How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Sir Robert McAlpine (SRM) is a construction company delivering complex projects for a living: from roads to hospitals, offices to accommodation, and many iconic buildings. We are proudly building Britain’s future heritage.
Project data analytics is only at the start of its journey. By working collaboratively across multiple horizons, we are starting to transform the way projects are delivered.
It is the complexity of what we do that simultaneously aligns so well with the world of data and analytics and makes it so challenging. As we begin to make more and better use of data, we aim to inspire and improve.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
In January, we started building a new data team, processes and infrastructure. This came to a complete stop and we had to start again in July. The uncertainty meant restructure, reforming key relationships, revising plans and refocusing the objectives for our data activities.
Our first project data analyst apprentices started in February, augmenting their pre-existing construction knowledge and experiences. They have all brilliantly handled the daily pressures of construction alongside their additional learning, using newfound skills to demonstrate immediate value. For example, one data analyst created simple reports to show clients the continued productivity of people kept away from sites by the pandemic.
But, most importantly for me, they are pioneers, showing a new and sustainable way of building analytics capability from within project delivery teams. In the latter half of the year, and building on our early successes, we were able to add two further cohorts of our own analysts and continue to encourage other organisations to join us. We plan on more again in 2021.
Our work on a data trust for construction, in collaboration with the Open Data Institute, thought leaders Projecting Success, and multiple other partners, stopped, and has only recently restarted. With support from Microsoft, we used the break to set up the infrastructure.
We supported Projecting Success to pivot the project data analytics community of some 7,000 enthusiasts and Project:Hack from face-to-face meet-ups to virtual, increasing attendance and maintaining momentum.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
Project data analytics is only in its infancy. 2021 will see it reach critical mass of interested parties, capability, and results. It is the year project delivery teams start planning for analyst skills within their teams as a matter of course.
We have work to do setting out our stall of data services, improving the data products we have available, and expanding the value and benefits our project data analysts are already bringing to project delivery teams. Working with our partners, we will demonstrate the value of data trusts as a mechanism for shared learning and collaboration across construction and beyond.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Globally, the project delivery industry needs transformation: only 1 in 200 major projects delivers on time, cost, and benefits. In construction, that translates to using data and analytics to improve safety, quality, sustainability, and productivity for starters. The Construction Data Trust is one mechanism to improve data quality, unlock insights and innovations for all parties involved.
The Project Data Analytics Task Force aims to tackle broader challenges, positioning the UK as a global leader. SRM are a founding task force member. Access to data is a big challenge, so we’re leading this task force workstream, to help other organisations with their own data journey.
What has been your path to power?
Advanced data analytics is not typically associated with construction. It is my job to bring the two together, disrupting the way projects get delivered by making better use of data.
I’ve made my career in the built environment, first in energy, then construction. I set up knowledge and research services and digital teams for the Energy Institute before joining Sir Robert McAlpine to improve how we learn from experience. A chance encounter with small business Projecting Success blew my mind with the power and possibility of advanced data analytics.
In 2018, SRM started sponsoring the Project Data Analytics community, helping it grow from 250 to 7,000 strong. We led the way by showing the art of the possible, providing challenges and data for community hackathons. This lean, iterative approach is at the heart of everything we do.
In 2019, I took a leading role setting up the Construction Data Trust, and in 2020 helped establish the Project Data Analytics Task Force and now lead its data access workstream.
Together, we demonstrate that data and analytics can be delivered by any organisation. We pioneer a trail, preparing the way for others.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
We are poised to bring transformational change to construction, as well as helping and learning from other sectors who deliver major projects with their own transformations.
Our work is introducing valuable change at every level, championed by our project data analysts: from the tasks individuals perform; within specific teams; at project level with our supply chain partners; across Sir Robert McAlpine; across the construction sector; and, ultimately; across multiple sectors delivering major projects.
We are demonstrating success, with a clear vision that links the role any individual can play with transformational change. I am proud to tell this story.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
In September 2020, the Project Data Analytics Task Force launched our first white paper, setting out our collective ambition for change. This is a step-change in the use of data to improve project delivery. A tenfold improvement would be a transformational cultural shift, but it would still only mean 1 in 20 major projects is going to be delivered inside its expected time, cost, and benefits. That’s mad.
It wraps up all the complexity of delivering just one project with the difficult-to-fathom macro climate and nature emergencies we face today. Now that’s my kind of challenge.
How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?
The two are rapidly becoming more closely intertwined.
Data and analytics are enablers for project delivery – intelligent reporting, process automation, advanced project controls, decision-making tools, early warning notifications, risk analysis and mitigation, information and records management, productivity tracking, the list goes on, and that’s before we even start considering high end predictive analytics.
We are giving people with project delivery experience the data skills they need to change the jobs they do. By embedding these skills within our project teams and using the apprenticeship levy to pay for the training, there is a natural connection to project goals. By aligning these project goals with personal learning objectives of our data analysts, and our wider business goals, we have a compelling case for further alignment.
This is a powerful platform for change and a way to make sense of the complexity around us. The challenge is to ensure processes and infrastructure can keep pace with project level innovations to sustain, replicate and scale the best of these. This is the fundamental connection to digital transformation: the adoption of digital tools and the capability of businesses to both use and improve them.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
For me, data and analytics can be applied to such a broad range of other priorities – skills people can use to solve their own challenges.
My experience is that these terms lack meaning beyond a small group of passionate people. This will change in time. Until then, the language and concepts need to fit your organisation.
Organisations already have multiple cultures, sub-cultures and micro-cultures. In project delivery, you see this on every project. Therefore, better use of data necessarily needs to be flexible and aligned to the priorities of the project (or the organisation).
Building on these successes, you can have more advanced conversations and iterate from there.