Collect Data with a Purpose

As the use of data analytics continues to grow, we in the construction industry are continually trying to find new ways to collect, manage, and combine our data in usable ways.  In our previous post (In order to harness your data, you have to own it), we discussed the constant challenges we face in dealing with the growing volumes of data.  Data is increasingly becoming siloed and difficult to access and maintain. It is for that very reason we need to have a strategy for how we can collect and use our data.  Most notably, we need to ask ourselves, Why, How, When and Where we will collect our data.  Indeed, there are countless streams of data flowing into our companies and much can go unmanaged, undervalued, and without clear purpose.  Asking yourself a set of simple questions can help you define the overall goal you are trying to achieve when accessing and using your data.  The questions you ask can be a simple starting point to helping to harness the value of the disparate sources of data we currently have available to us. Such questions may include:   Why am I collecting this data? How are we collecting the data?  Where is our data being stored? Who has access to the data?  In what format is it available?  When is it being updated? What can we do with our data? How can our data help us improve profitability and increase customer satisfaction? Answering questions like these can help you determine initial target areas that you may be able to address immediately.

Start small, define your process then scale

Construction BI Data Strategy Power BI App for ProcoreNow that you have answered the initial questions and know more about what data you have available to you, it is time to think about what to do next. With so much data to choose from it can be overwhelming to decide where to go and how to start. It is to our benefit to fight the urge to take on too much and try to work with everything all at once.  Never try to boil the ocean! The truth is that this type of work takes time, thought, and ongoing reflection to maximize the benefits.  There will be integrations to build, data to migrate, data to cleanse, processes to perfect, and decisions to make, all of which can require substantial time and effort.  That is why Construction BI suggests starting small. This can mean taking the simple approach of accessing or consolidating data from only one or two systems.   This will allow you to pick your reporting and analytic toolset, set up your initial data storage structures, and begin pushing data to a location where it can be centrally accessed.  Start small, and find small data victories along the way. Your initial approach will greatly impact the success of your long-term strategy as it will set a road map of how you will proceed moving forward.  It will also set the tone for how your organization values data analytics and put you on a path to beginning the journey of having a “data culture”.

In the construction industry, we often use a Lean phrase, “Plan the work, work the plan” which puts an emphasis on really focusing on the plan of implementation before starting any execution.  By taking this approach and applying it to your data, you will allow yourself the freedom to really understand and value your data, potentially saving dollars as your initiative progresses.

Bring data to the people

One of the biggest reasons companies want to have a strong data strategy is so employees can get value out of the data.  This starts by providing employees with ongoing access to the very information you are asking them to collect and input into your systems.  If Foremen, Project Managers, Superintendents, and various other staff are continually being asked to collect more data or change their process of work without being told WHY, you will struggle to achieve buy-in. Furthermore, if you don’t provide data back to them in useable and beneficial ways that can help them with their work, then you will struggle with support from the ground up.  By giving something back, in the form of usable and insightful data to help make their job easier and more effective, you not only answer their question of “What’s in it for me?” but you also reduce their burden as they engage in their own daily work.  For these reasons, it is exceptionally important to gather user input as soon as possible to enhance buy-in, support, and ultimately improve project outcomes and drive efficiencies.  With that in mind, it can be helpful to try to have the first system online and provide data to users quickly so you can gather their feedback and make early course corrections and revisions to better meet their, and your, needs.

Scale that strategy up

Once you have a working model then you can take the next step.  This is where all your initial work in building a strategy for roll out and support will come into play.  Your team members will already know how to use the data analytics solution and may even begin building their own dashboards.  As you begin to deploy more data and dashboards to your users, and project outcomes improve, things begin to get exciting.  Now, your users will be able to see the fruit of their data collection labor and will have the ability to take the next step by using the wealth of data insights available to them to help make decisions and guide their daily work.  It is important to remember to provide ample time for support and training.  As more projects and users come on board, they will have many questions. And remember, questions are a good thing!  The more questions, the more people are using the data, and the more value will be provided to your projects and company.

Eventually your goal will be to have a data strategy implemented that ties together all your critical systems to provide a seamless flow of information from field, to office, to management, and back.  But for now, take a step back, admire your short-term work and know that you are helping to build a data culture filled with inquiry and insights that will ultimately drive business decisions, improve performance, and increase customer satisfaction.

Don’t forget to check back next week as we go into more detail on how to deploy and implement your data strategy with a step by step guide to choosing analytics platforms and integrations as well as how to develop an implementation plan.

For more information on how you can implement a data strategy in your company, contact Construction BI today.