Christopher Groome, business manager of the International Alliance for Interoperability, tells Victoria Madine how he is helping to make construction IT literate
What is the IAI?
The IAI is a worldwide alliance of more than 500 construction and facilities management organisations, committed to process improvement using object technology, which can interpret the dimensions and specification of the objects that make up a building. IAI is developing global standards for information sharing known as industry foundation classes, whereby all participants in a construction project will be able to access the information they need. We also encourage the implementation of software so that users can discover the benefits in terms of quality, cost and speed. Pilot implementation on real projects is a big issue for us today.

What is its main challenge?
The sheer size of the task in an industry not noted for its research and development. Other industries have already harnessed the power of object technology – aerospace, shipbuilding, motorcars, process plant and off-shore. These businesses decided to do it, and pulled the rest of the supply chain along with them. It is an expensive business, so a fragmented industry like construction finds it difficult to commit to and fund change on this scale.

What exactly is your role at the IAI?
As the business manager, it's my job to raise the profile of the IAI and make more construction professionals – and their clients – aware of our work and our aims. At the moment we are trying to get the NHS involved, so I'll be meeting with the managers behind Procure 21 [the department's Eganised procurement strategy] to explain what we do. I also liaise closely with our members, which means arranging conferences, setting up workshops and keeping everyone up to date with new developments.

What frustrates you about your job?
That people can be so slow to recognise the benefits of IT. So I get impatient with the pace of change in construction. I also find that companies in this sector are terribly slow at paying their bills.

Do construction professionals make the most of IT to further their career?
Many construction professionals could use IT to take the humdrum processes out of their work, but they don't take advantage of the technology on offer. They could free up more time to spend on qualitative work, which would then advance their interests.

How do you envisage the IAI's future role in the construction industry?
A lot of software aimed at construction is now coming through. The major obstacles to change are increasingly the culture and conservatism of the industry and its institutions. I see IAI as taking on a new range of campaigning activities, such as piloting, education, training and promotion, within the industry.

Which major firms are members, and how does a company join?
Internationally, many well-known construction companies, including Kajima, HOK, Skanska, Bovis Lend Lease, and Bentley. In the UK, leading members include Building Design Partnership, Buro Happold, BAA, Lloyds TSB, Asite and BIW. However many smaller firms are leaders in the field and play a full part in the work we do.

If anyone is interested in joining or just would like more information, they should visit our website at

Personal details

Business manager at the IAI
Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire
Degree in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford
Employment history
Non-executive board member of Anglia Water Authority throughout the 1980s, also worked at the National Economic Development Office and chocolate manufacturer Rowntree. Set up his own networking firm, the Business Roundtable, in 1993