A “Single Source of Truth” is the practice of
structuring information models and associated
schemata such that every data element is stored exactly once.

The idea of creating and maintaining a Single Source of Truth (SSOT) for construction projects is normally discussed as the ideal situation in these challenging data flow situations with multiple stakeholders. A “Single Source of Truth” should be a singular, central storage location for all project data. The fear is that when various stakeholders on a project use a different data source, the result would likely lead to costly errors, which could cause huge cost overruns or delays for a project. But having a single source where a user can find accurate data would promote timely and accurate information, which in turn leads to predictability. The problem is that the execution of a SSOT is difficult to achieve because of the complex information systems landscape, large number of stakeholders and fundamental technical challenges, where implementing a SSOT could actually result in hurting a project rather than helping.

Larger construction projects tend to have multiple, separate information systems, each of which serves an important purpose for the project and needs access to critical project data (e.g. engineering, purchase order, material, vendor and workforce data). These systems are either purchased “off-the-shelf” or built in-house and cannot be easily modified or integrated with. One system doesn’t provide all of the functions needed to run an entire project from Engineering through Construction to Commissioning. In addition, organizations have invested greatly in processes and training on their own software systems. This makes it challenging to incorporate SSOT and leads to organizations having multiple sources of information truth. This also makes it difficult to integrate these systems for each project.

Another hurdle is obtaining agreement on what system should be the SSOT for the project. Take material for example. Material has a lifecycle, from engineering where the material is an abstract concept with properties that are required to meet the design requirements for its function; to procurement, where actual material with those properties is sourced, priced, qualified and eventually purchased; to supply chain, where physical goods are manufactured and delivered to site; to site material control, where items are inspected, stored and staged; to installation, where the materials are installed to the specifications from the source engineering. What is the SSOT for material: Engineering, Procurement, Construction? Each of these systems perceives material differently and has different metadata and use cases for managing material information, but all are extremely important. The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system might be the SSOT for a single aspect of a material piece’s lifecycle, but it’s a limited set of truth. Project users will need other systems to get their answers. Forcing one of these perspectives over another as the SSOT would create inaccuracies and limited inefficient workflows.

Another problem with a SSOT is technical in nature: When you have one single system that is the source of all information, it creates a bottleneck to that information. If field based systems need to communicate back to an ERP system every time to get information or process a transaction, every operation would be extremely slow. In construction, where constant connectivity is always a challenge, field users would often be left without access to data. Securing that information would also be a challenge. There is very sensitive information in an ERP system that needs to be controlled and protected. With multiple stakeholders accessing the information in the same source, it is extremely difficult to keep it secure and make sure the right information is directed to the right stakeholder.

The myth of the Single Source of Truth for construction projects is that it is achievable by selecting the right system or agreeing to a process. As outlined this is not necessarily the case, or if it were, the end result might create confusion and unnecessary project delays.

A better solution is a single data flow strategy for an entire project, that defines from the very beginning which systems are used, for what purpose and what, when and how data is outputted from one system, transformed and inputted into another. If the data flow is organized and the systems involved fill their role on a project, then all the benefits of the mythical SSOT could be achieved without the impossible task of implementing one. There are definitely challenges to organizing and getting agreement on this approach, but the end result is likely much more favorable and would lead to the cost savings and productivity gains desperately needed in construction.

SiteSense® was designed for construction projects with complex data flow schemes and works well alongside other systems in order to simplify the rollout and reduce/eliminate costly integration. Intelliwave systems are built to work in occasionally connected environments and mobile apps use background sync to refresh data automatically when there is a connection. With a flexible and diverse toolset like search, material management and lifecycle tracking, workforce tracking, equipment tracking and workface planning, SiteSense® fills huge gaps in existing construction software and provides the integration adapters and flexibility to implement a coherent single data flow for any project.

If your project is experiencing data issues, contact us to find out how SiteSense® can fill gaps and help organize a data flow that works for all stakeholders on your projects.