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In order to make the most out of your data you should have a strong strategy accompanied by a good implementation plan. That plan starts with a set of key steps, such as selecting an analytics platform, determining where and if you should warehouse your data, understanding the quality of the data you have, and knowing if you can trust the sources of your data. All of these steps are critical to the successful implementation of your data strategy. We will briefly touch on each of these topics below although each of them is worthy of its own post and we will provide more information in the future. If you are new to data analytics and developing a data strategy for your organization, this will be a good place to start.
How do I choose a data analytics platform?
One of the first decisions you will be faced with is which data analytics platform to choose. There are many platforms on the market today. Let’s start with Microsoft Power BI which is a great option if you are already a Microsoft shop and are utilizing any of the Azure platform tools. Power BI has been adding features monthly and is continually growing the product with fantastic new visualizations and capabilities. We love Power BI, but may be a little biased, since that is what we build all of our reporting and analytics products and solutions on! However, Power BI is not the only game in town, and there are many other options such as Domo, Tableau, Qlik, and a multitude of others. We are often asked the question: Why not just use the reporting and dashboarding tools built into our current solutions like Sage, Procore, and CMiC? Our answer is this: Inevitably you are going to want to generate reports that pull data together from multiple applications into a set of integrated and cohesive reports. And only leveraging individual product reporting capabilities will limit you in being able to see the bigger picture within your data. Using a data analytics platform like Power BI gives you the opportunity to expand and unify your dashboards to cover all of your important data sources and report on the key metrics and KPI’s that are most important across your business.
Should I warehouse my data or bring it directly into the platform?
The next question you might want to ask yourself is where to house your data. Many of the analytics platforms can read data directly from your application of choice (e.g., Procore, Bluebeam, PlanGrid). However, directly integrating your analytics platform to the data source may or may not be the best choice. One important question to ask is whether the data is available directly via plugin or through an integration? Some plugins only expose certain portions of data, whereas an API may provide you broader options to collect all your data. Another thing to consider is how easy it would be to switch dashboarding tools if you ever wanted to change your strategy. If you choose to warehouse your data (e.g., in Azure SQL or Azure Analysis Services) it would be easier to switch to another visualization tool without having to rebuild everything. Overall, it is important to remember that there are many things to consider when deciding how you will integrate your data into your reporting and analytics platform. The key is to start small and take steps to grow into your data strategy over time.
How fresh does my data need to be?
After you decide where to store all your data, you need to decide how current it needs to be. Of course, the pie in the sky answer that it would be best to have real time data, but is that really necessary? For most business cases, data that is refreshed every few hours or even daily will satisfy the end users. As you increase the data refresh frequencies, make sure to consider the limitations you might run into with API rate limiting, processing costs, and support costs. No matter what you decide, you can usually start small and ramp up later, but it is an important factor to consider when you are initially building your solution.
Can you trust your data?
We have all heard the old adage “garbage in, garbage out.” Well, the fact is that nothing could be more true when you are talking about data analytics. It is essential that you trust the data coming into your system in order to make good decisions. This starts all the way at the beginning of your data pipeline at the field operations level where data is collected. It is essential that you build consensus among these teams about how and why you are collecting data as part of your implementation plan. One way to do that is by sharing dashboards with the people who are collecting your data. This will help to show them how the data is being used and the value of it. As the end users start seeing the value of the data, they will begin to improve the quality of their own data entry and push the subcontractors working alongside them. At the beginning, you will likely find you have a lot of incomplete and messy data. However, once your users buy-in and appreciate the value of the data, you will see the quality improve and you can begin trusting that data. As trust in the data grows, so will the use of your reports and dashboards!
As we mentioned earlier, these are just a few things to consider when you are engaging in this work. There is a great deal more to discuss and we will do a deeper dive in future posts. Stay tuned and please, feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have when you are setting up your data analytics platform.
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
Now 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.
Construction has been traditionally plagued by low productivity
The construction industry has been historically plagued by low productivity. Many reports have been written about the lack of improvement in this industry. Reports written by the organizations like Mckinsey in their Construction Productivity Imperative as well as the World Economic Forum: Shaping the Future of Construction all reference the lack of digitization that has existed in the construction industry. The good news is that is changing. The construction technology space is extremely hot and there are a slew of new tools on the market helping field workers be more organized and most importantly capture digital data from the field. This is leading to a change in how companies monitor and manage their projects.
More data doesn’t mean better data
As more and more industry professionals are adopting best of breed solutions such as Procore, BIM360, Plangrid, Smartbid, and Rhumbix (among many others), we are presented with a new challenge, managing and more importantly, using all of this data. Gone are the days of a single solution, with a single source of truth, hosted on a single server at the office. Now companies are leveraging cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms, point solutions, and new hardware to boost efficiency in the field, the office and the back office. More often than not, this leads to datasets that are fragmented across numerous systems and accessible only through those systems. Without a doubt this is a better problem to have than no data at all, but it is still not a solution. In order to make use of that data we need to organize it cohesively, apply our industry knowledge to it and then we can take action upon it.
Breaking down data silos
Industry professionals have been very vocal about the need to tear down the data silos that exist between all of these solutions. Kris Lengieza (@gieza0527) discussed the need for integration across these solutions in order to break down silos ina recent post: An Open Letter to The Construction Industry Regarding App Fatigue. With platform solutions such as Procore and Autodesk launching new features almost weekly, it seems as though the industry is listening. But industry data as a whole is still fragmented and needs to consolidate at both a company level and an industry level. With the growth of 3rd party data integration platforms and open API’s consolidating your data into one solution is becoming easier, but there is still but this is not the end of battle.
Take Ownership of your data
In order to make the most out of the data, you must take ownership of it. You need a solid plan, and you need to execute on that plan in order to gain meaningful insights into your data. We will dive much deeper into the need for a strong “data strategy” in part two of this series. For now let’s focus on maximizing the value of all the great technology in which you have been investing. You can start by unlocking it from the silos and beginning to determine what you want to measure. Understanding the metrics that make our business tick is the value we bring as seasoned construction professionals. We can then work alongside data professionals to collect, organize, filter and act upon those metrics. Data is the new currency that will drive our industries productivity for the foreseeable future, so stop throwing away those dollars and get to work on leveraging your existing data.
Making sense of the data
With so much data flowing from multiple sources, it can become overwhelming. With help from Construction BI and our Power BI App for Procore, streamlining how the data is aggregated and displayed can help make actionable insights into your project data. Contact us for a demonstration of our App!
This product enables your Procore data to be integrated with Microsoft Power BI. It comes with a Power BI content pack that includes over 40 dashboards and reports based on standard Procore data sets such as project, user, vendor, insurance, prime contracts, draw requests, schedules, meetings, checklists, observations, submittals, punch items, daily logs, and more.
To learn more, visit our products page or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Construction BI is excited to announce it has joined Microsoft’s Power BI Partner program. As a Power BI Partner, Construction BI is well suited to help your firm advance it’s Construction reporting and analytics roadmap.
Power BI is a cloud-based business analytics service that enables anyone to visualize and analyze data with greater speed, efficiency, and understanding. It connects users to a broad range of data through easy-to-use dashboards, interactive reports, and compelling visualizations that bring data to life.
For more details, please visit Microsoft’s Power BI Partner site.