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Don’t Let “Fake Data” Derail Your Construction Projects

by Marc Schwarz

“There are three kinds of lies,” wrote Mark Twain. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

As a former social studies teacher, I used to drill into my students the importance of choosing reliable sources. Historians call it “interrogating a source.” The goal is establish how much faith we should put into what it’s telling us.

In the world of construction, reliable data is a pearl beyond price. Research shows that more than half of all rework — over $31 billion annually in the U.S. — is caused by faulty information. Factor in the secondary cost of project delays caused by all that rework and the impact on owners’ checkbooks is significant.

The issue isn’t that we lack data — it’s that data can be used to mislead as easily as it can be used to enlighten. And just like the “fake news” that proliferates across social media, creating confusion and confirming biases, “fake data” can cause you to have a skewed view of the health of your project. That in turn can lead to some nasty surprises down the road, especially when delays and unanticipated costs start piling up.

Where does fake data come from?

Given the prevalence of construction project management software, how is fake data even possible in today’s high tech construction environment? 

There’s no simple answer. Unlike fake news, fake data isn’t always purposeful. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of garbage in, garbage out. Maybe a stakeholder unknowingly input the wrong information or accidentally miskeyed an Excel formula or used an outdated document. Missing data is a major problem: studies show that up to 30% of initial data created during design and construction phases is lost by project closeout.

These issues have only been compounded over the past year by time and labor pressures, which have grown especially acute because of the continued disruption of the global supply chain, soaring inflation, and shortages of skilled workers. Over 50% of engineering and construction professionals report one or more underperforming projects in the previous year, with almost 3/4 of construction firms reporting that projects are taking longer than anticipated.

Sometimes fake data is due to a stakeholder trying to cover up a mistake, delay an unpleasant conversation with the project owner, or cut corners to increase or preserve their own margins. With construction costs jumping nearly 20% last year and over 60% of contractors saying that they’re having trouble finding skilled workers, construction firms can be tempted to play a project management shell game with unvigilant owners.   

How do things go wrong?

In theory, your project team should be able to leverage whatever construction management software you’re using to catch any mistakes, omissions, or attempts at concealment. In practice, however, there are several reasons for why that isn’t always the case:

The software is designed for contractors, not owners. The reality is that most construction management software platforms are built for contractors, not owners. As a result, they don’t always give owners sufficient drill-down visibility into the data, requiring that they instead take a leap of faith that they’re being told accurate, timely information about their project. 

Key documents aren’t easily accessible or critical information isn’t communicated. One of the main causes of fake data is bad communication. Failing to share updated schedules, budgets, or project workscopes can result in stakeholders working from the wrong set of assumptions, leading to confusion and mistakes. The lack of a centralized communications system can also lead to team members being inadvertently left out of the loop.    

Stakeholders aren’t held accountable for using the platform appropriately. Even the best platform can’t deliver value if it’s not being used correctly . . .  or at all. Project teams and construction professionals are notorious creatures of habit, reluctant to change their approach. But in a substantially changed construction environment, the old ways of doing things aren’t necessarily the best ways. Using construction management software on a hit-or-miss basis inevitably creates data gaps and blindspots.

The team is undertrained on the platform. Many construction management software platforms are incredibly complex. Unfortunately, time is limited . . . and so are training budgets. That means that new stakeholders often have an imperfect knowledge of how to use the software. And as the Great Resignation leads to more staff turnover, the risk of project team members not being appropriately onboarded should be a real concern for owners.

How can you protect yourself?

The answer to protecting yourself from fake data is a mixture of the right platform, the right processes, and the right people.

The right platform: Choose construction project management software developed to protect owners’ interests, not contractors. Ensure that it has integrated checks and balances that not only give you a birds’ eye view of the health of your project, but also let you zoom down to examine individual actions or issues in detail. Key features to look for include robust document management, real-time accounting and scheduling views, and the ability to serve as a communications hub for the entire team. 

The right processes: Training is essential for ensuring that your construction management software really is a single source of truth for your project, from design through close-out. Vet the software provider carefully to understand not only how much initial training is needed, but how much ongoing support they’ll provide. How much will you pay if you have support needs mid-project? How responsive will they be? How much will it cost for additional onboarding or refresher training? 

The right people: A successful construction project requires the contributions of hundreds of people apart from your internal project team. As an owner, you’re not just partnering with your architect and general contractor — you’re also depending on consultants and engineers and subcontractors and vendors. And while we all want to believe that every partnership will be successful, perhaps the best advice in this area is that from President Reagan: “Trust but verify.” Build in contractual safeguards to ensure that the AEC professionals you work with will follow your lead, including the use of the construction management software you choose. If they balk, it might be a yellow flag that signals potential problems later.

The Owner Insite Advantage

Owner Insite’s collaborative, cloud-based construction management software was built by owners for owners. Whether you’re on the job site or in your office, you’ll get real-time visibility into all aspects of your project on any web-enabled device. View your balance-to-finish, approve RFIs and Submittals, track change orders, update schedules, and easily share documents.

Best of all, Owner Insite’s platform is quick to set up and easy to use. And thanks to our unlimited, best-in-class training and support, your team will always get what you need to maximize your investment, free of charge. No other construction management software can say the same.

Don’t take our word for it. Schedule a demo and see for yourself. It could be your best defense against the risk of fake data derailing your projects.

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