Ensuring long-term success in AEC projects: Strategies for future-proofing data

Tra Hoang
June 18, 2024

In the modern AEC world, future-proofing data is critical to ensuring project longevity and compliance with dynamic regulatory standards. As firms may need to access current, historical, and future project data for further developments or addressing legal disputes, it’s crucial to maintain enduring ownership and seamless accessibility of information.  

This guide highlights the key benefits of future-proofing data along with the strategies that AEC firms can implement to guarantee dependable, high-quality, and readily available project data throughout and beyond projects’ lifespans.

Why is future-proofing data important?

The role of future-proofing data

In the AEC sector, projects can span across multiple years, during which technology and industry standards can evolve rapidly. Future-proofing strategies thereby play a crucial role in ensuring the accessibility and security of data over the lifecycle of projects and beyond.

Moreover, future-proofing is essential in guaranteeing that information, processes, and systems in place today will remain functional and relevant in the future. This can help minimize expenses of implementing new technologies and migrating data across different systems.  

Data longevity and the Building Safety Act

In 2022, the Building Safety Act (BSA) was introduced to underscore the importance of maintaining a ‘golden thread’ – the continuous digital record of information throughout a project’s lifespan.  

To achieve this, AEC firms must ensure data ownership and longevity by adopting robust data management practices that guarantees seamless, secure access to accurate data at every stage of a project.  

Currently, the BSA applies to buildings over 18 meters in height, but it’s likely to be extended to buildings of all types in the near future. Future-proofing data will facilitate ongoing compliance with this legislation by maintaining correct, up-to-date records both during and after a project’s lifespan. Therefore, firms can enhance accountability in managing building safety, ensuring long-term regulatory adherence.  

In summary, the key benefits of future-proofing data include:  

  1. Enhanced longevity of project data, ensuring that data remains relevant, usable, and secure over the entire project lifecycle and beyond
  1. Reduced costs of data migrations and system updates
  1. Improved collaboration by guaranteeing that data can be easily accessed by different stakeholders
  1. Compliance with the ever-evolving regulatory landscapes, maintaining building safety and firm accountability

Common challenges with future-proofing data

Data silos and fragmentation

One primary challenge in data management is the lack of a centralized data storage location. When different teams and departments use separate systems and practices to store data, information can become isolated in different pockets that do not communicate with each other.  

In a fragmented data environment, there is often low knowledge of what changes have been made, which revision is the latest, or what information has been issued to whom. This lack of visibility can result in inefficient collaboration, information errors, and delays that expose projects to major risks.  

Moreover, poor traceability of data also means an evidence-based audit trail is absent. This lack of auditability can complicate compliance efforts, as there is no reliable record of the project’s decision-making processes. Therefore, when there is a need to access project data for future improvements or in case of litigation, the absence of accurate information poses significant challenges.  

Technology obsolescence

As older systems become obsolete, they may no longer be compatible with newer technologies. This incompatibility makes projects more prone to error due to the challenges in storing, transferring, and integrating data.  

Obsolete technologies also often lack the latest security updates and support. This means outdated systems may be more vulnerable to cyber threats, putting sensitive information at risk.  

Upgrading or replacing outdated technology can also be both cost and labor intensive. Firms must invest in infrastructures, licenses, staff training, and data migration. Such costs can quickly add up and impact overall project budget.  

Moreover, as projects grow in size and complexity, outdated systems that aren’t scalable won’t be able to accommodate large data volumes. Obsolete systems may experience performance issues, such as lagging applications or delays in processing, making data retrieval difficult and hindering productivity. Additionally, without scalable solutions, firms may resort to ad hoc storage that can become expensive overtime.  

Strategies to future-proof data ownership

Embracing the cloud

Leveraging cloud-based solutions is an optimal strategy to future-proof data ownership in AEC projects. One primary advantage of cloud platforms is their robust scalability, providing a flexible environment to manage vast amounts of project data efficiently. Leading cloud solutions, such as Microsoft SharePoint, offer scalable platforms that grow with project needs and thereby can survive technological shifts.  

Cloud-based solutions also facilitate better collaboration between project stakeholders. With a centralized storage location of all project data, team members can seamlessly access information, share edits in real-time, as well as locate the latest revisions anytime and anywhere. By allowing project teams to easily access accurate information without disruptions, firms can significantly improve communication, reduce traditional errors, and enhance overall productivity.  

Moreover, cloud platforms can enhance data security. For example, SharePoint inherits Microsoft’s world-class security and data retention policies. When users store their data in SharePoint, they can have full confidence that their data is protected with powerful security measures, regular backups, and strict access permission controls. This ensures that project data is not only securely stored but also reliably accessible in the long run, providing trust for all project stakeholders.  

Implementing robust data governance

Establishing data management policies is also crucial in future-proofing data ownership. The process of data governance starts with defining clear roles and responsibilities for data management, ensuring that team members grasp full understanding of who owns which data, who has access to it, and how it should be used.  

In addition, firms must also carry out regular data audits and quality checks. This process helps identify data errors, inconsistencies, and potential security vulnerabilities that may introduce risks to projects. By consistently reviewing data, firms can ensure that information remains accurate, up-to-date, and compliant with industry standards and regulations, thereby avoiding costly rework or legal disputes.  

Data management and company culture

Ultimately, by implementing strategies to future-proof data, AEC firms can not only protect the longevity of projects, enhance productivity, and reduce risks but also foster a culture of data-driven decision making where reliable and high-quality data is at the core of every team member’s work.  

This culture shift promotes transparency and accountability, as every decision can be traced back to concrete evidence, regardless of whether it’s during a project timeline or beyond its completion. Therefore, it’s essential that firms provide training and empower project teams to store, communicate, and utilize data with best practices.  

Key takeaways

  1. Future-proofing data is essential in ensuring long-term accessibility, security, and compliance with regulatory standards  
  1. Lack of information traceability and technology obsolescence are among the major challenges associated with future-proofing data
  1. Firms can leverage cloud-based solutions and implement robust data governance to guarantee the longevity of data
  1. A company culture of data-driven decisions and future-proofed data ownership plays an important role in maintaining reliable and high-quality data