As we move to embrace digital technologies in our industry, we cannot expect rigid and traditional structures to remain fit for purpose

‘Traditional’ is a word often associated with the construction industry, and my recent experience attending and speaking at a hospitality event perhaps demonstrates why this view of our industry persists.

Whilst technological innovation is making major inroads within the built environment sector, it’s clear that many decision makers and work providers tend to possess, or be guided towards, a ‘traditional’ procurement approach. So as I recently sat and listened to many presentations on how to quantify and de-risk hotel refurbishment, what was striking was the accepted notion that the design, or what you actually got from your consultants, was fixed and not there to be challenged. Surely if we don’t ask, challenge and interrogate more robustly the initial design concept, then how can we drive the revolutionary change that the industry needs to lift itself out of this ‘traditional’ mindset.

The interesting thing, or at least anecdotally from the level of enquiries I received on the day, is that there is a desire from clients to do things differently, because the benefits of a new approach are easy to understand and just make good sense. It’s worth noting at this point that the subject of my presentation was the transformational role of the ‘master systems architect’.

We created this new role to address a growing concern that pre-existing processes and hierarchies were having a negative effect on the ability of our industry to play a pivotal role in the ‘smart revolution’. Let me explain – in many instances a design is developed without a clear end vision for the client and issued to consultants still lacking the clarity on what the design should do and how it should work. Each technical discipline then goes away to translate this ‘design’ into a deliverable solution. These design silos are then brought back together and the challenge is to then stitch all these disparate components together to make the building work.

It doesn’t matter if you have the very latest cutting-edge system in this process, because the fragmented approach will never enable these technologies to work to their full potential and create human centric design.

If we start again with the master systems architect in place, the first thing that happens is the project rationale is challenged – why do we need so many desks, how can we bring additional flexibility to spaces, what information about the space and the people that use it can we interrogate to improve how it’s optimised? Once we have the unique vision and story from the client, we bring together each technical discipline and work collaboratively to develop a design that sits atop a common and bespoke technology ecosystem, which is the fundamental element of a truly smart building. As the master systems architect is vendor agnostic - concerned only with delivering the client’s individual vision, this role becomes the epicentre for innovation, looking at the most efficient and cost-effective way to integrate systems. This has already led to the development of a luminaire that runs on a power over ethernet (POE) network, with sensors that measure air quality and track heat signatures. The master systems architect role is driving new product development.

Change can create uncertainty and we’re often asked how the role of the master systems architect impacts upon the accepted project hierarchy. Our response is always that it augments and further strengthens the collective project team. If we look at variations or late design changes – with a master systems architect in place, the likelihood that this scenario should occur is minimised as design intent has been scrutinised with greater rigour at the outset. However, if change is required, the master systems architect is ideally placed to quantify, resolve and communicate the implications of change with an element of neutrality that doesn’t currently exist.

As we move to embrace digital technologies in our industry, we cannot expect rigid and traditional structures to remain fit for purpose. If we do so, we not only miss out on opportunities to be real innovators, but also curtail the ambitions of our clients to benefit from smart spaces that support their growth aspirations.