May/June 2013

Are you familiar the words Big Data? If not, perhaps it’s time you get acquainted with them, even if purely for the fact it’s rapidly becoming the talk of the town in technology.

Of course mere chatter among the analyst community is never a good measuring point for jumping on board with an idea, but the fact of the matter is more conversations in IT are being generated around the ability to effectively gather, interpret, and act upon data. In a way data has always been, well, data. But suddenly it’s “Big” and we all should be preparing for the outcome. To truly understand Big Data is to recognize it can be a very complicated subject. At its core, Big Data involves being able to predict key patterns and events, as well as to understand how and why they are taking place, sometimes even before they occur. When all this information is linked together from literally one aspect to everything else that was collected in the past, the potential impact for a market like construction could be huge.

In a way, the industry has been well on its way to building on Big Data for years. Data is the heart and soul of things like BIM (building information modeling), despite the fact the ‘I’ stands for information. After all, where do you think that information comes from? You guessed it, data. And the fact that the construction industry is rapidly adopting new technology tools designed at getting to their data in new and powerful ways—things like GIS, GPS, RFID, and more—makes the idea of Big Data feel like it is already here.

But to scale back the discussion for a moment, Big Data shouldn’t feel like a big headache. The true essence of all of this data is connecting people to information that was not readily available or accessible. Proponents see a bright picture in which new doors are open and a greater world provides new applications with infinite possibilities.

Such new applications can lead to the right tools that solve critical problems across every discipline within AEC. When problems are raised and data is applied against past statistical information that has already been gathered and stored, unique solutions can arise. Previously gathered data can create some powerful things when paired with early indicators across a vast spectrum of human behavior with historical information.

Going a step farther, if you can connect up realtime events with historical patterns, then you can take advantage of opportunities. In all, it presents a real turning point for the AEC market around the idea of quicker, more efficient, and perhaps even better decisions. And increasingly, these better decisions are enabling what is happening in realtime, helping us make adjustments as we need them, when we need them. The data now exists and it can be continuously adjusted to reflect the current trends aligned with past trends.

Just like with any business objective, the idea of Big Data centers on the notion of providing greater transparency. Transparency into projects, processes, and partners, just to name a few. As the IT world tries to sell us all on the fact that Big Data has suddenly arrived on scene, construction companies have long realized the value of data. Now, with the tools available to make sense of it all in aggregate, perhaps the most relevant question facing this market with regards to Big Data is: How can the data help you?

Over the course of the coming months, culminating with our Technology Day event in Santa Clara in October, Constructech will map out a course for helping define and apply the idea of Big Data in the construction industry. In the end, it could mean getting at the data in new and powerful ways.

Constructech editors

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