The Dynamic Data Empowering Balfour Beatty’s Builders

by Kasey Bevans

If you only think of bricks and mortar when you imagine a Balfour Beatty Construction jobsite, think again. Yes, there’s the same scent of sawdust hanging in the air, the familiar ringing of equipment alarms, and the whines of buzzing saws. There’s the same passion and energy from our crews, who wake up each and every morning with a zealous embrace of our company’s purpose to be a relentless ally for the success of our client’s dreams. So if all the fundamentals are the same, you might be wondering about the identity of the missing puzzle piece.

It’s the cloud, of course, which has changed every facet of the AEC industry as we once knew it. In fact, I’d challenge you to think of a single component technology hasn’t touched – if not transformed – over the past decade. If the saying was once, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” today’s version might be, “If you can digitize it, you can do it.” It’s an exciting time to be a part of this global revolution, and I’m particularly bullish about ways information systems will enable our teams to move the needle even further when it comes to schedule, cost, and safety just to name a few key topics.

Although some in my field like to think of technology as a replacement for manual labor, I’d like to think of it instead as the greatest compliment to it. In our industry, is not uncommon to meet masons or electricians who learned their craft from their fathers, who in turn, learned from their fathers. Construction can really get in your blood! Because it is such an art, and not just a skill, I have learned the importance of getting out of the way and letting the painters paint so to speak! (This is quite literally true for some trades).

Accordingly, I believe our team’s main priority at Balfour Beatty is to make people’s jobs easier and more efficient. This means providing our teammates with not just the next big thing but rather the next right thing, which can be a tall order at the rate new technologies gather steam these days. Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” so here are a few topics my team and I are currently stewarding to make sure Balfour Beatty associates can get on with what they do best: building dreams.

From Static to Dynamic Data

At Balfour Beatty, we have moved beyond the realm of mobile field management and digital automation solutions to the exploration of “business intelligence.” Often called BI for short, it is a catch-all term for software that has the power to analyze raw data. And as we all know, there is a TON of data to manage on every jobsite. This is a key shift that will ultimately enable our team to support the company’s strategic business roadmap in new and increasingly fruitful ways.

Investing in BI tools is important for two reasons. First, these tools will enable us to ascertain present realities and adapt accordingly. It is no secret that our industry has long been plagued by volatility, and few can claim total immunity from the fiscal vulnerability the recent downturn in margins has exposed. If our field teams are empowered to record real-time metrics, we as an organization can discover and remedy problems before they become catastrophes at the midnight hour – or beyond. We are currently developing a centralized project dashboard system that will make our teams’ task of progress reporting much simpler and less time-consuming while providing the type of raw data that facilitates meaningful conversations about future performance versus analyzing past errors. That, in and of itself, is a game changer for the health of our business. Second, BI tools have the power to revolutionize the quality of data recorded. As we all know, bad data in is bad data out. If we can consistently log data in a single reporting system, eliminating time-consuming compilation and formatting in multiple, unconnected platforms, we will absolutely improve the accuracy of our key performance indicators. At their core, BI tools are very much lean tools, helping us drive unnecessary waste out of our IT systems.

Virtually Unlimited

One of the great things about getting the fundamentals right is that it allows you to explore the possible. For the James Bond in all of us, the use of enhanced and augmented reality combined with wearables and biometrics is an exciting advancement, and we have only yet begun to scratch the surface of their potential applications. You’ve probably heard some of the current buzzwords being used in the media, and for some of these technologies, you’ve probably even watched a major motion picture that harnessed their power. These include: oculus, virtual reality (VR), drones, and “The Internet of things” just to name a few of the new ways of capturing data – whether it be pictures, video, or environmental attributes.

A great example that our team recently explored is the DAQRI Smart Helmet, a digital improvement on the traditional construction hard hat. It may look like a piece of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, but the goal certainly isn’t invincibility (even in the realm of virtual reality). By combining world-class sensors, an intuitive user experience, and augmented reality software, the helmets can provide users with unprecedented levels of information about the world (or jobsite) around them.

While it is tempting to chase cool gadgets, I strive to ensure Balfour Beatty has a measured, tempered approach to making technology investments. We definitely won’t be donning these helmets anytime soon, but the central takeaway is that our team is listening and responding to our associates’ needs – both in the field and outside of it. After all, a value-adding information technology team has the power to form the building blocks of an agile enterprise, and at Balfour Beatty, one thing’s for certain – we will never become a stumbling block.