Why you need a strategic approach to data

13 Dec 21

A poor approach to data leads to huge risks, Hoare Lea head of digital engineering Tom Collins told GIRI members last month in a presentation that looked at how data can help the construction industry solve its big challenges.

All organisations need to have a strategic approach to data that leverages existing advantages, people, and skills and is part of the overall business strategy, said Tom. “You need to understand where you are moving as a business, your approach to generating and managing data, to sharing it with the right people and keeping it secure, but also leveraging it to best advantage – this is a key component of a modern commercial strategy.”

The industry is at a crucial point, with factors such as net zero, the Building Safety Bill, modern methods of construction, client expectations, and the pandemic and global instability all driving a huge wave of change. As a result we face a massive increase in complexity and meeting these challenges will demand a thorough data strategy.

However there are common misapprehensions about data, Tom said. Some regard it as ‘an IT thing’, others think of it in more futuristic terms. “While that appears to be the direction we are going in, and 5G will allow us to stream vast quantities of data behind the scenes in ways that will be much more interconnected, as a sector we are only going to make good use of data if we have a good level of maturity around it.”

This is where a strategic approach is so important, he continued. “It is easy to get bogged down thinking about data that already exists, but the power of data is always bigger when you can combine disparate datasets from different contexts and generate insights you wouldn’t otherwise get. So we need to think not just about design data, but also project financial data, project management data and even communications – data trails are key.”

Currently, he said, most businesses don’t have a strategic approach to data, using systems that don’t speak to each other or that collect valuable data without considering all the other potential uses of that data. “There are also issues with accessibility and managing the data, not just from a technical point of view. If you don’t appreciate the risks involved in managing data you can end up in hot water quite quickly,” he said.

To use data to solve construction’s key challenges, we need more evidence-driven design and greater transparency. “We must be able to not just see the evidence to drive design, but also to demonstrate the decision-making we have undertaken. And then, of course, we need collaborative delivery across the supply chain. Good data structure enables us to collaborate – with other people, other teams and other businesses.”

He argues that the industry needs an end-to-end focus that combines design and operational outcomes as this will create more lifetime value and mitigate risk. “But for evidence-based decision-making we need that data stream all the way from concept to operational performance. The challenge is how to generate it and make sense of it, and also how to join up the dots so that at the construction phase, where it does go analogue, we ensure we either bridge that gap or we digitise more of the way we construct.”

Finally, Tom highlighted a crucial point about data – it can be reused and reduce costs. “If you can avoid starting a new project with a clean sheet every single time – which is very costly and risky – you will end up in a much better place.”


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