Six Reasons for Adopting Business Intelligence for your Construction Workforce
Construction workforce, whether it is the crews working at job sites or on service calls, makes countless decisions in the field. 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 project. The purpose of business intelligence (BI) is to provide relevant information to the workforce to help make better decisions.
Traditionally, business intelligence has been a tool for curating information and making it available to executives or key personnel. It has mostly been an analytics tool for strategic decisions that have significant impacts. However, with today's digitized workflows and connected workforce, it can be a much more valuable tool for the workforce to help make better decisions. But this is not where its benefits end.
Business intelligence for the workforce not only allows us to improve the outcomes of the business processes we already have. It frees us to improve the business processes to derive even better results.
For instance, if we can make data from our past safety inspections easily accessible to our safety inspectors, we would likely develop the inspection process that requires closer attention to the trouble spots noticed in the past. Similarly, if we can make the latest labor and material data available to the foremen in the field, we could improve our T&M process such that it uses the latest data.
Our business processes are often not what we would like them to be but instead what our system limits them to be. One such limitation has been timely access to data. Business intelligence for the workforce removes this limitation and opens the door to improving our business processes in ways we couldn't do before.
Accountability is an essential tool for helping improve performance. When we make people more accountable for their decisions, their choices are likely to be more deliberative and have better outcomes. Some in a workforce perform very well even without accountability, while others not so much even with it. However, all across the board, the performance is likely to improve when there is more accountability.
However, the effectiveness of accountability depends on how much we empower the workforce to make those decisions. By this, we don't just mean the authority to make the decision but also the tools at their disposal to make better decisions. In this regard, there is no better tool than the timely and relevant information at their disposal.
There are at least two different ways business intelligence for the workforce helps make accountability more effective. First and foremost, it provides timely and relevant information to the decision-makers to help them make their decision. Second, it allows managers to identify how well each decision-maker is using the information and how strongly correlates it with their performance.
A business may go through all the trouble of making data available to its workforce in the field. But what good can come from it if the company does not have a data-driven culture that leverages it? How can business intelligence for the workforce be useful if the workforce does not make use of the data at its disposal? As it turns out, business intelligence has a positive reinforcing property that can bring about cultural transformation to make it more data-driven.
Any organization is going to have many nay-sayers that reject new processes, including those that are data-driven. However, the same organization is also going to have innovative people that see the value of data and lead its adoption. As the nay-sayers see the leaders perform better with the help of the data-driven process, they will follow suit, creating what we may call a data-consuming culture in the organization. But that's not where it stops.
As the laggard catch up with the leaders and embrace data, the leaders continue to blaze their trails by identifying additional data that can help them make better decisions, creating what we may call a data-seeking culture. This last piece is important because, among all the people in an organization, no one is more qualified to identify data for better field decisions than the folks who are in the field.
One of the most critical attributes of a business intelligence solution is the visual methods it uses to present data. Much like a picture that speaks a thousand words, it would not be an exaggeration to say that a chart or a graph speaks a million data. Visual presentation of data allows us to understand data faster and better than had it been presented as a bunch of numbers.
It also makes it easier for us to see trends, patterns, and relationships within the data. For example, it would be virtually impossible for a supervisor to recognize the patter in weekly labor cost by just looking at them as numbers. But it would be much easier to discern the pattern if we present the labor data as a time-series chart.
The benefits of visual presentation of data go beyond just a better understanding of the numbers or recognition of the patterns in it. It also helps retain the information better in our memory. Better retention allows the workforce to use the information more effectively, even outside of its original context. For example, a foreman who regularly sees visually presented safety data is more likely to discover a broad safety pattern across all his jobs.
Over the last several years, we have seen a tremendous digital transformation of the construction industry. Everyone seems to have adopted a shiny new technology. Technology adoption can be transformative but does not guarantee a competitive advantage. When everyone uses technology, it just creates an even playing field for everyone. One can't help but wonder how one can create a competitive advantage in the age of technology when everyone seems to be on the same playing field.
One answer, as you likely already know, is by building unique competitive advantages that are difficult to mimic. We all have the same challenges and opportunities. What sets us apart is how uniquely we handle them. In the yesteryears of paper and pencil, no one had data or data-driven advantages. Today, with easier access to data, one can set oneself apart by using data to create a competitive advantage that is unique and difficult to imitate.
As we discussed above, with business intelligence for the workforce, a business not only makes better decisions but also transforms its business processes, management practices, workforce skills, and workforce culture. Such transformations not only give it an edge over its competitors but also challenging for others to reproduce. The unique competitive advantage is perhaps the most valuable outcome of adopting business intelligence for the workforce.