Big Data: Transforming Construction, One ERP at a Time

Mike Vidas, Contributor

safety hitachiBig data has changed the way companies operate across almost every sector, and the construction industry is no exception. As anyone in the field knows, construction is a time-consuming and costly process that involves complex projects and thin profit margins. With so many variables to account for—employees, suppliers, subcontractors and logistics—accurately budgeting, organizing and managing a construction project to scope can be nearly impossible. However, big data and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are transforming the way many companies in the construction industry operate by enabling them to improve capacity and efficiency like never before.

Impact of Big Data on Construction Industry

Left untouched and in its purest form, big data isn’t worth all that much—but when paired with a data analytics solution, big data can be used to create opportunities for construction companies to improve productivity and profitability. An ERP can use that data to offer improved scheduling capabilities; more accurate forecasting; real-time information delivery; better quality assurance; and, last but certainly not least, greater job site safety.

Pre-Construction Analysis

Data and data management have always been vital to the construction industry. With the advent of the computer, construction companies were able to take advantage of programs such as Excel to manage data in an unstructured database. Then came the introduction of business software, such as Building Information Modeling, which enabled companies to store and track data in a structured environment for reporting and analysis.

Today, we once again find ourselves in the midst of a shift in the way data is managed and utilized. With big data and ERP systems, companies now have the ability to make use of their data in a more streamlined and efficient manner, which enables them to make predictions based on qualified information and identify trends early on in the construction process.

Real-Time Management: Schedules, Resources, Budgets

Big data enables construction companies to view their projects in real time. Without this ability, project managers wouldn’t get the full scope of a job and would lack insight into its current status. Thanks to big data, technological advances and new capabilities for mobile devices, construction companies can gain full, real time visibility into all aspects of a project, which reduces the time delay for site reports to update job costs and progress tracking.

The ability to see projects in real time enables companies to identify the causes for project overruns and delays or other factors that might affect a job, and to then capture that information in a structured system. By analyzing project overrun data and other business intelligence, construction companies can recognize inefficiencies and trends, which enables them to improve operations and strategies with concrete data and analytics.

Construction Equipment & Asset Tracking

Construction companies have a tremendous amount of assets that need to be mobilized, tracked and moved from one location to another. Moving these assets can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. Big data can help schedulers and supervisors see exactly where assets are at any given point in time, whether that is at a manufacturer’s facility, in a warehouse, on the road or at a job site. By using big data analytics to view assets onsite or in-transit, mobilization supervisors can make better decisions on what equipment to move and when, where and how to move it. In short, with the ability to view assets in real time, construction companies can make more effective decisions about how to utilize them.

Collaboration

Big data can give suppliers, builders and managers greater insight into the requirements of a project, giving them the ability to make more informed and accurate predictions and budgets. Big data also allows for visualizations and simulations, which facilitate communications between architects, engineers and workers. This cross-channel collaboration and communication reduces the back-and-forth that might occur over minor changes and revisions by giving all involved parties insight into the impact of a change and enables crews to efficiently manage multiple clients and projects at any given point in time.

Job Site Safety

Construction is notorious for being one of the most dangerous industries to work in, which is why construction companies must perform their due diligence to ensure the safety of their crews. With an ERP system, construction companies can identify and reduce potential risks; keep projects on track; find the right subcontractor for the job; and empower onsite workers to report hazards from their mobile devices.

Harnessing the Power of Big Data

In order to harness the full power that big data offers and consequently improve profits and productivity, construction companies need a structure database that is able to run reporting and analysis in near-real time.

Many companies are looking to ERP solutions that are able to integrate with other key systems such as CRMs and business intelligence. So-called “point solutions,” once the go-to tool in the construction industry, lost favor following the financial crisis in 2008. After the economic crash, companies added services and expanded their markets up and down the supply chain. Although this strategy reduced exposure to future market downturns, it also made it clear that point solutions were not the way forward.

ERP software not only provides real-time analysis and reporting, but also delivers the features and functionalities general contractors and specialty contractors need. ERP systems give construction companies the ability to diversify their options, expand their portfolios, and gain a competitive advantage without having to purchase niche solutions for each industry or vertical in which they work. Building new technology into your existing operation offers incredible opportunities to transform your business and turn your valuable data into dollars. WMHS

Mike Vidas is National Sales Director, Business Analytics, for Hitachi Solutions Canada.