In this piece the Building Boardroom Digital Construction Academy programme director introduces the course
This is the first in a series of articles as part of the Building Academy course on digital construction, specifically focusing on how to improve your digital competency. My starting declaration is that the future of construction will be digital; just as many other industries already have, construction will be transformed by it. I will identify what skills and competencies you need to improve, or develop, to embrace this digital future. However, my second declaration is that is not about digital, it is about how digital enables a better quality, safer and more sustainable built environment to be delivered for all stakeholders; it is from this standpoint that I want to begin.
I contend that everyone firstly wants to operate safely; secondly, delivers quality outputs that are safe for all users; and, thirdly, that the climate emergency facing our one and only planet demands we address the negative contribution made by the built environment. I believe this an agenda we can all get behind and it is from this standpoint that we ask ourselves how it can be achieved and how can adopting digital help.
I believe that construction can be a great industry in which to work. While we can and do deliver many great projects, the new Elizabeth Line, aka Crossrail, being the latest testament to the industry’s capabilities, the prevailing sense is that “business as usual” means projects will not be delivered on time, to budget or the desired quality. Moreover, success on one project does not guarantee success on the next project. We will look to see whether improving your digital competency is the future of construction for you.
Having taught courses on BIM and digital construction for more than 10 years, it is evident that BIM means different things to different people and, hence, my first exercise is always to address these various perceptions to derive some consensus on which to move forward.
It seems reasonable to assert that many people in construction recognise that the future will indeed increasingly involve technology and digital ways of working. However, this comes with the caveat of “not just yet, we must focus on delivering our projects first”. If this sounds familiar, then it is perfectly understandable, so the challenge we all face is how to find the time to learn something new or improve what are already doing. Hence, these articles can be a guide to that will help you find that time and take those important steps towards your digital future. In much the same way as we probably all know we need to get fitter, the couch to 5k provides a guide to start running and get fitter so that in ten weeks you can complete a 5k, this could be the couch to 5G!
We have entitled this course digital construction rather than BIM, so I want to first address the difference and some preconceptions about BIM. BIM became established as part of the consciousness of construction when it was mandated by the chief construction advisor in 2010. BIM was potentially seen as the solution to delivering better projects. In the clamour to implement it, the subjectiveness of the mandate to achieve “level 2 BIM” by 2016 stimulated uncertainty and confusion that persists today. Having taught courses on BIM and digital construction for more than 10 years, it is evident that BIM means different things to different people and, hence, my first exercise is always to address these various perceptions to derive some consensus on which to move forward.
The confusion, or different perspectives over precisely what BIM is, has led to some common preconceptions that can inhibit individuals or organisations taking some simple steps that could improve their digital competency. Maybe you believe that BIM is too expensive; that you need clients to demand it before it can be adopted or, probably more significantly, that BIM is all about technology. While the government’s mandate undoubtedly accelerated the digitalisation of the industry, it has not prevented from being one of the least digitised of all industries. But is this due to these common misconceptions or the underlying narrative that the industry is resistant to change?
My view is that whether we are talking about BIM, digital construction or the digitalisation of the industry, the future of the industry will be digital. In some cases, the evidence suggests this digital future is already incredibly close, however, for the majority in construction industry the transition towards this digital future has only taken tentative ad hoc steps. Moreover, the journey towards digitisation is unclear.
In some cases, the evidence suggests this digital future is already incredibly close, however, for the majority in construction industry the transition towards this digital future has only taken tentative ad hoc steps.
A wise cat once said something along these lines “if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there”. BIM may seem like a far-off utopian wonderland in which the journey towards digitisation feels much the same and you are unclear what road to take. Hence the aim of this Building Academy course is to set you on the right road and help navigate some of the twists and turns along the way. I want you to know that BIM need not be expensive and that you can adopt digital ways of working without waiting for clients to demand. More importantly, being digital is more than just technology and with clarity over the first steps, I am confident you will be able to develop your digital competency over the duration of this course.
This first article in the Building Academy Digital Construction course has sought to inspire you that you can improve your digital competency. Over this course we will be provide you with direction towards a digital future that is both realistic and achievable; a future that will create further opportunities and enable you to contribute towards an industry that delivers a better quality, safer and more sustainable built environment.
In the next article, we will consider why a digital future can be good for you. In the meantime, I want you to consider three things; firstly, what BIM means to you? Secondly, are there any constraints inhibiting your adoption of a digital future? And finally, what is most important to you about working in construction?
Until next time, keep working hard, be happy and have fun.
Rob Garvey is the programme director for the Building Boardroom Digital Construction Academy and a senior lecturer at University of East London