Data Capture and Analytics

Data, Data Everywhere and us without a Clue

Data Capture and Analytics for Contractors

Data capture and analytics is a fast moving industry. With the advent of smart devices, every aspect of our lives can be documented and recorded in detail. It can be analysed to understand the current state of things and it can be used to predict certain aspects of the future. For example, Netflix, Spotify, You Tube, Tik Tok, Google, Uber Eats, Alexa can all capture aspects of our personal data, learn about our habits and recommend potential future interests. This is sophisticated (slightly scary) stuff.

Data capture and analysis in our professional lives is arguably less advanced, but it is certainly catching up. Most businesses knowingly (or unknowingly) capture data which can be used to great advantage, or which can completely overwhelm them. Gone are the days of doing business or delivering projects blindfolded however now we are at risk of being blindsided by piles of data we can’t interpret or don’t understand.

The Problem

Some of the greatest challenges (but most satisfying achievements) I have faced in my professional life relate to data capture, analysis and reporting. I learned the core elements of data representation and discipline in my early administrative years and it has always put me in good stead later in life when dealing with complex project scopes, budgets and schedules. But so often I have been involved in projects where data is inconsistent, incomplete or irrelevant. When acting on behalf of a Main Contractor or Sub-contractor, this problem is compounded by the fact that involvement in the project is well after the concept and planning phases and there is usually a load of historic data which is not fit for use. Worse still, is when the data is hijacked by other functions to try and answer questions it wasn’t intended for. Context is everything!

Data Capture and Analytics
So much data, but what does it MEAN?
Data Capture in Project Management

Data capture is increasingly easy which is both a blessing and a curse. Businesses are becoming more mature in their understanding of the value of business process and data integrity. Administration functions are becoming more disciplined. Information storage and security is more commonplace. Elements of automation might even be starting to appear. These days, a lack of data is not usually a common complaint.

In the realm of project management, there are a host of increasingly sophisticated project information and collaboration solutions which will capture huge amounts of data in a secure environment. These can act as anything from a document or cost control system to a fully integrated and collaborative design space. In short, they can be very clever and exciting.

However, project management ‘software’ is often imposed by the Client and its adoption is increasingly a requirement of the contract. Contractors may find themselves being forced to make use of project management software which may require additional training and can detract from the use of their actual skillset. However there are also benefits to these systems when information is retrievable, manageable, easily shared (with the right permissions), auditable and can be used to identify potential risks and pitfalls. When used correctly, project management software can protect you and can help facilitate successful project outcomes. It can be the perfect solution for large and complex projects. Conversely, depending on your role on the project, it can be useless for your own project management purposes.

Don’t Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

At this point you are probably either fretting about not capturing data or want to hide in a cupboard and forget all about it, but I would urge Contractors not to despair. As with all business functions, data capture and analysis can grow in proportion with your needs. In many ways, starting small is the best way to perfect your data capture and ensure it can be analysed to give you only the information you need.

1. Know What You Don’t Know

Before considering a data capture and analytics solution, make sure you know exactly what questions you need answered. If you are a business owner you might want to know how profitable your workstreams are, which suppliers offer the best value or which employees are the best performers. If you are a Project Manager you will almost certainly want to know if your project is on schedule, if scope variations are profitable, what the project safety record is, or if the Client is satisfied with quality. Be very, very, very clear about what the data needs to tell you. If you get this part wrong, the rest is pointless.

2. Evaluate Existing Data

Assess the quality of your existing data. Is it consistent and uniform? Is it in a format which can be easily grouped? Does it have integrity (the accuracy kind, not the morality kind)? You may already have useful data which can be analysed or you may need to draw a line in the sand and start from scratch, putting a process in place to build some discipline around future data capture.

3. Don’t Run Before you Can Walk

DO NOT invest large sums of money on a solution, system or software you don’t understand or wont use. There are some very shiny products available with brilliant functionality but you won’t need a BIM model to tell you if your project is on schedule. Whilst you may be required to contribute to some of these systems, they are generally the remit of Client or Main Contractor programme and project managers overseeing the whole project and will likely be of no use to specialist Contractors.

Most of my colleagues know I have an unhealthy obsession with Excel – I could write a novel on how great it is (I will spare you today). Suffice to say, I have never met a project management problem I couldn’t at least partly use excel to solve. It is incredibly accessible, functional and can be manipulated to give you clear and useful information. I would recommend it as a cost effective solution for a business starting out in data capture and analytics before moving on to more sophisticated solutions.

4. Don’t Let Data Run Your Life

Data capture and analytics is becoming increasingly sophisticated and accessible for all users but we are a long way from it replacing the experience and local knowledge of Project Managers. Be aware of the potential fault of data and where it may not be giving you the full picture. Data analytics should be used as a tool for decision making, it should complement your soft skills, it should not be taken as gospel.

If you need help setting a strategy and structure for your data capture and analytic needs (or even a quick explainer on useful excel functions like CONCATENATE!), please do get in touch.

2 thoughts on “Data, Data Everywhere and us without a Clue

  1. Mike Eason

    Really interesting and I will talk to my new director about this tomorrow.
    I have not got my company laptop yet so still using personal email. I will be in touch.

    1. Lis Barnard Post author

      Thanks Mike, I’m glad it struck a chord for you. Hope all is going well in the new job and you know where to find me if I can be of any help!

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