To many of you, sharing project data may feel entirely counter-intuitive. What’s the business case? Data sharing may feel peripheral to the objectives of the project. Perhaps your data isn’t in a state to be shared and what about the risks around loss of commercial advantage or falling foul of GDPR?
Let me unpack each of these issues one at a time:
The Business Case
Data is extremely valuable – but only if it serves some enabling purpose. How many of your projects generate vast quantities of data in a wide range of formats, much of it spawned automatically by the systems you use for scheduling, risk management or cost control and much of it that you struggle to use in any coherent way? Sharing your data through the medium of something like a data trust will help you extract value not only from your own data but also from the data of your industry peers. Reciprocity means you give and you get back!
Many major projects – particularly infrastructure projects – are heavily funded through public investment. There’s a strong value for money case to make sure that the data generated from these projects is made available to subsequent projects, if we are to get better at and be more efficient in these endeavours.
Consider how many of your project costs are simply baked into the assumptions about ‘the cost of doing something like this’. This is often the case with rework in construction costs. And yet if we could do it right first time, we could remove a tranche of uneccessary expenditure at a stroke. Your data (and that of your peers) is a great vehicle for shining a light on unnecessary rework because it can make the invisible visible.
The ubiquity and value of data mean that increasingly large projects will have two outputs and two sources of value. The physical output (the infrastructure, the weapons system, the software, the product) that you build and the digital output, the data and information about the product that will increasingly have equal value to the product itself.
Data-sharing is peripheral
These days everyone is talking about ‘whole-life costs’ and about the importance of integrated and systems thinking.
That means that the both the effectiveness and the efficiency of your projects depend heavily on 1. the quality of the data that you can provide to the operators of the infrastructure you are building and 2. the variety and quality of data you can receive from them, over the life of the asset, which will help inform the design of your future projects. If you aren’t in a position to share and receive this data, this source of improvement and innovation is simply closed to you.
Major projects involve large and complex supply chains. You can treat your supply chain as a giant machine, each cog simply turning in response to an instruction from the centre. Or you can take the kind of enterprise approach advocated by the likes of Project 13 and seek to work in an integrated manner, rather as a living organism, with the nervous system sending and receiving data from each part of the chain to the centre and back again.
Your data isn’t in a shape to be shared
If you aren’t already sharing data, then you may well be in the camp of ‘we’d love to share data but our data just isn’t in a shape to be shared.’ Unfortunately that is part of the Catch 22 of data sharing. There is plenty of evidence to show that it is only by sharing your data that you can improve it and understand how to make better use of it within your own organization. If you insist on waiting until it’s ready, then you will be waiting until the cows come home.
The discipline of sharing data and the requirements for coherent and consistent data from those with whom you are sharing, is a force for data improvement for your own organization.
What about the risks?
There are risks in sharing data. But then again, there are risks associated with major projects and these are risks that you treat as part of your bread and butter operations. Ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen and then approach your data sharing deliberately with a plan to avoid or mitigate these risks.
Then ask yourself what’s the cost of NOT sharing data?
We know that organizations and systems are struggling to keep apace with the speed of change and the levels of uncertainty. Collaboration and automation in all things are the only way you can hope to remain competitive. The medium term risk of not sharing data is that you will simply become so uncompetitive you will go out of business.
And remember, given the speed of change, data is essentially ephemeral so you can guarantee that if you simply sit on it without making it work for you, it will be worthless tomorrow or the day after, anyway.
Data Trusts, like the one being developed by Sir Robert McAlpine, are collaborative platforms that remove much of the risk of data sharing by establishing norms and rules for the consistency of data, how data is anonymised, questions around ‘ownership’ of shared insights and who is allowed to access the data.
I suspect that in ten year’s time, data sharing will be normalised across the industry, so much so that failure to share data will simply and effectively mean that you no longer are seen as having the requisite capablity to deliver major projects. In the meantime, however, there’s still an important education and advocacy role to do, which is why I encourage you to join us on 26th September for The Challenge of Project Data, live in the Bentley Academy in Central London or via the simultaneous webinar.