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Building higher: The cloud’s role in scaling, optimizing construction projects

Business / Construction Management / MTWO

Building higher: The cloud’s role in scaling, optimizing construction projects

Commercial real estate development is listed high among the largest and most lucrative global industries. This means it’s also one of the most information-rich sectors. 

Planning and logistics data amasses faster than most on-premises IT systems can scale. Meanwhile, the data that is available often lives in silos (at various job sites and offices), making it hard for construction companies and their collaborators to streamline information sharing. Potentially glacial data flows that might otherwise be mined to identify opportunities for efficiency and better outcomes ultimately end up being stifled.

In recent years, many CRE firms and general contractors have begun looking to the cloud as a cost-effective, highly scalable means of creating a better common data model. Comparable to how manufacturers and 3PLs are attempting to mine data in their supply chains and then use analytics to make sense of it, construction companies have an opportunity to harness data and analytics to transform their internal capabilities.

Construction starts in the digital cloud

The most universally-touted benefit of cloud computing is scalability. Even before data analytics enter the equation, on-premises capacity planning is complicated. It’s a constant game of give and take – more capacity means greater costs, but it also introduces opportunities to digitally store documentation, drawings, contracts and other data. Conversely, provisioning fewer servers might leave you in situations where you have no choice but to rely on paper-based documentation, becoming even more deeply entrenched in silos. 

By contrast, major cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure support pay-as-you go scaling models that let you spin up servers within a few hours from the comfort of your work desk. The upfront expenses are significantly lower, which is crucial for the next succession in digital construction: artificial intelligence and other forms of advanced analytics.

Why is this so important?

The global Building Information Modeling (BIM) market value is projected to nearly triple from about $1.7 billion in 2019 to $4.21 billion by 2024, according to Market Watch. While BIM is only one area where AI comes in handy for large construction projects, it’s perhaps the most compelling use case, and one that will require a caliber of processing power that on-premises IT teams simply cannot keep up with.

The chief benefit of BIM is first and foremost to digitally represent both the functional and structural elements of a construction project. Graphical and non-graphical data is aggregated in a common data environment so that it can be shared among various stakeholders involved in a large-scale construction project.

“BIM digitally represents the functional and structural elements of a construction project.”

With the evolution to 4D and 5D BIM, time and cost can be factored into the model, respectively. For example, 4D BIM can factor in time associated with construction, assembling, curing, hardening, etc. In more advanced scenarios, drones can even be used to remotely map real-time progress and reassess timelines. With 5D BIM, the expenses tied to the project can also be anticipated by a computer system, which significantly improves cost management. By adding the dimensions of time and cost, construction projects are much more likely to progress on-time and on-budget. 

As some construction companies move toward 4D and 5D BIM, many others are still just getting their feet wet with 3D BIM. There’s unquestionable potential in more advanced BIM systems, but before construction companies can even entertain the notion of evolving, they need to tap into the cloud as a means of scaling and optimizing the supporting IT infrastructure.  

Laying a foundation in the cloud

A common data model via the cloud is crucial for storage and analysis of data at massive scales. It’s also integral for improving collaboration between different sites and the many stakeholders involved in a single project. With a shared set of digital resources, collaborators are more likely to be on the same page, especially as the project gets handed off at various stages of development. Expectations for quality standards, timelines and budget projections can be more consistently maintained. 

Far from replacing the need for project managers, cost managers, surveyors, estimators and other roles, advanced analytics give these professionals more agency by helping them focus less on hunting for information or reconciling inconsistencies, and more on actually doing their jobs – corresponding with other stakeholders, focusing more on judgment-based project evaluations and, ultimately, accelerating time to value. 

For more information about how construction companies can benefit from large-scale data repositories with cloud technology, contact our MTWO construction management consultants today.

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