By Mike Housby
There was a time in the not too distant past when data was a very scarce commodity for the professionals that oversee large-scale construction projects. It was a data desert, and that made life very difficult for program managers who oversee engineering and construction of these mega-projects. Things are quite different today, but in one critical way nothing has changed. Today, the data drought is over. There are literally terabytes of data being generated about these projects. It’s an ocean of data that was unthinkable a generation ago in our industry. But despite all that data, program managers are still in a data desert because so few usable insights are being generated from that raw information. Data, data, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
That untapped ocean of data contains information and insights that engineering teams need to make better, faster decisions. It could be used to avoid costly rework and budget overruns. It could be used to orchestrate more efficient workflows and avoid delays in delivery timelines. And much more. But the data is too often trapped in places that prevent it from being harnessed for effective decision making. This happens because large projects bring together many companies, vendors, teams, specialists, and consultants – each focused on key aspects of the project. Each of those participants in the project produces and uses vital information for their specific tasks, but that data remains trapped in their systems rather than shared across organizations. This siloed data includes information about a wide range of critical areas, including schedule data, operational data, supply chain information, financial information, and more.
Lack of broader access to that siloed data creates massive data blind spots for other teams involved in these mega-projects, and it deprives program managers of visibility into critical information for their roles managing these projects. In addition to these blind spots, these data silos also wreak havoc when different versions of the same data exist in separate silos. Teams may think they have the best available information, but it turns out that the information they are relying on is out of date, incomplete, conflicting or erroneous. Simply put: isolated information, managed in disparate databases, leads to poor decision making at every level of these mega-projects.
What is needed is the ability to break down those silos in a way that gives engineering teams a holistic view of these large capital projects. The way to accomplish that is, ironically, using one of the world’s oldest technologies: maps. For millennia, maps have served as critical decision-making tools by providing a visual representation of a wide range of data sourced from multiple disciplines. Today, digital maps that are part of an enterprise geographic information system (GIS) are doing exactly that for large capital projects because that ocean of data has location-based information embedded in it. The location of materials? The arrival time of concrete mixer trucks? The spots where HVAC systems will be installed? All of it is inextricably tied to location-based information, which makes it ready-made for visualization and analysis in digital maps within an enterprise geographic information system (GIS).
I should underscore something important before going further. Digital maps are not simply a handy tool for working with this data. I would argue that it is the only effective way to solve the data dilemma I discussed above. Geospatial solutions and services provide a richness of analysis and visualization – true location intelligence – that maximizes the value of your data. And the intuitive nature of maps means that finding insights and answers becomes easier for everyone, from the department head, to the engineer, to the field inspector, and everyone in between. These maps and the location intelligence they provide are the irreplaceable centerpiece of achieving a holistic view of large capital projects.
Enterprise GIS acts as a strategic enabler for resolving the isolated data dilemma that stands in the way of better, faster decision making. When linked to other IT systems for these capital projects – such as scheduling, cost management, CAD, document management, surveying, and more – these digital maps enable program managers to:
- Optimize strategic planning and scheduling
- Improve tracking resources, assets, and progress
- Synchronize and simplify processes
- Improve decision making and communication
- Reduce the risk of project overruns
- Improving health and safety
With an enterprise GIS approach and cross-project system knowledge through links to those other systems, you can map assets, lands, and additional object locations and attach relevant data from other systems as attributes. This data is accessed through a user-friendly, web-based map portal to provide a holistic view of project data based on location. No GIS expertise is needed for most users. Mapping data to land and infrastructure assets gives people an intuitive way to work with related information such as designs, surveys, land ownership, work schedules, etc. They can also find spatial relationships between assets, parcels, rights-of-way, streets, utilities, people, equipment, supplies, scheduled work, and more. Senior leaders, front-line staff, and other stakeholders no longer make decisions using limited information contained in disparate databases. It’s a level of decision-making support that isn’t possible with Gantt charts, spreadsheets, and traditional tools.
Through visualization, spatial analysis, and comparison of possible alternatives, project staff and stakeholders make decisions based on a more holistic project picture:
• Scheduling – Visualize the schedule spatially with a time-slider to understand the project’s status and the next steps in the project build without diving into multiple Gantt charts, spreadsheets, or other applications. Analyze structures to ensure logical links and constraints and the correct sequence of work.
– Understand where resources currently reside and when and where they will be needed through the life of the project. Effectively plan for accommodation, accessibility to lavatories, escape routes, medical and emergency services, and more.
• Communications – Engage the right people in the right place at the right time by having a clear and accurate view of where and when work will occur. Understand current and future work locations to determine proactively where to focus efforts based on stakeholders and public feedback.
• Asset Inspections – Access asset information, including historical information about previous inspections, defects, photos, and videos. View geospatial features near an asset, such as access roads, health and safety hazards, and landowner information.
• Engineering – Quickly perform asset analysis before going to a site using various geospatial datasets. Point and click to information rather than looking through old files, documents, and paper maps, which are often outdated and usable.
• Environmental Works – Leverage one-stop-shop access to ecological, landscape, heritage, and related survey data that saves time in compiling reports and recommendations. Meet regulatory compliance to ensure sustainable development practices and patterns.
• Consents and Estates Processes – Streamline and simplify landowner/occupier information retrieval using intuitive map interfaces. Integrate public ownership data from different sources to speed up the Notice of Entry documentation process.
Data, data, everywhere, but now it produces a continuous flow of location intelligence that makes it possible to make better, faster decisions.
Mike Housby oversees EMEA operations for Locana, an international leader in spatial technology. Based in London, Mr. Housby works closely with Locana’s EMEA-based clients to achieve their most important business goals using location intelligence based on geospatial technologies. He has nearly 30 years of industry experience, including roles at CH2M, BA Speedwing, Logica UK and Price Waterhouse. He holds an MBA from Durham University and a BSc in Physics from Imperial College London.