Many aspects of how we perform our jobs and interact with our workplace today are digitised – from our project management processes through to the tools of our trade. These new and emerging digital technologies are helping us to work smarter, faster and more efficiently. They are also producing vast amounts of information (or “big data”) to inform the work that we do. 
 
In 2015 a Gartner Survey found that during the next two years, three quarters of respondents were investing – or planning to invest – in big data. What are some of the benefits that big data can bring to your business, and how can you harness its potential?
 
Understanding our customers and markets
 
According to Professor Nick Wailes (Associate Dean, Digital and Innovation at UNSW), “Big data promises the opportunity for us to not only test whether what we have done in the past has worked, but to more accurately predict what will work in the future.” This is certainly true in construction, where the deep market knowledge that big data bestows allows us to more accurately predict market trends. It also helps to anticipate and capitalise on changing market demand. 
 
In real terms: gathering and interpreting big data allows businesses like Coates Hire to have the right equipment in the right locations, available in the right quantities at the right time. It helps us to optimise our transport operations, reducing the time equipment spends out on the road and maximising availability to customers. We can even use big data to help customers improve the utilisation rates for their hire equipment on site.
 
Big data can tell business a lot about customers, too. Analysing purchasing habits, social media activity, customer feedback and online reviews can reveal patterns in consumer sentiment. It can also highlight customer preferences and behaviours allowing businesses to better meet their customers’ needs. 
 
Enhancing performance
 
Improved operational efficiency is another benefit to big data in construction:
 
Process efficiency: Big data provides a rich source of information on process efficiency. An example of how this can benefit construction is by using big data analytics to optimise project scheduling – comparing traffic, weather, and equipment data. Big data can tell us a lot about the efficiency and performance of our people too.
 
Better decision making: Big data provides the construction industry with a superior source of business intelligence for informed decision making. It also enables better purchasing and hiring decisions, so businesses can cost-effectively source products and resource the delivery of construction services around demand.
 
Problem solving: Big data offers a macro level view of the market – helping businesses to identify problems and fix them faster. (To learn how UPS, Netflix and New York City are using big data to solve big problems, read this Forbes article).
 
Performance improvement: Smart cities provide another fascinating example of the benefits of big data for performance of the built form. By connecting buildings and citywide infrastructure with technology, smart cities can use big data to:
  • Enhance performance (through improved security, lighting and energy efficiency)
  • Inform decision making (for faster traffic flows and smarter parking)
  • Achieve a better quality of life for inhabitants.

 It’s what we do with data that counts…
 
Big data has the potential to inform our work in many ways, but it is of little value if we don’t know how to extract valuable insight and apply what we have learned. 
 
The key to harnessing big data’s benefits lies in knowing where to source information; what to acquire; how to drill down deep and interpret what we find; and how to apply the knowledge that we gain.
 
In a 2013 US survey by Bain & Company only 4% of companies believed they had the right resources to meaningfully interpret big data and act on insights. How prepared are you!
 
Do you have the technologies, processes and people to harness big data benefits? What opportunities can big data present to your business? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.
 

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