Technology

The Future Is AI and the Key Is the Schedule

While worker knowledge and practical experience are imperative for success, technology exists that enables everyone involved in projects to understand them as well as experienced project managers and superintendents do.
By Michael Pink
March 6, 2021
Topics
Technology

Most useful intelligence on how to plan and execute large-scale construction projects exists in a place from which it’s nearly impossible to extract and analyze: the minds of project managers and superintendents.

Project managers’ and superintendents’ internal intelligence make them some of the most important people in the construction industry. They have vast amounts of experience and have learned multiple lessons from being in the field. They remember what decisions result in good or bad outcomes and capture that data in their heads. When they move from project to project, they use it to benefit their teams. In many cases, these individuals grow within an organization and carry their experience with them into corporate offices. This is how the construction industry generally works, and how construction management firms grow and advance—through the experience of their employees.

While worker knowledge and practical experience are imperative for the success of all construction companies, technology now exists that enables everyone involved in projects to understand them like project managers and superintendents do. It just needs help to advance.

A Holistic View

Enter the construction schedule—a digital data set that houses enough information to understand projects at an intimate level. The schedule connects all parts and pieces into a whole and is ideal for analysis. That’s because it essentially provides a road map for how the entire system will function, from notice to proceed through project completion on time and on budget. Schedule updates house all the as-built durations and logic, impacts to the project plan and resultant decisions to those impacts.

The data contained in schedule files can be analyzed to determine if the schedule’s quality is sound enough to manage a project. It can also be cut and sliced to determine if a project timeline is feasible or unrealistic. Historical variances can be applied to get a read on realistic completion dates and likely critical paths. As of today, highly specialized and complex schedule analytical processes have been augmented with technology, which is step one of converting these data sets into “digital experience.”

Here’s where artificial intelligence and machine learning enter the picture, which introduces step two. Since the construction industry has already augmented the very complex and time-consuming nature of schedule analytics, it is now ready to benefit in great ways from AI and ML. For the first time in the history of construction, mass amounts of experience data can be analyzed in the same place.

However, users have a responsibility to successfully leverage and benefit from AI, which involves maintaining high-quality data sets in the critical path method programs themselves. Unfortunately, as a whole, the construction industry typically prepares schedules that often are of poor quality and unrealistic, making it difficult for augmented analytics to be accurate. In turn, AI technology is challenged to utilize schedule data effectively. The industry is getting better in this regard, and it begins with project control software.

Human Impact

With their deep levels of knowledge and experience, project managers and superintendents are critical to unlocking the entire picture of a project. Yet to do so, they must become more proficient and knowledgeable about CPM scheduling. This will effectively merge the gaps among project managers, superintendents and project schedules, and result in better-quality schedules, more accurate data and improved decision making. For AI to be highly useful, organizations must adopt scheduling best practices, and embrace the art and science of CPM scheduling as major centerpieces of their businesses.

Slow CPM Progression and the Time Machine

CPM schedule data has not changed in 40 years, which is actually a good thing in that organizations can go back to the 1980s and learn from prior projects. Such a virtual file cabinet of historic schedule data will enable analyses that far surpass what’s possible with the data currently residing in the minds of employees — everything from built versus planned logic, actual versus planned durations, progress over time, delays and impacts incurred on critical and noncritical paths, and organizational risks. It’s still necessary for good data sets to exist, and current analytics technology is primed to work in tandem with AI and ML to improve historical data sets for analytical purposes. This is all unprecedented and will result in amazing advances in construction management processes, eventually trending toward the systemization of construction.

AI has never existed in the construction industry in this capacity before. But it’s coming. A machine will be able to comprehend a project like a superintendent or project manager, but with much more detail, highly enhanced analytics, and information from hundreds of historical and current projects. It’s going to be a game-changer.

by Michael Pink
Michael Pink, PSP, CCE, MBA, is the CEO and founder of SmartPM Technologies, a SaaS software company headquartered in Atlanta. SmartPM is a cloud based, full-service schedule analytics and project controls platform designed by industry experts with one mission in mind: to provide stakeholders with a tool to evaluate project performance in real-time, identify critical risk issues, and reduce delays and potential disputes. For more information, visit https://smartpmtech.com.

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