A new view of project data

31 January 2017

View Alan Lavery’s profile on LinkedIn

The words ‘data’ and ‘analytics’ have been hot topics across industry for some time now. Financial services, retail, advertising and healthcare businesses (to name a few) are all massively improving the way they function; benefiting from the data we have produced for decades, now predicting our daily patterns, our movements, our thinking and our spending. It is not surprising to hear that the construction industry is pretty far down the list when it comes to deploying new technology. In a world where my supermarket knows what I want to purchase before I check the fridge, the approach to data analytics implementation in construction seems hugely old fashioned. Is our industry so set in its ways that the idea of data analytics scares everyone off or do we simply not have the time, money or knowledge to understand how best to embrace it?

With the underlying, unspoken anxiety that projects are doomed before they begin, project owners and investors need to find that shining light that allows their projects to proceed with confidence. Why should project owners continue to rely on a massive ‘risk pot’, 50 year old project management techniques (such as earned value management) and disconnected software applications, in the hope that they can cope with the unexpected and deliver their projects successfully? Industry focuses attention on defining a scope and contract documentation, then sits with fingers crossed that it will be enough to deliver successfully. However, I feel the prescriptive application of technology, acquisition of data and the value of data analytics has long been overlooked. Yes, construction projects by their very nature are complex and largely unpredictable, potentially highlighting the main challenge to analytics; however, it feels like an opportunity is being missed. The availability of data in construction is in abundance;how and when it is used is key. Gaining true control over a project from the outset is of the utmost importance and the application of data analytics gives industry that opportunity.

Our approach to data analytics

I believe that deploying data analytics on a project (or portfolio) needs to be tailored to suit the challenges faced by the client and the specific project complexities. For too long industry has focused on cost and schedule, with expectations that this will be sufficient. Whilst these data sources are the backbone of project delivery, there is significant opportunity to harness the richness of data being produced across the entire project, throughout the entire lifecycle. In this digital age, everything and everyone engaged in the delivery of a project is producing data. From existing structured data sources such as: cost, schedule, risk registers, design data, cost estimates and health & safety info, to unstructured sources such as email communications, meeting invites, contract documentation, change notifications, RFIs, specifications, method statements and design registers, to name a few. We are now also presented with numerous new data sources such as geospatial positioning of materials and resources, building information modelling (BIM), common data environments, cloud-based delivery platforms, augmented and virtual reality, drone technology and site based task completion platforms. So how do we use it?

Deploying a software capability for a fixed purpose will only repeatedly answer the same question, whereas utilising bespoke data analytics will exploit all data sources in a unique way that not only answers these questions but begins to create its own questions. This drives a shift in mindset from reactive to proactive management. As an example; by connecting people and their attributes (roles and responsibilities) to scheduled activities we can begin to paint a picture of how people are influencing the project and how risk and/or success is developing in a live manner. The idea of applying data analytics to projects will provide project participants with a greater level of delivery intelligence, answering such questions as; How is my project performing? How engaged is my supply chain? What is the true status of progress? It should identify early warnings and risks to allow the project team to intervene and make adjustments earlier.

Who can benefit from analytics and when?

The application of data analytics in construction is equally applicable to project owners, contractors and project delivery teams and for different reasons. Each of these parties, whilst having their own reporting systems and their own specific view of the project, will have a series of common goals; efficiency in delivery, minimising wastage (both time and materials) and delivering on time and within budget.

Yes, we as an industry are largely behind the curve when it comes to deploying future state technologies but data analytics presents phased benefits and the opportunity to use data in a more intelligent way is now. Our industry is an incredibly rich source of data; it is about time that we realised that making better use of this data can vastly improve the way we operate as individual businesses and enhance the way we collaboratively deliver projects.

To learn more about our work on technology visit www.pwc.co.uk/reimagining-capital-projects

Alan Lavery |  Senior Manager, Capital Projects and Infrastructure - Data Analytics and Technology
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