If the Rip van Winkles of construction management have taken a snooze when it comes to business intelligence, they are in for a surprise. Today’s information and decision-making isn’t the same as it used to be. Over the last 50 years, business technology has developed at an astounding pace—so quickly that it is difficult to keep up.
Construction business owners traditionally worry about work quality, reasonably priced and current insurance, timely estimates and a host of other urgent issues. It’s easy to see why many aren’t focused on the flow of information—they are busy building.
But the way a company approaches the flow of information is a good indication of some other factors, including:
- Whether leadership is open to new ideas
- How tech-sophisticated the company is overall
- If the company operates with a long-term business plan
Companies that realize the importance of these issues stand a better chance of differentiating themselves from the competition. They are more likely to understand that the steady flow of information leads to a steady flow of cash.
Up-to-date, accurate information, with intelligent systems in place to interpret it, sets up a company for success, which ultimately means more revenue and business growth.
How Did We Get Here?
In our digital age, we have access to more information available than ever before—information that seems to multiply overnight, every night. To be effective, data must not only be up-to-date and accurate, but also requires a system in place to interpret it and provide meaningful feedback. To understand today’s business intelligence solutions, a little history should provide context.
After World War II, construction in the United States became a booming industry. In the following years, skyscrapers became the new norm. The Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System was designed and infrastructure was built throughout the country. It was a good time to be a construction business owner.
Even then, industry leaders realized important data was not being captured. Once computers became available, the initial challenge was to store information quickly in a common repository and to keep it up to date. In the coming years, things began to progress:
- 1960s and before—In these decades, office and home computers were unheard of, but strides were made in larger arenas, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The discoveries of the 1960s led to the rapid development of computing that characterized the next half-century.
- 1970s—Some offices had adopted the use of computers, but not many of those were in the construction industry. Construction business owners were more likely to own an Atari system (which made the first successful computer game possible with Pong) for their home. Meanwhile, back at the office, files were found in folders and on desks, organized in filing cabinets and analyzed by company leaders without computer assistance.
- 1980s—Homes, businesses, schools and every other corner of America joined the personal computer (PC) revolution in this decade. Computers and their clunky hardware were ubiquitous by the end of the 1980s. Computers entered the construction business marketplace, with some reluctance and a little suspicion from those consumers. And, in the late 80s, the internet was born.
- 1990s—This was the era of the spreadsheet, when owners and managers could see more data at once, and organize it in various ways to assist in decision-making. Excel grew in prominence to become indispensible software for any business. Now there was not so much a set of tools for owners, but a generic spreadsheet and the opportunity to correlate information.
- 2000s—Reporting was provided via computer dashboards with interactive and graphical elements to turn data into relevant information. This turning point allowed owners to analyze and interpret volumes of data—but without any true assistance from their software. The software provided information in numerous formats, but it was still up to the user to study it to make decisions.
- 2010s—This decade has been full of rapid change and it’s not over. It’s been ruled by the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and by the emergence of the internet of things. What was once millions of pieces of data has become billions of pieces of data, and organizing and understanding it is becoming increasingly difficult.
Business owners are left asking, “What do we share, with whom and when?” Software helps companies sift through the clutter. Mobile technology and on-site laptops bring people in the office and in the field closer, creating an environment that encourages collaboration. Getting information, processing it and keeping it well-managed enables more productive work for the entire team.
Drivers of the Information Explosion
- The internet—The internet made it possible for construction personnel to share information online rather than accumulate paper on-site to bring back to the office. This facilitates better communication for all parties involved in the office and in the field, including subcontractors.
- Cloud mobility— The cloud provides common access to sets of data available to anyone who needs it. Most people now have access to a computer right inside their pockets: their mobile phone. This mobility and data repository drives new volume of data. With the cloud, laptop users on the jobsite can enter data in real time.
Keeping with the Times
Today’s technology provides access to real-time intelligence so business owners can manage better. Some examples include:
- Drilling down—If a project manager is concerned about a specific crew on a specific job, daily timecards are available for analysis. If a crew doesn’t show up, managers are notified and can act to resolve the problem.
- Safety first—Sensors can monitor employee heart rates and the proper use of safety gear, and managers can be notified when something goes awry.
- Make the best estimate—Everyone in construction knows that any profitable job begins with the estimate. A good estimate requires good information from subcontractors concerning costs and amount of materials. When this information is entered correctly into the system, each project begins with the best chance for success.
- Equip for success—What type of heavy equipment do you have and where is it being used? Software organizes and analyzes for optimum scheduling and results.
- Set priorities—With the mammoth amount of data available, owners should focus on key performance indicators. Vital information should be front and center.
- Fly high—Incredible new technology is emerging at ever more rapid rates. Drones and other innovations work in tandem to take information about project status and inventory and supply usable, understandable data to decision makers and end users.
These examples illustrate the ways business intelligence can improve business in terms of cash flow, profit, efficiency and communication.
Where It’s Going
Information stored in the cloud provides workers with access via a mobile device from any location. Intelligence is delivered in real time, and predictive intelligence provides alerts to possible upcoming issues.
But, convenient access to information is only part of the equation. In the end, there is no way to replace human intuition. Business intelligence is not artificial intelligence. There are no robots or HAL 9000 computers making decisions for business owners. With the right software, people are provided with predictive alerts and analysis to help run their business in a way that promotes success and growth.
If you own a business, you can’t afford to snooze. The onus is on you to keep up with technology and innovation. When you learn to turn data into information, and information into useful intelligence, then you have everything you need to make informed decisions quickly. If you are lagging, it’s time to wake up and get started.