Why the construction industry needs to break down its data siloes

When systems and people are speaking the same language it makes decision-making easier, especially in construction where everyone needs to work together to deliver a project, says Asite CEO Nathan Doughty

No matter whether your company offers janitorial services or sells software, when you set up a business you’re bound to have your fingers in most pies. You’ve got to find customers. You’ve got to market the business. And you’ve got to deliver your service or product.

You may have to set up a supply chain, as well as send invoices, chase payments and many other tasks. Eventually, if you do all of these things successfully, the business will start to grow. Soon enough it will consist of two people, then five, then 10, then 100. And as this happens, all the different functions that used to be under your control are diffused. 

This leads to increasing specialisation and the use of multiple software systems. All the data that used to be contained in one area of the business falls into different hands. But at some point, if the business is to continue moving forward, this data - and the processes it supports - needs to be unified so that your systems and people can work collaboratively. 

Why is this important? Because when your systems and people are speaking the same language, you can draw well-informed conclusions from your data and take meaningful actions. At a basic level, this is what interoperability offers any business. But if you’re part of the construction or engineering sector, it’s particularly important. 

Every single project, from a residential house to a skyscraper, involves a huge number of companies. There are contractors, sub-contractors, sole traders, material suppliers, architects, engineers, planning consultants - the list goes on. All of them face their own set of challenges. But somehow, by hook or by crook, you need to bring them together to deliver the project. 

Without interoperability and a single version of the truth, you can easily end up with people at cross purposes, which leads to arguments and wasted time. However, many software vendors still believe it’s in their best interests to lock in as much of the data captured from customers as possible. In my view, this is shortsighted. Obviously, it’s not desirable for these companies’ customers. But it’s also not desirable for the construction industry as a whole. 

When information is trapped in silos, it makes that single source of truth almost impossible to achieve – and without this, miscommunication and delays are all but inevitable. It also feeds the litigation that plagues the construction industry because it makes it difficult to establish what was agreed with whom and when; whether this agreement was abided by; and what that means in terms of change orders and contract variations.

By facilitating the free flow of information, businesses can enable the interoperability of people and processes, which addresses many of the issues mentioned above. Opening up your data in this way can be a scary step to take. But it’s the right step to take.

People are the most important part of the success of any software solution. If you cultivate a sense of transparency and safety within an organisation, a sense that everyone’s interests are aligned and that there are shared goals and visions, this ties people together. And if people feel bonded to one another and the values of the organisation, they feel empowered to collate and share the data that will benefit other stakeholders in a project.

This is all part and parcel of a long-term partnering approach to construction projects, which ultimately leads to higher quality products. And no matter what technologies come along in future, the open approach to data will ensure that interoperability remains at the heart of them.