The term 'Big Data' sounds slightly ominous and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for something sinister. However, given that you are reading this as my latest post in a series about technology in construction, you will not be surprised to learn that big data actually has the potential to be a useful too. To demystify it, 'Big Data' means the huge amounts of data now being generated by development projects, which is being stored. It's therefore not a new concept – development projects have always involved masses of data in the form of specifications, drawings, and plans, not to mention the data stored in documents such as contracts, letters, and emails.

So what exactly is new? Storage is now cheaper and ways of analysing the data are more readily accessible. This means that developers, contractors, and all other in the supply chain can harness that data to make improvements – starting before the land is even purchased. These can include:

  • Location and design: design documents for previous developments, weather and historical data can help to influence these matters.
  • Budget: analytical software can look at the similarities between developments to understand how events on site are likely to impact on the final costs of a project. This can help to produce more reliable estimates.
  • Safety:  an insight into the circumstances in which safety incidents are most likely to occur. With that stakeholders will be able to adjust their policies and practices with a view to minimising those incidents.  Software can provide updates as works progress, and this can include the weather conditions.
  • Sustainability and waste reduction: big data allows those in the supply to chain to provide more accurate estimates of the required quantities of materials . The more accurate those calculations become, the less waste material there will be at the end of a development.  Designers will also have the tools to design more energy efficient buildings.

Even taking only this short list, undoubtedly this technology has the potential to be extremely valuable to developers, contractors and all of those in the supply chain. However, as with all advances there are risks to be taken into account. I will be exploring those in my next post.