James Massey

Six Ideas to Keep System Data Current

Systems often become outdated over time because users don’t have processes to keep them current

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When projects begin, enthusiasm is high and lots of data is converted quickly.  All focus is on ensuring the system facilitates development processes.  Once the system is in production, users are faced with the unglamorous task of keeping the data current.  Few take time to plan a process for data maintenance, but without this planning, it won’t take long for the return on your system to sink.

 

When system owners do address this challenge, they start with the question “who should update the system?” and the first answer is always the same – “someone else”.  While I’d never try to convince you that this could ever be fun, it doesn’t have to be like bathing a cat.  Properly done, your system can be updated in the normal course of business without it being burdensome to any one group.  Here are six ideas to consider in planning your data update process:

 

1. Do You Really Need That Data?

Perhaps the biggest reason systems aren’t updated is that designers ask for more detail than users are willing to give – or in fact need. The most obvious place is in construction templates – both tasks and cost estimating.  While someone might need that detail, do they need it here and do other systems handle detail better?   Ideas:

  • Estimate costs at the highest reasonable level. You might bid your projects at the detailed level, but do you really need to forecast the cost of individual equipment items?  If something isn’t likely to vary much, consolidate it with other items. 
  • Do you track tasks or milestones? Your GC needs a detailed task list, but if it doesn’t trigger a status change or drive performance measurement (i.e., plans within X days), it’s a candidate for simplification.
  • Do you still use that data item? It’s surprising how many things persist because someone asked about something one time, many years ago.  Example: Do you need a lease abstract at the Site level (many things can change)?
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2. Do I Own That Data?    

No one source has to be responsible for all data. 

 

Property Accounting is charged with paying correct amounts and usually don’t trust anyone else to enter rents; but they are not good candidates to enter clauses. Conversely, Lawyers are good with concepts, but they probably don’t know accounting codes so they will probably push back on entering rents. 

 

Think beyond the immediate development team to allocate responsibility.  A good rule is the individuals that rely on the data are most likely to ensure that it’s entered correctly.

 

3. Is This the Official Source of Data? 

If updating open dates and status is an issue, you might use the system to track reporting against goals for bonus payments. Make sure affected parties know that this is the official source for those payments.

 

4. Can We Enter Data in Real-Time?

  • Bring laptops to your Construction Meetings and check inputs while the drawings/surveys are under review. If you enter the data when it’s right in front of you, it’s much easier to mandate.  When you do something can greatly affect simplicity.
  • On Site Rides, make Forecast Model inputs part of the review. Make key attributes reports part of the context of the approval.


5. Whose Job is it to Enter Data?
Have your GC update the schedule in your System. Have your architect or engineer update certain items in the scope of their work.  Of course, having external access to the system raises security issues, but most systems are up to this challenge.   

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6. Isn’t that Data in Another System?
If you gather data for users that have their own system (i.e., Property Tax), their information needs will always be greater than you can (or should) provide. Why not give them access so they can serve themselves from the files you already collect?  They will probably appreciate being included in the process earlier.  Ask if there are elements or drawings your engineers can collect in their normal work to simplify your co-worker’s jobs.  You then pull data from their system. If your data need isn’t enough to warrant an integration, ask yourself if you really need it.  

 

At the beginning, I quipped that “someone else” should update the system; in practice, it really can be a good plan.  By letting each person take care of themselves, the burden is small enough that they don’t usually feel put upon.  More importantly, you can have a higher confidence that the data will be complete and correct.  As Zig Ziglar said, “you get what you want by helping others get what they want.”