Helping contractors improve project performance
By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP
Are contractors poised to begin improving project performance through better access to data? Two studies conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics suggest that many contractors are already shifting to a data-focused approach for managing their businesses and their projects, and even though most of them are just in the early stages of doing so, they already expect to see significant benefits from that shift, especially being able to better manage many different types of risk on their projects.
NEW TECH HELPS WITH DATA
Construction projects include vast amounts of data, but historically, it has been challenging for contractors to tap the potential of that data across projects in order to better understand how to improve productivity and manage risk. However, new technologies can now help contractors collect data in a more formal way that allows it to be comparable across projects, helping them to analyze it better. This includes software that provides an improved connection between the field and the office, and the use of IoT (Internet of Things) technologies on site for collecting that data.
The new Improving Performance with Project Data SmartMarket Report, published by Dodge in partnership with Viewpoint, captures contractors in the midst of the shift of improving how they store and manage data. Just 3 years ago, the majority of contractors relied on paper forms and spreadsheets for data collection, with fewer than one quarter using software for this activity. However, by 2019, the highest percentage are now using commercial software, and by 2022, only 5 percent expect to still be using paper forms and only 12 percent expect to still be using spreadsheets. This is a critical shift underpinning the use of data to improve performance, because data gathered on paper forms and spreadsheets is frequently too diverse to be used for comparisons across projects. However, using software for data collection makes it far more likely to be comparable. This shift is essential to allow contractors to do trend analysis across projects.
RECOGNIZING THE SHIFT
Contractors recognize the importance of this shift themselves. Sixty-four percent of those who participated in the study report that their data gathering and analysis capabilities have already improved in the last 3 years, and the top benefits they report are keeping projects at or under budget, improved productivity and improved profitability. The highest percentage believe that one of the top reasons that they have seen these improvements is their improved ability to gather accurate data from the field, and many also credit being able to gather data that is timely and that is comparable across projects. All of the top improved capabilities, though, center around data gathering; currently, far fewer report improved data analysis capabilities.
However, when asked what additional capabilities they need to increase future benefits, the importance of improved data analysis becomes much clearer. Increased ability to do trend analysis on projects is now the capability selected by the second highest percentage of respondents among their top three options, second only to gathering accurate data, which is still seen as the most important way to increase benefits. These findings suggest that while contractors are interested in better data, what they really want is the improved ability to analyze that data effectively to improve their projects. Accurate, comparable data is the critical first step to that larger goal.
Having the right kind of data is also critical, and when it comes to managing risk, improving safety, and increasing productivity, contractors are particularly excited about the potential of IoT technology to deliver that data. Dodge’s Using Technology to Improve Risk Management in Construction, published in partnership with Triax Technologies, reveals the high expectations contractors have for these technologies to improve risk.
The study shows that over half of contractors have difficulty identifying project risk and over 60 percent struggle with preparing critical assessments and engaging in ongoing management of project risks. In fact, dealing with risk in projects is so complicated that nearly one third of the contractors in the study do not believe that there are clear ways to measure a project’s overall risk performance.
However, contractors do have big expectations about collecting safety and risk data and being able to analyze it in the near future. While around 40 percent report that they do not gather or analyze safety and risk data now, at least 85 percent report that they would like to be engaging in these activities by 2022.
Improved technology onsite to gather data will help with these efforts. In fact, over 70 percent of contractors in this study believe that using IoT technology on their projects will improve their ability to manage occupational risks, and around half expect this type of technology to improve how they manage risks to the public, property damage, construction defects, and financial operations. The ability to gather and use data from these IoT devices, both on individual projects and on an ongoing basis to establish company norms and trends, are driving these expectations.
WHY SLOW TO EMBRACE tECH?
With so much new technology emerging in the market, what is preventing contractors from immediately embracing it? One major obstacle is the ability to pay for use of the technology. Only 10 percent of contractors have dedicated innovation budgets, and the majority of respondents to the survey report that in order to invest in new technology, they either absorb the costs in expectation of long-term gains or pass on the costs. This makes the construction industry very cautious when it comes to making investments.
In addition, contractors in the study state that the most important factor they consider when evaluating technology is ease-of-use, which ranks even higher than cost and quantifiable ROI in terms of its influence on their willingness to consider new technology. Contractors already struggle with short project schedules and workforce shortages, and technology that requires extensive training or a change management campaign in order to be used onsite will not meet their needs.
The findings of both of these studies suggest that the industry is in the midst of a change. They demonstrate that contractors are keenly aware of the importance of data to improve their businesses and that they want to take advantage of the influx of new technology. The main obstacles holding back this change is the ability to take risks to pay for these investments and the availability of technology that is easy to adopt and simple to use.
About the author
Dr. Donna Laquidara-Carr is industry insights research director at Dodge Data & Analytics, where she provides editorial direction to the SmartMarket series, which features research on transformative trends in the construction industry. For more, visit www.construction.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2019
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