Developers of enterprise data management systems say the long-awaited dawn of business intelligence for construction has arrived, thanks in part to the rapid adoption of mobile computing devices and anywhere-anytime access to years of company data. Some users, however, say that while the sun may be rising—and that's worth celebrating—it's still only the early adopters who are seeing the light.
Access to business intelligence is rising with the expansion of fast internet connections as well as cloud and web services for storing, processing and delivering information. But vendors say the use of mobile devices with browser access to dynamic data analysis is providing the key that's unlocking business intelligence for practical use.
"Mobile tools and technology have exploded in the last six months," says Brian LaMee, a marketing director at Deltek, a 30-year-old vendor of enterprise management software for architecture and engineering. "Mobile technology and speed of the network for doing data on wireless devices has improved drastically," he says.
In response to this trend, Deltek for the past year has improved its Vision enterprise database's interface with mobile devices, especially through browser access to dashboard views of performance data. The latest release, Vision 7, arrived on Oct. 22. With Deltek's performance management module, dashboards can bring role-appropriate, current, drillable information to any device with an internet connection, anywhere, anytime.
LaMee also contends that data feeding into the database is improved by mobile access. "We are getting the project managers away from spreadsheets. They are logging that information into the database. We are seeing a major uptick in that," he says.
Bob Johansen, director of information analytics at Omaha, Neb.-based AEC firm Leo A Daly, hasn't seen evidence of mobile devices improving data quality, but he agrees that by accessing enterprise data from the field, mobile devices are starting to play a big role in delivering practical, easily navigated business intelligence to decision-makers. "It really brings the value out of the database and puts it right there in front of you," Johansen says. "It helps users make better decisions faster, more easily and keeps their people more productive."
Johansen says the growing use of web-services collaboration tools such as SharePoint also has put business-intelligence platforms within reach, even for small firms. SharePoint has tools that can effectively pre-analyze data components—for example, cost, profit or schedule—in relational databases and promote that information to dashboards through the use of "cubes" that cover those areas. The cubes can be set to refresh nightly with updated data for nearly real-time views of performance metrics.
On the construction-management side, vendor Dexter + Chaney is on the same page as Deltek. It has redesigned its Spectrum dashboard "from top to bottom to make it compatible with mobile devices," says Wayne Newitts, marketing director.
The dashboard's elegantly customizable interface is built by pulling topic-specific analysis apps from a library. Each can tap into and process data from the database. The apps are dragged and dropped to build the dashboard, and once there, multiple apps can be opened at once, each in a tabbed window.
"It would be impossible to make dashboards worthwhile without cloud computing enabling anywhere-on-any-device delivery and browser-based access to the data," says Newitts. But with it, "it's business intelligence built your way," he says.