Let's face it, the hype around construction technology has been unavoidable the last couple of years. Even if you’ve been slow to adopt tech tools, it’s hard not to be excited by the buzz surrounding everything from robots to drones, to machine learning, to 3-D printing.

In fact, a lot of the news around new tech tools has to do with the huge amount of attention (and money) construction is receiving from Silicon Valley. In the first three quarters of 2018, construction tech startups brought in $1.27 billion in venture funding—124 percent higher than the $563.5 million raised in all of 2017.

If you’re just getting your mind around brick-laying robots and GPS-mapping drones, there is one more trend to get a handle on: Big Data.

Big Data Connects the Dots

Big Data is a way to analyze materials, costs, timelines, and results so contractors can harness the power of data-driven insights. Think of all the sources that produce lots of data—people, computers, machines, sensors, wearables, and other data-generating devices. As sensors get embedded in everything from hard hats to bulldozers, data gets gathered at a rapid pace.

During preconstruction, data is being gathered during the design phase. Historical data can be used to analyze and determine patterns and pitfalls for project success. This information can also be put to work to influence the position of a building and then during construction, data can be used to analyze weather, traffic, and activity on the worksite. The goal is to improve productivity and reduce wasted time.

BIM is part of this process as 3-D models are used to plan, design, construct, and manage buildings more efficiently. Even when construction is complete, Big Data can keep on flowing, thanks to built-in building and infrastructure sensors.

How Can We Put Big Data to Work?

Sure, Big Data is not necessarily new to construction, but data mining has started to gain traction as the tools used to collect and store large amounts of data have improved. Here are some of the ways Big Data can help contractors:

Improve time management to prevent delays: When contractors can monitor production, they can stick to their schedules. Processing data in real-time will mean fewer project delays. When sensors on machines can help you determine whether it is best to buy or lease equipment, it can also help you figure out when spare parts may be needed or how to reduce downtime.

Make better decisions faster: With data, you can gain insights from everyone involved in a project to adjust on the fly. With each completed project, you gain a detailed historical record. This can be saved to improve budget planning for the next project, so costs and project timelines are more predictable. For example, integrated estimating applications are designed to improve accuracy for material takeoff, estimating, and project tracking. By keeping a digital, historical record of bids and jobs, it is easier for contractors to get a jump on their next bid.

Lower project costs: When everything from the price of labor to the costs of materials and suppliers can be tracked and analyzed, Big Data means it is easier to save money and create budget efficiencies. For example, both Portland State University and Oregon State University saved $10 million on recent building projects because they relied on the collection of Big Data.

Using IoT to Fuel Big Data

For many contractors, it still comes down to moving dirt, making sure nails get hammered, roofs put on, and pipe laid. Big Data may seem like something too futuristic. For example, a 2016 KPMG global construction survey found that just 36 percent of engineering and construction companies, and only 21 percent of owners were using advanced data analytics for project-related estimation and performance monitoring.

Nonetheless, many experts say 2018 was the year that IoT (Internet of Things) finally took root on the jobsite as workers, equipment, and tools were increasingly generating data. The growing use of IoT will likely mean more data and pressure to use Big Data to improve efficiencies, lower costs, and reduce waste.

If you’re not sure where to begin in adopting new tech tools, On Center Software can help. Check out On Center’s free Contractor’s Suite White Paper for step-by-step advice now. You’ll learn how powerful end-to-end construction management tools are helping contractors realize major gains in speed, accuracy, efficiency – and profits.