The art and science of statistics

We believe that accurate data is so vital to the future of the construction industry, and our business, that we are heavily investing in the future of Big Data.

Mark Robinson, SCAPE, Group Chief Executive

Information is power and over the last decade we have seen an explosion in the use of data to support arguments, signal trends and predict future patterns of behaviour. We’ve also seen how the latest revision to the ONS construction output data has actually changed the estimate of the UK’s GDP for Q1 2015, which has been revised up 0.1%. It underlines just how important these figures are and the great responsibility attached to this analysis.

Recently, the ONS has come under fire for the way its data is compiled and published. There have been numerous headlines referring to a construction “recession”, however the analysis sometimes neglected to delve more deeply into the issue. In particular, we feel that commentators did not acknowledge that this was an election year – where construction output typically dips pre-polling – and so gave a misleading impression of the state of the industry.

Construction is not a tap which can be turned on, which is why taking a long-term view of the sector is imperative. Since the recession, output has gone from a steady flow of activity to peaks and troughs – and the original Q4 and Q1 snapshot from the ONS that the media latched on to was a trough. But what wasn’t reported was that if you look at construction output over the last two years, the industry has grown 17%, with the private sector increasing by 22%.

The ONS has now recalibrated the way the data is calculated, with its new “interim” deflators contributing to the substantial revisions on the latest tranche of figures, which now show a much more positive picture. It is vital that those analysing the data do the same and think about the mechanics and nuances of our sector, not just the figures.

Interpreted correctly, construction industry data can provide a unique insight into the patterns, sequences and cycles which can be used to predict future trends or growth. Indeed, at SCAPE, our entire business relies on data to help us identify areas where our solutions can best support the public sector, and to inform the development of future frameworks. This has given us an unprecedented level of insight into the public and construction sectors, allowing us to act as a voice for these areas, as we highlight the challenges and opportunities market developments represent.

We believe that accurate data is so vital to the future of the construction industry, and our business, that we are heavily investing in the future of Big Data. In addition to our continued focus on publishing data, through reports such as our regular “Construction Industry Trackers”, we are also developing a powerful performance management system to enable project, programme and, in time, macro analysis of project performance.

With this added level of insight we hope to be able to be even more responsive to the needs and trends of the sector, and offer an unparalleled level of service and understanding business on a wider basis.

The new, stable majority government has put construction at the forefront of political decision making, with its policies relating to housing, infrastructure and the creation of a Northern Powerhouse. As a result, we are expecting the future of the industry to be bright and we hope that the figures back up the reality.