In the second of a series of blogs, Malcolm Taylor, Crossrail International’s Expert Adviser, Digital, discusses how the promise of digital transformation can lead to digital fatigue and how the construction industry needs to embrace change to make a difference …

Combatting digital fatigue and defining digital DNA

Today, we are bombarded with endless communications on the benefits of going digital and the use of smart information management systems and digital twins. Of course, in the construction world, these communications all mean different things to different people, depending on your perspective …

  • Clients want to improve the way they manage their assets;
  • Contractors want to improve their margins through improved delivery; and
  • Consultants and Suppliers identify opportunities to sell products, services and solutions to deal with problems we never knew we had!

The common thread behind much of this comes down to people wanting better informed decision-making through the use of consistent, timely data to create efficiencies and improve performance. We’ve seen most business sectors change and transition from paper-based documentation and recording to predominantly digital files. Ironically, in many cases, the processes and systems for managing all this digital data and information have retained an analogue heritage. This means that data is still fragmented – living and duplicated in silos across personal files, C: drives, on shared networks, scattered across disparate systems, and used in multiple, digitally incompatible, processes and applications. Sound familiar?

All this makes it very difficult for teams to collaborate on projects. At the same time, the promise of digital transformation for many remains a mirage on a distant horizon. You see it, you understand what it means (sort of), but just can’t seem to get there … and so suffer digital fatigue.

In the early 2000s, the term BIM (Building Information Modelling) became a popular, technology-based fashion statement. In a parody rather like the Emperor’s New Clothes, many organisations talked about BIM but didn’t really understand how to make it happen – often thinking it was just a 3D CAD model – and hoped others would adopt it first.

Over the last 10 years, the development of wireless fidelity (better known as Wi-Fi!) and the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) has had a profound effect on the way projects can manage and leverage trusted data in creating infrastructure, and then understanding how the infrastructure is behaving in use.

And so this technology trend has morphed into use of the word digital – it’s less geeky, easier to grasp and has much wider connotations than the term BIM; for example, Digital Britain; digital dividend; digital twin, etc. The ‘digital twin’ world is a reality present in all our lives, but in construction we are still failing to exploit the benefits of digital twins as much as we could.

Sadly, many asset infrastructure owners still struggle to maintain quality tabular data asset registers in traditional IT systems, let alone use smart digital systems. The transition from this analogue state into that where digital twins deliver potential efficiencies for organisations is invariably the problem – and the opportunity in construction. Most people get the theory but really want to know; “how do I make it happen in my business?”

Well, it starts with clearly setting out requirements for data and information DNA – the classification systems, taxonomy, and metadata they want – and explaining how data is to be shared across multiple projects and organisations. This is basic straightforward stuff, but critical! It enables data to be integrated and used across multiple projects and organisations.

Where does this all lead? Well, data is becoming recognised as a valuable resource, alongside people, materials, equipment, etc. It needs to be organised and managed as such. Those organisations that transform themselves digitally simply get the basics right – they make sure the data they need for decision-making is accurate, complete, consistent, valid, timely and unique. Using business and project-wide automated workflows instead of old-fashioned, analogue project management processes, all managed within a collaborative digital environment, enables organisations and projects to become much smarter, increase productivity and reduce risk.

Whoever would have thought we could move from vinyl records to digital music libraries in the ‘cloud’ so quickly? What we want and why we want it remains constant. It’s embracing the change in how we do things that makes all the difference!

More to follow . . .

For more information, contact Malcolm Taylor at enquiries@crossrail-international.co.uk

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