Data fragmentation, inefficient document & project management, slow adoption and a whole slew of other inefficiencies are some of the key problems facing the construction industry today. Failure to address these problems costs the global economy up to a whopping $1.6 trillion a year! [1].

Graph of economic value lost as a result of lagging construction productivity
The costs of lagging construction industry productivity (McKinsey & Company Report)

We know that the Data Revolution is changing the organisational dynamics of many industries through decision refinement, productivity boosts and improved administrative faculties. Like many industries, the construction industry deals with large and exponentially increasing volumes of diverse data from different sources. Yet the adoption of new data integration solutions that can help store, process, combine, transform and manage these datasets is still in its infancy, lagging in uptake compared to other industries. But imagine the disruptive potential: allowing all stakeholders - engineers, consultants, architects, manufacturers, clients, owners, operators, subcontractors, and suppliers - to be on the same page and have access to reliable, real-time data.

What is data integration?

Ok, we hear lots about ‘data sources’, we hear ‘integration’, we’ve even mentioned ‘revolution’, so what does all this mean?

In essence, data integration is a series of computational processes developed to retrieve, consolidate, and mix data from different sources into a single dataset. The aim is to take all of this dispersed information and turn it into something meaningful and actionable. As speed, efficiency and reliability become an impetus for businesses and customers alike, the need to share and integrate data will grow. The goal of having consistent access and delivery of data is to allow user and business applications to meet all informational and data management needs. Access within a single framework is needed across a broad spectrum, volume and velocity of subjects, web data, structure types, and data from Internet of Things (IoT).

Handy? Big-time!

Why should you care about data integration?

From a business perspective, managing enormous volumes of data through a data integration system is becoming more and more essential. Data and data sources are widely distributed and often very fragmented. As business applications become more data-driven, they need to connect these meaningful data systems and incorporate them across the whole business structure, attaining a one-stop-shop for data storage, access, and availability. Valuable knowledge and information now becomes unseamed; there is continuity. With that level of knowledge transfer, organisations can enhance their working dynamics, refine decision making, have a centralised and unified view of business insights, and boost productivity and agility. In fact, the 2017 Big Data Analytics Market study shows that 53% of companies are using big data analytics to inform strategic and operational decisions and enhance business intelligence. 

If you are interested in the nitty-gritty, click here to see how data is fed into the pipeline and examine the ways data from multiple sources can be integrated.

The case for a productivity revolution in the construction industry

Full-scale digitisation of the construction industry is projected to lead to annual global cost savings of $1.2 trillion, 21% of which are in the engineering and construction phases alone [2].

Right now, the construction industry is like a slow-moving tortoise in the race to realise the benefits of data management. Yet, the need for improved data quality management in construction, given the complexity and variety of data sets handled, far outweighs the needs in other industries that are far ahead in integrating their data streams than the construction sector. Inadequate data management can impact communication, the impacts of which can compromise safety and cost construction companies billions in rework expenses.  It’s all frustratingly slow!

The construction sector is dealing with an exponentially growing amount of complex and specific data from diverse disciplines in the backdrop of increasing cost pressures.  Building plans, specifications, rate of price, and day-to-day project progress throughout the life cycle of a project are examples of the kind of data the industry has to manage. The need to process and extract value from multiple sources is essential as project success is closely linked to continuous access to reliable project data.

Yet, the construction industry suffers from critical inefficiencies; the sector is mired in quality issues and site errors, inefficient project management, fragmented design processes, design mistakes and poor worker safety. Implementing innovative technologies to address these challenges, like data integration, almost seems inescapable. Digitalizing the industry and effectively integrating data is vital in advancing the sector. This advancement also gives rise to new opportunities in sustainability, business intelligence and innovation.

The industry is moving towards boosting productivity by implementing data technologies. Current operations in construction data platforms are driven by data exchange between structural, electrical, architectural, and mechanical disciplines, but interconnecting these channels and achieving a unified view of project specifications remains challenging. Data across these divisions and other relational databases are usually rigid and collected inconsistently. This inconsistency and difficulty in interpreting datasets can have severe consequences on-site.

Some of the technologies currently available in the market include:

  • BIM
  • Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Virtual Reality (VR)
  • 3D printing
  • Cloud computing
  • Drone scanning
  • IoT
Augmented Reality (AR) used on a construction site
AR used to overlay digital models on-site

A construction site worker using virtual reality (VR) headset
VR used to create a viritual and immersive environment on and off-site

A construction site worker using a drone on-site
Drones in construction

Project managers can communicate with engineers and on-site workers in real-time and provide additional site data through these technologies. The adoption of these technologies would not only untangle decision making, minimise risks and optimise design and process automation, but it would accelerate the adoption of data integration in the construction sector. How? Well, all of the tools mentioned above generate data, and lots of it. Comprehensive integration of data from BIM with material, geographical or personnel data from tools like VR, drones, AR, would allow the industry to have full-scale insight into its operations and would engage with big data technologies to do so. This will streamline operations in real-time, manage on-site risks and boost productivity.

Barriers to adoption

Adopting innovations, like data integration solutions, at such large scales will undoubtedly face pushback. As construction companies are slowly starting to adopt collaborative technology, its disruptive and game-changing potential in the industry is yet to be fully known. This is especially true since the application of these technologies has not been thoroughly vetted or tested on a large scale within the construction industry [3] 

Here are some prominent barriers to the widespread adoption of data integration technologies in the construction sector:

  • High cost: highly optimised and sophisticated integration platforms would be necessary for the construction sector, which requires considerable investment. In reality, the construction industry is a low-margin industry; investing in innovation is a big hurdle.
  • Sharing data: construction companies tend to lock their data in data silos and aren’t always keen on leveraging information. This reluctance could stem from the fact that so many parties, internal and external stakeholders are involved, storing their information in different structures. This makes accessibility to reliable and current information difficult. 
  • Efficient data collection: the industry still needs to prepare data collection, analyse and industry-specific integrations. Industry experts and data scientists need to be able to interpret the data found in dynamic databases to begin the process of employing integration technologies.

Big data integration technologies in construction

Despite the clear challenges, the economic outlook for the construction industry is favourable, expecting a 3.7% growth in both non-residential and residential sectors worldwide in 2022. So as more and more construction projects are being built, a vast amount of data will have to be handled in the future.

This is Big Data.

It represents the huge and complex data sets and information stored until now, which will continue to be acquired. Safe to say, acquired data will be in more complex forms as the industry grows and innovates. Dealing with tremendous amounts of data in construction is nothing new. However, future growth in the industry would likely be limited by the effectiveness of data management, data quality and exploitation within the sector. The construction industry is lagging behind in adopting digital technologies and integrating big data. Still, as cost, safety, competition and efficiency constraints become more challenging, the application of integration tools in the industry will need to be pursued. The optimum use of data integration through appropriate applications and systems could be the new limit for project success and innovation in the industry.

Web-based application for data integration is becoming a promising solution for reducing data complexity by encouraging data collaboration and integrity. Right now, these innovations in the AEC industry are few and far between, but there are a few start-ups that are making serious headway:

1. Speckle

A cloud-based platform here to aid in the digital transformation of AEC companies. Speckle offers 3D data curation, versioning, and automation solutions, allowing collaboration across teams and disciplines within an integrated design workflow.

2. Agave

A construction tech start-up aiming to integrate all project management, financial, bidding platforms and construction software into their unified API. Agave is working to modernise contech by allowing unified and painless data integration, dismantling data silos and fragmented systems. 

3. CalcTree

This is where we come in! We’re launching the world’s first multi-disciplinary calculation management platform. We help you ensure data, designs, and calculations are always in sync. Freeing you to spend more time creating innovative, sustainable, and modern designs. To learn more, join our waitlist and Slack community today!

Big data in other industries

In today’s evolving marketplace characterised by more and more incursions of data, industries and corporations are quickly embracing the digital revolution. Many enterprises are prioritising data integration to support their analytics and business divisions. Healthcare, financial, manufacturing and retail industries currently occupy the bulk of the market-share adopting data integration tools to boost productivity. Here are some significant and new players in data integration tools:

Wrap-up

Today's construction industry is a different kind of beast; it consists of shorter deadlines, changing stakeholder interests, more difficult urban environments, environmental, cost and policy restraints, and blurred national borders. The opportunity to digitise information and workforce management could help the sector realise major benefits, including a reduction in labour costs resulting from improved planning, more comprehensive risk assessment and risk mitigation, worker safety and experience and much more. The utilisation of new technologies and effective ways to integrate existing and acquired surges in data because of outstanding and new challenges may just be the new frontier of innovation in the industry.

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Published:
Jun 7, 2022
Edited:
June 7, 2022