The Business Impact of Digital
What’s the status of progress in design and construction?
“The future of construction is digital.” “Digital means greater efficiency and is good for your bottom line.” “Go paperless, you can’t afford not to.” We’ve all heard ideas like these a thousand times, but are they actually true? And beyond the more general idea of digital affecting the bottom line in a positive way, what about growing pains? What are some things to watch out for, which industries can we learn from, what are some changes we’d like to see?
A group of battle-tested construction veterans sat down to have an in-depth discussion about construction’s digital journey and answered these questions, and many more, in the course of their conversation. Bluebeam partnered with Building UK to sponsor the Roundtable, which can be viewed online here.
List of participants:
Nick Wheatley, Design Operations Manager, Prater
Dan Hoogeveen, Digital Design Manager, Purcell
Jami Cresser-Brown, Director, Bryden Wood
Paul Jeffries, Computational Design Lead, Ramboll
James Chambers, UK Country Manager, Bluebeam Inc.
Nelly Twumasi-Mensah, Business Change Lead, Faithful+Gould
Adam McCall, Business Advisory & Digital Transformation, Arcadis
Malcolm Taylor, Head of Technical Information, Crossrail
Tom Lane, Technical Editor, Building Group
Babak Tizkar, Head of BIM, Associate Director, Atkins
Paul Beatty-Pownall, Managing Director, BPR Architects
Todd Wynne, VP Strategy & Partnerships, Bluebeam, Inc.
AEC is a diverse industry, encompassing everything from five-person shops to multinational design and construction firms, and digitalisation is necessarily a different conversation depending on who is talking. Todd Wynne, VP of strategy and partnerships at Bluebeam, pointed out that while there are still obstacles in the way of absolute technology adoption, we ought to pause to consider where the industry was just a decade ago, before iPads and tablets changed the jobsite. “It hasn’t even been 10 years and the industry is remarkably different,” Wynne noted. Malcolm Taylor, head of technical information at Crossrail, believes that there’s progress to be made in convincing clients of the benefits to be had by, say, receiving a model or project digitally. “Many don’t see, for instance, how digital technology such as BIM could be useful after project handover and could be a great boon for facilities management teams,” Taylor offered.
Additionally, sometimes it’s the “bureaucracy,” said Adam McCall, head of business advisory and digital transformation at Arcadis, “That hasn’t caught up: the contractual, legal, side of digital construction that just isn’t ready, or hasn’t figured out fully, how to deal with digital solutions.”
The perception of the pace of change is often shaded by what is going on outside the industry. The construction of a building is a mighty complicated endeavour and each project is unique. In contrast to the vehicle industry, which is highly digitalised and mechanised, architects, engineers and builders can’t design a prototype, perfect its production and then create 1 million clones of that prototype the way, say, Toyota can. Each building is both the prototype and the finished product, said Babak Tizkar, head of BIM and associate director at Atkins. Thus, he added, when you add “the digital risk that is untested, a lot of clients kind of feel they’re taking a huge gamble paying for something that is not recorded in terms of evidence of the actual gains we can see. And a lot of the commercialisation of BIM earlier on was around the lack of evidence in what some of this brings. And that’s something I think, us as an industry, we need to fight harder, just by recording the benefits and bringing forward evidence-based approach.”
Nelly Twumasi-Mensah, business change lead at consulting firm Faithful+Gould, brought the conversation into sharp focus: it’s not, at the end of the day, about this software or that process, but about what the implementation of BIM and other digital tools can bring about. “You are free to actually add some more value. You’re free to think about new ways of doing things. You’re free to be able to say: actually this process that we do here, we should do it differently because a lot of the admin burden is taken away by digital tools.” The future, and even the present, of AEC and the exciting challenges that lay ahead to digitalise and become more evidence-based, more focused on efficiencies, repeatability, transparency — should be seen in that perspective.