5 Ways Data Can Boost Productivity

Companies that use data wisely increase their bottom line.

When used effectively, data is a powerful thing. Whether it’s created by drones, laser scanners, sensors or software, or even by contractors using a simple spreadsheet, it has the power to transform productivity for contractors who take the time to analyze and act on it. By saving contractors time and money, it can even allow them to win more projects by bidding more competitively.  Do note that there are privacy and data protection laws that prohibit the disclosure and misuse of information about private individuals.  When gathering data from any source, those laws must be abided by. 

The right data from on and off the jobsite can help you do the following:

Use equipment more efficiently. Companies in construction and heavy industry have a blind spot around equipment usage. One Texas A&M University survey found that among respondents who believed increasing equipment utilization could increase ROI, nearly half did not track or measure theirs. GPS and telematics technology can tell firms where all of their equipment is at any point, across all jobsites and when it needs maintenance, as well as let managers see whether operators are maximizing their time on the job. Users of United Rentals’ Total Control rental management platform receive data on their equipment consumption that helps them significantly increase the efficiency of equipment use and even keep rented equipment for a shorter duration.

Reduce rework and cost overruns. Data from drones or autonomous devices equipped with HD cameras and laser scanners can be used to track project progress and identify deviations from the schedule and as well as deviations from the BIM model/project plan. On a much lower-tech level, aggregate data from daily construction reports, especially when the reports are integrated with other records in a construction management software program, can yield useful clues about schedule delays as well as cost overruns. Because every schedule delay has a domino effect, early detection of issues can yield exponential returns.

Identify safety issues in real time. Real-time data is a powerful tool when it comes to safety. For example, take wearables. Sensor-embedded wearables can track brain wave activity or even blink rates to alert employees and/or their managers to dangerous fatigue; track biometric data to warn of heat stress conditions; alert managers to slips and falls; and tell managers if a worker enters a predefined hazardous area. Beyond wearables, other devices are delivering critical real-time information that can help prevent accidents and injuries. For example, in large excavations and trenches, data sent wirelessly from load pins installed in hydraulic struts can warn contractors of potential failures in hydraulic support systems.

Make faster decisions. At its best, data analytics leads to intelligent action, including faster, smarter decision making. Imagine if every project stakeholder could see exactly what was happening on a project at a given moment without being there. That’s what data from 360-degree cameras can do. The cameras let you take spherical images (and in many cases, 4K video) of a room or jobsite and, with the help of a smartphone or tablet, link them to a location on the project plan and share them with — even livestream them to — stakeholders, who can easily annotate images. The result: Instant consensus on as-built status and clearer next steps on any clashes or tasks that need rework.

Make process improvements. Analyzing data from past projects can help you benchmark your operations and, in the case of particularly successful projects, understand what worked well so you can replicate that success in the future. Were there fewer-than-average change orders? Was the turnaround time on change orders particularly fast? What was the percentage of labor and equipment downtown? Did the schedule allow for expected delays, such as from severe weather? Did the contract have rolling two-week billing? How many days did money sit in accounts receivable? Analyzing projects that had less successful outcomes is useful, too. It’s also helpful to track trends across past projects — for instance, the correlation between punch list items at the end of a project and the time between substantial completion and final acceptance, the correlation between schedule delays and overtime costs, or the correlation between prefabrication use and profits.

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Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.