The construction industry is about to take big steps from project-based building towards process-oriented business. Every party from client to sub-contractor understands the importance of real-time and correct information. This shows also at the software vendors’ side, as transparency and timeliness of data is becoming one of the most important factor to drive software acquisitions. There must be means to collect data from all systems in order to refine it into situational dashboards for both construction sites and the company management and business units.
From business management viewpoint, it makes sense to get a database, integrate systems into it, add visualization with a suitable BI solution and you’ve got yourself situational awareness. Mission accomplished. But the reality is a little different. The problems don’t end at integrations and different API investments.
The problems, in fact, start from having the financial, scheduling and quality data in a single database. The data from different projects is not, by surprise, unified in terms of structure nor content, and you end up creating different dashboards and views for every project in your BI platform. It turns out to be impossible to use the same management dashboards even in the different phases of a single project, because the material suppliers and contractors keep changing. You find yourself in a negative circle of customization. So you nominate a group of experts around your IT solution, create a data hub or a service platform, and bring in more and more consultants along with expanding to more and more pilot projects from the different sub-types of construction. What first seemed like a simple and straightforward digital leap, now starts to look more like the IT setbacks with the public healthcare.
The maturity of software or the know-how of the consultants is not a root cause, and the situation doesn’t get any better by switching into other technologies. The root is simply at the weak quality of our data, which causes us problems. Deploying digital tools is progressing on construction sites and new apps and solutions keep popping up there. Day by day, we have more and more of digital data, digital footprint, from single sites, but the applications themselves don’t turn data into knowledge, or even make it useful for anyone else than single individuals who use the applications for their own checkups. We lack standards or processes to standardize the collected data so that it would become meaningful without manual refinement, or that it could be transferred via interfaces.
We’re not going to get high-quality data from the sites, data that can be processed automatically, unless everyone uses the applications the same way. That is to say, it’s not enough to have unified practices within a construction site, but they must be created for the entire business unit and all its sites, if the goal is to gain real-time situational data from the unit, with an ability to share the information to all of the supporting organization, not to mention suppliers with annual contracts.
Experience has shown that the most difficult and critical task for ensuring data integrity is training the site personnel. The training requires for us to first have a well-functioning way to use the application, that is, a standardized process and use cases. All-round utilization of the data also requires involving the sub-contractors. It’s easy to repeat old mistakes and train only the main contractor’s site management to use mobile applications, and ignore those who actually build.
This change can’t be left on the shoulders of the sites. This calls for skills from learning professionals, not engineers with their problem-solving minds.
About the author
Fira CTO Otto Alhava knows the challenges of the construction industry, as well as the ins and outs of Lean thinking, BIM and mobile tryouts, but instead of focusing on them he comes with a passion for developing the productivity of work and an in-built need to not just understand but also solve the productivity problem of the construction industry – systemically. His background in software and telecommunication businesses give him great basis for this, since the issues faced there are systemic in nature, as well.
Otto has a vision on solving the building productivity issue in collaboration, making construction sites of tomorrow a valued work environment and buildings valuable for their users, all with a reduced carbon footprint.
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