Leveraging Data to Inform the Next Generation of the Construction Industry

Nancy Novak

Nancy Novak, one of three keynote speakers at the CSI National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee this month, is the senior vice-president of construction for Compass Datacenters. Prior to joining the company, Novak was national vice-president of operations for Balfour Beatty Construction. Here, she was a key resource in assessing and strengthening the company’s ability to scale knowledge and bring national consistency to strong, existing operating standards.

Previously, her 20-year career as an operations executive with Hensel Phelps Construction Company gave her the expertise needed to build complex projects efficiently. Over the course of her 25 years of experience, she has overseen $3.5 billion in projects while working to advance women in construction through major forums such as the White House Women’s and Diversity in STEM, Above the Glass Ceiling, Women in Government Relations (WGE), Women Construction Owners and Executives (WCOE), The World Trade Center Initiative, Fortune Media’s Most Powerful Women, and the National Women’s Party. They call her the Innovator of Information because Novak is known for leveraging data in innovative ways to shape the next generation of construction builds.

CSI sat down with her to discuss diversity within the industry, leveraging data for business success, and what she sees as the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Owner), community’s challenges and opportunities.

Innovation, the power of data, and diversity are all important to a company’s bottom line—and are subjects you specialize in—why are those such important factors to a company’s success right now?

I don’t think anyone would doubt the historical importance of these elements in terms of their ability to contribute to an organization’s success. What is changing is a greater realization of the symbiosis between them and how they combine to spur innovation and create new opportunities. For example, in terms of construction, the data captured through the use of enhanced technology such as building information modeling (BIM) provide us with an unparalleled degree of precision.

The accuracy of this data enables companies like Compass to make greater use of prefabricated components, like walls, for on-site assembly thereby reducing delivery schedules. Prefabrication is performed in factory settings which provide a number of benefits such as fixed schedules to enable more women to participate in the construction process. While this is a simple example, it illustrates how data, innovation, and diversity combine to offer the flexibility and adaptability today’s businesses need to compete in rapidly changing marketplaces.

Why is leveraging data for the next generation such an impactful topic for the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Owner) industry right now?

Speaking from a construction perspective, the volume of data—and our ability to process and manipulate it—enhances our ability to do everything from building a reliable supply chain to identifying potential issues during the design process as opposed to on the job site. These efficiencies build on each other to meet delivery schedules, reduce labor costs, and provide for a safer jobsite. Naturally, information is regularly collected to continually refine performance.

Personally and professionally, what is it about this subject matter that’s so interesting to you?

I’ve been in the construction industry now for almost 30 years and I think the opportunities for new ideas and, maybe more importantly, the growing willingness across industries to embrace them, is changing the face of the business more than I could have possibly imagined. Being a part of this evolution is exciting and perhaps the most enjoyable part of my career.

What are the industry’s key challenges and opportunities?

I think our biggest challenge is diversifying our workforce. In the data center industry for example, more than 30 per cent of current personnel is projected to “gray out” over the next few years. While hiring perspectives and methods need to continue to evolve, the real opportunity to help this demographic issue is through encouraging more women and minorities to seek STEM related educational specialties and careers in the technology industry. A good deal of progress has been made in these areas but there is still a lot of work to do.

We are very much looking forward to your presentation. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Only that I hope each attendee will see or hear one or more things they can take back to their own organizations to help them leverage the opportunities available to us.

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