How Big Data Improves Construction

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How Big Data Improves Construction

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What Is Big Data?

Oracle defines “big data” as larger, more complex data sets that are so voluminous that traditional data processing software can’t manage them. Big data provides the basis for addressing business problems previously too difficult to tackle. 

The “three V’s” help explain the challenges inherent in working with big data.

  • Volume refers to the enormous amount of data—for example, in databases containing BIM and 3-D modeling files and from continuous collection of data from sensor-equipped equipment and PPE. Some organizations are dealing with terabytes of data, while for others, it may be hundreds of petabytes. 
  • Velocity describes the speed at which data are created and collected and perhaps acted upon, potentially in real-time. 
  • Variety is all about the different kinds of data points involved—traditionally structured data in a relational database and, increasingly, new unstructured and semi-structured data that require additional processing to derive meaningful insights.

Since these three V’s were delineated, three more V’s have emerged:

  • Value refers to the intrinsic value of big data—in many cases, value that has yet to be discovered. The burning question is, “How can construction companies derive the most value from big data?”
  • Veracity (sometimes referred to as “validity”) is a measure of data quality, reliability, and usefulness.
  • Variability was added in acknowledgment that data flows can be unpredictable, changing daily, seasonally, or in response to certain trigger events, particularly when coming from different sources.

The Big Data Revolution

The power of big data comes from the ability to connect, correlate, and transform data across systems to allow analysis and decision-making that can drive business strategy. When combined with artificial intelligence and robotics, big data are poised to transform the construction industry in the near future. A key aim of leveraging big data in construction is to improve project planning and shorten the overall construction process.

Making the most of big data requires a cloud environment that supports AI algorithms and machine learning. Key advantages construction companies gain by implementing technology for making effective use of big data include:

  • Identification of opportunities for improvement through the use of analytical tools
  • Risk mitigation through the ability to identify safety issues, process inefficiencies, compliance challenges, insight into changing client preferences, and more before they can impact business
  • Waste and cost reduction through the use of BIM data for efficient and accurate management of resources (e.g., labor, equipment, and materials)
  • Increased productivity of labor and equipment through real-time analysis to identify potential bottlenecks, opportunities for real-time optimization of schedules, and resource allocation based on workloads and minute-to-minute status visibility
  • Enhanced worksite safety through the use of sensor data from wearables and remotely controlled equipment
  • Business and environmental sustainability through analysis of information from past and present projects
  • Actionable insights on client satisfaction and their evolving expectations through analysis of big data related to the experience of project owners and key stakeholders

Big Data Do Not Stand Alone

Big data in and of themselves are of little use. It’s what construction companies can do with the big data that can give them operational and competitive advantages. 

Leveraging big data requires companies to employ such tools and methods as data analytics, computational models, databases, machine learning, pattern recognition, virtual reality, augmented reality, statistics, artificial intelligence, and more. These can be used in different combinations to develop models for real-time use in construction projects. And predictive analysis of big historical datasets can improve the forecasting of future events.

We’re Not There Yet

The construction industry has made some progress in using the vast amounts of data generated by computer-aided design and infrastructure modeling to support tactical and strategic decision-making, particularly in larger companies. With the existing state of online tools and software, big data integration is still an uphill task for many construction businesses. Even so, it’s a journey well worth taking. 

One often unrecognized advantage of leveraging big data, particularly for younger and smaller companies, is the opportunity to build their bonding capacity. Even modest investments in the technology to support their use of big data can demonstrate the kind of management expertise and forward thinking that impresses surety bond providers. 

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