Science & Technology

Skyrocketing AEC data pushes need for data governance best practices

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As the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is undergoing a staggering growth in the creation of data, organizations need to place a strong focus on data governance best practices.

That is one of the findings of a new study of the AEC sector that reveals it has experienced a 31.2% compound growth rate in data storage since 2017. The amount of new data being captured or created is staggering, but getting full value from it depends on how the data is managed, stored, accessed and protected.

According to the AEC Data Insights Report from Egnyte, “the AEC industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, challenges and opportunities all at once. Demand is high, supply chains are unpredictable, but through it all the industry is growing. So is the amount of data it is using and storing to function in this roller-coaster environment.”

Egnyte surveyed approximately 3,000 organizations on their current and recent data management and data storage practices. While the firm expected to see an increase in data creation and storage, it was caught by surprise on just how much that has increased.

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Surprising growth

“Probably the most surprising finding was the rate of storage growth of our customers over the four years,” Ronen Vengosh, vice president of AEC at Egnyte, told VentureBeat. “While this is in line with other industry reports, the fact that, on average, our customers have nearly quadrupled their data storage – from 0.9 TB in 2017 to 3.5 TB in 2021 – is a rather striking indication of how AEC firms have become data companies.”

The pandemic greatly accelerated the AEC industry’s digital transformation, Vengosh explained. More and more AEC firms have migrated to the cloud over the past couple of years. This is largely driven by the cloud’s ability to enable more effective communication and collaboration between remote employees and those working on project sites, while also allowing them to securely analyze and process large amounts of data.

“In addition, the industry is experiencing dramatic acceleration in the adoption of advanced, data-intensive technology (drone video, laser scanning, etc.), and we’re seeing organizations collect and retain all that data – often without robust practices to sort out what data needs to be kept and what should be discarded,” Vengosh said.

This growth has had a large impact on data infrastructure, Vengosh said. AEC firms have had to make strategic decisions on how to manage and secure their increasing volumes of data effectively without disrupting productivity or project outcomes. This comes as the AEC industry is experiencing more stringent regulation and compliance requirements.

Key report findings

There were several key findings in the Egnyte AEC Data Insights Report, Vengosh said. They include:

  • AEC firms store and act on more files than other industries. The typical AEC firm manages 149% (2.49x) more files than the cross-industry average. This includes industries such as real estate, retail, manufacturing and life sciences.
  • Data volume growth is explosive. The average AEC firm has increased file storage by 31.2% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2021.
  • Data sprawl is a growing challenge. The number of individual files stored by AEC firms grew by 23.4% CAGR from 2017 to 2021. Firms have increasingly relied on larger file types from various sources, including drone footage and 3D imagery. In addition, the rise in specialty applications such as Procore and Bluebeam has resulted in the constant movement of files from one location to another.
  • Usage patterns vary widely across disciplines. An AEC worker’s sub-industry (owner, architecture, engineering, general contractor and specialty contractor) has a direct impact on how they interact with files and the types of files that they use. General contractors share files at the highest rate, while owners access the most files.
  • Data security issues vary by company size and discipline. With more data comes more risk. Egnyte flagged a staggering growth of “high-severity” data issues from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021, a 325% increase across all AEC domains. For context, an issue is considered high severity when it represents the possible loss or exposure of confidential information or other adverse event that results in a significant impact on the business.

Data governance to balance growth with business needs

In response to this skyrocketing volume of AEC data, Vengosh offered his advice on how AEC firms should best respond.

“To best optimize their data and increase project productivity, AEC firms should align the management of their rapidly growing data with their business needs,” he said.

Toward that goal, an effective data management plan should include:

  • Overall business objectives and the data needed to meet those objectives.
  • The means and methods for making progress.
  • A schedule for frequent reviews and updates.
  • Documentation of necessary organizational and project processes (e.g., policies, forms, checklists, tutorials and screenshots).

“Establishing data governance is critical,” Vengosh advised. “Putting systems and processes in place not only protects office- and project-generated data, but can also help firms comply with corporate, industry and government regulations.”

“Most importantly, IT organizations need to accept that manual processes for governing and managing data (for example, manual content classification or manual content retention policies) are not viable at current data volumes, and that policy-based automation is central to a successful content management and governance strategy,” Vengosh said.

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