Construction companies can put the readily available data they already possess to good use. This data can serve for more than just survival; it can help them thrive during the tough times caused by COVID-19, attendees at Procore’s Groundbreak 2020 conference learned recently.
“Just because we are dealing with a global pandemic, and there’s a lot of data associated with it, doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to stop looking at data and information,” said Kristopher Lengieza, Senior Director of Global Partnerships and Alliances at Procore. “Data can continue to improve our businesses by informing the decisions we make on where we’re going with our businesses, what we should do with our employees, where we should invest in technology, where we should invest in chasing projects.”
The session, entitled How Data will Help Firms Survive and Thrive in Uncertain Times, was led by Lengieza and Ken Simonson, Chief Economist at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The presenters provided an overview of the impact the pandemic has had on the industry and the outlook going forward.
Construction executives attending the session also learned about the value of access to new data sources and how to put the information to work even in such uncertain times.
Why Data Matters
Lengieza noted that about 96% of all information collected via paperwork, in the fields, emails, text messages, and on phones goes unused. Therefore, there’s a golden opportunity for companies to harness the data.
“There’s so much information that’s being collected by the workers that are building projects all around the world, but we haven’t really put it to work for us.”
Lengieza said it was not formatted well, collected cleanly, nor was it easily accessible by companies. “We don’t necessarily know what to look at; we haven’t had the tools to leverage that information the way that we want to make business decisions.”
However, the data can help construction industry firms because it provides information for a lot of decisions around issues like what to do with employees and where to invest in technology, he said.
Procore uses such data, along with analytics, AI, and machine learning, to “uplevel” the construction industry and the business process. Thus, it gives firms insights into the pandemic and helps plot out what’s happening across the U.S.
What the Data Demonstrates
The initial hypothesis was that small businesses were affected much more than others, and the data confirmed it. Data has also shown that in the early day of COVID-19, the industry took a strong hit with regards to the number of workers who were showing up on projects. While the numbers are back to pre-pandemic levels, they are still not as strong as the industry would like.
Simonson said an annual workforce survey done by the AGCA indicated that 60% of respondents reported that a scheduled project had been postponed or canceled. Only 12% said they’d won new or expanded projects as a result of the pandemic. As might be expected, about one-third of contractors indicated that projects have taken longer than contractors had anticipated.
Figures also show that from February to April, the industry lost 1.1 million jobs or 14% of the employment. As of September, 64% of jobs that had been lost came back.
In looking forward, while 29% said that business is back to a year ago levels or has exceeded it, an even larger percentage, 38%, said that it would take at least six months or longer before they got there.
What the Future Holds
Simonson said residential spending has been increasing over the past six months, but non-residential has been declining overall. There have been some positives within non-residential, such as warehouse construction.
Looking forward, firms remain relatively optimistic, according to Simonson, with 38% expecting to add employees, 38% anticipating their headcount will stay the same, and the rest figuring they will have to terminate or temporarily furlough workers.
After the pandemic ends, Simonson expects that construction will be slower to rebound than other sectors as most businesses have taken a big hit and owners have had unexpected expenses and will not be expanding.
Every material, every man hour, and every jobsite can be improved through data. Learn the fundamentals of this untapped resource.