The construction sector, all too often considered slow to adopt new technologies, is actually further down the digital track than you might think.
Paul Chaplin - Central Alliance
From BIM to the many investigative and testing technologies now involved in construction, these and others are all generating data, but while this progress is a good thing, there are many barriers that exist to sharing this data, all of which must be addressed if the sector is to move forward.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the lack of awareness of the sheer volume of data being generated and how it can be used within a legal and competitive framework. Adhering to legislation is tricky as it is constantly evolving with new directives about what you can and cannot store are emerging all the time, but equally commercial competition is a real concern. Just what data is or can be deemed ‘for sharing’ and what information does it hold about the company, its people, its technologies, products and services that generated it?
Ownership is also an issue that needs to be addressed; is it the property of the client paying for its collection or the company acquiring it and who is responsible for storing it once acquired and processed, and to which part does any legislation apply? Often legislation takes time to catch up with real life and many issues still need to be addressed. For example, once collected and passed to client, who can they legally share the data with - select partners or everyone wholesale? Perhaps any data collected should be public in order to increase levels of trust?
Who bears the risk with any data collected, its storage and use too? There may also be a need to vet data for reliability and who’s responsibility is it. Again, this has legal ramifications as well as compliance issues – who has the responsibility for ensuring any legislation regarding what can be collected, how it is collected, storage, use and even disposal is adhered to?
Although the issue of data is going to be something of a legal minefield in the short term, there are other more tangible problems to address too. Data can and is collected in a variety of formats and for it to have any real and wide-ranging use then it must be held in a format that facilitates interoperability. Having many different formats, having to convert one to another all adds to cost as well as being a potential point of introducing errors, so a standard, and agreed industry format is a must, but who decides on this format?
Never far from any discussion over new technology and data is the issue of cost. Any post-collection processing, storage or preparation for sharing incurs a cost and it should be agreed universally who bears this.
There are also many actual logistical data issues that can impact the sharing digital data. Speed for one thing is critical as the size of file can run into many gigabytes and passing these large files around for use presents many challenges whether done online or in solid-state format. Data speeds in the UK are sadly quite lacking and simply not ready at present to accept the potential volumes of data that could realistically be being passed around generated by the construction sector. Apart from the time taken, there is also the potential for corruption during transfer at much slower speeds. And last but by no means least is the issue of security. Data must be secure at all points along the data chain else there is the risk of copies being present in uncontrolled environments – who will ensure this and at what cost? What will the penalties be for any breach too?
There is no doubt that digitisation of information within the construction sector will improve productivity, save time and more importantly money – but the sector must take steps now to ensure it has thought through the issues and more importantly is ready both front and back office to take advantage the benefits data sharing can bring.
- Paul Chaplin is BIM manager at Central Alliance