For decades the construction industry has lacked productivity gains. Why is this? Even as construction firms have shifted to adopt technology, many have sided with implementing short-term point solutions to address departmental needs for automating tasks. However, this approach only masks problems and exacerbates the negative impact data silos have on the enterprise construction company and its ability to improve the entire project lifecycle.
In this article, I highlight ten tips for destroying data silos by 2019. Eliminating data silos is not an easy task because your departments are already entrenched with using these solutions to solve their day-to-day problems. However, that’s the problem. They are only focused on their needs and issues and not the entire strategy for your construction firm to be more efficient and deliver a better end-project. Which leaves most individuals reluctant to change.
Point solutions solve a single problem and software vendors are continually adding new features to address other business needs. Real productivity gain can only be realized in the BIG picture of an integrated business operational platform that offers a home for all point solutions.
Common Scenarios – Red Flags
Note the jobsite Foreman has a new field reporting application making it faster for him or her to report daily progress, but those reports do not automatically get logged into the project file. Another manual step. Or, the Accounting department implements a new Time Card application but staff must continue to re-entering the labor and time into the Accounting package. By the way, the Time Card App (Hours and Labor) also does not automatically sync in real time with the Project Manager’s project management platform giving him visibility to reassign staff during an emergency. The list of point solutions serving specific business needs are endless and include, but not limited to Drawings, Notes, Word, Excel, and DropBox. These solutions continue to be attractive to companies demanding more productivity from staff. The problem is they don’t solve the right enterprise problem – they create a Point Solution-Armageddon with data silos being weapons of mass destruction.
Within the past few years, many construction point solutions (aka mobile apps) have entered the market emphasizing newly developed project management capabilities. However, the data captured by those apps do not provide insights into project performance and financials. As an enterprise field data and operations solution, eSUB captures the critical data contractors need to track labor productivity, job costing, and project financial health—in real time. Having this information sync with the customer’s design and accounting programs eliminates departmental data silos and brings project management with other cornerstone solutions together to improve a company’s overall efficiencies.
This is the golden ticket to saving the construction industry (or simply your firm) from Point Solution-Armageddon. First, construction leaders need to rapidly consider a holistic change in operational strategy and consider a common data platform for achieving organizational productivity improvements.
Secondly, the leaders need to commit to a plan for removing existing data silos to increase quality, productivity, and profits. So let’s begin with the basics then get into the tips to destroying data silos and achieve REAL PRODUCTIVITY and PROFIT IMPROVEMENT.
What is the Data Silo?
A data silo is “a separate database or set of data files that are not part of an organization’s enterprise-wide data administration.” In simpler terms, it is any data (or mobile application) that solves a couple issues (Reports, Time Cards, Drawings, Docs, etc.) where the information is not easily shared or accessible across the organization, even if it would be useful to other parties.
A perfect example is “a spreadsheet” that resides on a network drive in Project Management that must be emailed to someone on the jobsite or Accounting to add costs to the Accounting program. The Data Silo is the Network drive.
Tip 1 – Assemble the Task Force Team
Create a small cross-departmental task force with goals, objectives, and a deadline to develop an assessment and recommendation to move the company forward. The team needs to assess where data silos exist then create an incremental plan to tear down the walls. The X Team could be recruited from every department (E.g., an Executive sponsor, Operations Manager, Field Manager/1 Front line Staff, Finance, Design-VDC, Project Management, etc.).
Tip 2 – Assessment and determine where data silos exist.
- Do you find that documents often must be redone because of human error?
- Is it hard to locate errors and inconsistencies in data?
- Is it hard to create all documents and share them with relevant team members?
- Do disputes arise based on the miscommunication of information or version control?
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”, your company suffers from data silos. Fortunately, there are many ways that the subcontractor can eliminate data silos.
Tip 3 – Digitize as much pen and paper as possible to reduce significant costs
The costs of using paper is crippling the construction industry. Simply reducing some the need for paper will save every project thousands of dollars. The traditional usage of pen and paper as a way of data entry (e.g., designs constantly printed; manual time cards entered into Accounting) has become obsolete due to its likelihood of creating errors, getting lost, and its lack of accessibility. Pen and paper methods cost the company time and money. All the documents contribute and extend data silos by only allowing the person physically in possession of the paper to be able to view it. Using templates or online forms create digital assets that must then be connected to project activities so you’re not shifting a print silo to a digital data silo. You might be familiar with the folder on the network drive with hundreds of files that you need to search through to find that file your lawyer needs. It’s a crises that can be avoided.
Tip 4 – Move to the Cloud where a Virtual Filing Cabinet exists
Moving documents to the cloud is one major step. Storing all documents in the cloud, where it can be easily accessed by any user (a virtual filing cabinet), is an elevator straight to the top floor. This helps eliminate silos by ensuring that everyone with permissions can view the necessary documents and that everybody will be viewing the same information. The cloud will provide better data transparency that will keep everybody on the same page throughout your projects.
Tip 5 – Simplicity and standardization
Implementing and field data and operational platform technology will ensure standardized data entry, which will make it easier to submit and read documents for all departments. With standardization, users spend less time learning and adjusting to differences between documents and applications.
Tip 6 – Getting Rid of Point Solutions that don’t connect – Integration!
Getting rid of apps does not mean getting rid of functionality; In fact, using one integrated solution will increase functionality and the quality of information. A fully integrated project management solution will allow the subcontractor and their team to always have access to relevant information entered by any department (absent of confidentiality or sensitive material). This ensures that everyone is always on the same page and that decisions are being made based on the entirety of information. Integration also allows for collaboration and teamwork. The more people that add to or oversee the data, the more complete and accurate it will be. Integration also allows for more real-time information because it eliminates the need for data to be manually sent out after it is created. Rather, when the data is created within the platform, it is viewable in real-time to all other users.
Tip 7 – Don’t get caught up in silo mentality
Silo mentality: In other words, departments want to protect their tool that helps them do their jobs, but doesn’t help the overall company become more efficient. “When certain departments do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of thinking will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.”
Like silo mentality suggests, lack of communication between departments is detrimental to a company. No department can function at its full capacity without giving and getting information from other departments. Subcontractors can avoid silo mentality by connecting the back office to the field workers using mobile technology. This will ensure that every member of a project is working together toward a common goal. Without this giving and taking of information across divisions, departments will make uninformed decisions and will be unable to see the full picture.
Tip 8 – Foster a communication community
The subcontractor must foster a community of collaboration that encourages communication across departments. When employees share knowledge with each other and work together, decisions are made that benefit everybody. The subcontractor needs to make sure that he is collaborating with all stakeholders while also ensuring that his team is effectively communicating with each other.
Tip 9 – Keep detailed records
Just as important as keeping centralized documentation for current projects, is keeping a good record of old projects and keeping them in one place. The subcontractor must maintain a record of all communication within the same system, to be able to follow decisions that were made along the way and any changes that occurred. This allows a subcontractor to go into a single database and review everything that happened on a project from start to finish.
Data silos are parasites to healthy business decisions and accurate record keeping. The good news for subcontractors is that data silos can be avoided with the proper technology and business practices.