We delve into the timing of when you should embark on your digital journey

Man standing looking at a digital twin projection of a city

Source: shutterstock.com

It can be easy to be seduced by technology. I have always been impressed with 3D simulations that show how a project is built and fly-through visualisations of the design. However, for many organisations this is not reality, and they are learning that whilst this may be impressive, it really should be the final piece in the jigsaw. In this fourth part of the Building Academy course on digital construction, the focus is on how to start the digital journey and work towards the fancier simulations and visualisations.

In the first three parts, we have asserted that the future is digital, reviewed BIM and why it is relevant to you and the opportunity costs of making the decision to embark on your digital journey. The contention is that BIM is as much about information management as it is technology and the starting point to your digital journey is to first audit how your organisation manages information. This may not be as seductive as flashy visualisations; however, it is building the foundations that ensure such visualisations are more than just marketing gimmicks.

Additionally, there is the imminent legal requirement to provide a digital ‘golden thread’ of information. The Building Safety Act will require clear lines of accountability and it will be imperative that organisations understand their own information processes to contribute to a project’s digital golden thread. This means the ability to substantiate how decisions have been taken in the specification, design and delivery of a project as well as enable the asset owners to effectively manage the facility.

An information management audit should consider the quality of both the content of resources, that is the documents that contain information, as well as the workflows for managing information. As an organisation, information will be received, authored, and published for use by others. It is likely that the organisation has evolved into a mixture of paper and digital systems that are potentially already detailed in the quality procedures. This would be a logical starting point.

Another common criticism of the industry is that is does not change and it does not learn from previous projects. Whether you agree with this or not, ask yourself when you last actively participated in an effective post-project review, either within your own organisation or with all the project stakeholders? The industry’s fire-fighting culture means individuals are moved on from completing projects by overlapping with a new project. Procedures may require project reviews, however, in my experience they rarely happen and when they do, it becomes a tick box exercise that only receives lip service. Moreover, whilst post-occupancy evaluations are seen as critical, again other forces are often at play that discourage this essential practice being undertaken.

The next step therefore is to review the performance of recent projects and examine how information has been managed. This should include, amongst other things, an assessment on how well the project has verified the quality of information received, authored, and published, tracked non-compliance with procedures and understood the consequences of non-compliance. The review should look to understand the perspective from as many project participants as possible gaining insights into what worked well, what did not work so well and what they would do differently. This will also provide a sense of the digital capability of staff and those who are enthusiastic to support the organisation’s drive towards a digital future. It always amazes me how individuals working on projects often know what isn’t working and yet are not given the chance to talk about it.

Construction has traditionally been poor at the verification and validation of information with the consequences of inefficient working, poor quality workmanship and increased rework. On many projects, these inefficiencies are institutionalised within the pricing mechanisms that incorporate a plethora of different contingencies. This may sound perverse given that many companies operate a lean organisation and survive on thin margins, however, it is these inefficiencies that can be uncovered and provide the platform for future investments.

This course on digital construction has hopefully challenged you to consider what digital means to you and in this part, we have endeavoured to look beyond the seductive 3D visualisations and explore the much duller reality of information management. The essence of this approach is that whilst the technology will be an integral component of the digital future, the basics are still based on how information is received, authored, and published. Implicit in this is that if the industry is to deliver a better quality, safer and more sustainable built environment, it must address its poor management of information.

In the next part, we will explore the next steps of a digital journey and consider what the future could look like.

Until next time, keep working hard, be happy and have fun.