Now more than ever, businesses need to invest in the digital awareness and skills of their staff as much as in the technology they introduce, writes Maria Hudson of Zutec

Maria Hudson_Group CMO_Zutec

Maria Hudson is CMO at Zutec

The UK construction industry has undergone a sea change since 2017’s Grenfell Tower tragedy. Landmark legislation has ended many outdated and irresponsible practices, ushering in a new age where safety, responsibility and transparency are at the heart of every building project.

As the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) requirements are introduced, with Gateways 2 and 3 the latest to be enforced, the pressure is on contractors and asset owners to respond and comply with the new regulation.

It is not as straightforward a task as it might appear, however, especially when the sector’s structural challenges and legacy processes are taken into consideration. Couple that with an unusual set of economic circumstances, labour constraints, and technical competency issues, and you have a situation where regulatory compliance becomes an arduous and complex process, which can sometimes get in the way of doing the right thing.

Going further, we must not think this rush of regulation stops at building safety and fire protection. Sustainability is in the spotlight and there are a number of strict hoops that developers, particularly in the residential sector, are required to jump through. Parts F and L are probably the highest profile of these.

The thorough photographic evidence requirements of the latter, which demonstrates the building composition at every stage of construction, is a pretty sizeable undertaking. It will no doubt require a substantial investment to train on-site staff, adding yet another line of outgoings to the balance sheet.

Those who fall foul of the regulator can expect the full weight of the law to come down on them if they cannot show that they are putting the right processes in place

It is a lot to consider and it is little wonder that many are struggling to get to grips with the regulatory programme as one code lands almost immediately after another. However, built environment professionals collectively need to get their heads around these requirements, and they need to do so fast.

The government has been very clear on its position, and those who fall foul of the regulator can expect the full weight of the law to come down on them if they cannot show that they are putting the right processes in place.

If they are not already doing so, businesses within the sector need to start implementing the systems and safeguards for compliance. A key, and still overlooked part of this is the project’s digital assets, particularly towards compiling the BSA’s building safety case, which includes having complete, whole-life asset information, from planning to handover and maintenance.

As painstaking a job as this can be, it is an essential one. Even the smallest information gap within data-set requirements can have a significant knock-on effect and run the risk of slowing projects down further.

While there are a number of high-performance systems which exist to make this task easier, including our own suite of digital solutions, successful data management also hinges on the people using them. Often a data gap occurs because the team has not been properly briefed or instilled with a data-first culture.

That is why fostering a data-led approach from the outset, where digital information is king, is important. After all, the physical property can now only be occupied once the digital assets that support it are complete and correct.

>> Also read: Building safety: it’s a team game

>> Also read: Assessing the Building Safety Act’s new product safety regime 

Getting to this point is not without its barriers. People, especially when they have been working in an organisation for a long time with a specific set of processes, get into established workflows and cycles which can be difficult to break. This is why complete overhauls done overnight rarely work, and tech is left to sit getting dusty on the shelf.

You need to bring people with you and get them to feel like they are invested in this important process. It requires a piecemeal approach, with incremental steps that invite and educate, as well as ensure understanding as to why.

The easiest way to overcome mental blockers is to definitively demonstrate how new information management platforms benefit the organisation and the individual using them. For example, not only will the employee be helping to safeguard the organisation, but they will also free up more time to do high-value “thinking”-type tasks through less administrative work. Companies can also incentivise staff to spot potential data gaps and develop ways to close them.

Ultimately, businesses need to invest in the digital awareness and skills of their people as much as the technology they introduce to support day-to-day operations. For best-in-class data management it is a non-negotiable, especially as digitisation is becoming mandatory and falling out of compliance with fire safety regulations carries such a high penalty.

It also makes commercial sense, protecting the business from legal liability, at a time when every penny counts.

Maria Hudson is CMO at Zutec, a construction data and management software provider