It is no secret that the construction industry lags behind other major industries such as the aerospace or defense industries when it comes to utilizing technology to improve efficiency. Efficiency in the construction industry is really about how to recognize and manage costs, trends, suppliers, and relationships.
That sounds remarkably like a Hallmark greeting card, but the reality is that every member of that formula has the potential to derail efficiency and cause a building project to blow through its budget and or to require massive amounts of time. Yet, there is progress and in this constructing big data blog, we look at how technology helps the construction industry build efficiency.
What is Big Data?
At its most basic, big data is a gigantic amount of data on (usually) a single topic or family of topics. A good example of this would be all of the data that every Ford Motor Company engine produces in a year as they are driven by people who bought the car. That is a lot of data and it is all recorded and collected by smart sensors that connect to our world via the Internet of Things via a Pavlovian dog-type response to the check engine light. Big data is not last year’s data, but the data that is happening right now. Analysis of big data includes past data collection sets, but the results help with real-time decision-making.
In short, big data is more than just a lot of data. It is also the means by which all of that data is analyzed and the rewards that it offers to industries and companies within those industries. So how does Big Data Apply to the construction industry?
Let’s explore that question.
Big Data and Accurate Cost Accounting
One of the biggest challenges for any construction project is the complex task of accurately forecasting the costs of supplies such as aggregates. In fact, aggregates are a great example because they are sold based on weight and there is a labor component both of which become cost factors.
Industrial scales sit in abusive environments. Tons of aggregates get dumped onto them, trucks drive onto them, yet their process is only as good as their accuracy. What would happen if industrial scales employed big data? Imagine if a sensor told the scale what type of truck was coming and how much aggregate it can hold. That’s very doable. What if when a construction company ordered aggregate the system automatically checked on the type of truck assigned for that pickup and then predetermined your inventory, primed your system to prepare for that delivery, and kept everyone informed of the process. This is what big data does.
The possibilities go even farther, though. Scales need calibration. So what if in addition to all of those other tricks, industrial scales self-monitored for wear and calibration? In the oil field industry, oil derricks monitor themselves. They use sensors to collect and send data that monitors every system, reports trends, isolates problems, calls for service, and even helps to pinpoint design flaws. In short, what big data can do is help redesign aggregate scales so that they are more accurate, they can do more of the mundane tasks, and they can help both the aggregate company and the construction company work together in a cost-efficient way that helps both companies to control the variance of costs. We are not there yet, but that future is on the horizon.
Understanding the Problems that the Construction Industry Faces
The technology gap is something that the construction industry is racing to overcome. A recent article in Forbes outlines the problems that the construction industry faces when it comes to implementing technology and big data into the process.
The power of big data is in analytics. While the construction industry uses analytics they have yet to harness the full power of what analytics can do. For example, predictive analytics is a tool that helps spot trends amid big data sets. It could be employed to help project managers oversee even the smallest details. It would do so with speed and accuracy. The benefit to a construction company is that information is presented in real-time. The managers and project managers can simply access a tablet to monitor the progress of their crews, and then make informed decisions about how to shift resources to keep the project on cost and on time.
If we go back to the aggregate example then we can see how predictive analytics works. Say you have a large project. Midway through your client decides on a major change that is going to require more aggregate. In today’s world, you have to scramble. Everyone needs to be informed. Your suppliers are running to see if they have what you need and how long that will take for them to meet your needs. In the construction industry of tomorrow, you would simply input your new requirements for aggregate, and your system would show you online inventories of every aggregate company with whom you work. In addition, the system would help you coordinate labor, delivery, and arrange things by costs so that you see the cheapest way to meet your client’s needs without adding a bunch of time to the project and without having people standing around while the project plays catch up. That is how Big Data helps other industries. It is how it will help the construction industry too.
Big Data on the Smaller Scale
The idea behind big data is the hyperconnectivity that links all of the players. An aggregate company supplies information to contractors who use that data to make decisions. Inside of that aggregate company are jobs that big data can help to streamline. We’ve mentioned scale calibration, but what about automated tasks? Imagine if truck scales not only weighed the load of a truck, but deducted the amount of aggregate from your inventory, and helps bill the client for each load. That is one way that big data could help. Via automated tasks, big data can remove the mundane chores. The benefit is that you are no longer paying someone to do all of those mundane tasks. Instead, you can invest those labor savings into building a better company, finding new clients, or developing more efficient scales.
Evolution in Thinking
Big Data is not an emerging technology, only new to the construction and aggregate industry. As such, focusing on harnessing the potential of big data helps build efficiency, control costs, and grow. How can big data help your business? Big data is a means of diminishing the burdens of cost estimating, project management, and budgeting within the construction industry and in fact, across many industries.