Is it time for Big Data in Construction?

Big Data

What is Big Data

“Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis. But it’s not the amount of data that’s important. It’s what organisations do with the data that matters. Big data can be analysed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves”-SAS 2016. 

We as humans generate data every day, our mobile phones, social media, and wearable devices are all examples of popular technology that amasses huge amounts of data on a daily basis. As we continue to collect more and more data, the term ‘Big Data’ will continue to grow in popularity.

This is the same for our businesses and our buildings… Industries such as banking, retail, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and the government are all utilising big data analytics to make the best use of the information that they are creating on a daily basis… the construction industry is soon to follow that lead.

Back in 2001, an industry analyst Doug Laney developed a way for us to define Big Data. Doug outlined that Big Data is not to be defined by the amount (volume) of data alone, instead, we should also consider the Variety and Velocity of the information being gathered. This definition is known as the three V’s… further explanation of each of the V’s can be found below:

  • Volume – refers the amount of information generated/ collected, often to be classed as Big Data the volume of data must be larger than the conventional database can deal with.
  • Velocity – refers to the rate at which the data is gathered from smart sensors and smart metering etc. the importance lies in the ability and speed of procession that information and turning it into a decision.
  • Variety – refers to the diverse nature of the data. Data comes in all formats and very rarely flows into a business in a form that is perfectly ordered a ready for processing into a decision. It is often messy and hard to understand.

Why is it important?

Revenue Graph

The importance of Big Data does not lie with the amount data that is created, its value comes from  the ability to analyse that data effectively.

Analysing the generated data can enable an organisation or building owner to establish possible cost and time reductions, service improvements and inevitably allow the building or organisation to make smart decisions.

Effective analyse can enable a building owner to:

  • Identify the causes of failures, problems and defects in near-real-time.
  • Generate an idea of the user habits of building users.
  • Recalculate risk portfolios.
  • Automate certain elements of building maintenance.
  • Automate certain types of procurement.

All in all big data allows us to make better decisions, if data is not aligned with a decision then the data collection is useless and the decisions poor or late.

Take the popular activity tracker Fitbit as an example of using data to make better decisions… these devices are constantly recording data about your body, things such as heart rate, running speed, calories etc. The Fitbit can even call, text and give calendar updates. All of this data is recorded onto the device so that you can make a better decision about your health and your body… if the device reads that your heart rate is too high, then you can make the decision to reduce that by controlling your breathing. Or you can make the decision to run for longer based on the number of calories burned when loosing weight.

This is the same with buildings – once we can start to gather data from how our buildings are performing then we can start to make decisions to optimise its performance.

What Data does the AEC industry create?


The construction industry as a whole is now starting to produce more data (information) and is becoming more conscious of how useful data can be. There are opportunities to gather data in each different stage of the construction process.


This recent rise in Building Information Modelling has increased the awareness of generation information about our buildings, we now have more as built or existing building information than we ever had before.


Data can even be gathered and used during the construction of a project; it can be used to give readings on stress, temperature, humidity, and other factors which relate to the safety and success of a project when on site. An example of this could be seen on the channel 4 show ’The Tallest Tower – Building the Shard’’, where sensors were placed around the excavation site to give real-time updates on ground movements to ensure the opening would not fall in on itself.

Operation and maintenance

Although many buildings have the ability to monitor the engineering services through a Building Management System many of them are not intelligent, and more often than not our buildings lack the ability to collect real-time data on building performance. Over the next few years, buildings should become smarter and will start to collect data on energy use, performance and operations status etc.

Other data to be utilised

As well as the smart sensor feedback Big Data systems could also utilise input data from banking transactions, traffic flow sensors, GPS tracking, construction material cost data, financial market data etc.

Also the ability to collect information on building users will allow building owners/ operators to predict future choices. Utilising the data gathered from smart metering and remote sensors can allow us to predict user behaviour. The number of large-scale data can become extremely useful for marketing and business planning.

Building professionals will need to be smart about how they handle big data if they are to make the most of it.  After all, data is only of any use for us if it is used to help us make decisions.

So how is it done?


Big Data Analytics isn’t yet a big thing in the construction industry. Although has been in many other industries for some time.

The most popular solution for many industries is to outsource the collection and analysis of data to a data specialist. With this solution concerns over storage of large amounts of data are reduced, and specialist analysis can turn the data into useful, business focused information.

Another option would be to hire a data specialist within the organisation who can look at the best option in terms of where to store the data or decide what needs to be analysed.

First of all, we must create the large amounts of useful data required, meaning that the building must have a sound foundation of information in a BIM model and also must be creating real-time information through smart sensors or smart metering solutions. In short, we must have enough data so that we can make decisions from it.

Manipulating the Data…

Once the data is gathered a data specialist if required to make sense of the data and align it will the required outcomes of the business or buildings.

There multiple version of Big Data analytics software which can be used to manipulate data.

A popular tool is Apache Hadoop, which is used by many service providers and can also be purchased alone for manipulation in-house by a data scientist. There are also many Software as a Service (SaaS) options available.

Of course storing in the cloud can still be seen as a risk to some organisations although the alternative method of storing locally on large servers can also be an issue in terms of space for the server itself.

Either way, it is important to have a data expert on board when dealing with these systems, it is reported that 80% of the effort involved in dealing with data is cleaning it up in the first place, this is something only a data expert can deal with.


Construction 2025 outlined that our industry, ‘will drive a step change in how we build and how our built environment operates. Crucial to this is the emergence of new technologies in sensors and data management that will become embedded in our assets, enabling performance to be constantly monitored and thereby driving substantial efficiency gains in facilities and asset management.’

Who is doing Data Analytics now?

Graph with ipad

An organisation which currently analyses the building in the UK for its performance.


Redstone – Redstone offer a range of solutions for making buildings
smart, by analysing data from building sensors they can help a building perform smarter. Redstone also offer a service which measures user interaction with the building to allow for better space utilisation and management.

Software to check out

Other software and software as service to check out

Author: Martin Watson

Lead Editor at Construct Digital – As lead editor Martin reports on topics specifically relating to BIM, digital software and physical technologies which are revolutionising the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry.

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