Opinion: Making the most of data

Organisations in the construction and engineering industry own a wealth of data but in most cases lack the capability to capitalise on the data gathered from projects they have delivered or are still working on. Often, this is because the industry does not have adequate digital strategies in place based on standardised project delivery and data management. With technology such as system integrators, robotic process automation and sensors increasing opportunities to capture data across the industry, it is becoming increasingly important to address this now.

The EY Global Construction and Engineering Survey, conducted at the end of 2017 with companies along the engineering and construction value chain, found that only 25 percent of respondents felt they had a digital strategy and agenda in place, with only 9 percent feeling they were on the high end of the digital readiness scale.[1] That’s a significant finding in an industry that has so much potential project data available to it to use to make strategic decisions.

Poor governance around project data and information can impact the safety, quality, completion time, and budget of a project. Furthermore, the extended value of project data lies in what can be learnt, understood and identified both in terms of spotting trends on current projects and dealing with them before they become significant. In addition, project data can enable a cycle of continuous improvement in which lessons from prior projects inform best practice examples of how to manage future projects.

So, why is this an issue in the construction engineering, design and project management industry?

Nic Jacobs, business systems lead for SNC-Lavalin’s Faithful+Gould in the Middle East, has seen the key challenges around data play out a number of times: “It comes down to organisations’ inability to mandate standardisation of project delivery. When an organisation delivers multiple projects of a similar nature, robust mandates should be in place to ensure all those projects are delivered based on the same operating standards, especially regarding the creation and management of data,” Jacobs says. “For example, when an organisation intends to capitalise on the data created on their projects, similar data-types across projects are needed, otherwise data will be not be consistent and cannot be aggregated for analytics such as trends or KPI’s.”

Jacobs goes on to underscore that the problem stems from the collection of data and information being an afterthought, and that there is a lot of focus on data creation during the different construction phases of a project – from the planning through to completion – but the collection of data for analytical purposes appears to be of less importance at the time of project execution. The governance for data and information management, particularly on the type of information required for reporting and analytics, should be in place as part of an organisation’s digital strategy.

How should organisations standardise their project delivery?

“When we are employed as project or programme manager by a client, one of the initial questions to be answered is regarding the client’s governance and whether it is sufficient to guide the project-team during execution of the project. Without that there will be inconsistent operations across multiple projects,” Jacobs goes on to say. “An initial review of the client’s operations or project governance will identify potential gaps that need to be addressed to ensure all the mandates are in place for quality project or programme delivery.”

One example of this governance is whether the employer’s information requirements (EIR) relates to the use of building information modelling (BIM) across projects and how this feeds information into a common data environment (CDE). It should specify what information is captured and shared across each project from things such as materials being used through to information about the use and purpose of each of the different spaces or elements across a project. From the EIR, each supplier should know clearly what is expected of them.

Companies that adopt BIM across projects need to have a consistent approach to how it is implemented, according to Jacobs. The same is true for geographic information systems (GIS); each client should have a clearly defined strategy for how data is generated and stored on the GIS and how it appears on dashboards.

Another example is the project management plan, or execution plan, which in a similar manner provides guidance for project delivery. Similarly, cost management, quality management, a standardised cost and work breakdown structure; reporting requirements etc.., all should be deployed consistently. Jacobs states that well defined KPI frameworks adopted across a business enable appropriate goal setting, and measurement of achievement against a baseline.

He points to current standards for the industry to adopt, such as COBie for BIM and ESRI for GIS, but notes that there remains a gap between design and construction and the asset management components. However, Oracle is currently working with others on DIN SPEC 9139 in Germany which outlines specifications for a common data environment for BIM. The aim being to grow this into an internationally recognised standard.

Why don’t companies have standards on project delivery and what are the implications?

“Most clients have ambitions to standardise. They often create rules that are taken from other disciplines and are not quite suitable for the engineering and construction industries, mainly since these rules tend to be written by organisations that are not industry experts – and it’s a very specific space,” Jacobs says. “It is well understood in the industry that some organisations have internal issues to overcome that make them resistant to change.”Failing to mandate the EIR from as early as the tender stages of a project could be disastrous. Allowing project participants to deploy multiple systems with varying data formats across a large-scale project or programme to capture data and create reports can diminish the accuracy and effectiveness of the analytics, and such an approach does not allow for a reliable digital twin of the project.

Ultimately, this sort of disjointed approach leaves project owners with inconsistent data sets.  Data should transfer seamless between all entities across the project lifecycle. If there is no standardisation in project delivery, it will be extremely challenging to provide an accurate overview and insights for a project during the various lifecycle and handover stages. Organisations will not be able to compare projects’ KPI’s side by side, accurately identify trends to learn from or identify best practices.

“Creating that foundation of good governance and operational consistency will contribute in the future to capitalise on the benefits of applications such as artificial intelligence, automation, or machine learning,” Jacobs points out. “These technologies are already being talked about as the next step for improving construction efficiencies, and many organisations are working towards implementing them to predict outcomes and improve decision making across projects. This ultimately results in a return on the investment in digital by increasing efficiencies as well as saving time and money while also improving quality and safety.”

Before any organisation even considers digital technology as a solution to improve efficiencies or address any other shortfall they think they may have, they should reconsider the importance of operational governance such as standardisation of project delivery to be adopted across all projects. It’s time to evolve beyond the days of disjointed project information and for the industry to realise the value of the data they own and generate on a daily basis.


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