With the broad adoption of reality capture and the recent arrival of automated construction progress tracking, builders now have access to more objective, easy-to-access data than ever before. Project teams who have historically used manual progress tracking processes are now looking to supplement their current tracking methods with objective data, and teams facing manpower constraints are now able to get ahead of potential impacts to schedule and avoid time-consuming disputes or disagreements. This technology is proving very useful: but it can be difficult to evaluate and choose the right progress tracking tool. Below, we share a few important criteria to help teams navigate these decisions.

Automated progress tracking products build on top of reality capture solutions, using computer vision and machine learning to automatically identify materials and percent complete from image or scan data. Until 12 months ago, automated progress tracking was a relatively unknown product category, but rapid advances in computer vision and machine learning have enabled this new class of solutions. These solutions are now being broadly deployed on jobsites, giving project teams unprecedented transparency, objectivity and quantified insights.

As a result, this accurate and timely progress information allows project executives, project managers, and superintendents to focus on maximizing schedule and budget performance. Automated progress tracking raises new questions for our industry—what impacts can we expect from these technologies, and how should these new solutions be assessed?

Outside construction, we’ve seen the benefit that easy to understand, easy to access data can have. Data has enabled the rapid growth of technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google, and we have also seen the impact that data-driven decision making has had in transforming more traditional industries like manufacturing and transportation. In recent years, economists and academics have proven how companies who make decisions based on objective information combined with intuition—as opposed to intuition alone—have better outcomes, including tangible productivity gains.

However, in the construction industry we have still struggled to capture and utilize much of the key information that impacts schedule and budget. Construction faces a unique set of challenges because, unlike our counterparts in other industries, almost every project is different. And up until this point, many of our decisions have been based on intuition or spotty information, gathered by hand. In an effort to close this information gap, many innovative GCs and trades have developed manual or even partially automated systems to track project progress. Additionally, approaches like batch planning and IPD take steps to address this challenging process. It is common for superintendents to track progress by highlighting drawings when materials are installed or for trades to provide weekly or daily progress updates, because in our industry, accurate progress information allows us to plan, react, solve and, ultimately, deliver projects on time and on budget.

Now, with the recent introduction of automated progress tracking tools, these teams are able to focus on decision making rather than data gathering. Automated progress tracking data provides fast, accurate, and impartial information so that teams can act with more confidence. This objective data is already impacting the way that our industry does business, and project teams who have adopted these automated progress tracking products are seeing how objective progress data enables them to improve productivity.

“The ability to produce these charts allowed us to prove without a shadow of a doubt that we were performing the work as discussed/expected,” said Kevin Ott, a senior project manager at Turner. “It's giving us a competitive advantage. But more importantly, it's giving our trade partners a competitive advantage. In the future, when we're bidding on work, they know that we’re managing the jobsite successfully and we’ll keep them very efficient, and that means they can give us better [bid] numbers. So these tools are helping us be better builders and to procure more work.”

The company I co-founded, OpenSpace, has used computer vision, AI and machine learning to develop technologies that automatically detect and track materials that have been installed on the site. Our goal is to provide project teams with increased visibility into their projects—and to provide data that is actionable. We heard repeatedly from project teams that they needed more information on their projects in order to move quickly and make better decisions. With our progress tracking tools, teams can see the percentage complete and quantity installed on their projects.

In the last few months, our industry has gone from having relatively no options for automated progress tracking to having a few solutions to choose from. Project teams with advanced manual tracking techniques are looking to further improve their processes with these automated products and teams with manpower constraints are looking to more quickly identify project risks. When evaluating which progress tracking solution is right for your team, it is essential to consider the following criteria: speed, accuracy, completeness, scalability and data coverage.

OpenSpace

Speed

The first thing to consider when evaluating automated progress tracking solutions is delivery speed. When making any decision based on data, the decision will only be as good as the quality of the data. In construction, where job progress is made every day, this means that progress data needs to be available while it is still relevant and timely. Automated progress tracking solutions work by first capturing your jobsite with 360° cameras or laser scan technology and then automatically analyzing these captures to determine percent complete. With automated progress tracking solutions, there are three main areas in this process where speed impacts information delivery: 1) Speed to capture 2) Speed of image or scan processing 3) Speed of insight availability. Teams should inquire about each of these areas when evaluating solutions.

Capture Speed: For most teams it needs to be fast and simple to perform the actual captures. Some capture types will be inherently longer than others. For example, laser scanning requires time and a clear jobsite to get accurate readings.

Image or Scan Processing Speed: Most companies who offer automated tracking solutions will also automatically align the captured image or scan data back to your drawings so that your team can see the capture data overlaid on the plans. These overlaid captures are highly valuable on their own, enabling virtual site monitoring and review. Capture technology has been around longer than progress tracking technology, so these insights can be processed faster.

Depending on the solution you choose, progress data could take days to process, but you should expect image or scan data to be available to you in a matter of hours—or minutes—so that you can act on the current state of your project.

Insight processing speed: Last, insight processing speed is vital when evaluating progress tracking solutions. Insight processing speed is the amount of time that it takes once a capture is performed for percent complete and quantity installed information to become available.

Today, a common workflow for teams utilizing an automated progress tracking solution is for a project engineer to perform the capture at the end of the work day, and for the PMs and superintendents to review the insights the next morning in order to plan, discuss and react to potential risks, approve pay apps, and coordinate trades. Any insight processing speeds greater than 12 hours make it difficult for teams to act on fresh, timely data.

OpenSpace

Accuracy

One of the major advantages of an automated progress tracking solution is consistency and accuracy. Accurate data allows teams to make decisions with confidence, cut down on debate and focus on building. When project teams work with highly accurate and objective data, they are able to reliably approve pay apps, more easily collaborate with trades to make staff adjustments, and confidently communicate job progress to stakeholders. Having objective data takes the ego out of discussions—parties can easily get on the same page about the current progress and focus on improving or getting back on track. Quality progress tracking solutions should currently have customers reporting accuracy within 1% to 2% of what their self-perform teams are estimating.

Completeness

Think about completeness in automated progress tracking in two ways: 1) tracking completeness and 2) solution completeness.

In regard to tracking completeness, some solutions only offer tracking for one specific trade or scope of work, others have focused on the final project stages, like rough in and finishes. When evaluating solutions, consider what tracking needs you will have on specific projects and what tracking needs you will have across your portfolio more generally. For example, if you are doing ground-up construction, you should be sure to ask if the solution provides structural tracking.

For solution completeness, you should consider what functionality you are getting when you sign up to pay for the product. With progress tracking solutions, your insights will only be as good as your capture frequency, but some progress tracking solutions will charge you based on how much you want to capture. This means that if you are looking for a more complete picture of your job’s progress, it is going to cost you. Another point to consider from a solution completeness perspective is how the solution handles changes. If you have a change to a specific scope on your project, are these changes included in your pricing or will you have to pay for every change a la carte?

OpenSpace

Scalability

Scalability can be considered in two ways. First, how easy is a solution to implement and adopt on a specific project. Second, how scalable is the solution to roll out across your entire portfolio?

On a single project, first, consider how long it will take for the automated progress tracking solution to be set up. Once a solution is purchased, how long will it take until teams can start capturing and reviewing insights? Today, some amount of set up is still required with these solutions, but this can range from about two weeks to two months. It is important to inquire about hardware delivery, elements required for set up and set up time. Additionally, once the solution is set up, teams should consider how easy it will be to use. Solutions should fit in with your existing workflows and require very little training. Solutions should also be intuitive, making them easy for team members with varying levels of comfort with technology to use, understand, and gain value from.

When considering adoption at a portfolio level, companies should evaluate how modular the solution is. Different projects will require different reality capture and tracking needs. For smaller projects that may only take one to two months, it might not make sense to fully implement a progress tracking solution, but teams will still benefit from capturing image data. If companies are seeking a solution that could be implemented on any project in their portfolio, that solution needs to be modular. Project teams need to be able to customize the solution to fit the needs and budget of individual projects.

 

Data Coverage

While automated progress tracking provides teams with insights about percent complete and quantity installed, teams can also find a lot of value in the capture data that powers these insights. Processing this capture data and aligning it to plans can be costly, and as such some progress tracking solutions will pick and choose which data to align and display. One of the main ways that teams use this raw reality capture data is to resolve disputes or conflicts that may arise after work has been completed. If teams only have access to a fraction of their capture data, they will not have the information they need to work through these challenging situations in the future. When evaluating data coverage, teams can ask questions about which captures are selected, aligned, and accessible, and carefully consider the implications associated with incomplete data.

Accurate and objective progress data is providing an opportunity for increased productivity and collaboration in our industry. It will be interesting to see how these tools continue to evolve and the concrete value that they offer as adoption continues to grow.

You can learn more about OpenSpace’s ClearSight Progress Tracking product by visiting our website.