Construction projects are complex undertakings with many interdependencies and risks. There are often numerous teams from many organisations engaged in a project at any point, which can make visibility across the project challenging for the project owner or general contractor.
The single thread that helps to provide visibility is data – essentially the sharing of information from each project team about their activities and role on the project. But while technology has greatly improved organisations’ ability to collaborate and share data, there are fundamental questions around control of the data that must be considered. These considerations apply to both the early phases of a project – i.e., agreements and contractual obligations – as well as throughout the project lifecycle as teams come and go.
In terms of data control, much depends on what software is used on the project. With most project information management solutions, the organisation paying for the software (whether the owner or contractor) acts as the ultimate system administrator, with the ability to control every participant’s access to the system, as well as the data within.
As more and more data is generated on construction projects and the value therein is recognised, the collection, sharing, usefulness, and completeness of that data relies on fairness and openness, not control and ownership. The sad fact is, many in the industry are simply not considering that the way many systems operate actually inhibits both trust and adoption – and greatly diminished the return on their technology investment. Selecting software that works to instil trust and, by extension, adoption across all project teams, serves not only the ‘system owner’s’ ends, but those of the entire project. This results in outcomes that are better for the project, and that accrue to everyone.
How should project software be set up to facilitate a fair data approach?
Make sure the project information management software was built with data control considerations in mind. Because of the complex, multiparty nature of projects, there often are numerous teams using multiple third-party applications, each generating data in different formats. This data must be captured and stored in a single, reliable, fair and open system of record – a true common data environment (CDE).
A CDE is a central repository where data from different sources is kept and structured so that any data that is shared is consistent and indelible. Further, every participating company on a project should have their own private workspace and complete control over their data. This includes dictating when and who has access to their information. This control drives trust and encourages adoption.
Critically, the software shouldn’t allow an administrative user to override security to alter information or prevent a company from accessing their data, nor should it allow anyone to delete any aspect of the project record. Unfortunately, these issues happen often, resulting in simple yet consequential impacts to the project due to the sheer inefficiency of participants keeping off-platform records to ensure they are protected. The result of getting this right is a complete project record on one system, and this is crucial during handover periods through the project lifecycle.
Capturing project data effectively is also vital. Construction projects create vast amounts of information, so planning how to navigate that data is key. A metadata-based approach to information management – where documents, drawings and workflows are automatically linked based on tagging – allows project data to be sliced and diced in many ways, ultimately aiding the speed of searchability, information recall, and overall effectiveness.
What are some of the issues around data control and ownership that need to be addressed?
Projects have many moving parts. Some overlap, some are interwoven – and many are performed by different teams at different times. This can lead to disagreements, disputes, even litigation. To navigate this, there needs to be a complete picture of the project to be able to gather an accurate and indisputable record of everything that happened around the problem. That’s the only way to get to the truth, and that comes from capturing the right data using the right kind of system.
Here are some key questions to consider when assessing software for construction projects:
Can another project organisation access my data without my permission?
Getting this right means that all the relevant information – the correspondence, decisions, records of actions taken, related project documents, and so on – needs to be available, reliable, and indelible. A project owner or general contractor puts the project at risk by using software that enables information to be manipulated after it has been captured.
Can another organisation alter or delete my data?
When software allows a super-user to alter or delete another party’s information, the accuracy of the information being used to manage the issue cannot be guaranteed. That is why it is so important for the data that is captured against a project in the software system to be trustworthy. There needs to be a clean and indisputable record of what actually happened. All of the information is present, accessible, and reflects each organisation’s accurate contribution to the project record. We call this an unalterable audit trail, and it is invaluable when problems arise. That’s the bottom line.
Can I get access to my data after the project has concluded?
When a project ends, each participant should be able to retain the data they generated on the project. Data control considerations extend beyond day-to-day operations. Regardless of role (project owner, contractor, consultant, etc.) their data is their data, and they can use this to benefit future projects by extracting project performance insights or for equipping their organisation for any potential future disputes related to the project.
The reality is that anyone not using a fair and open system that encourages adoption across the project and manages data in a transparent way with integrity at its core is putting not just the current project at risk but adding further risks to future project outcomes as well.