Tech and Innovation Logs (Tails)


By: Patrick Hennessy, Director of Scheduling and Analytics, Harkins Builders Inc

It is no secret that the construction industry has seen a boom in technology in the last 20 years. Organizations that were previously using pen and paper to complete daily reports, inspections, submittals, as well as track schedule progress have now entirely moved these processes to the cloud. Harkins is no exception.

A major benefit of performing these tasks online, in a cloud environment, is the storage and control of the organizational data that is a natural outcome of these processes. Data that was previously filed away in a cabinet, never to be seen again, is now at the fingertips of our organization’s decision-makers. Decisions in the construction industry have long been driven by the “gut feel” of the highest-paid person in the room. Harkins is actively working to utilize our data in the most effective way possible, making this a more hybrid approach, and giving our leaders real-time information to help balance “gut feel” with trends and historical facts, which leads to data-driven outcomes.

Our data journey began when we made the move to Procore as our construction management software of choice in 2013. Moving to a cloud-based management software made the storage of construction data in one, easy-to-access place a reality. Previously, data had been kept in an assortment of different places—siloed, untracked and untouched after the initial input was made.

One quote stands out from a study produced by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2019: “[Roughly] 96% of data goes unused in the engineering and construction industry.” In a world where the use of data to target consumers, inform decisions and improve profits is becoming the standard, this statistic is alarming. Unfortunately, we were living proof of this fact. While we began the implementation of Procore in 2013, it was not until late 2018 when we started to put time and effort into figuring out how to utilize that data that we were now collecting in one sole source (Procore), kicking our analytics and business intelligence endeavors into high gear.

We first focused on the low-hanging fruit. We asked ourselves, “What data do we know is accurate and standardized across our portfolio, from region to region, and project to project?” and “What data do we know can make an immediate impact to our organization?” The answer for us was our safety data, and thus, our Safety Dashboard was born. During our initial investigative and brainstorming phase, we quickly realized our data integrity was poor.

Through the process of developing and creating business intelligence reports, we began to learn that efforts needed to be focused to standardize our processes and procedures across the entire organization, driving an improvement in our data integrity. This led to standardization efforts— the creation and distribution of standard operating procedures and training to ensure these processes and procedures were being performed correctly. Today, we have a variety of solutions that provide real-time analytics across many different divisions and teams, from individual projects to our entire organization at a portfolio level, to our HR and risk management groups. We are constantly looking for more ways to tap into our data to help inform the decisions that we make, in the hopes that we can soon have data-driven solutions assist in the decision-making process in all that we do.

The biggest challenges we have faced are mistrust in the information and fear of too much oversight. This is an iterative process, and there will always be a natural resistance to change. To breed trust and comfortability within our organization, we look for “light-bulb” moments. These are moments when a previously quiet user gives positive feedback or tells the story of a situation where the insights helped make a decision or solve a problem. These moments are contagious. Like momentum in a sports game or a viral marketing campaign, these moments dramatically enhance your progress. It is key to capitalize on these moments. Culture is the other key. When there is a culture of trust within your organization, oversight concerns go away. Organizational transparency breeds an unparalleled culture. This cannot be overstated.

In the future, we hope to tap into more advanced machine learning methods and algorithms to help us predict risk before it even becomes a thought, to move to an entirely proactive approach rather than reactive. Too much of construction is about putting out fires. This leads to loss of productivity, loss of profits and too much focus on present issues, rather than the ultimate end goal. The use of big data has completely transformed industries across the board since the turn of the millennium. Think marketing, health care, sports—the list goes on. Why can’t construction be next?