What is Your Data Really Saying?

29th September 2022

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Callum Agnew, Director of Soben APAC, champions the business analytics solution, Power BI, which allows you to quickly visualise your data, and share insights across your organisation…

With construction data from projects coming at us from all directions, it can often take time to get a clear picture of what’s going on. Project planners, project managers, and cost managers are all using different intelligent software platforms, and it can feel like useful information is in silos, with chances for valuable insights lost.

This problem can be solved using data visualisation tools such as Power BI. Such tools have been around for several years, but recently we are seeing an increase in take-up among our clients here in APAC.

That certainly makes sense in these turbulent times. The ongoing impacts of the Covid pandemic, disrupted supply chains, and inflation is having knock-on effects on projects and programmes here, as in the rest of the world. But schedule delays or cost overruns are seldom down to a single item or event, and it is vital to dig down into the data to find out what is really going on and – better still – to find out early enough to take corrective action.

Project dashboards become really powerful when data from multiple projects can be collated and compared, for instance, across a programme. Comparisons between projects then become far more straightforward; good practice – and bad practice – can be highlighted; trends can be identified, and experiences on one project can be used to inform decisions on the next.

One example of how aggregating data like this can help arose recently when the lead time for HV transformers increased from 45 weeks to 60 weeks on one development in a multi-project programme. The project managers on the next two jobs were immediately alerted to check their lead times and adjust scheduling to fulfil the ready-for-service (RFS) requirements.

Construction data aggregation and visualisation allow issues to be identified and tackled. For instance, if the dashboard flags up a cost overrun, the project manager can immediately drill down to determine what items are involved and use the information to inform decisions about mitigating the overrun and avoiding it on sister projects.

What can I see?

A project dashboard can look at multiple aspects of a project or programme, with the data and the way it is displayed tailored to suit the user. A typical dashboard might include an overview of progress and cost; cost management details; schedule and upcoming milestones; the top risks and how they are being measured; health and safety statistics; change orders and RFIs – requests for information, where the contractor needs more detail from the designer.

One of our clients uses a Power BI dashboard to communicate with their investors, benchmark current works, and plan for future projects. For those people who are not construction professionals, construction data visualisations are an effective way to explain exactly where a programme is. And demonstrating to investors that the real-time health and progress of a project are recorded and visible can help provide confidence for future investment decisions.

Software platforms that we see plugging into Power BI platforms include Primavera (planning), Procore (project management) and costX (cost management). Many other sources can also feed in via APIs (application programming interfaces). One note of caution is to ensure that the data being fed into the dashboard is clean and robust. As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

It is also important to know that different geographical regions use different measurement methods. One of the advantages of the dashboard approach is that calculations can automatically be done so that data comparisons are made on the same basis.

Introducing new ways of working can be painful at first, with some people adapting more naturally and quickly than others. However, automating data transfer and producing reports should save time analysing and acting on the data. It helps to find a champion on your team – in our case, it is Leonard Lee – who can demonstrate some quick wins and then help upskill others.

We often use cost consultancy and project controls historical data to create benchmarks and map trends. But at a time of unpredictability such as this, the value of immediate data cannot be underestimated.