Bluebeam regional director James Chambers on technology in infrastructure

The UK government has published ambitious infrastructure plans for the next decade alongside a roadmap for how it will be delivered. The plan is to address years of underinvestment in the country’s infrastructure and use it as a means of driving the economic recovery post-pandemic.

James Chambers Headshot (1)

James Chambers

With an estimated pipeline of £650bn, the opportunities are huge if the projects can be delivered effectively.

Technology is going to have to play a significant role, with the roadmap arguing that it will be needed to “improve productivity and reduce risk in design, delivery and operations of infrastructure assets.”

Technology can also help the UK to achieve its net zero strategy, with software tools able to help with more effective resource planning (materials, labour and equipment), better construction methodologies and improved asset operation and maintenance.

Working together

While light on some of the detail when it comes to the solutions available and what technologies the industry should adopt, the roadmap is clear that collaboration is the only way that these goals can be achieved.

The important question then is how to bring about more collaboration?

With major infrastructure projects, it needs to be baked in at the start. That means that clients should set out their preferred workflows and processes at the procurement stage. This should include the principles for how information is to be stored and shared, the expectations around how teams will work together and report on progress, and how success will be measured against defined KPIs.

For the supply chain, it is about being prepared to integrate with other systems and processes to make sure that this all works seamlessly. Open file formats, agnostic systems and data accessibility are all essential, ideally backed up via a robust, cloud-based system.

This interoperability is a must. It makes information easier to review and compare, which also makes it more actionable. Hidden data is useless when it comes to decision making. Seamless interoperability also ensures that data corruption or information loss between the various systems does not occur.

And, by working in the cloud, the information is available to everyone in real time, providing an accurate insight into project performance.

This solves a challenge that construction has long faced, particularly on major projects. The workforce is spread across multiple locations, different disciplines use different tools, and many companies have their own workflows. Add in the issue that processes are split between paper-based and digital solutions and it is easy to see why working in this way should not continue.

For the largest gains and improvements, the industry needs to come together with shared solutions. It is the only way that some of the broader impacts of construction will be addressed and the true potential of technology realised.

This will avoid the need for difficult, costly integrations that add time and risk to projects. This all improves efficiency, and efficiency equals a better margin and better project outcomes.

Using software to bridge the gap

Collaborative software is usually based around document sharing, team working and communication. It is no surprise. Construction requires a lot of documentation, so anything that can help with this makes a major difference.

By enabling teams to collaborate in real-time across multiple locations, you can easily connect site teams and offices. This helps to speed up projects, giving teams access to the right skills and expertise whenever they need it.

However, software is not just about making processes faster. It can boost transparency for the whole project, making it more likely that potential risks and issues are identified, avoiding costly delays or mistakes. With changes, comments and issues logged, it also provides an audit trail for every decision made.

For example, at design stage collaborative software allows architects, engineers and contractors to work on a single drawing via the cloud. RFIs can be easily shared among the team and comparisons can be quickly made between drawings, making it obvious if there is a design issue. With every update logged, it makes keeping on top of projects much simpler.

We have had customers make large time savings, helping them to win new projects, as well as significantly reducing costs, both through improved visibility on projects and by moving to a more efficient, paperless workflow.

Technology can change the face of the industry

As well as the impacts on project delivery, there is another important benefit of using more technology in construction.

In the wake of the Hackitt Report, data sharing and management is much higher up the agenda. The concept of a digital golden thread, where all information related to the design, build and operation is stored in an open format and made available to the end user, is here to stay.

Working more effectively and transparently will do much to improve the understanding of our built environment and lead to safety and quality improvements.

Studies also show that the effective integration of technology in construction will help to bring new people into the industry. With many skills in short supply and a lack of diversity in the sector, this adds another positive benefit of a move to a more digital industry.

What is clear then, is that the infrastructure roadmap is the latest in a very long line of industry reports that sets out an ambition for a more efficient and effective sector built around technology. The time to change is now.