Construction must focus on quality of data, says McAlpine

Data quality and literacy image
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The construction industry must focus on the quality of the data it generates and the skills of those interfacing with it.

That was one of the key messages from last week’s Digital Construction Summit webinar, entitled What does good data look like?

Gareth Parkes, head of data and analytics at Sir Robert McAlpine and director of the Construction Data Trust, explained: “The industry has got a really long way to go when it comes to the quality of our core datasets. Data scientists don’t want to be trawling through loads and loads of rubbish data. They want to be working with really big, really complex, really high-quality datasets, because that’s where they get to push the frontiers of what’s capable today.”

If data quality is an issue, so is data literacy. John Millar, technologist at BIM Academy, said: “All the functions in the team need a good level of data literacy. If everyone on the team can get used to interfacing with data, understanding how it can be structured, the characteristics of data quality and so on, then that can unlock a huge amount of potential for how teams can collaborate internally and externally.”

A new skills challenge?

Asked if this represents a new skills challenge for construction, he answered: “There’s a lot the industry can do by bringing in computer scientists, data scientists, software developers. As we look ahead to the likes of digital twins, it’s clear that software architecture is going to play a major part. The more brains we can bring into that department, the better.

“Ensuring everyone has that basic level of competence, that they’re all able to manage their own data – that could be a much more valuable approach.”

Parkes agreed: “It is all about embedding these skills across the across the supply chain. The biggest myth is that data is just for geeks and for particular sorts of data science teams. It’s not at all: it’s for everybody. If you are not on the journey, you’re going to get left behind over the next three to five years.

“Something that we’ve done at Sir Robert McAlpine is make use of a project data analytics apprenticeship. There are real opportunities to embed the skills into our organisations today.”

Myths and misconceptions

The audience asked Parkes and Millar about the common myths and misconceptions about data they have come across.

Millar questioned the rhetoric around data, especially that which is not grounded. He said: “We have to understand why we’re asking for data and what we’re using that data for.”

Parkes added: “One of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s somebody else’s problem. Data and information management is seen as an abstract thing that someone else is going to do.”

Ultimately, Millar reminded the audience: “Data isn’t a solution in and of itself, it’s the foundation of a solution.”

Partners for the Digital Construction Summit 2023 are the Chartered Institute of Building, Cohesive, Elecosoft, Ideagen Mail Manager and NavVis. The Summit was organised by BIMplus and Construction Management.

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