In the hyper-competitive construction space, data collection and analysis are king. Companies that put data at the centre of their culture and operations can optimise their manpower, machines, productivity and safety – and lock in long-term success. Across every building block of the construction process, vast volumes of data are created every day.
Design software collects data during planning, sensors pull information from equipment and machines on site, wearable technologies and smartphones extract details about workers’ activities and location, while project management software tracks a job’s progress and execution.
At this point, all we have is an intangible avalanche of data.
But when data is collected in an organised, centralised way, analysed effectively, and used to drive business intelligence, it becomes one of construction’s most valuable resources. Suddenly, businesses have evidence-based insights to improve efficiency and productivity, make sites significantly safer, and streamline business processes in a way that bolsters bottom lines.
It’s fair to say that the construction sector has historically dragged its feet on data. As recently as three years ago, as much as 96 percent1 of data generated in the construction sector went unused.
Happily, the industry has closed the gap. Many of today’s leading firms leverage data as a powerful tool across the end-to-end journey of construction – through planning, building, and operating.
Additionally, companies are investing in the tools and personnel to analyse data and draw insights that address long-standing industry challenges, such as accurately estimating project costs, getting more out of workers and machines, and meeting project deadlines unscathed. By taking the power of data more seriously, they create a domino effect that improves profit margins and strengthens reputations.
One of the most significant improvements companies see when they gather and analyse data is a welcome boost to productivity. With construction being such a competitive space, where margins are notoriously tight, this is a big deal.
For decades now, one familiar on-site productivity challenge has been ensuring tools and equipment are in the right place at the right moment, so valuable time and resources aren’t wasted. Thanks to data-collecting technology, such as sensors, smartphones and wearables, today’s sites can finally solve that challenge.
They can track the location of man and machine, analyse the data, and use insights they draw to restructure operations, ensure tools and kit are available exactly when and where they’re needed, and make sure the optimum number of workers are where they need to be at every stage of the job.
Data drives productivity for site equipment, too. While construction machines are already efficient and productive, technology such as telematics devices – which collect data about machine performance and location – drives more efficiencies. These devices extract an abundance of useful information about machines’ health, operating hours and idle time, while pinning down potential faults and issues long before they put a machine out of action.
As a result, site managers can identify issues earlier, optimise machine use, and even drive behaviour change in operators so they protect machines, avoid overuse, and improve fuel efficiency. In one study, a construction services company using telematics data cut its idling time by 37 percent2, which resulted in $18,000 of fuel savings in three months. In another study, 42 percent of companies reported fewer safety incidents3 after using telematics to monitor driver behaviour.
Productivity gains from data extend into the office with software packages available to keep key personnel on the same page, enable teams to closely track projects, and spot and fix problems before they affect deadlines or costs.
Moreover, many firms who have transitioned key business software to the cloud can integrate all elements of the construction lifecycle – project management, accounting, and more – to create a single view of their data and operations; and develop cross-platform insights that bring more precision, accuracy and efficiency to their workflow.
Looking further ahead, advances in AI and machine learning offer additional opportunities to understand trends and patterns in construction businesses. AI, for example, could be harnessed for high-impact analytics, where data is collected and analysed automatically, with little manual intervention, and then used to roll out solutions in real-time, which cut costs, avoid wasted resources, and optimise operations at every step.
Opportunities with AI are significant. According to one recent study, it has the potential to increase the construction industry’s profits by 71 percent by 20354.
Another area high on the priority list for construction businesses is worker safety. In the US, roughly 20 percent of worker fatalities in private industry in 2019 were in construction5 – accounting for one in five worker deaths that year. By leveraging the power of data, companies can create healthier workplaces and improve on these poor statistics.
For example, today’s integrated technologies enable construction sites to collect real-time data about activities happening out on site, combine it with tools that analyse the data, and then spot patterns where action needs to be taken. As a result, sites can predict the probability of accidents, spot processes that put workers at risk, understand where the ‘red flag’ areas are – and then mitigate against them.
AI tools, such as neural networks, take this pre-emptive action even further. Some of the latest tools can scan images of sites and immediately identify hazards or establish where the correct safety equipment isn’t being used. This allows construction firms to track and address safety challenges in real-time.
The increasing use of telematics systems is another tool supporting worker safety. At an engine level information such as running hours and maintenance schedules is available—for Perkins engines the Perkins® My Engine App coupled with the Perkins® SmartCap can assist—while other systems are more machine focused and can provide detailed insights into how drivers are using machines, so site managers are alerted to issues like driver fatigue or even that a machine is being operated in an unsafe way. Any issues can be addressed through training, before they turn into an accident.
Moving forward, data and safety will increasingly go hand in hand. According to a recent study, companies that use proactive safety measures, including those driven by data, can potentially reduce safety incidents by as much as 85 percent6.
With data already driving better decision-making, bolstering productivity and safety, and improving bottom lines across the global construction sector, all the evidence suggests its value will continue to grow.
Construction firms that embrace the possibilities of using and analysing data will not only gain an edge on competitors in the short-term, but put themselves in a strong position to be the standout firms of the future. With data-driven processes and operations, they’ll be equipped to thrive and prosper whatever social and economic challenges come their way.
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