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Digital transformation a futurewise built environmentDecember 2014

Written by David Philp, Head of BIM at Mace Group also HM Government BIM Task Group

The digital economy is transforming the way we live and work and the construction industry will not be immune. I believe data is becoming the new oil and whilst oil is a limited resource, data is continuing to grow and is a sustainable resource.

For most construction organisations how they use data to unlock better performance and achieve efficient outcomes is a game changer. The future of our industry is facing a high degree of complexity, extreme competition and uncertainty with respect to the outcomes of climate change, availability of resources and the disruptive nature of innovation. Regardless of their origin, these factors will indirectly stimulate a rate of change in our sector, which will have a direct impact. It is essential therefore that construction organisations, academia and individuals are prepared to adjust to potentially radical changes. They must question if they are moving quickly enough to make the necessary adaptations, which are often complex.

The BIM2050 group was formed by CIC and comprising young construction professionals under the Chairmanship of David Philp, Head of BIM, HM Government UK BIM Task Group and Vice Chair Neil Thompson of Balfour Beatty. The group launched their much anticipated Built Environment 2050: A Report on our Digital Future on the 1st Sept 2014. The report examines the foregoing themes and future gazes as to what industry may look like as construction technology develops to BIM Level 3 and beyond, towards 2050. It provides an assessment of the current situation and makes proposals for future development. It highlights the risks and challenges, and the opportunities and benefits that come with large scale innovation and game changing new technologies.

Socio-technological Frontier. Feedback Cycle Wave: © Philp, Thompson 2013

Philp notes that “we are witnessing the early stages of a sector wide digital transformation where data and digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods we recognise in our industry which is still rooted in a Victorian era world of analogue transactions.” The report envisages that digitisation will change the construction industry landscape, giving life to new innovative ways of working which are transformative, dynamic, rapid and disruptive by design. Indeed BIM in its various guises is becoming a metaphor for industry change – it is helping set a compelling vision of what a digitised sector would look like using computer readable data, a vision where “We can perceive the skeleton of a construction industry that builds right the first time, is efficient, and has the ability to create assets that give each customer and indeed society the added value we all want.”

Vice-Chair, Thompson articulates that environmental engineering is at the heart of delivering a sustainable future for the built environment leading up to 2050. A study in 2013 highlighted that building services requires the highest density of information compared to architecture and structural information requirements. The experience of our homes, workplaces and places where we play, is through the environment. Construction disciplines share physical space, why do they not share the digital space?

The research in the BIM2050 report shows that the industry needs to share digital space and that the rate of change in technology will mean that the skills we have today will need to adapt to suit the demand of tomorrow’s requirements. This may seem a threat to most-change is never comfortable - but in order to close the performance gap between our designs and their operation, we need to address skills and education.

Environmental engineering requires a molecular understanding of our spaces. In which operating theatre would you want to be operated on? One that is poorly designed and increases the chances of infection or the one where computational fluid dynamics is used to ensure the flow of air is optimal for the surgeon’s comfort and minimisation of infection? Much like the digital cameras on our phones, military grade technology transcends in to the market faster than ever. As energy modelling improves, the performance gap will diminish, but it’s more than technology that will ensure the quality of the construction is maintained, it’s a process too.

The report describes a culture of integration. It is how our skills and education come together with process and technology to design and build. For us it boils down to the contractual agreements we make and emotional intelligence. Have you seen an architect and services engineer battle for space in their designs?

Innovation enables the development of technology. We need that technology to become more productive and deliver better outcomes for end users. Although for the building services industry the focus is still too much on itself. The report highlights the blurring of sector and disciplinary boundaries. Much like the interdependency of people working on projects, interdisciplinary design is critical for the environmental engineering sector.

As the sector that has the highest information density requirement in construction (buildings) it needs to take the lead in the interdependency of information throughout a buildings lifecycle.

The report can be downloaded in full at from the CIC website.

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