“Hey data! Is my project on schedule?” Data science is becoming a key characteristic of competitive advantage for construction organisations. However, turning data into information, and then into meaningful insight, can be a real challenge. David Philp of i3 by AECOM takes a look
At AECOM, we recognised this challenge and created i3 by AECOM – our lifecycle data science solution for the built environment. We help clients manage, comprehend and interpret mountains of data to create intelligence at each stage of the design, build, finance and operate process. We harness the power of data across a digitised and virtualised asset lifecycle.
As a diverse built environment, construction is generating and curating vast quantities of electronic data from the earliest grains of a new project investment decision through the whole lifecycle of an asset or portfolio. Continuous streams of data are feeding forward across our built environment, from capital to operational stages to service provision and increasingly backwards through systematic feedback loops, to inform lessons learned, supporting future investment decision making. Every day we exchange petabytes of construction data across systems, teams and countries. These data exchanges are moving from staged transactions to a frictionless data environment, accessible 24/7 in real time.
This velocity of this data acquisition, as in other sectors, is increasing at a prolific rate and from an ever-increasing variety of sources: from computers, mobile devices, asset telemetry, smart plant and even the end users themselves. Our construction sites are now a living, breathing, manufacturing location, with real-time data driving the operations and logistics.
As an industry, we have an enormous amount of siloed legacy data in relation to the existing retained estate. Usually, this is in innumerable formats stored in a potpourri of different ways from aged floppy discs, scratched CDs, DVDs, on-premises servers and the cloud to, more commonly, racks of as-built drawings and folders of operation and maintenance paper etc – and not forgetting all that tacit knowledge walking about our projects in wetware form (the human brain)! As our data volumes gets larger and larger, the challenge of turning this deluge into actionable intelligence gets bigger too.
Retrospectively, we need more and more to make sure the value of this historic estate data can be harnessed, which involves data cleansing, validation and indexing to make sure it can be unified with other systems. Data in a construction organisation is, however, most often a complex web that needs to be carefully integrated to support joined-up or chained data queries, eg BIM + AIM + GIS + ERP = Big organisational value!
Having aggregated these data sets together, we need then to examine them and make sense of them to derive insights. Even though analytics are playing a part, construction is lagging behind other sectors because as an industry we are very poor at using our data to measure and benchmark infrastructure performance.
Solving this problem will need an intervention to bring communities together that create and operate assets as highlighted in the National Infrastructure Commission report, Data for the Public Good, which sets out a roadmap towards a national digital twin: a digital model of our national infrastructure that will be able both to monitor our infrastructure in real time and to simulate the impacts of possible event.
At i3 by AECOM, we are already on this trajectory, unifying separate systems and leveraging advanced cloud analytics solutions to make sense of our clients’ data systems in a real-time environment. These systems and processes are helping us interrogate large and often unstructured datasets, offering levels of insights that traditional systems cannot. These systems respond to client needs for consistent, real-time data to support decision making and increasingly to support forecasting and investment decision making using demand and prioritisation queries.
Storytelling with our data is becoming an ever-important and critical service of i3 by AECOM. Indeed, if a picture is worth a thousand words then enterprise-level construction data visualisation is worth at least a book!
Using dashboarding and data visualisation engines, we contextualise and form into bodies of knowledge (as illustrated above). This custom visualisation technology is helping us communicate all the relevant data we generate across our portfolio-level digital nervous system and present it in a clear and understandable way. Our customers are seeking, as Bill Gates envisioned, “business at the speed of thought” where information is available to make real-time decisions with transparent and trustworthy views of their integrated data, from cost to occupation, energy performance, schedule position.
Dashboards help us envision these large construction data sets coherently through the visual display of quantitative information, where we can reveal the data at several levels of detail, from a broad overview of a programme or project down to the fine structure of a work-package specification or object performance attributes.
Good construction dashboarding consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision and efficiency, where graphics reveal data to stakeholders better than traditional methods. Good user interface is important; car manufacturers have shown us the best dashboards are usually the simplest and at the same time the most powerful. Construction clients are also now moving from deterministic to probabilistic use of data and asking “what if?” and “show me the impact of…” questions of their estate-level data, where on the fly they can visually and instantaneously gain insights into the effects of changes. Predictive modelling is allowing us to provide clients with early warnings before specific situations occur and implement repair before fail models with improved forecasting, allowing them to better prepare for best- and worst-case asset operational events.
Natural language interfaces, mixed reality and early artificial intelligence such as the Amelia AI interface are all starting to play their part in how clients and end users interface with and achieve better understanding of data, especially at an operational and service provision level.
Better data user interface is improving every week and at the same time so is our ability to make sense of our data. Your data is full of limitless and largely untapped possibilities. At i3 by AECOM, we are here to help you identify and create intelligence from your data. Contact us to find out how we can help you.
MSc BSc FICE FRICS FCIOB FCInstES FGBC
Global BIM/MIC Consultancy Director