How big data is transforming the construction industry today

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Modified on July 6, 2021

Data is a global commodity, ready to be harvested by modern digital tools. The value of data surpassed oil in 2017, and since then, it has grown exponentially. Nowadays, data is among the most valuable resources in the world. And yet, the construction industry still needs convincing that harnessing big data helps their businesses.

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What is big data?

Big data refers to the huge quantities of information that have been stored in the past and that continue to be acquired today. It is accumulated from people, computers, machines, sensors, and any other data-generating device or agent.

Companies use the big data accumulated in their systems to improve operations, provide better customer service and many more. If it is used effectively, big data can provide companies with valuable insights and competitive advantage over those that don’t since they can make faster and more informed business decisions.

Construction industry and big data today

In the construction industry, as in any other sector, big data is constantly increasing with additional input from diverse sources. Those include on-site workers, cranes, earthmovers, material supply chains, and even buildings themselves. Undoubtedly, this has already started transforming the industry.

However, a major obstacle in construction is that much of the data which has been collected is siloed – held in isolation by a business department, division or system. Another complexity in the industry is related to the high number of construction actors involved in а project. Architects, engineers, construction managers, sub-contractors, owners are often disconnected from one another.

Finding a way to collect, analyze and process the big data generated across these groups, helps to break down the silos and reduces all associated risks.

Let’s dive a little deeper into how harnessing big data can benefit the industry.

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Better Planning

In construction, the communication between the different stakeholders is never easy and straightforward. This is never good for the completion of а project, as it leads to delays, unwanted deviations and costly human errors. With the right data management system, all stakeholders can track how their area of interest in a project is affected by the slightest change. United in a single platform that shows real-time data, different stakeholders across a project can establish clearer communication and achieve more successful planning and designing before the actual construction phase.

Build Better

Sensor input from machines used on sites can show active and idle time. This information can be further processed to draw conclusions about the best mix of necessary equipment. By analyzing this data, the project managers could also determine how to use energy resources more efficiently and thus lower the costs and the ecological impact. Moreover, having available detailed information about the materials used in the building process allows automated information exchange across the supply chain. It also helps for better decision making when it comes to avoiding hazardous materials and identifying substitution alternatives.

Operate better

Data-gathering sensors also have an important role to play in the operation and maintenance phase. Information acquired from sensors installed in buildings, homes, bridges, allows for better facility management. Sensors can track data derived from the inner workings of the building in question, be it foot traffic, energy usage, or internal temperatures.

Let’s now examine a real case of how an elevator manufacturer has successfully taken advantage of the big data and IoT.

A use case from a manufacturer

With tens of thousands of passengers on the move at times in a single building, elevators and escalators face growing pressure to cope with the unpredictable traffic. To handle this challenge, the international company KONE, utilised big data and applied artificial intelligence into services via IBM Watson IoT platform. The result is a platform that predicts and suggests resolutions to potential problems. Moreover, it continuously ‘learns’ and collects data from previous situations it is exposed to. It is also able to analyze IoT sensors in each elevator and in case of an identified possibility of a problem, technicians are automatically notified. The result – less downtime, fewer faults and detailed information for maintenance crews. For people who use elevators and escalators, it means less waiting time, fewer delays, and the potential for new, personalized experiences.

KONE did great to optimize their processes internally and the next step for them would be to extend these benefits to the overall supply chain.

The same approach can be used by any other manufacturer. However, we have to raise an important issue – the issue of data interoperability. If we don’t have the big data structured in a universal language, then all the technology we have, simply cannot read and process the collected information.

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The importance of big data interoperability

Traditional information systems are good at recording basic information about project schedules, CAD designs, costs, etc. But they are limited in their ability to work with unstructured data like free text, printed information, or analog sensor readings.

Data around us is abundant – yes, but it is often stored in unstructured formats that are hard to process.

There is a need for a common ‘machine-readable’ language that allows internal and external systems to transmit and analyse the data. To leverage the potential of the nowadays’ technology, we must first achieve interoperability between the scattered systems and applications used by the supply chain. And this is possible by having it structured.

In construction, this starts from the very first actor in the supply chain – the manufacturer. Structured product characteristics derived from Data templates according to the international standards EN ISO 23386 and EN ISO 23387, provides the needed level of data interconnectedness. This way we can sustain the ‘golden thread’ of information flowing through all stages of the building process.

Standardisation of manufacturers’ data is of key importance to make it interoperable and unlock the great benefits promised by IoT, BIM models, AI and digital twins.

To sum up

In 2020 and beyond, big data is one of the most valuable resources to pay attention to if you want to improve your business. But you should not let the word “big” bother you. As we accumulate more and more information, data indeed gets bigger, but so does the necessity to turn it into manageable bits. In the construction industry, this means building a strong core for sharing data between various people, software and businesses.

This is exactly what we at Cobuilder are good at.

Do you want to reduce your labour costs related to data management while reducing the risk of errors and duplication? Don’t hesitate to use our Calculator to get an initial assessment of your savings potential!