The Case for Bigger, Better Data in the Federal Construction Lifecycle

Gordian’s Vice President of Federal Solutions, Bryan Walter, recently sat down with Tracy Thomas, the Managing Director for Construction, Facilities and Security Management at the State Department, to discuss the roles of data and technology in the federal construction lifecycle.

Over the course of their discussion, Tracy shared how she has seen technology transform the flow of information throughout her extensive career in federal construction management. She, with help from Bryan, also highlighted a few key areas where data-based technologies have an opportunity to continue revolutionizing federal construction work by alleviating risks and creating more robust project plans.

When mapped onto the federal construction lifecycle, their discussion focused on three main phases: the planning phase, the constructing phase and facilities management.

Big Data in the Federal Planning Phase

Building information models, commonly referred to as BIMs, have become a preferred and trusted method for designing new facilities. BIMs, in and of themselves, represent a large step forward in the use of data and technology to enhance the planning and design phase, as they have grown in popularity over the past two decades across government sectors. BIMs provide a more advanced solution for mapping out facilities, but Tracy thinks there’s still room for improvement in their usage.

She supposes that, if BIM models could be connected to advanced analytical systems that calculate the cost of materials and assemblies or the time required to build them, that greater efficiencies and consistency could be brought to the federal planning and design phase. Additionally, if those calculations could account for changes in building sites and conditions, then federal BIMs could be used to standardize the planning process for certain agencies that operate across the world.

All of this, of course, would require better data integration through federal systems. Before the integration could begin, though, reliable and trusted sources of data would need to be identified. As Bryan mentioned, RSMeans data from Gordian – the construction industry’s gold standard for construction estimating cost data and a preferred vendor of federal agencies operating in North America – has proven to be such a source of material cost data and labor task times. Were the RSMeans database to be mapped to federal BIMs, agencies could theoretically visualize new facilities or alterations to existing ones while simultaneously estimating the cost of work.

Big Data in the Federal Construction Work

Simultaneous data syncs were also a subject touched on while Tracy and Bryan discussed the construction phase of the federal construction lifecycle. Tracy noted federal groups have room to grow in sharing risks and lessons across agency lines. “Identifying risks takes open communication,” Tracy noted, “but you need to capture them in a way that everyone understands them and can monitor them as they go.”

Tracy envisions a future where both physical and digital tech work hand-in-hand to monitor job site conditions, project progress and supply chain movement, then transmit that information to agency centers around the world. This level of connectivity would allow for project timelines to be adjusted proactively, rather than reactively, reducing waste. It would also enable any issues with design or material performance to be transmitted to other project sites, minimizing the spread of risk. An extensive monitoring system would need to be built to bring this vision close to reality, as would a standardized digital platform for entering and sharing project information.

Big Data in Federal Facilities Management

Of the three federal construction lifecycle phases that Bryan and Tracy discussed, the facilities management phase is the one where big data solutions seem to be nearest at hand. Digital inspection tools are now commonplace in the industry, and year-over-year the companies offering these tools are releasing more advanced features, like smart scanning for asset labels, geo-tagging problem sites and mapping pictures or videos of potential risks onto floorplans. These smart features increase both the speed and accuracy of inspection work, reducing the likelihood of gaps in data or user errors, thus setting a reliable floor for capital planning.

But advancements in data systems could still bring improvements to facilities management. Tying inspection data into capital planning software is becoming more common, though differences in the data cataloguing of systems can sometimes make the process more of a headache than a help. If, however, inspection data could run through a capital planning software and subsequently into a project management system capable of pricing maintenance work, issuing contracts and tracking project process, then report closed projects back into the inspection portal, then a full and cohesive facilities management solution would be possible. But this would require a singular data language to run through each digital tool, something that is rare to find across vendors.

Federal Construction Lifecycle Advancements: Close at Hand

While none of the scenarios outlined above are yet reality, some aren’t so far off. Gordian is constantly working to hone our comprehensive, data-supported construction lifecycle software tools. From RSMeans Data Online for estimating and planning projects, to JOC Cloud for contracting and tracking project progress, to our suite of facilities planning solutions for inspections, management and capital planning, Gordian has the right tools and expertise to aid federal agencies in tracking and maintaining facility health.

About Gordian

Gordian is the leader in facility and construction cost data, software and services for all phases of the building lifecycle. A pioneer of Job Order Contracting, Gordian’s solutions also include proprietary RSMeans data construction costs and Facility Intelligence Solutions. From planning to design, to procurement, construction and operations, Gordian’s solutions help clients maximize efficiency, optimize cost savings and increase building quality.