Business Intelligence in Construction for Field Decision Support
Here is a story that you hear very often amongst contractors. Jobs often run over budget. In particular, the total labor cost goes up higher than what was initially budgeted.Unfortunately, the foreman in the field does not find out about it until the accounting completes the week’s payroll and distributes job reports, often a week or two later. By then, it is too late to make any adjustments the foreman could have made to rein in the cost.
In today’s world of data and constant connectivity, this does not need to happen. Every contractor already has the data need to know the job’s labor cost daily, if not hourly. Every foreman likely has a smartphone or a tablet to receive this information while at a job-site. What is missing is the piece that curates the relevant data and makes it available to the foreman in the field on time.
Whether it is a construction crew working at a job site or maintenance crew on service calls, the workforce in the field makes countless decisions. These could be simple transactional decisions such as labor rate for T&M jobs, or tactical decisions such as whether or not to work overtime to finish a job. The purpose of business intelligence (BI) for field decision support is to provide relevant information to the workforce in the field to help make better decisions.
Traditionally, business intelligence has been used as a valuable tool for curating information and making it available to executives or key decision-makers. It has mostly been used as an analytics tool for strategic decisions that have significant impacts. Today, with digitized workflows and connected workforce, it can be much more valuable as a tool for transactional and tactical decision-making by the workforce in the field.
Every day, a typical contractor relies on hundreds of decisions made by its workforce in the field. The impact of each of those decisions on the contractor’s business may not be significant. However, collectively and over time, their impacts can rival that of any other significant decisions the contractor makes. Even when evaluated solely on its direct financial benefit, BI for field decision support can deliver more benefits than any other use of BI.
If BI for field decision support can be such an invaluable tool, why haven’t contractors adopted it in droves? There are two important reasons for it. First and foremost, most of the data was not digitized at all or digitized on time to be useful. Second, technologies for curating, disseminating, and presenting had mostly been beyond the financial means of most contractors.
Lately, much of this has changed in the construction industry. The industry has gone through a significant digital transformation, which has resulted in the digitization of data. Additionally, the ubiquity of the Internet, the proliferation of mobile devices, and the declining cost of BI software have put BI within the reach of everyone. This trend has made BI for field decision support a tool most contractors cannot afford not to have.