Heavy civil construction projects can be complex. To ensure success, teams need to carefully manage logistics and drive efficiencies at every project level. Successful project data collection is a key element to driving these efficiencies. Managers need to have the right information at the right time to make the best decisions, ensuring that projects adhere to the budget and schedule—all while minimizing risk and potential errors.

One of the biggest challenges on any infrastructure job is the accurate relaying of information from the field to the office. When the right field tools have not been put in place, project data is captured in an inconsistent manner through disconnected systems, leading to time-consuming reviews and inaccurate reports. Outdated data is near-impossible to track down, increasing the risk of construction errors and expensive delays down the line. Project progress updates to leadership are affected as well, as they are delivered in a slow and unstructured manner that leads to inaccurate reports that are outdated by the time they reach the office. Any delay will likely increase costs, could result in fines and sometimes legal action, and nearly always leads to strained client relations.

It is common for a standard and outdated process for construction project data collection to have multiple individuals walking a job site collecting progress data, documenting issues and even taking pictures. From there, the data is brought back to the office where it is compiled into spreadsheets for a coordination meeting with crew chiefs. These meetings often take four to five hours as the team steeps through all the data—often three, four or five days old—to understand current statuses and areas of concern. That workflow is risky and prone to lost productivity, inherent delays and lost revenue. The time it takes to collect information distracts employees on site from their primary responsibility: getting work done.

Where is the technology-enabled value? The traditionally handwritten field-based documentation process has been proven time after time to be inefficient and time consuming. There is no real productivity gain. The time spent gathering information on the job takes away from actual work. And back in the office? The risks of missing data, as well as time spent inputting data entry and reentry, continue to contribute to an outdated and inefficient process.

construction worker

Leveraging construction digital tools in the field

While technology has made its way into the office, its biggest potential impact remains in the field, where most operations still rely on outdated methods like paper and spreadsheets. The rise of mobile apps and solutions introduces a modern technology platform that perfectly aligns to the needs of construction field operations. Implementing field-focused applications allows for quicker and more accurate data collection—which can increase productivity, visibility, and efficiency on the job site. The right digital tools in the field also allow teams on the job site to communicate, track, and resolve issues from the field in a timely manner for improved project outcomes.

It is proven that technology can help teams reach their project goals quicker and easier. In fact, a recent Dodge report noted that (67%) of horizontal contractors report seeing a high to very high difference in project data value with the use of digital tools. In addition to the ease and quality of data collection, contractors report the right field tools enable them to get more value from project data, including improved schedule performance, labor productivity, cost predictability, reduced costs and improved profitability. Even moderate levels of implementation yield critical project outcome benefits.

Every construction team should have field solutions that facilitate gathering data and making sense of that data. These tools should streamline data gathering in the field, as well as the consolidation and presentation of that data to drive quicker decision making. The applications should automatically compile data from the field and display task completed/in work statuses, as well as issues. A field collaboration tool should have embedded analytics to escalate issues as soon as possible. There should be no double data entry into a spreadsheet that then has to be checked for accuracy. A truly integrated and effective field-focused application should be able to perform the analytics and even color code what is done, what is in works, and the areas of concern.

Additionally, across many sectors, large projects tend to run 20% longer than scheduled and up to 80% over budget. Having accessible data to show where those errors came from allows teams to retain good customer relations, as well as identify better forecasting methods. With the amount of data collected on construction sites continuing to rise, it is imperative to have the right solutions in place to relay the information quickly for optimized decision making. Data analysis is key to leveraging information from the field to drive better decisions around project operations and offer greater insight into the performance of the project portfolio. Moving such data to a single, digital source of truth enables better project reporting and business intelligence—helping managers quickly analyze project performance and make empowered, data-based decisions.

construction workers and plans

Optimizing construction workflows with digital tools

Heavy civil contractors face many challenges to meet current infrastructure demands and drive profitable projects. To overcome these challenges, the industry needs to transform how it works by leveraging technology to digitalize and automate data collection for better project transparency and efficiency. The rise of digital tools introduces a new platform that is positioned to transform how field operations are performed, driving greater efficiencies and successful project outcomes.

We know the industry needs to transform how it works. The good news? The opportunities are vast to increase project successes with the right digital tools.

By Corey Johnson, Director, Product Management at Bentley Systems