Safety EquipmentWith budgets and timescales growing ever tighter, and clients expecting more for their money with every construction build, detailed understanding of our construction industry has never been more important. That’s why construction companies are turning to big data to improve planning and costing, enhance efficiency and create safer workplaces with lower risks.

What is big data?

Big data describes the huge amount of data that is collected by companies. Data is expanding in variety, velocity and volume at an increasing rate which can be filtered and analysed to find trends and predict future outcomes. Construction sites are a hive for gathering data from using smartphones and personal data devices, drones, wearable technology, telematic trackers, GPS and much more. On its own, this data doesn’t tell you much, but bring it all together and you get a picture of your site and your operations that is more powerful and more predictive than ever before.

How is big data used?

If accumulated and turned in to Smart Data, it can be analysed for insights resulting in a substantial improvement in productivity. It can help construction staff work more effectively and efficiently by making sure the equipment they need is in the right place at the right time. It can also help to reduce costs by minimising hire times on key equipment and cutting the downtime of teams waiting to work. Such efficiencies can help cut the cost of the initial quote, helping to win more work, and avoiding the twin scourges of the industry: running over time and going over budget.

Big data makes work safer

Big data can also be used to predict and reduce risks, making a construction site a safer place. By analysing previous incidents and accidents, companies can highlight high risk areas and allow constructors to mitigate these risks in advance. For example, it can help highlight when it is essential to hire or purchase safety equipment. It is a high-tech way of learning from your mistakes on a grand scale that can reduce costly errors, avoid setbacks and even save lives.

Making big data work

The key to success with big data is making it consistent and accessible across your organisation, and in this respect, the construction industry still has a long way to go. The potential of big data is still relatively unknown across many companies who still capture and hold their data in legacy systems, such as separate accounts and project management software, which are not fully connected. This makes it difficult to get the full benefit from the vast amount of information available and can lead to errors as data is transferred from one system to another. For big data to truly flourish, more advanced, joined up data collection and analysis is required, which in turn requires a significant investment in infrastructure.

The future of big data

There are two maxims that show the direction that big data needs to take in the construction industry. Firstly, the idea that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and secondly the truism that you have to speculate to accumulate. The firms that acquire as much data as possible, and who invest in the IT needed to process it effectively, are the ones who will prosper in the future. They will be able to make more accurate and more affordable tenders without the risk of under-pricing; they will be able to work efficiently while on site with minimum waste of time, materials or equipment; and they will be able to complete the job on time and on budget, exactly as their facts and figures predicted, avoiding costly financial penalties.

An inevitable outcome

You don’t need complex algorithms to predict the huge difference that big data will make in our industry. That’s why companies should begin to harness its power and insights right now, to make their work better, faster and safer, helping them to not only provide the very best safety equipment, but at the same time offering the best possible value for money in these challenging times. Every construction project undertaken informs every other project that follows it, across all sectors and right around the world. By unlocking the secrets of the volume and depth of data we have available to us, our industry is going from strength to strength, making best practice even better every day.