Opinion Piece by David Philp

Serious about transformation

Our Built environment has a powerful influence on all of our lives from enhancing well-being, providing essential infrastructure and impacting on our national economy. How we define, create, and shape our built environment should therefore be a priority for all of all of us especially in the context of COVID recovery. Digital and innovative use of data will allow us to shift towards value based decision making, be better connected and deliver transformational outcomes. In this article Hub Impact Director – Digital, David Philp explores how the Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub) is working around four core themes of Value, Manufacturing, Assurance and Digital, to change the way buildings and infrastructure are designed, manufactured, integrated and connected within our built environment. These four converged themes will help us create a better link between delivery and performance which has often been a missing link for industry.

“The Hub is our shop window; our chance to show the world we can deliver world class built assets through digital and advanced manufacturing technologies. Not only is this a chance to improve productivity, drive down carbon, achieve better value but ultimately to make a difference to society.” – David Philp

Introduction

This is the new normal. As we start to emerge from what seems like eternity, the lockdown has given us all time to reflect on what the so-called ‘new normal’ is and what life might look like in the near future. But let’s be clear: the new normal isn’t natural, or routine, or habitual or fully known. In short, this isn’t normal. Not being able to visit our loved ones and friends, working from kitchen tables and #VirtualBeers requires a new mindset and ways of doing things, a term we may call ‘business as un-usual’ if you like.

The language of a ‘new normal’ is being used by everyone from politicians to the media as a rhetoric for a new uncertain life, one which will never be the same as before. It conjures up an idea, that our regular ‘normal’ way of life was working, when in fact many companies are responding to their employers wishes of blurring the work life boundaries by not returning to the office following COVID-19 and adopting a work from home business model. This in its self-starts to bring into sharp focus a need to better understand how our existing buildings and infrastructure should be defined and shaped as we see occupancy levels of our built assets and commuting journeys change dramatically.

If any good has come out of this global pandemic, it is that faced with times of economic uncertainty, stimulates fresh ideas and the advancement of digital technologies and more efficient integrated processes. The past few months have already seen a seismic shift towards digitally enabled collaboration in the construction sector. Whilst 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.

New paradigm shift

Instead of talking about a ‘new normal’, we should be looking to generate a ‘new paradigm’ shift  away from our ‘normal’ outdated ways of working and practices deeply rooted in the lowest cost and transfer of risk, to a new paradigm focused on delivering better long-term outcomes and value. As industry looks beyond ‘design’ and ‘build’ into ‘operate’ and ‘integrate’, the convergence of BIM, GIS, asset management systems and innovations such as digital twinning are enabling the way towards high performing and outcome-based assets.

The planning and route to recovery for construction has already begun, with Boris Johnson announcing the Government’s plan for an ‘Infrastructure Revolution’ and a commitment to ‘build back better, build back greener, build back faster. The Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Roadmap to Recovery also brings into sharp focus the need for much greater innovative and collaborative thinking. 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.

Catalyst for sector transformation

The catalyst for a new paradigm shift toward sector transformation in the UK is being driven by the Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub), a UK Government backed R&D programme funded by UK Research and Innovation and delivered by the BRE, MTC and CDBB. Centred around the four core themes of Value, Manufacturing, Assurance and Digital, the Hub’s transformative programme is focused on collaborating with industry to develop the tools and processes, to embed manufacturing technologies and digital ways of working that are both trusted and secure, boosting productivity, exports and asset performance that will benefit society.

Recently the Hub has joined forces with RICS, RIBA, CIOB and Social Value UK to develop a new industry-wide definition of value, laying the groundwork for a long-awaited transformation in the way decisions are made across the sector. This forms part of a new ‘Value Toolkit’ that will comprise a suite of four new tools to embed a transparent, consistent and customisable approach to improving the outcomes realised through construction projects and assets by supporting value-based decision-making throughout the investment lifecycle.

Elsewhere, the hub is developing Construction Quality Planning (CQP) which forms part of a wider family of quality management approaches from onsite assembly to whole life management. The CQP defines an approach for those firms which supply the construction sector with new products and assemblies that form part of tomorrow’s offsite manufactured buildings, making sure that a golden thread of information is provided. This plays a vital role within the Hub’s Platform Design programme, which enables new building such as schools and hospitals t be design and configured from a set of pre-defined ‘kit of parts’.

Conclusion

In the wake of COVID, the needs of clients and society are changing rapidly as is similarly the pace of technology.  Digital and applied technologies are going to significantly shape the way we work and how we look at delivering and operating our built infrastructure of the future to meet a whole new set of needs.

Accelerating the pace of change will be vital and the Hub and their industry partners will demonstrate how the development and integration of digital and manufacture will not only enhance current levels of productivity but will also explore how we can better measure operational performance to improve through life performance.

This combination of standardisation, digital and advanced manufacture have been the cornerstone of aerospace and automotive sectors improving quality and value. Industry has already witnessed the need for change and adoption of modern methods of construction.  The creation of standardised solutions and repeatable elements, both digitally and physically that can be configured to meet individual project needs will avoid constant reinvention and support structured knowledge capture.

Delivering a joined-up approach to industry transformation, the Hub bridges the gap between traditional decision making and delivery to value based decision making and manufactured delivery.

As we start building again, I think we need as an industry to be braver and give people the opportunity to think and act differently in how we deliver and curates our projects.

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