Data – not sexy but crucial to changing our future fortunes.
It is no surprise to anyone working in the construction industry that we don’t apply the data we have in an effective way. We are notoriously opaque in how we operate, driven by commercial sensitivities or a short term task-focused mind-set without seeing the bigger picture.
There is much discussion and stargazing about digital transformation, with the headline-grabbing articles on Terminator-style robots taking over jobs; or the Internet of Things helping assets to communicate. Actually, the bigger prize is getting the basics right – unleashing the power of the data we already hold in little silos close to our chests for fear of the impact sharing it might have.
Take decision making at corporate board level. Imagine a dashboard which clearly and consistently sets out risk profiles across the portfolio and automatically highlights areas for action, removing the human factor of embarrassment at reporting poor performance.
At present we do not even have a consistent terminology for risks, a standard way to measure them or visibility of where they sit across a project we are involved in. Do we hold it or does the client? It is unsurprising then that construction is seen as risky business, where margins are low and companies fail. We are working in the dark.
A lot of the culture we have in today’s construction industry can be traced back to this lack of visibility; the endless “reviews” and “reports” picking apart the problems are only an indication of our inability to share and use data. If we had a standard way to measure productivity that was valued by the politicians all the way through the business models to the furthest reaches of the supply chain, we would all know where we stand and what was good or not.
There is no consistent performance measurement or reporting to define what good looks like. Too commonly, scope increases and costs soon follow. That is not necessarily down to a worse performance of the supply chain; it could equally be poor performance of the decision makers who move the goal posts.
But that is not the story that is reported in the press; it is a case of no evidence to support the truth and rebut the PR-grabbing headlines of cost increases. Take project initiation as an example. If the data we all currently hold was pooled to create a standard benchmark cost for certain outcomes, you could set a project off with that clear performance baseline.
Clarity about changes
This would state what “good performance” looks like and provide clarity on any changes affecting that during the delivery phase.
Immediately then, you see how this might remove some of the overkill of process attached to procurement.
Instead of waiting until the procurement process begins to demonstrate “value for money”, it is established much earlier, and the collaboration can start to beat the performance baseline. Because you know anything an investor or client receives that is better than this is value for money.
There is an opportunity to change this culture, with the government indicating a willingness to engage through the Transforming Infrastructure Performance Programme and a future rewrite of the Government Construction Strategy. But ironically, it relies on all of us taking our step forward and releasing our own data hordes – a data amnesty.