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Data Hygiene Should Be a Top Priority for Construction Contractors

Contractors can benefit by shifting to construction data analytics platforms. However, beautiful charts, graphs and animations mean nothing if the underlying data is full of holes, says Bruce Orr, Chief Data Scientist of ProNovos, in a new post at aec-business.com.

“For many contractors, what might be thought of as poor ‘data hygiene’ is a pressing concern,” Orr writes. “A flawed approach to data entry—especially the need for different stakeholders to manually enter data into different systems multiple times—tends to be the root of the problem.”

Founded by construction influencer Aarni Heiskanen, aec-business.com focuses on construction innovation and technology. Orr’s blogpost for the site is titled Keeping it Clean: Analytics Can Benefit Contractors—So Long as They Maintain Good ‘Data Hygiene’. In the piece, the ProNovos founder and 20-year veteran of data analytics describes how seemingly minor mistakes tend to cause bigger problems as data volume grows with time. “For example, the project manager may enter ‘SmithCo Steel’ into the spreadsheet even as the controller refers to ‘Smith Co. Steel’ in the document,” Orr says. “Without clarity into this inconsistency, a later analysis will skew the results.”

Faulty or incomplete data in categories such as vendors, subcontractors, employees, equipment, materials or project costs can undermine contractors’ efforts to base their strategies on the facts. And yet despite the high importance of data integrity, Orr notes, some contractors are reluctant to tackle this issue.

“This may be because they see it as a time-consuming, backward-looking exercise that involves laboriously poring over existing files to ferret out incompleteness, inconsistency, duplication or lack of timeliness,” Orr explains.

In fact, Orr notes, software tools can quickly and efficiently ferret out duplicates and other mistakes. In the column, the data scientist offers a few simple steps on the path to data hygiene.

Step 1: Put a Premium on Pulldowns

Orr encourages contractors to take full advantage of the ability of their existing accounting and business-information systems to generate pulldown menus. This is an easy way to avoid duplicates and errors caused by manual entry.

“All users should be trained to make use of the pulldown feature and, whenever possible, avoid manually entering data,” says Orr.

Step 2: Get a Data Hygiene Test

Figuring out whether your company has a data-cleanliness problem does not require your teams to work nights and weekends hunting down errors in old spreadsheets, Orr explains.

“Look for a software tool that can give you a score on factors such as data completeness, accuracy, consistency and timeliness,” he advises. “Granularity is important. If a contractor is running an analysis that involves job descriptions as a key component, it helps to know if 30 percent of your records actually fail to include any job descriptions at all.”

Step 3: Leverage Existing Best Practices

Existing practices in master data management (MDM) provide painless pathways to resolving what may seem like intractable conundrums, Orr writes. One regional U.S. contractor, which was onboarding a new enterprise data warehouse, had long tracked its change orders using project management software. The contactor wanted to merge this data stream with flows from its accounting system.

“However, there was a problem,” Orr recounts. “The job-numbering systems were different: ‘Job 1-2-3’ in one system was ‘Job A-B-C’ in the other.”

The ProNovos team used a mapping tool in the data warehouse to sync the job data, thereby allowing the contractor to merge the data flows and ready them for analysis.

In the conclusion to the piece, Orr describes data hygiene as a prerequisite for effective use of construction analytics. He adds that squeaky clean data can help companies make seamless IT transitions—as when moving from one accounting system to another or beginning to leverage AI.

Moving forward, good data hygiene will allow contractors to hit the ground running as artificial intelligence further transforms the industry.

ProNovos provides cloud-based business intelligence solutions and services that empower contractors to find new opportunities, make better decisions, save money and reduce risk.

Founded in 2014, the Atlanta-based operations-management and data-analytics firm focuses exclusively on the specific needs of the construction industry.

This actionable intelligence is accessible anywhere, anytime by superintendents, project managers, accountants, estimators, c-suite executives and other decision-makers.

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