How Connected Data is Transforming Heavy Highway Construction

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Construction Equipment on Construction Site
Heavy highway contractors are looking to become more data driven to tackle larger, more complex projects.

There has been a digital data revolution in the construction industry that is helping today’s contractors remove manual processes and achieve quicker access to more detailed project data. The days of paper reports, stuffed filing cabinets, cumbersome spreadsheets and outdated software are over. Instead, companies are focusing on real-time data capture and analysis. 

To achieve true construction intelligence, however, the next step is to focus on connected data. Digitization is a necessary step toward data-driven construction companies. Now, it’s about instantly connecting the data dots and streamlining workflows through a single source of shared data—across all construction disciplines, through the lifecycle of construction projects. 

Why is this important? 

This data intelligence revolution has shown to turn out safer, smarter projects with improved profit margins, as well as provide real-time insights to project stakeholders as projects progress. Turns out that's exactly what today’s project owners are looking for—and demanding.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the heavy highway and civil space. Fresh off the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, tens of billions of dollars in federal contracts will soon be awarded to heavy and civil contractors to build new roads, bridges, transportation projects and more. These contracts will come with stringent federal oversight, and in most cases, contractors will need to meet key requirements. 

Among these: 

  • Real-time data and reporting capabilities
  • Modernized workflows to ensure efficiency and reduced waste
  • Up-to-date cybersecurity and data security measures
  • Mobile and collaborative software applications that leverage the cloud

By the Numbers

More than 8 out of 10 contractors have embraced mobile devices to capture, share and work with project data in the field.

While the connected data revolution is evolving, the need for better data analytics and real-time project insights has been clear for some time. A recent report from Dodge Data & Analytics used responses from top firms—including many leading heavy highway contractors—to look at how data is currently being collected, stored and analyzed and how this might change over the next few years.

Here are some key findings from the report:

  • 93% of heavy highway and general contractors listed project performance data such as job cost and work in progress (WIP) as the most important type of data collected. Additionally, payroll and labor hours came in second with 76%, while productivity data placed third with 75%
  • 82% of these contractors have fully embraced the use of apps on mobile devices to capture field data
  • 64% of contractors said data gather and analysis capabilities have improved in past 3 years, with technologies like cloud-based construction software leading the way
  • 78% of contractors are still using some mix of software automation and manual processes like spreadsheets, paper and email
  • 55% said they are using data to make future decisions about trends

It’s clear that becoming more data-driven is a focus for many heavy highway firms and will be into the future.

The Data-Connected Advantage

Connected, real-time project data and workflows are helping contractors work smarter rather than harder.

Data-connected companies have a competitive advantage. This is especially true in the heavy highway space, where growth is expected as more infrastructure and public works projects slowly come on line. But competition for these projects remains fierce, and there is a demand for faster completion times and higher quality projects. With some heavy contractors still using spreadsheets or manual processes, however, they may not be equipped to handle modern demands.

Connected, cloud-based construction solutions are providing today’s contractors with faster access to data—and the built-in analytic tools necessarily to make informed, real-time decisions. These solutions allow heavy highway contractors to:

  • Share and communicate data seamlessly, even from remote locations
  • Do in minutes what traditionally takes days, weeks or months through automated workflows, dashboards and self-service reporting
  • Access the latest project data like job costs or WIP in real-time
  • Get real-time material or load counts and inventory
  • Mitigate project risks and safety issues by spotting problems before they ever occur
  • Easily set and measure against benchmarks and identify trends, like spotting potential profit fade before it occurs
  • Maximize labor productivity by ensuring right teams are assigned to right projects
  • Capture more accurate data on heavy machinery usage and performance to ensure that equipment fleets are achieving maximum efficiency

Building True Construction Intelligence

Man Working on Computer in Office
Advanced data analytic tools are helping contractors better understand their projects' performance, as well as identify trends for future work.

But contractors are also leveraging the data processing powers of the cloud to dig deeper into projects, implementing advanced data analytic and business intelligence solutions

The best part? Thanks to connected data solutions, virtually anyone can use these analytic tools. From automated, detailed reports that allow users to drill into underlying data for greater focus, to interactive dashboards and self-serve data queries, to drag-and-drop data comparisons to create virtually any data visualization imaginable, contractors can now work with deep levels of data instantly for on-the-spot metrics—without having to be a data scientist to do so. These abilities are baked into the cloud construction software solutions, with the powerful analytics algorithms and workflows being powered “behind the scenes.”

Because of that simplicity in use, many contractors are already using these BI solutions to forecast future work and develop predictive models of future projects. Using advanced algorithms, these solutions can find previously unknown data relationships to help guide future business decisions.

One contractor in the Southeast was able to add six-figures to its bottom line by using BI to show where machines were being used past their returns. The company tracked repair, maintenance, ownership costs and meter reading over time and, looking at the historic owning and operating costs of every machine in their fleet, they were able to determine which machines needed to be replaced. Finding this sweet spot resulted in both a cost savings and also newer, safer equipment being justifiably added to their fleet.

What Does the Future Hold?

Construction Workers Using Virtual Reality Technology
Technologies like virtual reality leverage real-time data to transform how contractors operate.

As the data revolution continues, there is a lot of promise with implementing more advanced-data-driven processes on the job site. Cloud technologies in construction are improving and growing by leaps and bounds. Here are some trends to keep a watch out for:

Predictive Analysis — As noted above, contractors are using data to visualize future work and the “what-ifs.” Spot trends like profit fade, such as the above equipment example, before it happens, or identify specific trends on productivity and apply them to future projects to determine better timelines, and better assess profitability of future work.

AI/Machine Learning — Imagine self-performing equipment that can be programmed (or even triggered based on project data and timelines) to deploy and pave a stretch of roadway, knowing exact boundaries, without risking the safety and well-being of a human operator.

Drones/Robotics — Drone technology, already popular, is being used more and more to collect data from jobsites like 3D imagery of job progress, spotting potential safety issues and more. Meanwhile, advanced data is powering robotic technologies that can build or assemble significant portions of construction assets quicker and safer than can be done by human hands.

Virtual Reality — Wearable devices, like Trimble’s HoloLens that can be used to visualize an entire jobsite with plans and specs digitally overlaid onto real-life spaces. Allow teams to see with their own eyes where a beam should be placed or where electrical outlets should be installed – as construction is occurring around them. Or, envision entire site plans even before construction even begins.

As technologies continue to advance, there are more opportunities to utilize data to scale innovations. This means more productive, less expensive and more profitable projects. To learn more about how your company can benefit from being more data-driven, connect with Trimble Viewpoint today!

Posted By

Andy is Marketing Content & PR Manager at Viewpoint. He has worked in the construction software arena since 2011. Previously, he netted multiple awards as a newspaper and trade media editor.