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What is Your Data Telling You?


You use data every day for an enormous number of decisions. Your senses take in data about your environment and you use that to interact with the world. At the construction project level, you collect information, assimilate it, and apply it to the task at hand. Much of the data you use every day is just there waiting for you to collect and use. Computer data, on the other hand, requires a bit more effort to turn into information, and ultimately, actionable knowledge. 

Data Offers Knowledge

On every construction project you collect data, and fit different sets of data together to create useful information. Then, you use that information for making decisions. When you see the results of those decisions, you have acquired knowledge. So, at the very root of all human knowledge is data. But while the word data has seen more use since the advent of computers, data has been around since human minds started thinking. Computers help with that process by making the data easier to access, recall, and manage. But, computers need a lot of help to do that.

The Human, Computer Divide

You have probably not given it much thought, but there is an amazing difference between data the human mind can sort and comprehend, and the data a computer can use. The human mind, once trained beyond childhood, can master unstructured data. The human mind can find the differences in words within context for example, and when it sees a picture, it can extract an amazing amount of information very quickly. Processing this unstructured data is something humans do remarkably well. A computer, on the other hand, does not do well with unstructured data. When a computer encounters a picture that doesn’t have explanatory data attached, it gets very little useful information from it. However, when you give the computer the right data, it is superior to the human mind in sorting, cataloging, and maintaining vast amounts of information. That speeds up the process of understanding information and making decisions. 

The Challenge of Unstructured Data

Much of the information you use in managing a construction project begins as unstructured data. The photograph you took of an item that someone needs to address on a punch list can be shown on a screen, printed, stored, and sent to someone using computer technology, but that's about all computers can do with it unless it has something called metadata attached to it. 

When a punch list photograph has the words “punch list” included in its metadata, a computer can sort that from a list of photographs, and add it to a separate list of photographs related to a punch list. If the metadata contains the name of the project, then the computer can search all of the punch list photographs, finding each one belonging to a particular project, and then put them together in a new list. But with today’s project management solutions, this metadata is built-in on the the back end for you. All you have to do is attach the photo to the punch list item.

There are many ways for you to improve project and business outcomes when you collect data, analyze it, and report the findings. Fortunately, there are improvements everyday in the tools available for collecting, analyzing, and reporting. The data, the tools, and your ability to learn, offer a path to improving your business and your projects.