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Construction's under pressure but tech can shift perceptions

At the beginning of this decade, digital construction was being embraced by a relatively modest group of enthusiasts.

Today, BIM is the standard design approach and we are looking at many new opportunities using the latest technology.

Co-ordination and modelling is now the norm. Everyone knows about BIM Level 2, even though they may not understand it. Those that have not adopted BIM will not be left behind; they have been left behind.

We no longer need to convince people of the value of digital tools. 

Fundamental issues

New technology is building momentum such as virtual and augmented reality, blockchain and artificial intelligence. At BIM Show Live we will be exploring and discussing these opportunities. However, there are still some fundamental issues we must address.

Last year’s Grenfell Tower fire was a horrendous tragedy that put industry practices under the microscope. The collapse of Carillion at the beginning of this year has, to a different degree, also turned the spotlight on construction.

“The Hackett report into Grenfell has identified how complex our sector is, yet marks only the beginning of our processes being unpicked” 

Many in the sector will have been deeply affected yet unsurprised by either of these events, as we have been aware for years of the various cultural issues now being interrogated.

We have challenges of workmanship, compliance, specification, payment terms, contacts – the list goes on.

From the top

Much of the momentum regarding the industry’s digitalisation is down to the government mandating Level 2 on centrally procured public projects from 2016. This made the sector sit up and take notice.

As we work through the array of issues from Grenfell and from Carillion, we will see increased legislation and a greater responsibility being placed on commissioning clients. They will be responsible for the ultimate compliance of buildings, which will include standards and workmanship. I can see a growth in independent certification and the return of the clerk of works.

We saw a similar approach to health and safety in the 1990s with the CDM legislation to address site fatalities.

Technology’s role

Construction is now headline news. The Hackett report into Grenfell has identified how complex our sector is, yet marks only the beginning of our processes being unpicked. 

We must continue the momentum the sector has built and work together to address the issues highlighted over the past year.

Undoubtedly technology can play its part. We will be able to look at how digital surveying can monitor compliance and workmanship, or how blockchain can improve contracts and payments.

We have an opportunity of a generation to address the embedded cultural issues in construction. The sector deal as part of the industrial strategy gives us a chance to build on what has been achieved and change perceptions of the industry.

Rob Charlton is chief executive of Space Group and co-founder of BIM Show Live

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