Data drives the future of projects

On July 20, 2020 by Danelle Wyper, MEED

Data

Project owners increasingly see data as the key driver of value in a project

Faced with growing pressure on their finances, project clients around the world are turning to sophisticated digital strategies to maximise the value of their project investments, and they are demanding that their contractors and suppliers are aligned to their digital ambitions.

Digital capability is set to be a vital element of any company’s competitive offering.

“In the Africa region specifically, they have started to put digital transformation as one of the key elements of selection,” says Abdulaziz Kamel, chief information officer of Egypt-based contractor Elsewedy Electric.

In response to the changing demands of the market, Elsewedy embarked on its own digitalisation journey, launching a wholesale digital transformation programme in 2019 that reaches across all aspects of the company’s activities, from front-end project delivery to back-end administration and finance processes.

“We started to show maturity in our business as an enabler to get more projects,” says Kamel.

For an 80-year old company with over 15,000 employees working around the world, the challenge of transforming the entire organisation without disrupting ongoing operations is daunting. One of the biggest challenges says Kamel, was getting started.

“It is really important to think big and start small, so that is what we have done,” Kamel explains.

“We spent almost six months [developing] a blueprint as architecture for our end-to-end transformation, starting with the business development stage, moving to cost estimation, and then engineering, while achieving horizontal back-office operations.”

“Finding the data model for this approach was not an easy task,” says Kamel. “And we decided to have automated processes in some areas and sometimes keep as is for a pilot phase.”

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Setting strategy

For companies seeking to implement digital transformation, it is essential to first work out the overall objective before implementing anything, rather than simply trying to find a solution to immediate problems.

Companies therefore need to be thinking in terms of corporate strategy.

Technology solutions provider Oracle Construction and Engineering says helping companies to develop a digital strategy is a major aspect of its work, even before any digital or data technology is implemented.

“We are more working on achieving strategic or enterprise-wide goals than how to fulfil certain functionalities within the organisation,” says Sherief Elabd, director of industry strategy at Oracle Construction and Engineering. “This is not a typical RFP [request for proposals] where customers can list all their requirements in a transparent or clear way because sometimes they do not know what they do not know, and that is the first challenge.”

A well-conceived digital strategy provides a holistic framework that improves the delivery of a project from planning and pre-execution through to design, construction and lifetime operations. Data captured during this process can be used to inform future plans and strategies.

Mind the digital gap

As the concept of integrated data permeates across the projects industry, companies will increasingly start to introduce data sensors and gateways into their designs. These will enable real time asset performance analytics and provide insights on how to improve efficiency.

“We are not talking about a project or programme,” says David Philp, global BIM/IM consultancy director at Aecom. “We are starting to think about multiple projects and trying to unify data. This might be in terms of linking building information model (BIM), geospatial data within there, and project management data.”

“The digital estate is a federation of lots of the previous models,” says Philp. “We can start to cross benchmark how different assets are performing right across, it might be in terms of energy performance, utilisation and cost occupiers.”

But while there is no doubt about the rapid increase in adoption of digital and data strategies across the projects landscape, there are still gaps in the industry’s ability to make the most of data harvesting.

“For me, the beginning of the project, prior to design and procurement is hugely important. And that is a big, big gap,” says Philp. “But also trying to make sure that we have a seamless transfer of data at the handover between construction and operation.”

But the biggest gap, according to Philp, is in making use of the data that has been generated to improve planning.

“We are pretty bad in the industry at measuring performance and actually feeding it back,’ says Philp. “So, for me, the beginning, the handover, but most importantly, a structured feedback loop is going to be where the most value will come. “

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