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The post covid-19 recovery is a prime opportunity to
accelerate the shift towards digitalisation in construction, argues David
As the country slowly begins to emerge from months of
lockdown, many of us will no doubt have taken some time out to think about the
so-called ‘new normal’ and what it means for us. Social distancing and other
protective measures look set to remain with us for the foreseeable future. This
has already started to raise some big questions about how we do things in
construction. The new normal will require a new way of doing things: what you
might term ‘business as un-usual’.
The past few months have already seen a seismic shift
towards digitally enabled collaboration in the construction sector. While this
happened as a direct result of not being able to interact in person, it was
nonetheless a reminder of the transformative potential of digital technologies and
processes which, if fully embraced, could enable more sustainable and
productive ways of delivering and operating our built infrastructure.
Planning the route to recovery has helped to sharpen focus
on the need for much greater innovative and collaborative thinking in
construction. This is evidenced most clearly in the Construction Leadership
Council’s (CLC) Roadmap to Recovery, which rightly shines a spotlight on the
need to up our game in the digital space. By embedding digital and
manufacturing technologies and processes, we can lay the foundations for a
sector which is far more resilient, performs better and which understands value
in whole-life terms.
It is vitally important that any interventions made during
the industry restart and reset phases help lay the groundwork for a much wider
transformation. Digital and applied technologies can help us model and
understand the parameters of sustainable operations and optimise whole-life
CO2 outcomes, transforming how and what we build.
With a drive towards high-performing assets and
encouragement to use high-performance computing, energy analysis and the
Internet of Things (IoT) to automate processes we can better achieve the
fundamental goal of net zero.
In addition to accelerating the pace of sector transformation, we can also help to maintain the UK’s reputation as a world leader for the digital built environment, benefiting the economy as a whole.
Embedding digital tools
The first step will be to accelerate the uptake and embedding of the digital tools and processes, particularly those developed in partnership with industry, especially the UK BIM Framework. Second, we need to ensure convergence with other related themes, especially manufacturing, digital twinning, to support new and ever-complex infrastructure challenges – especially those related to productivity and quality.
Thinking once again about the ‘new normal’, as many organisations announce permanent homeworking arrangements for their staff, occupancy levels of our built assets will change dramatically and we will need better understanding of how our existing buildings and infrastructure should be shaped.
With building owners increasingly needing to reorganise and
prioritise their asset portfolios, the Digital Innovation Hub is creating guidance
and frameworks around the ‘digital estate’. It demonstrates how digitisation of
an existing estate with a joined-up data approach can help gain better insight,
making more informed decisions and providing a better coordinated approach to
an organisation’s asset management strategy based upon more complete and
accurate asset information.
The next few months – and quite possibly years – will be
like none we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. There will be challenges aplenty,
but opportunities aplenty too. For our part as the Construction Innovation Hub,
we’ll be working in full support of the CLC Recovery Plan to ensure that
digital technologies and processes are at the heart of how we do things in
David Philp is the Construction Innovation Hub’s digital impact director, and director of BIM in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Aecom