger the cyber risk.

Follow us




Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay in the know with the latest industry news, technology and our weekly features. Get early access to any CE events and webinars.