Construction is one of the least digitized sectors in the world, but new technologies like commercial drones, machine automation, and site data visualization software, have the potential to rapidly close that gap and bring the industry fully into the digital age.
That said, for many companies, the future of data is already here. They’re using new tools in the field and in the office. The only question is, how?
With more data captured than ever, how is it used?
While the capture methods for site data vary, many sites use commercial drones, traditional surveying equipment, and/or autonomous machines to do work and gather data. What we’ll be focusing on here is how that data is by the home office and its personnel.
Specifically, we’ll be exploring how site personnel use data visualization and advanced analytics to do their jobs.
How every level of a jobsite uses site data
After interviewing a number of current Propeller or Trimble Stratus users, a few key themes popped up in how they use drone surveying and visualization platforms in their work.
- More efficient data capture
- Smoother interdepartmental data sharing
- Seamless team and company collaboration
- The best ways to train others on using new software
- Future trends in the construction industry
But all of this ultimately bubbles up to those in the head office. So the question becomes how does new technology at the site-level improve operations at the highest levels?
Below you’ll find how real people are using up-to-date site data to work with their company’s home office.
Company Head Office
Decentralization is a persistent challenge for both technology adoption and communication in the construction industry. Projects range geographically and by type. But more than that, they often function independently—only reporting back to the head office for updates.
Naturally, communicating with the main office or your higher-ups changes based on a project’s needs.
At this, the highest level, of a project, only a few metrics are wanted or necessary. Data turnaround is paramount. The home office needs to know how fast a job is progressing day by day, and if there’s a delay, they need to know how that affects the rest of their operations.
Here, accuracy and transparency matter. The home office must be able to count on the information they’re getting and also digest it easily.
Getting the tech buy-in with your boss
It’s hard not to overstate how powerful good visualization tools can be for decision makers. With the virtual-reality look of many survey data platforms, the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” really comes into play when pitching a new software to your boss or business owner.
“Visually, Propeller changed everybody’s minds,” recalled Mike Brown of Bettis Asphalt. “Once I showed the owners the Platform, they were onboard immediately.”
But even getting to this point with your boss can be difficult. Some companies and managers have reservations about using new surveying tools like drones in the first place, let alone visualization software.
While all have their reasons, one of the common ones we’ve seen is data processing woes early in the testing phase.
Finding a way forward after early challenges
There’s nothing more discouraging than having a new tool fail on the first try—no matter the cause.
For Richard Tyndall, a survey director at New Jersey-based construction company Petillo, “it was a rough start using UAVs.” Data capture wasn’t a problem, “but the processing became a problem because we were doing it all in-house.”
While Tyndall estimates their processing had a 50% failure rate, there seemed to be no reason why there was a problem in the first place. “We’d set up the computer to process overnight. In the morning, it would either processed or not, with no indication of what the problem was,” he remembered. This understandably caused great frustration to everyone on the team.
“We were all but given up on the whole aerial photogrammetry thing until we found Propeller through our SITECH,” said Tyndall. “Now, it’s turned it around for us.”
First with a Phantom 4 Pro and GCPs, and now with Propeller PPK, Tyndall puts a full day back on the clock to create machine control models and handle setup and data prep for field survey crews.
Data transparency helps resolve disputes easier
In the past, many companies have relied on highly varied reports on volumes to determine progress, and more pressingly, billing at a high level.
But with many chains of command and multiple subcontractors working on a single job, those numbers aren’t always accurate—intentionally or not. Simply having the empirical data to back up a claim or resolve a dispute can have a measurable positive impact on short-term finances.
Unfortunately, disputes over quantities or whose dirt is whose is common for the construction industry. But for Brown, data transparency is hugely important because it promotes accountability for all.
“That’s the most valuable part of the entire platform,” Mike Brown of Bettis Asphalt argued. “All of your elevations are there. All your coordinates are there. The boundary of your stockpile is there. Everyone is accountable. You can’t argue with the data.”
Better overall progress tracking for the higher-ups
With rock-solid proof, unruly, drawn-out subcontractor disputes can be resolved faster, which makes the home office happy. But this kind of transparency also lets them see a true measure of job progress.
This need for transparency and accountability is particularly important if your business relies on truck counts to get quantities.
Which is just the issue project-based Survey Manager Mike Cutfield at Fletcher Construction had. “It can be challenging to justify our quantities,” he recalled. “By using the software, they’re able to see for themselves quantities that have actually been moved. And they can say, ‘Well, I’ve been working on this area, what volumes do I get when I draw the polygon?’ Then they can see that it’s comparable with what the surveyors said.”
Cutfield notes that using a platform like Propeller hasn’t changed the fact that his team is producing the numbers, but it gives a much-needed look behind the curtain.
And it’s an important one, because the construction industry has a problem with trust. According to KPMG’s 2016 Global Construction Survey, over 50% of professionals in construction and engineering said they had one or more underperforming projects in the previous year. Of those, 69% of business owners named poor contractor performance as the single biggest reason for this.
True to not, these staggering statistics indicate a clear lack of faith within the industry at large and for those working on the same projects.
Want to learn more about data is used at every level of a construction site? Download our new ebook From Surveyor to Home Office: How Up-to-Date Construction Data is Improving Worksite Operations