8th January 2021

Why greater data access can underpin economic recovery

Further to the Government’s National Data Strategy consultation, to which we contributed, our Director of Strategy, Grant Findlay, explains why enabling greater data access is the first step towards improving project delivery and productivity.

When we look back at 2020 in years to come, one of the positives that I expect many to flag is how the pandemic encouraged the adoption of new practices and approaches. Whether it be the way we work, how we use technology or collectively address climate change and social inequality, COVID has touched every aspect of society. For our industry, one of the biggest shifts we will look back on will be our growing appreciation and use of data.

This year has been instrumental in highlighting the value of project data and its infinite possible uses. Data quality and data access are key factors in realising the potential of data to support productivity improvement in infrastructure and construction to help grow the UK economy.

The recent launch of the Government’s National Data Strategy is a heartening indication that they share this view and are committed to unleashing the potential of data and enabling the UK to become a true world leader. Its objectives include transforming the Government’s use of data, unlocking its value across the economy and maintaining a pro-growth data regime. While ambitious, if effectively delivered, it has the potential to transform UK productivity and efficiency.

However, recent RICS reports indicate that 95% of project data is still not used – so what can we, as an industry, be doing to take us to the next level?

No single organisation can implement learnings from their data alone, especially SMEs that don’t have access to sufficient volume of data required to inform business improvement activity. It requires a co-ordinated and collaborative approach across Government, institutions, academia and business – a cohesive force currently missing from the project data analytics landscape. The Government has a key role here in encouraging cross-sector collaboration to collate, combine and share the data and solutions needed to improve business practices.

As the head of the Data Access work stream for the Project Data Analytics Task Force, which published “Transforming project performance with data” whitepaper in September, and a founding member of the Construction Data Trust, I am delighted that Sir Robert McAlpine has responded to the Government’s National Digital Consultation strategy to emphasise these points.

The potential for advanced data analytics increases significantly when data is pooled for community level use. To achieve this, we need to be prepared to democratise our data and pool our capabilities to accelerate the rate of implementation, and to increase data volumes. We must also deploy advanced data analytics and AI to share these learnings for our collective interest and accelerate the implementation. Strong data governance is essential to build trust with data owners and confidence in analytics outputs. One potential solution to this problem is the establishment of data trusts, where data is shared between businesses and groups.

Nearly three years ago, we supported the Project Data Analytics Community, founded by data analytics consultancy, Projecting Success. Since then, we have grown a community that has demonstrated, through seven hackathon events so far, how much faster we can advance, working collaboratively rather than via separate channels.  Faced with real industry challenges, the project professionals that attend these events have worked with data analysts and scientists to come up with powerful solutions to help their own businesses. The hackathons have opened our eyes to the power of pooling data, future data access challenges, and the need for implementing measures, like differential privacy to make sure that data can be made available to the right people. 

As we turn our attention to the future, the key to facilitating the path to economic recovery will be our ability to facilitate access to data. Whilst the emergent project data analytics community in the UK is already the world’s largest forum for discussing and sharing ideas and good practice, with more than 6,500 participants, it now needs to broaden the sectors, professions and roles which participate.

We must connect experts, facilitate knowledge sharing, and create insights that inspire and generate momentum across industries. For the construction sector this can only boost productivity and allow up to realise our full potential in supporting the UK’s economic recovery.

Grant Findlay is responsible for strategy development and innovation at Sir Robert McAlpine. He has founded the Construction Data Trust, a collaboration aimed at using data to improve the construction industry, and sits on the UK Projects Data Analytics Taskforce.

 

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