The 12 Essentials of Big Data Analytics in the Construction Industry

January 23, 2024

Man in reflective vest eating sandwich and looking at reports on computer

Everything is turning to technology these days. From coffee makers that have your morning cup ready before you even get to the kitchen, to your car understanding where you're heading each day and suggesting alternate routes to avoid traffic. Tech, including AI and big data, has made certain aspects of our lives much easier that it's difficult to imagine a day without it.

And while the construction industry has typically lagged behind with its usage of tech, new advancements are showing up every day and opening doors, windows, shutters — you name it — to new possibilities.

The Transformation of the Construction Sector

Because construction is such a physical process, it requires hands-on labor and work that AI could never replace. As the now-famous billboard from Impact pointed out, while ChatGPT can finish an email for you, it certainly can't finish a building.

But that doesn't mean the construction industry won't change with the rise of technology. ChatGPT certainly has uses. Instead of having to write personalized outreach to customers or write meeting summaries from scratch, generative AI can do it for you. And there's a lot more on the horizon that's making the construction sector considerably tech-friendly. New technology is on the horizon. In fact, in our recent Voice of the Trades report, 72% of respondents believe that new technology and software must be adopted in order to remain competitive in today’s market.

The role of data analytics

One area that's being affected the most is data and analytics. When we talk about "big data", that's all it really means: lots of data being used to determine trends. What went right? What went wrong? What does the future look like?

Of course, in construction, there's a lot you have to do by hand and feel. You know when your particular part is done well because you have the experience. Each nail and screw are put where they should. Each weld is tight and solid. But sometimes, when you zoom out, the whole building can seem...a bit off. As is the old saying, it's sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees.

That's where data and analytics can help. It can take all the individual data points (the trees), build the whole picture (the forest) for you and then tell you what's important to understand about all those data points. Big data helps you focus on the little stuff and still get the big picture.

12 Vital Points on Big Data Analytics in the Construction Industry

To help you better understand where and how big data and analytics are transforming the construction industry, here are 12 examples:

1. Risk analysis for construction project management

Construction, unfortunately, continues to be one of the most dangerous jobs. More than 1,000 construction workers in the US alone died in 2022. With falls, struck-bys, caught/in-betweens and electrocutions accounting for the majority of deaths. And so, safety continues to be a chief concern on-site to reduce risk and the possibility of injury or death.

Using big data in construction can help massively. While workers are busy building and doing what they do best, site managers are watching and organizing, designers are ensuring everything looks as it should. Big data analytics can monitor the site for risks and alert the appropriate team members when it finds something.

On top of on-the-job safety, risk management also applies to the management of the project itself. Project management issues crop up all the time in construction and field service. Big data analytics can tell when a project is at risk of going over budget, being delayed or otherwise failing to meet the project's boundaries. It can then notify project managers so any problems can be fixed before any larger issues arise.

2. Predictive analytics in construction

If you've ever had a machine break down in the middle of the job — and really, who hasn't? — predictive analytics is something you'll want to take advantage of pronto. Perhaps the best application for predictive analytics is predictive maintenance. With AI in construction becoming more popular every day, an immediate benefit to its use is having your machines tell you when they need a little TLC so you can maintain them before they break down.

Other uses of predictive analytics include the more paper-based side of the business: reporting, financials and forecasting. After all, big data is based on using all the raw data your business produces, finding the insights buried within them and predicting the potential future state of your projects and business.

3. Construction planning and modeling

Being efficient and effective with construction is paramount for success in the industry. Not just with your own processes but also the result of your labors: the buildings and structures themselves. Another advantage of bringing big data into construction is that it can help with planning and modeling better buildings.

By feeding a big data model the intended use of the structure, the site itself and other important considerations for planning and designing, engineers and architects can create a building better suited to the customer's and consumers' needs. But a single building is just the beginning. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is helping create better construction projects, even at the city-wide development level.

4. Warranty analysis, product quality and reliability

Not all products are made the same. Your business needs to consistently balance quality with cost to achieve maximum value out of the tools your team uses each day. Especially for the more expensive equipment and machines, such as vehicles or specialized tools, understanding what your warranty covers is a key part of choosing the right thing for the job.

Alternatively, the materials you use to build your projects also come with warranties and have varying quality and reliability. By gathering all the data and doing a cost-benefit analysis, you can help improve job profitability, project success rates and even customer satisfaction by matching the right materials and hardware to each job.

5. Tracking equipment and assets in construction

Keep inventory, equipment and tools from being lost or misplaced. By tracking who is using what and on which site they're being used, you can identify trends of frequently lost or stolen materials. On top of that, when you keep tabs on all your equipment and tools, you can better assign where those materials should be for your current jobs. This way, you can streamline travel and reduce the cost of shipping or transporting equipment to the job sites that need them.

6. Process optimization and data-driven process improvements

Over the hundreds or thousands of projects you've been a part of in your career, it's a safe bet that none of them went exactly to plan. But where did each of those hurdles happen? What could you have done to avoid those challenges in the future? It's certainly easier to simply say, "We'll do better next time," but big data has the potential to clear the fog and pinpoint process improvements based on all those jobs you've already done. (This is also why your client needs job management software.)

From speedier and more efficient travel routes to worker assignments, using data to drive your decisions and processes can drastically optimize your business. This leads to lower costs and more money in your pocket.

7. Optimizing contractor performance

Especially in smaller residential jobs where projects can involve single buildings and a fair bit of travel from site to site, contractor efficiency and performance are critical. But even for the larger jobs, you don't want your contractors wasting time because of mismatched skill sets or poor planning. With operations management software, you can track individual contractors, the jobs they're working on, success rates, timelines and more.

You can then analyze all that data to better understand what is and isn't performing well , and make changes to optimize performance. Offer more training. Assign workers to jobs that more closely match their skill set. All in all, your contractors are more successful, and you save money from their increased performance.

8. Accurate budgeting and planning to prevent overruns

If you're like most business owners, keeping your company in the black is a daily thought. A big part of being successful with that endeavor is budgeting. But as supplier costs change and contractors come and go — plus a whole host of other outside factors to consider — it's a constant struggle to keep your profit margins where you want them.

But, big data and analytics are transforming the construction industry and how it handles finances. Instead of having to pull out a calculator and manually total each payment to and from your business to figure out your profit and loss, software such as field service management platforms can not only determine that for you, but they can also forecast your future numbers.

And they can forecast and show how your business is trending in the middle of projects, not just at month- or quarter-end. So, at a glance, you can check in to see that your suburban apartments project is on budget, but your commercial highrise is likely to run a little over. This helps you more easily course-correct and fix problems before they get too large to handle.

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9. Construction robotics in modern construction

If you've ever thought of 3D printing a house, there are some officially on the market in the US and other countries around the world. But robots building houses one layer of cement at a time aren't the only ones in the construction sector. Robotics is quickly sweeping through the industry: masonry robots can lay bricks and do the heavy lifting far faster than their human counterparts, for example.

But beyond housing, robotics can potentially speed up processes such as surveying and scanning building sites, eliminating the need for humans to traverse dangerous terrain. Driverless trucks and vehicles are also making their way into the industry, with AI-augmented versions of forklifts and loaders.

While they're working, these robots can collect data about their construction sites. Then, you can analyze it to continually improve not only the robots' function, but also site and employee productivity and safety.

10. Construction product development

As building materials and processes change, whether they're based on building codes or simply just to improve efficiency or design, the construction industry itself changes to adapt. We certainly don't build things how we used to. The companies driving these changes often use technology, big data and analytics to understand what those advancements should be.

Here's what we mean: look at the most innovative buildings from the past few years. From radically changing how sustainability is incorporated into the building, to how well a structure can withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. The level of advancement we can achieve now is all based on the data from previous projects.

11. Environmental impact assessment

Sustainability is the name of the game in more industries than just construction. As scientists and even the UN have warned, the world is nearing ever closer to the "point of no return" for climate change. Properly understanding the environmental impact of construction projects will continue to increase in importance.

Construction today needs to reduce the risk of failures in the face of harsher weather conditions such as wildfires, temperature extremes and other natural disasters. Likewise, developments must provide opportunities for countering their carbon footprints and enabling their consumers to do the same. Big data and analytics can take the information from previous attempts, analyze it and reveal the path forward for a more sustainable future.

12. The future of big data in construction and upcoming trends

Besides the benefits of big data analytics in construction that we've discussed already, several more trends are emerging. For instance, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are eliminating the physical requirements for some roles and tasks in construction while breaking down barriers and streamlining communication between on- and off-site workers.

Natural language processing (NLP) is helping to unlock all the data hidden within the construction industry. For years, the industry has collected data in various types of files with no way to understand everything contained in them. NLP, which uses massive amounts of language and text data to help computers better understand humans' natural ways of communicating with one another, excels at processing this data and revealing valuable insights.

Finally, AI is growing in popularity daily, with far-reaching effects both within the construction industry and beyond. From making big data and analytics themselves more accessible with AI-assisted creation of graphs and charts, to identifying construction project roadblocks in real-time. AI offers massive growth potential to companies that take advantage of it.

Embracing Data-Driven Decision-Making for Success

Above all, data is the lifeblood of your business. At least, it should be. With data-driven decision-making using big data, you can improve the efficiency of your entire construction business. From your contractors and employees to your processes and operations — and everything in between.

A more tech-enabled future hinges on your willingness to embrace this new reality and adopt the tools necessary for it. Your first step? A field service management platform like Simpro. Get ready for the future and request a demo now. You'll thank us later.