The value information has in decision-making

The proliferation of information is a challenge that can be overcome with the help of technology


Two ends of the decision-making spectrum: Buying Apple stock in the 1980s and Chernobyl. One is a good, very lucrative decision to invest in a consumer technology innovator while the other the catastrophic result of a series of bad decisions related to the construction, maintenance and operation of a nuclear reactor.

Simply put, when people make good decisions, good things happen. When people make poor or uninformed decisions, bad, sometimes catastrophic things happen. The journey to making the decision can follow many different models based on the culture of the system – at one end of the spectrum is the vertically structured hierarchy of the military, whereas the other end is a flat, horizontal structure seen at companies like Valve and W.L. Gore & Associates. Regardless of model, the key to good decision making rests with the quality and timeliness of information.

Our world is constructed by decisions. Everything from the breath we take to erecting the tallest buildings happen through processing and effectively evaluating information in context. Successful decisions, depending on the complexity of the system, are directly related to the value and timeliness of the information in the moment.

Good decision-makers are able to take a 360-degree look in the context of trends while also understanding the impact – intended or otherwise – the decision will have in the future.

To breathe, a subconscious and sometimes conscious decision, the brain evaluates information based on the surrounding environment and then activates the nerves and muscles of the lungs to inhale and exhale. Consider the number of breaths taken in a day or even in an hour and realize that the brain is continuously gathering information from body’s senses to decide to breathe (even while sleeping).

In fact, the brain’s reactions to changes in the environment are near instantaneous. The brain and body act as a single cohesive unit optimizing performance in the moment (of course there are exceptions).

However, let’s take a step back and think about how this can relate to say, the built environment? Look around at the buildings nearby and think about the number of decisions required to create each structure. To get to the final outcome, owners set requirements, architects design, engineers calculate, and builders construct in a complex symphony of decisions that leverage a wide range of skills and disciplines.

Today, massive skyscrapers, expansive bridges, airports and other infrastructure projects are often taken for granted, a result of literally hundreds of thousands of good decisions. These feats of architecture, engineering and construction are all one-off projects on a unique building site never to be repeated a second time (not like manufacturing an automobile or an aircraft). Often, when poor or uninformed decisions are made, the consequences result in cost overruns, delays in completion or worse still, a catastrophic building failure.

The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry is an interesting use case when looking at the impact information has on decision-making because the system of teams is not only extensive, but also extremely diverse and complex due to the wide range of specialized skills, cultures and interests.

From the architect’s concepts to the engineer’s calculations to construction’s physical execution, the extended team does not always see eye-to-eye with decisions being made. Digging a bit deeper, performance stats of the AEC industry demonstrate the cost of impeded decision making:

 • 77 percent of projects underperform

 • 69 percent go over budget

 • 75 percept miss deadlines

Today, innovations in building systems and materials have advanced the complexity of projects in order to meet new demands for inspiring design, ecologically friendly structures and next generation amenities. The amount of information generated from email, specifications, models, images, field reports and more that’s generated for every project has grown exponentially.

For example, in 2004 a large project generated 100 gigabytes of data – today that stat has risen to 6.5 terabytes of data (65x growth). This is a massive amount of information to be managed, assimilated and accessed by the project team as the basis for making accurate and timely decisions.

Regardless if the decision is being made by an individual working on a project or by members of a project team, today’s industry professionals must be able to leverage well-informed and better decision-making practices. The good news is that the proliferation of information is a challenge that can be overcome with the help of technology. However, it is important to remember that at the end of the day, it is still people who make decisions and success, more often than not, is the result of a team effort.

Ian Howell is CEO of Manchester-based Newforma, a developer of project information management software.

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