Is it a Serpent or an Elephant? The Construction Industry Needs Better Business Intelligence Tools.

Posted by Phillip Schell Apr 20, 2015 8:30:00 AM



Is it a serpent or an elephant? The parable of the six blind men and the elephant is one of the world’s most widely-known parables. It illustrates that we should not mistake a part for the whole and importance of keeping an open mind to different points of view. It also conveys the importance of perspective and the value of closely examining complex ideas and issues.

And, while it may seem as though I’m going out on a limb -- this parable also makes for a teaching moment in the construction industry.

More than ever before, the construction industry is learning to use Business Intelligence tools to extract data from construction projects for real-time decision making. The challenge: the construction industry needs to draw accurate conclusions from the huge datasets that are being generated and avoid the conclusions of the blind man feeling the elephant’s trunk and declaring it a serpent.

To help construction companies extract and leverage accurate data from all its data sources, B4 Consulting is building Integrated Frameworks for Construction. We call it -- IF4C – and it allows applications to become interoperable (see We believe that this interoperability has a positive effect as well on Business Intelligence. Consider this real-life case: I want a report on the health of one of my self-perform projects, and I want a report on the trend line of the labor productivity of one of the major work packages being performed.

In our experience, this is a typical scenario and here are just a few of the questions and issues that prevent the quick, efficeint and accurate generation of such reports in a lot of construction companies:

  • Do I need my estimating data to make this comparison?
  • If my CBS structures have little or no relationship to my WBS structures what does it mean?
  • How timely are the actual installed data being imputed into a system for trend analytics?
  • How accurate are the data being entered and are they entered into the correct WBS structure?
  • Do I need equipment run time data to interpret the data correctly?
  • Do I need ECM data such as pictures, daily logs, weather reports, etc. to make the correct decisions?

B4 Consulting believes that Business Intelligence is architected correctly when it goes beyond the esthetically pleasing or even intellectually stimulating. Business Intelligence must be actionable and create the opportunity for increasing productivity. See–-transforming-construction

The architecture’s defining characteristics include:

  • Front-end mobility component to initiate real-time possibilities.
  • Ability to draw datasets large enough (remember the elephant!) and across pertinent applications to drive value.
  • Presentation to the correct decision makers in a timely and intuitive manner to advance better field decisions.

The well-architected Business Intelligence framework gives the construction industry the proper information to make the OODA loop work and inform them for competitive advantage.



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Topics: Mobility, Engineering and Construction, Real-time Data, Reporting, construction, productivity, OutsideIn, Interoperability

How to Achieve Interoperability in Construction

Posted by Phillip Schell Mar 20, 2015 8:33:37 AM


Interoperability is kind of a strange word. It does not roll off the tongue and does not intuitively communicate value to the construction industry. B4 Consulting has, however, figured out how interoperability can be achieved in the construction industry and this blog post outlines the value it brings in something we call the Integrated Framework 4 Construction or IF4C.

Back to Interoperability. In its simplest definition, it is - the ability of making systems, processes and organizations work together. And, it’s easy to recognize the value of interoperability in many facets of our lives. Take for example the transportation industry: Major modern railroads have interoperability as they are required to conform to standards around gauges, couplings, brakes, signaling, communications, and operating rules, to mention a few parameters. We have also seen our armed forces achieve historic levels of interoperability between the branches of the military and integrated command and control of land, sea and air operations. And, the medical industry is trying to achieve interoperability between emergency response, providers, hospital operations, medical care, drug companies, and insurance providers.

B4 Consulting believes the construction industry is standing on the brink of achieving interoperability as they respond to the market forces of design build (DB) and design build operate (DBO). In these new delivery models, holistic design is required to survive. As construction companies rise to meet the challenges of design-build and design-build-operate, their success will rely on interoperability and related enabling technologies.




The Integrated Framework 4 Construction (IF4C)

The diagram above illustrates the concepts of an Integrated Framework 4 Construction (IF4C) and how it enables the interoperability required to succeed in today’s modern construction industry.

  1. It begins with integrations of materials to the Visual Design (VD) and Construction tools of BIM or CAD. We believe that the system should be application-agnostic so that multiple design tools can feed materials from my ERP system where transactions will eventual take place. B4 Consulting suggests federating these models in the SAP® Visual Enterprise product. This final federated model will not only allow for a clean bilateral integration of materials and quantities for estimating systems, but will remain as the GUI used to visualize our eventual progression data.
  2. Bilateral interfaces bring materials and quantities to Estimating systems, again application-agnostic. B4 Consulting believes that the data elements are the most important factors and we use the SAP ETL tool Data Services to provide that integration to any estimating package.
  3. Estimating Bilateral interfaces create a Project Control Budget. Using management consulting methodologies -- not technology – B4 Consulting harmonizes the CBS structures with the WBS structures. This gives each group the detail and levels they need to do their job, but having a structure that maintains the relationship to enable roll up and comparison of estimated cost to actual cost. The impact on the integrity of past cost is amazing. We can now seamlessly create a fully-loaded control budget with materials, labor and equipment usage from our estimate. Again, application-agnostic, utilizing the powerful SAP Data Services application.
  4. We have created an ETL layer of the most critical data elements that progression tools need to deliver to the control budget. While these are, for the most part, mobile applications, they can also be specially designed HTML5 applications on any device capturing time, installed quantities and equipment hours. Our thinking here: the platform these tools are using change frequently (i.e. iOS, HTML5, Android, etc.) – but -- the data elements don’t change. So settle on the landscape and just give them the data element targets.

B4 Consulting believes that the Data Services layer of these critical data elements become the most efficient place for Business Analytic tools, either Business Objects or HANA Sidecar for dashboarding. This frees-up the design from integrating to each individual application or one monolithic one.

Finally, all of this runs on the SAP HANA database for easy retrieval of past cost while enabling quick and efficient incremental conceptual design and estimating modeling.

IF4C effectively enables interoperability in construction where all the applications within the framework work together and are more efficient as a whole than the sum of their parts. This level of interoperability has been proven to reduce risk, drive more efficient field operations, improve productivity, increase profitability, and generate successful projects that are highly repeatable. If you’re ready to see how IF4C can work for your company – email me at








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Topics: Engineering and Construction, construction, Interoperability, Design Build