The construction industry is no stranger to data. From initial kickoff to project completion, a vast amount of information is created, curated, exchanged, stored, and, in some cases, lost.
A major infrastructure project can result in an average of 12 million workflows, 55 million documents, and 130 million emails—each potentially containing critical information surrounding labor, costs, and scheduling. It’s estimated that nearly 95% of this data captured goes unused according to AGC. Buried in this data are the critical details needed for better, more timely decision-making at all levels of a construction organization—from the field, to the back office, to the executive team. Companies that learn to effectively leverage their data will find new competitive advantages and efficiency opportunities.
Business Intelligence tools are transforming how companies connect this data and surface trends and insights buried across reporting systems. But what exactly is Business Intelligence and how can it help the construction industry gain a competitive edge?
What is Business Intelligence?
Business intelligence (BI) in the broadest terms includes the strategies and technology used by an organization to analyze its business data. BI is a rapidly growing category with evolving tools, processes, and principles that make data-driven insights quicker and more accessible to businesses in nearly every industry including construction.
These new BI tools overcome many of the existing challenges around data collection, management, and analysis. By utilizing modern data tools like data warehouses, visualizations, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), BI systems can quickly bring together various data sets, unlock valuable insights, and visually highlight findings in graphs and dashboards. This approach is particularly effective at combining structured and unstructured data to create new business insights.
It is the strength and flexibility of BI tools to manage multiple data variables that make these systems so relevant to the construction industry. The software variances between construction firms in their ERPs, accounting, and reporting tools make data management and analysis a significant challenge for most of the construction industry.
How can contractors utilize business intelligence to drive better project performance?
The current construction environment is full of both uncertainty and opportunity. Many construction teams are managing increasingly complex project environments with no way to maintain visibility into what exactly is happening on their jobsites at any given moment. While construction project management solutions dominate the market, these tools often fail to provide timely feedback required to reveal potential bottlenecks, indicate productivity issues, or show operational efficiency opportunities.
While the of value business intelligence in construction is no doubt significant, the resource demands of an organization can make it a daunting task. For the fastest return on investment, teams should consider the following:
Leverage the data you are already collecting
Construction projects produce vast amounts of data, but only certain workflows are currently captured and processed at the level of detail required. By using data your team and departments have already prioritized, you can avoid additional workloads that negatively affect both morale and compliance. Most foremen, supervisors, and project managers are already overburdened with field reporting. Avoiding additional workflows and focusing on pre-existing ones can help expedite field adoption and time-to-value of the BI initiative.
Field reports like daily and weekly time cards are great examples of pre-existing data capture. From craftworker hours to cost code usage to equipment utilization, construction teams can leverage these currently captured details into actionable insights with the right BI solution.
Start with workflows that benefit from faster insights
Timekeeping, production tracking, change management, and planning are all areas of construction project management that require accurate and timely feedback. Without proper BI solutions tied to these workflows, many of the most important insights cannot be captured until weekly payroll processing occurs. In waiting for payroll to be run for project reporting, field crews and management teams lack timely information, reducing their ability to take a decisive intervention.
For out-of-scope insights, time and materials (T&M) tickets provide critical details into at-risk cost exposure. By capturing the proper T&M data, teams can utilize BI tools to better see out-scope usage trends on projects, associated cost codes, and situations that result in increases in T&M usage.
BI tools can create the necessary insights and feedback loop required to effectively manage productivity and reduce potential project risks. Centralized BI dashboards can also revolutionize construction management in these three critical ways:
- Speed to Insights
No more waiting for payroll to run in order to gain critical details around project performance. Construction BI tools have the potential to remove the administrative burden of collecting, connecting, and processing project data while empowering individuals to analyze data according to their specific needs.
- Visibility Into and Across Projects
BI enables construction teams to gain a complete view across their project portfolio while also drilling into specific jobsite details. This increased visibility in their operation and accessibility into detailed project data means that organizations can effectively benchmark performance. This holistic view and performance benchmarks means leaders can more easily identify efficiency opportunities.
- Shared Consciousness
The disconnect between project executives, operations managers, and field crews means that teams are rarely receiving the information and feedback they need to make the best data-driven decisions. With BI tools, construction teams can keep up with the changes in a project, monitor work statuses, and anticipate potential bottlenecks, material needs, and safety issues.
Areas to leverage business intelligence in construction
While business intelligence has the opportunity to transform nearly every aspect of construction planning, bidding, and management, these three construction areas show the most immediate potential for data transformation:
- Labor Management
Embedded within timecard data are significant insights into labor and resource utilization. These details around resource usage across projects can provide companies with a better understanding of how staffing is currently affecting productivity, profitability, and scheduling. These insights can reveal how staffing decisions are contributing to success, and what workload and future project company staffing can support.
In most cases, contractors are reliant on the reporting capabilities of ERPs to glean insights. ERPs host this data, but they don’t make it easy to see across projects. Many ERPs tend to focus on project-level performance, where insights across projects are the second order of business. As such, the reporting solutions for advanced reporting against labor are often time-consuming and ineffective:.
Specific labor management BI targets:
- Craftworker attrition and turnover
- Labor experience levels
- Crew makeup and staffing characteristics
- Staffing effects on underlying performance trends
- Cost Code Status and Performance
The core goal of every business intelligence effort should be better, data-driven decision making. Nowhere is that more essential than field crews and project management teams. Understanding the status of cost codes can be a critical indicator of project performance, helping project teams to determine the next steps or recognize potential issues.
While ERPs and project management tools are core sources of truth for project job-costs and financial performance, reporting feedback to the field is often delayed or difficult for field personnel to effectively analyze for insights. All too often, these reports are overly complex, and not formatted in a way that helps the field understand how they are performing.
Business intelligence solutions can deliver data insights to front-line personnel in a format that is easy to understand. Ideally, these insights are provided via the same data input tools to centralize the capture and feedback processes—simple, effective, and efficient.
- Exception Reporting
Once again, timekeeping data is the foundation for critical BI insights. Even if traditional timekeeping data flows accurately from the field, accounting for work rules, regulatory compliance, and union requirements can add significant layers of complexity. This means edge cases, or exceptions, can be buried and difficult to reveal in the time needed.
Identifying exceptions and either correcting or addressing errors is essential. Identifying errors and omissions that leave a company potentially at risk can improve process efficiency and protect customers. While traditional payroll and timekeeping systems remain cumbersome to surface these potential issues, BI tools make identifying problem areas relatively easy, and predictable.
Introducing Rhumbix Field Analytix™
Rhumbix Field Analytix is the real-time and centralized construction solution to help your teams make the best project decision, as quickly as possible. By delivering a field-first mobile app that is hyper-focused on faster and easier field reporting, Rhumbix quickly captures and connects key field data—driving project insights directly to the field and back office.
With its centralized analytics tool, field and office teams can better understand key performance metrics over time and across projects, instantly detecting changes, exceptions and risk. Rhumbix Field Analytix™ visualizes productivity indicators like cost code status, labor distribution, and budget versus actual in real time, enabling your team to easily connect and share insights across the organization.
Turn your field data into project insights that drive action directly from the same platform used to capture critical field reports like time cards and time & materials tickets. Schedule a demo to see how Rhumbix can simplify reporting and drive project insights.