“IT can deliver far more than any best-practice programme,” says Ray Crotty.
Crotty is annoyed that Sir John made little mention of IT in last year’s Rethinking Construction report. But he is not just sniping. He has a vision of how a building should be designed using intelligent 3D models that store all the information that project team members need.
And he has a track record that makes his idea difficult to ignore. As IT director of Bovis, Crotty was the key figure in the development of Hummingbird. Arguably the most sophisticated software system the construction industry has ever seen, Hummingbird handled all the project information for the £650m Bluewater retail development. Now a consultant, Crotty has also been at the forefront of initiatives to push ideas such as multimedia hard hats, which give the wearer design information via earphones and miniature television screens.
Of course, Crotty has approached the Movement for Innovation – the industry body charged with implementing Rethinking Construction. But the movement says IT, rather than being a separate issue, is integral to all the working groups. Crotty is not impressed. “It’s not enough to say that IT is covered by all the groups,” he blasts. “It is transformational.” By this he means that IT has the power to revolutionise the industry.
If Crotty’s vision is realised, not only will architects, clients and contractors be able to see models from any angle, they will be able to walk through them and view details up close. It will also be possible to investigate and change each separate element. Clients and consultants will, at the click of a button, see the difference that shaving 2 mm off each floor slab will make to the building. They will be able to choose from a library of cladding panels and see instantly how their building looks. And if standard components are involved, the price implications can be checked, too.
IT can deliver far more than any best-practice programme
Programs already exist to create 3D models, Crotty points out, but he adds that Parametric Technology’s Reflex software and the independently produced Sonata and Architrion programs are five or six years away from being able to deliver his vision.
What about the subcontractor who has to interpret these sophisticated models? Crotty has this angle covered. Subcontractors will be able to pull a model down to PCs on site and isolate their area of the building. They can then view it in 3D or take traditional sections through the model and print them off.
Again, Crotty thinks the communications technology that will enable rapid transfer of such sophisticated, information-rich models is only four or five years away. Already, he says, ISDN lines can handle these models, but advances such as ADSL, which can send dense information through normal telephone lines, will make sending on-line models cheap and fast.
One major problem that needs to be solved is commonality. “Everyone has to be speaking the same business language,” says Crotty. He advocates a standard classification system, such as Uniclass and BS 1192: Part Five which covers presentation of CAD data, and wants the RIBA, the RICS, the Association of Consulting Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Building to discuss this together. “It’s far too important to be left to the IT people alone,” he says.
Crotty claims his vision enables clients to reduce the number of consultants they use. “There’s no reason why an intelligent model can’t be developed that will work out reinforcement details or ductwork routes,” he says. “Clients wouldn’t have to employ engineers for these mundane jobs.” Quantity surveyors would not exist, as all the measuring and costing would be done by computer. “QSs can see it coming,” he says. “That’s why they’re so busy diversifying.” Architects will have a chance to regain their role as project managers, he adds. Design information will be communicated and altered so easily that architects will have time to run projects – just like they used to – and boost their fees in the process.