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Big Data and AI in Construction


The construction world is many things. We’re hard-working, resourceful and committed to quality. We’re planners and executors, and we love creating structures that we’re proud to put our names on.

However, as a general rule, we’re not early adopters.

In fact, the construction industry is often singled out for our wariness of new technology, and our preference for the “way we’ve always done it.” It’s just another part of our dependability. We like tried and true ideas, tools we understand, and construction methods that have kept buildings standing for centuries.

However, whether we like it or not, technology is changing the world faster than ever, and there are some changes even we can’t ignore. So let’s take a closer look at big data and AI in construction and how they might just make things better.

Big data cranes against a city landscape

Understanding Big Data in Construction

Unless you’re in IT or tech, big data sounds like some new form of tech speak that does little but confuse non-techy types. However, there’s a good case for big data in construction, and there’s a good chance you’ve been using your own version of big data in construction for years.

Most construction companies keep libraries of information. You probably have a stockpile of old bid documents and pricing proposals somewhere, alongside all the project information from jobs you’ve done. When you need to price a new project, you probably go back to those files and use the knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years to make your assumptions as accurate as possible.

It doesn’t really matter if that’s on paper or in a spreadsheet, or something else. It’s a form of big data.

The modern form of big data just gives us faster, easier access to more information, so we can analyse it faster and apply it to solve problems better. In fact, big data in construction is probably going to change the way we all approach construction project planning, construction safety and construction efficiency in the very near future if it hasn’t already done so!

Woman in hard hat working on a machine.
AI has its uses in day-to-day construction

The Role of AI in Construction

You can’t really discuss the effects of big data and AI in construction without tackling artificial intelligence.

Let’s face it. For most of us, when we think of AI, we’re more inclined to think of robots in sci-fi movies than construction sites, but artificial intelligence in construction exists, and it’s going to be everywhere you look before you know it.

Artificial intelligence in construction might make you think of spaceships and ray guns, but the truth is AI is just a newer, better way to do calculations we’re already doing.

Because computers can be programmed to analyse questions and situations using thousands of parameters in the time it takes most of us to type them in, they’re an incredible tool that we can use to do complex calculations in a fraction of the time it takes any human, and because they approach every situation with logic, they can make the most rational decisions even when we can’t.

Artificial intelligence in construction simply takes that to the next level, applying machine learning, which allows those same computers to learn from situations they’ve encountered before and to adjust their results accordingly.

It’s like having the smartest, most insightful genius sitting on the corner of your desk, 24 hours a day, just waiting to solve the most complex problems you can imagine.

Man holding hard hat and ipad
Using AI and big data opens up opportunities.

Benefits of Big Data and AI in Construction

Now that we’ve covered what big data and AI in construction are and how they will change how we do so many things very soon, it’s worth looking at the benefits we can expect from harnessing them and using them on our projects.

The first big area where big data and AI in construction will impact construction safety. Anyone who has ever done a risk assessment knows how hard it is to think of all the potential problems that might come up on-site and find ways to mitigate them. Imagine using AI to generate those same risk assessments, processes and procedures in minutes, using all the historical data you’ve gathered on every job you’ve done.

The next big area of benefit for big data and AI in construction is in construction project planning and, more specifically, in improving construction efficiency. These tools can do everything from analysing your performance during specific weather conditions to which suppliers tend to be late with deliveries, so you can have every minute factor at your fingertips when planning your next project.

AI and big data can also help with smart resource allocation, and they can automate repetitive tasks, so your team can stay focused on the important things and leave the tedious tasks up to technology.

Big data and AI in construction are already transforming everything about the planning and execution of any kind of project, and we’ll only see more improvements in productivity and efficiency as we find new ways to deploy their unlimited processing power.

Challenges and Considerations

Of course, there is nothing on earth that doesn’t also have a downside, and in the case of AI in construction or big data in construction, there are a few we should all be aware of.

The first is data security and privacy. It’s important that whatever data your systems do gather is adequately secured and only accessible to authorised users. Data must also be “sanitised” of any personal information. There’s nothing wrong with the act of gathering data, but if any of that data can be tied to an individual, you’re heading into dangerous territory.

The next big consideration is talent recruitment. AI, machine learning and big data aren’t exactly new concepts in themselves, but there are limited people out there who are skilled in collecting, programming and using them.

At Trimble, we’ve been in the construction tech world since the late 1970s, so we’ve seen a lot of huge leaps forward in technology and computing. Big data and AI in construction are one of the most exciting developments we’ve seen in a long time. We can’t wait to see how these new tools help us all to improve how we do the things we’ve always done.