INEIGHTLooking at Digital Transformation in the Construction Industry.

By Brad Barth

Without a doubt, the digital transformation of the construction industry is not going away. Some innovators and industry leaders have fully committed themselves to it, while the vast majority of the market is engaged in some type of digital transformation in one way or another. 

The driving force behind this metamorphosis is simple: data is king. When data is digital, we can disseminate it more efficiently providing it as information to those who need it. We can also access this information more easily using all manner of devices and – perhaps most beneficially – we can start to learn from the data.InEight info box

Now, consider applying machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to the mountains of data typically seen on construction projects that we are beginning to learn from. Imagine the potential. Yet anyone who has ever participated on a complex project can relate to the feeling that each step along the way involves a heavy dose of starting from scratch. We often feel that yesterday’s work doesn’t necessarily benefit me today. 

Digital Transformation Starts with Data

Digitizing data offers significant value as we look to transform our projects. Consider if our estimates are digital, we can hand them off to schedulers and planners as a great starting point when a project moves into execution. If our work plans are digital, we can sync them up with purchasing to make sure we have the right materials at the jobsite when we need them. If our field reports are digital, we can pull data from them to feed cost reporting, payroll and billing – all on a real-time basis.

It all sounds great. Unfortunately, there’s a nasty issue at the heart of this vision that digitization alone won’t solve, and that’s the data itself. 

For companies to truly benefit from this new wealth of digital data, there has to be a common granularity to it. Line items in the estimate are necessarily a different level of detail than activities in the schedule. And neither of those reflect the acute level of detail needed to plan the work in the field or get through procurement. The granularity of budgets, on the other hand, is completely at the other end of the spectrum. Yet all these things are related, and their workflows intersect in the most frustrating of ways, resulting in the common, “You need what from me?!” refrain from project engineers. Without question, they can all benefit tremendously from the work that came before, not to mention the similar projects that preceded them. What we need is all this digital data to “speak the same language.”

What does it mean to speak the same language? It means two things. First, the various business processes involved throughout the construction project must be able to interact at the right level of granularity, with the ability to relate data to the data points coming from other business processes. For example, an estimate should be able to relate its line items to detailed, component-level items captured during quantity takeoff, even when it is not necessary to mirror that level of detail in the estimate. That way, when the estimate is finalized and the project moves to execution, anyone viewing the estimate can drill down to the component-level detail that’s often necessary for processes like work planning and procurement. 

Second, at the appropriate level of granularity, there must be a consistent way to classify the same “things” from one project to the next. Most commonly taking the form of a standardized cost code structure, this consistent coding enables data from previous projects to be meaningful on future projects. This enables us to do relatively fundamental things like benchmark or validate estimates and forecasts using historical data, and also sets the stage for artificial intelligence and machine learning. The fuel for any sort of intelligence, artificial or otherwise, is data. And the more this data is consistent and contextualized over time, the more intelligence can be gleaned from it. 

A Legacy of Data Knowledge

With the right focus on data granularity and consistency, digital transformation can help companies in the construction industry achieve the vision of a truly connected project. In such a world, all business processes contribute to a “common” set of information that continually evolves as the project moves through its life cycle. Only then can a company continue to get value out of the data created for its past projects, increasing the effectiveness of both new and experienced employees alike. The result is that everyone not only works more efficiently, but quite literally gets smarter by gaining invaluable project intelligence. 

Achieving this vision requires a holistic view of the software systems that employees will use to create and manage all their digital information. Some solutions were built with this end-to-end vision in mind, with the ability to enforce standardization and manage the relationships across the various levels of granularity in the data. InEight, for example, provides a system that can manage the vast majority of this end-to-end data flow, and yet still be deployed in a modular fashion (it even has some pretty useful AI capabilities built in). But whether you opt for a comprehensive system, or various point solutions from multiple vendors, remember that digital transformation starts and ends with the data.

Brad Barth is chief product officer for InEight, where he oversees product strategy and product management. The mission of his team is to define, deliver and demonstrate products that solve high-value problems within well-understood markets. Brad has a 25-year background in construction project controls solutions.


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