We delve into what digital can do to enhance you career and its trajectory in the construction sector

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There is plenty of information presenting a future that is digital, however, for many in construction the implication is that the future is not happening anytime soon. This is the second part of the Building Academy course on digital construction, specifically focusing on how to improve your digital competency. This session aims to assess what is in it for you? What can digital do for you and present a perspective that can influence you to start your digital journey.

At the end of the first article, you were asked to consider three questions; what BIM means to you? What is constraining you from adopting a digital future and thirdly, your priorities for working in construction. With these questions in mind, let us consider why an organisation might adopt digital, that is to incorporate technology to facilitate digital ways of working. Theory indicates that organisations change either by proactively seeking to change or by reacting to competition or a crisis, with these changes either having a small scale, developmental impact or a large scale, transformational impact.

The pandemic has been a crisis that demonstrated how construction can adapt and operate differently. It has undoubtedly accelerated the awareness of digital ways of working and how projects can be run. It also highlighted the lack of digital capabilities within organisations and individuals. I am certain you can reflect on changes made during the pandemic that have stuck and will not be reverting to pre-pandemic methods. What is the next crisis? Will it be the climate emergency?

Will competition influence change? There have been new entrants into the construction market who see the potential to disrupt the industry. While these new entrants have yet to fully establish themselves, it seems inevitable that construction, like many other industries will be transformed. There are many examples where existing organisations become obsolete in the face the inevitable shift to the new entrants. This will happen in construction too.

Some organisations are already adopting digital ways of working and can be seen as early adopters changing the market. We are moving towards the point, as defined by Geoffrey Moore, where we reach the chasm and the mainstream market is influenced by the early majority. Maybe that chasm is going to be bridged with the arrival of new legislation.

Change in the UK is coming form of legislation. The new Building Safety Act is the most significant to hit the industry this century. Despite the litany of government reports on the industry, the industry has not significantly changed and the race to the bottom reached its nadir with the Grenfell disaster. This is reason enough for me to want to see construction change. It has instigated consultations that are resulting in the UK Government imposing legal requirements to operate safely and ensuring users of the built environment of their right to life. While this should be common sense and no-one deliberately works in the construction to cause harm, it is apparent this stick is now required.

In the first article reference was made to a government mandate to adopt BIM, the Building Safety Act goes further and makes it a legal requirement to provide a digital ‘golden thread’ of information. In other high-risk industries, there has long been a requirement to have clear lines of accountability that the golden thread is looking to establish. An organisation’s ability to deliver their contribution to this digital golden thread will depend on its digital competency.

The external influences of crisis, competition and legislation do not explicitly address what is in it for you in adopting digital. The implications are potential obsolescence and legislation could have consequences for non-compliance. So let us consider some more explicit implications for your organisation and unpick the meaning of BIM. BIM is commonly understood to stand for Building Information Modelling; this implies a process to derive a model of the building. My preference is to consider the acronym to stand for Better Information Management, with the implication that we need to manage our information more effectively to facilitate better decision making and deliver a better built environment.

Much of the focus on developing BIM revolves around the project. For example, the new series of International Standards, ISO 19650, is a framework for managing information on projects. While most organisations will work on projects and need to understand these standards, I would contend that the initial focus for developing digital competency is on the organisation itself. And hence, this is the first step on your digital journey; that to understand what information and data your organisation, receives, generates, and publishes.

Research shows that poor information management is the root cause of many of the problems in the industry and results in significant waste and inefficiency. Indeed, the lack of transparency over the costs of poor information management has institutionalised this inefficiency so it accepted as business as usual. Shining a light on these inefficiencies will highlight the potential economic benefits that can easily improve the bottom line. This can be a quick win, that does not incur any significant cost, and can generate funds for the potential investment required for future steps in the digital journey.

This second article has considered why the future can be digital for you. It has highlighted that the drivers for this change could be competition, legislation or reacting to a crisis. While you are likely to react to such influences, the opportunity also exist to take proactive action and influence change from within your organisation. Initially, this does not need to incur significant costs; indeed highlighting the money spent on inefficient business as usual approaches can lead to cost savings that can fund the next phases of your digital future. Clarifying what your organisational purpose is can bring people together around a common purpose and start a process that can drive a culture of continuous improvement. It is up to you to decide what you want from a digital future, however, it is more likely that digital is more a facilitating strategy to achieve your organisational objectives and not the goal itself.

In the next article, we will explore how you can establish your digital future. In the meantime, I want you to consider what your organisation’s purpose and how this incorporates reference to a digital future? Secondly, what information your organisation receives, uses and publishes? And finally, what digital skills you currently have and how you are developing them?

Rob Garvey is the programme director for the Building Boardroom Digital Construction Academy and a senior lecturer at University of East London