The industry’s ‘digitisation’ is multi-faceted; touching every aspect of how organisations design, manufacture, procure, build and operate built assets. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is often synonymous with digitisation, encapsulating an approach to delivering and maintaining built assets. With the government looking to mandate that the golden thread of building information complies with BIM standards, it is becoming increasingly more important for the industry to prepare itself for any important changes that might occur.
According to a 2018 survey by construction research specialists, Competitive Advantage, the construction industry is severely lagging behind other major industries in terms of digital adoption. Underinvestment in people, process and technology throughout the industry is unfortunately inhibiting the industry’s ability to modernise and increase productivity and output.
If the UK wants to achieve its aims to be at the forefront of the AI and data revolution, more focus must be paid to ensure the digital transformation passes through all levels of the industry.
Currently, the UK government has embraced the use of BIM and mandated its use to maturity Level 2 on all centrally procured projects. Although the majority of large tier one companies delivering government projects comply with this mandate, many SMEs are non-compliant and are at risk of falling behind.
The pros outweigh the cons
To increase SME adoption of BIM, the benefits need to be clearly articulated, understood and then realised.
As a starting point, it is worth comparing manual information management approaches to digital systems. Whilst the construction industry is, to a vague extent, ‘digital’ – in the sense that data is shared via email and not paper – there is still a need for more structured information procurement, preparation and exchange. On large projects, sharing information via email chains increases the risk of duplication and error as files are stored in various areas not accessible to all parties involved.
The construction industry is operating in a sensitive climate, particularly in lieu of the collapse of Carillion and the Grenfell tragedy. Both instances highlighted a need for the industry to maintain records. To assure traceability of a project’s information, systems need to be established and robust, especially when a project involves multiple collaborating parties sharing information.
To slow the trend of claims and litigation, there needs to be clearer audit trails to ensure companies can produce and access correct, reliable and trusted information at any given time. Considering companies are liable for 7-12 years after project completion, it is imperative that archiving is considered as part of the project information management strategy.
Comprehensive, structured solutions such as a Common Data Environment (CDE) guarantee information is stored all in one place, assuring traceability of information, accountability and collaboration. Information must also be codified so it is easily translatable from one party to the other.
Not only does CDE (configured to support BIM Level 2) create a shared language for everyone to use across a project, it adds an extra layer of control in terms of how files are named, accessed and shared.
Standards, standards, standards
Before the adoption of this technology however, the industry’s challenge is to recognise the merits of structuring data digitally. And this begins at the standards, including ISO 19650, which outline the principle foundations of BIM Level 2 adoption. At present, the industry hasn’t wanted to grasp the benefits of the standards, as companies see them as extra administrative burdens to already time-consuming processes.
Let’s take the following scenario as an example. If a company was running a £30-50 million project, would they manage data via email, Excel and Dropbox? With such an overwhelming amount of information to manage, how can unstructured and unreliable systems work efficiently? Won’t they simply cause complications and error?
To combat this, digital, structured systems must be employed across all tiers of the industry, regardless of how much individual projects are worth. Well-structured information management systems improve business operation, assure compliance and allow companies to win more work, making businesses more robust. BIM technology and Level 2 compliance can make this a reality, and the industry might do well to recognise the benefits. By educating people to the right standards and enabling the use of digital systems, the administration becomes part of the course, and not the onus, of a project.
Information presented and managed in the correct structures and formats streamlines a project’s process; establishing control, quality and visibility. And this healthier state will inevitably enable relationships between parties to remain untroubled. With quality control and assurance never more important than it is in 2019, the construction industry has to be proficient in the way data is structured, to ensure both happy clients and a thriving industry.
This article was first published in ABC&D April 2019