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News & opinion

29 MAY 2020

Are construction professionals adequately equipped to work with data?

Simon Longstaffe is Operations Director at Mace 

In my previous position with Faithful+Gould I carried out a survey to try and better understand employees’ involvement with and perception of data. I asked 62 construction professionals at the company about their education, their experiences with data on their respective courses, and how they use data in their current roles. The results of the survey show a mismatch between the knowledge of data gained through education and the required skills to work with data in a surveying role.

Survey questions

  • What university did you go to?
  • What did you study?
  • What year did you graduate?
  • Did you course cover data?
  • If yes, was it a core or wider module?
  • Which of the following specialisms do you work in?
  • What do you mainly use data for?
  • How important do you think data is?

Responses

"Data is only as good as the decisions it enables."
Building surveyor, graduated with a degree in building surveying in 2011

Sunburst graph illustrating the questions: what did you study, did the course cover data, and what year did you graduate? Hover over and click on it to find out more.

"I do not feel that existing data is utilised enough in the industry, nor do I feel that the importance of using data is taught at university, perhaps the only exception being quantity surveying when learning about benchmarking."

Project manager, graduated with a degree in building surveying in 2012

"Data can be extremely powerful. However, I believe how it can be used is firmly based upon relevance and user knowledge in assessment and analytical tools. Without an understanding or education in such, its benefits are limited and it can be a hindrance."

Quantity surveyor, due to graduate with a degree in quantity surveying in 2020

"Data is important, but what is more critical is how well it is used and understood. For this, the industry needs surveyors who can properly use and interpret the data for clients using their considered professional judgement."

Facilities manager, graduated with a degree in building surveying in 1984

Proportionate breakdown of data use by surveying pathway. Hover over and click on the figure to find out more.

"We use data all day every day in the projects we work on. It is so important this is captured and utilised appropriately. Data is the hot topic currently, and ensuring data is captured and appropriately managed enables us as professionals to effectively manage our projects and work."

Project manager, graduated with a degree in construction project management in 2014

"A lack of standardisation in how we organise data in some cases makes it nearly impossible to analyse the data and turn it into something meaningful. This is particularly problematic when different project clients have different requirements of what data they want and how it should be presented to meet their specific needs. We have lots of data, but it is not in a format that allows for making like for like comparisons on a larger scale, because each client has their own standards."

Quantity surveyor, graduated with a degree in quantity surveying in 2018

Final thoughts

As data-driven decision making becomes embedded in the way we work, we need to better understand how to draw statistically valid inferences from data as opposed to the approach many of us currently take – that is, the ‘gut feeling meets years of experience’ approach. To achieve this, we need to bring data analysts and specialists into our industry.

This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring those trained to work specifically with data – although that could be a worthwhile option in some cases – but re-evaluating the job specification of the various roles in our industry and integrating data management into our education programmes accordingly. Our professionals need to understand what data to input to generate a subsequent data output. They need to be able to advise clients on the correct data requirements so systems can work effectively and to enable system-based collaborative working.

All those working in our profession should be trained to use, manage and analyse data appropriately, regardless of their specialism. Data should be at the core of higher education courses so the next generation of surveyors enter the industry job ready.

More in-depth data education would allow the industry to overcome many of the issues around data, which were cited by many survey participants as a lack of collaboration, the quality and trustworthiness of data, and data access and storage.

RICS, too, must evaluate the way data is taught in its education pathways. The current RICS Data management competency is centred around how data is collected, stored and retrieved – in other words, how it is handled rather than how it is created and used. Perhaps what would be more effective than a singular Data management competency is for data management and analysis to become a requisite part of each of the competencies.

And what about those surveyors, like me, who received their initial qualifications many years ago. Should we upskill, so we are able to work more effectively with data? If so, how do we go about it? These are, perhaps, not easy questions to answer. As a starting point, however, I invite you to conduct a similar survey to the one I did, with the construction professionals at your own company. And please do share the results – we should, after all, be breaking free of our silos.