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Dodge Data & Analytics Talks About the Future of Construction Market Data

For more than 125 years, Dodge Data and Analytics has reported rich data to the U.S. construction community — empowering everyone from building product manufacturers to architects, engineers, and contractors with insights that inform key business decisions. In an industry poised for great digital transformation where the use of data and analytics will increasingly become important to overall success, not all are tapping into data’s full potential yet. Dodge President and CEO Dan McCarthy takes a closer look at how the industry can better optimise their strategies and use of market data in the future, and how Dodge is further evolving to keep up with customer needs.

Dodge Data & Analytics’ Dan McCarthy Talks About the Future of Construction Market Data

Tell us how you think the market views Dodge versus what Dodge really is?

Ask anyone and the first thing they will likely say about Dodge is “project leads.” They say this without even thinking about what project leads mean in today’s ecosystem. To understand the value that Dodge can bring to the different participants in the construction process, it’s helpful to think about what Dodge is collecting, what Dodge does, and what Dodge sets out to do every single day.

It may be a bit audacious, but our goals center around identifying and quantifying a project as soon as it’s gone into planning. If we could find a project and give it a number as soon as someone thinks of it, that would be even better! Basically, every time something happens that will be important to someone in the construction industry, Dodge is there with our hundreds of local researchers and our sophisticated web technology to make sure the update makes it into our system — and straight to our customers. 

For example, if I’m an architect, I want to know what projects are coming on stream and who the owner is so that I can reach out to them and win the business. If I’m a subcontractor or a specialty trade, I want to know which GCs are bidding on what projects, or which GCs got awarded a design-build, and how I can get into that project. If I’m a service provider, a bonding company, I build product, or I offer rental services or financial services, I want to know who to go to influence and get them to select my product.

Simply surfacing one piece of information about a lead here or there is going to have you chasing your tail. If you chase every business opportunity you see, ultimately you won’t be successful. What we do at Dodge is layer in perspective about what makes a certain lead a good one. We answer: “Why is that relationship worth committing time and energy to, and which relationships are not?”

The context Dodge can put around project information is going to help you, as a participant in the marketplace, make sense of it. Find information, give it context, and then let you use that context to plan for new opportunities: That’s the essence of what Dodge does.

Where do you think any sort of disconnect comes from? Where are some people likely missing the crux of Dodge’s unique position in the market?

Part of that is something we’re currently working hard to imjprove on, including making the user experience easy enough so users can see the full context we provide. Another part of it is because people think of Dodge in a more traditional way. We’ve seen a meaningful surge of technology adoption across the industry in the past decade but the primary platforms that are getting adopted are at the construction management level, not necessarily the customer management level. Dodge lives in the pre-construction lifecycle, where there hasn’t been quite the same amount of investment.

There’s been investment in invitations-to-bid (ITBs), and a couple of workflow tools. The primary investment though has been in CRMs. Think about the integrations that construction management software packages are starting to do now. Questions like ‘How do we integrate this into Salesforce?’ are much more commonly asked today.

When companies begin to use software to drive their customer management strategy, data becomes even more critical. Dodge has been organizing our data in a way that can be easily integrated with and consumed inside a CRM system and other customer management systems. That way, our customers can look at a group of accounts and understand what projects they’ve worked on, what projects they’ve used our product for, and what projects we didn’t win, among other valuable information.

How does Dodge’s merger with The Blue Book Building & Construction Network play into this?

Historically, Dodge has been the leader in project and product information. But we lacked maturity in firm and contact-specific information. That’s why we were attracted to Blue Book. The combination of Dodge and The Blue Book now creates the largest primary data source of all those different constituents: Including 10+ billion data elements, 14+ million project and document searches, 60+ million annual messages centered around bidding opportunities, and 1.2+ million commercial construction professionals a month seeking growth opportunities.

Our vision is to find all the connections between the project, the person, the firm, and the product so we are a partner across the entire customer data ecosystem. The combination of Dodge and The Blue Book data sets means our customers can use it in diverse ways to help them be successful in their revenue planning.

Can you give us a use case?

Sure. Say I’m a GC and I know there’s a project in the pipeline — a distribution center is being built in an area that I service. I’ve never worked with the owner or the architect on the project before. I want to build a relationship and get into that pipeline. Well that’s pretty hard to do without the kind of context embedded into the Dodge database. You can see who’s worked with who, on what project and in what area, and from there you can triangulate your network and get your contacts to connect you to the architect or the owner you’ve never worked with before.  

Then you’re able to take it one step further. That same GC might be trying to decide what their next two years are going to be like. Do they want to invest in a certain piece of equipment or expand the geographical area they serve? Or maybe they primarily focus on education projects and need to understand the market forecast to prepare for growth or decline. Even answering questions like what owners have been expanding in their area — is there an opportunity to build a relationship there? So, not only can you look at a specific sales opportunity, but you can take a step back and look at the ecosystem of the marketplace and make strategic plans.

How is a Dodge market forecast different from others in the market?

We’ve got hundreds of thousands of projects that we’re tracking on a local level every day and we’re working with a 40-year-old data lake of project information. We have a team of five economists that work closely with all of this primary data and partner with Moody’s. Then we take all of this local data and build it up into town, state, region, and national data sets.

We do the same thing with economic forecasts, breaking them up locally and nationally, and by state and region. That way our forecasting customers are able to look at a forecast that’s as specific as they want it to be — say a three-state area for roofing projects. Most forecasts don’t drill down to that level because there aren’t enough supporting inputs. That’s the beauty of Dodge, the ability to be so granular and accurate.

Where do you see market data being most impactful for businesses? Productivity, R&D, risk management, etc.?

We have customers who take our data and break it down to see where the market is going. For example, a manufacturer can anticipate what kind of siding is going to be required, what styles will be most prevalent, and how much surface space is coming online for their production capacity planning and new product development.

Other customers use our Smart Market Reports, produced by our internal team, which provides research on emerging trends that are impacting and transformation the construction and building industry. Other customers use our forecasts and project data to help them with financial planning. Every constituent in the market can find a context and a view of Dodge data that’s going to give them insight to help them either arm their sales force, target more intelligently, or have an informed point of view.

What’s something you love about working at Dodge?

One of the cool things about this business is working with customers that constantly push and challenge us to learn and adapt to their needs. We have customers who call our support team with their own projections and need our team to validate it. Oftentimes, we end up building the projection for them so they don’t have to do it themselves every single time.

For instance, we recently got a call from a contractor who said, “Hey, I was just driving through South Dakota to visit my in-laws and I saw a structure. I went to look it up on Dodge and it’s not there. What’s going on?” Because we’re human-powered, we were able to go and report on that structure. Twenty-four hours later, we had all the data on the project in our database.

As data collection, processing, and analysis becomes more sophisticated in the future, what is your hope for the way the construction industry uses data?

Our industry is interesting because we are not always comfortable with the idea of transparency. But trying to keep information private feels short-sighted to me. Being able to see relationships within a project creates a lot more efficiency — it doesn’t create the risk that people often worry about. 

During the inception of LinkedIn, for example, many employers were worried about their employees’ information being out there. They felt LinkedIn put their employees on the job market. Over time, it’s been demonstrated that no, LinkedIn doesn’t generate more turnover. LinkedIn generates better matches between people and roles. Employers actually have more access to talent and if you’re a good employer, your talent will stay. Accountability generates better performance across the board. 

Back in 1861, when Frederick Warren Dodge founded F.W. Dodge, he was riding his bicycle around Boston, making notes about construction projects on index cards that he would then sell. The construction industry’s initial reaction was pretty unfavorable. But, Dodge persisted in his belief that there was a positive correlation between the accessibility of project information and better access to resources and supply. Obviously, he was right. 

Ten years from now I want the industry to be comfortable with transparency. I want an owner to say to themselves, ‘If my project is listed inside Dodge, it’s going to be better off for me.’ That’s why we are working so hard to help owners, architects, and general contractors see the power and value of that. More visibility creates more context; more context creates more accountability; and that creates better outcomes for everyone.

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