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Get Fit For Brexit: Better Data Management

by Damon Schünmann

In the second of Barbour ABI’s articles looking at what organisations can be doing to be as lean, efficient and productive as possible in uncertain times, we take a look at data management and what can be done to make the most of the vast pools they acquire.

Speaking at a 2018 event at which the author was involved in convening, Galliford Try’s chief information officer Mark Cotton succinctly laid out why companies should start interrogating their data. “For me, the absolute nugget is getting insight into it,” he said. “We’ve got many systems with petabytes of data, which is providing absolutely no intelligence to us whatsoever. You can question whether there is any insight in it, but unless we push forward and mine that, we’ll never know.”

Lost Data Equals Lost Profit

It’s an issue dear to the heart of Andrew Pryke, MD at Bam Design, who points out that the industry is sure to benefit from better management of a resource that is readily available. “A lot of crucial data is lost between design, construction and FM, and [people] have to re-survey,” he tells Barbour ABI.

“Defects avoidance costs us no end of money redoing things – get it right first time is more likely to happen if you’re digitally enabled and know what’s going on and you analyse that.” He follows up with an example of an easy win through leaner construction, driven by better data management. “Our MD of construction said a few years ago that if we can reduce waste products we could save almost a million pounds on skips a year, so there’s a saving there in just understanding products and what you’re dealing with – and there’s obviously a benefit to the environment,” he says.

Pryke explains that digital construction and data analysis is moving from the reactive level to one where issues can be anticipated. “It’s now predicting what’s going to happen and it gives the opportunity to avoid mistakes and understand that there could be a delay. It gives the opportunity to do something about it and then you can communicate that. We’re moving from digital showing what’s been done, to what’s going to happen, and that’s where the artificial intelligence comes in with data analytics.”

All well and good, but what are the practical things businesses can do to leverage value from the data they control? Step forward Gareth Parkes, head of data and analytics at Sir Robert McAlpine. To help companies devise their data management strategies, Parkes provides an overview of areas to focus on and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Explore Your Data Strategy

“Start exploring what your data strategy is going to look like. There’s a book that I’d recommend called the Chief Data Officer’s Playbook which sets out the sorts of things to be thinking about in the first 100 days. When it comes to ‘I’ve got all this data and I need to do something with it’, the biggest thing is to find a data set that you can start to play with and explore it using a data visualisation tool to look at it in new ways. Undoubtedly you will get insights from it and start seeing things within that data that you’d not seen before.”

He says that by doing this, you can start to get buy-in from others in your business – an essential element for the adoption of any data-led initiative. “It starts to give you the pull to get other people involved because you’ve got something physical that you can show them,” he says, adding that these initial steps needn’t be costly either. “You can do that sort of thing with freely available trial versions of software so you don’t need to commit to any software packages. Aligning yourself to technology is the last thing that you want to think about. It’s absolutely about trying and playing and generating that curiosity for people within your organisation to start exploring it in more detail.”

Establish Clear Goals

For any strategy to be successful, it needs to be underpinned by a set of clear objectives, as Parkes underlines. “It’s really important to think about the outcomes that you’re looking for – what it is that you’re trying to achieve. That shouldn’t, in the first instance, be long term targets that ‘we’re going to change the world’, it’s absolutely about really small practical things.
‘As a project manager, I want to be able to get better insights to improve the productivity of the workforce.’ Thinking about those really granular outcomes is key to making sure you’re doing things with a purpose,” he says.

You’re Not Alone

Another tip in a traditionally adversarial industry is to realise that there are plenty of people in similar shoes who are willing to share experience and learnings for the betterment of all.
“Start networking and making connections,” says Parkes. “Social media is brilliant for reaching out to people and finding out the sorts of things that are happening. There’s the project data analytics community and various other meet-ups that you can go along to and find out more.”

He advises that getting these steps right may save you from embarking down a potentially expensive road, only to find out it’s not leading you in the right direction “There aren’t very many people that know a lot about this and it’s very easy to be taken in by one of the technology providers that is selling ‘the silver bullet to all of your problems’”, he says. “Before you enter into anything like that make sure that you’ve done your homework and got your eyes wide open because in many cases it’s a false economy.”

Get Help

Parkes is certainly not opposed to bringing in external advisors. “It does make sense to partner with [consultants] that are able to advise on [a strategy] such as the structure that you want to bring to your data, the governance that you put in place, the various layers of security – who can access what data. Do you want to make all of your data available to all of your staff, or cut it up in various ways?”

However, he adds that there are plenty of free webinars and that it’s not something firms need to spend a lot of money on to get a basic understanding of what’s possible and what’s likely to be the right approach for your organisation.

But he does nevertheless say that companies will likely need to review staffing requirements and should avoid assuming that existing IT departments have the capacity or skillsets to take on such projects.

“Certainly within construction, to try and place that onus on the IT function, when they have their own jobs to do keeping your servers running and making sure that everyone’s got the right kit [isn’t necessarily correct]. Even for larger organisations there’s a core set of skills to delivering technology to people and helping them to adopt it. From a data perspective it’s a different set of skills and mind-set and in many cases it’s actually more closely aligned to the business and the business’s results.

Parkes finishes by pointing towards a widely accepted mantra. “Everyone knows about the three strands of people, process and technology, but I would absolutely think about it in that order. Think about your people first and who it is that you’re going to inspire to be doing some of these things and how you’re going to take that [project] on. Then think about the processes and the structure that you’re going to need to put in place, and only then think about the technology,” he concludes.

If you liked this article, check out the next article in our Get Fit For Brexit series, which focuses on blockchain and how to take this beyond merely the level of ledgers and payment.

Damon Schunmann Bio

About the author

Picture of Damon Schünmann

Damon Schünmann

Strategic Consultant at Barbour ABI

With 16 years’ journalistic experience covering the built environment, Damon Schünmann has spent the last 12 as associate editor at Construction News. Here he oversaw technical content, industry research and helped steer many of the conferences, awards and other events CN has organised.

With a background in mechanical, military and civil engineering, Damon made the career shift to journalism, having realised it was far easier to write about construction than actually do it.

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