The construction industry was historically slow in adopting technology, falling behind other industries in terms of digitisation. However, in recent years, there has been a significant increase in technology uptake within the sector, as the industry moves toward digital transformation. Some of this shift can be attributed to regulatory changes which have put mounting pressure on stakeholders for greater data transparency and communication, as well as renewed emphasis on processes and productivity in light of changing working dynamics and skilled labour shortages — making the trend towards digitisation gain momentum.
According to research conducted by McKinsey, the investment in technology within the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) sector has shown a substantial increase. The report states that between the years 2020 and 2022, an estimated $50 billion was invested in AEC tech, which is a remarkable 85 percent higher than the total investment made in the previous three years.
A key part of this move to embrace technology is finding new ways of digitising buildings. Building digitisation is the process of transforming physical buildings into digital ones. This has been fast-tracked to meet standards and regulatory compliance, and involves collecting, integrating, and utilising digital information about a building’s design, construction, operation, and maintenance throughout its lifecycle — whether that be a new building or pre-existing building stock. Having the right data available for decision-making is of paramount importance for the built environment and everything it touches.
The construction sector has a far-reaching impact, influencing all aspects of our lives. It plays a fundamental role in our economy by constructing the homes we live in, the schools and hospitals we depend on, and the offices, infrastructure and manufacturing that enable us to work and sustain our progress, driving investments into our future. If we don’t understand our built environment, then that can create huge risks.
Building digitisation has long been seen as a means to make more informed decisions that unlock greater efficiencies and productivity, provide collaboration and communication, reduce cost and waste, as well enhance maintenance, safety and risk management. However, there has been little to drive a significant shift in changing process, until now.
For building owners who now need to account for building information and documentation across a property portfolio and demonstrate building safety at all stages in the lifecycle to meet regulatory compliance, building digitisation is no longer a nice-to-have.
The business case for digital construction has been relatively unchanged until recent years, with a focus on decision-making, cost savings and improved efficiency. While these have always been valid pull factors, the cost-effectiveness of projects can be largely out of a contractor’s control. A typical residential project can take up to several years from design to handover. During this time changing economic, political or social factors can often make inflated budgets and extended project times the norm — with or without digital intervention. With these expectations in mind, there was never any real incentive to digitise and why digital construction was often seen as nonessential.
Aside from a lack of perceived urgency, many contractors felt traditional ways of working still sufficed. They could go on as they always had, everyone was familiar with the process and contracts were being fulfilled regardless of their tech stack or how overrun or expensive projects were. Why change something that isn’t broken?
Unfortunately for the industry, the accessibility of data and information for buildings was broken and much needed change was required, which was exposed following the Grenfell Fire, when information wasn’t accessible to make decisions that could have saved lives. Additionally, industry-disrupting factors like COVID-19, climate change and The Building Safety Act 2022, which has come into effect post Grenfell, have changed all this. The need to do more offline work online, the legislative drive towards a net-zero future and the aftershock of the Grenfell tragedy is making digitisation and improving the value of data non-negotiable.
We have found that as regulatory change and a focus on building safety gather pace, they are at the centre of a drive for building digitisation and getting people on the technology adoption curve to ensure the process of digitising is easier.
With the implementation of the building safety reform as an example, which mandates the collation, accessibility, and currency of digital building information, the significance of building digitisation has reached new heights. It will soon become an offence to allow residents to occupy an unregistered high-rise building after September 30, 2023, and new buildings completed after October 1, 2023, must be registered prior to occupancy. Concurrently, Principal Accountable Persons (PAPs), those responsible for buildings, are required to provide essential information known as Key Building Information, as well as a Building Safety Case, to the Building Safety Regulator to comply with the Building Safety Act 2022. To do this, building information digitisation is critical.
These developments have also spurred a heightened focus on transparency and accountability in building management. This extends not only to the maintenance of buildings but also to the provision and communication of information to tenants.
We are finding the adoption of solutions in line with regulation and compliance are already making a meaningful impact on the businesses of our customers. Added structure and standardisation to digital handover and asset information has been helping Peabody remove risk and improve compliance by making sure that everything is done the same way across all their owned estates and information is in one place.
But to extract the true value of technology within this regulatory framework, an understanding of the provisions in The Building Safety Act 2022 is required which is not always easy to decipher.
The Building Safety Act 2022 introduced several provisions aimed at improving safety and accountability with an emphasis one building digitisation, and a focus on higher-risk buildings (buildings over 18 meters tall or at least 7 storeys or more). Key provisions include:
The provisions aim to ensure higher-risk buildings are properly managed with clear responsibilities assigned to various stakeholders, and to enhance the overall accountability and transparency in the design, construction and completion of all buildings.
When fire fighters arrived at the scene of the tragic Grenfell fire, they were unable to obtain vital building plans which should have shown key fire safety information such as where hoses could be attached or gas pipes. The only document they could surface was an old photograph of the tower that didn’t show the flammable cladding system because it had been installed after the picture was taken. Not having this key building information endangered firefighters and cost lives.
Now the PAP must keep key building information up to date and accessible in digital form as part of maintaining a golden thread of information on a higher-risk building. This information includes basic building information that outlines when it was built, number of storeys, flats, staircases etc., details on a building’s construction, e.g. materials used, means of access and escape, the primary load bearing system etc., a resident profile to highlight those who cannot evacuate without help, any information on refurbishments/changes to the building, any fire prevention and protective measures, building structure information, e.g. findings from any previous structural surveys or inspections, information about all connected services and utilities, and details on maintenance and inspection.
The PAP must collate all this information and ensure it is shared with the regulator within 28 days of submitting an application for registration of the higher-risk building. They are also responsible for notifying the regulator within 28 days should there be any change to the building and its supporting documentation. You can read more about key building information in our blog, ‘Just 6 Months to Register Higher-Risk Buildings with The Building Safety Regulator’.
Additionally, a safety case report must be produced to demonstrate that fire safety risks in a higher-risk building has been identified and assessed, as well as showing that reasonable steps have been taken to reduce the severity of any incidents that may occur.
The journey to digitisation can be daunting especially in an industry that lags behind on technology adoption in general. Many organisations lack the knowledge to upskill and educate workers to be able to effectively implement a new solution. If upskilling workers is a challenge, there are fully managed solutions that can ensure much of the work is not dependent on internal expertise, making building digitisation successful.
However, without an execution plan that aligns project teams on goals and scope by defining roles and responsibilities with a schedule and deadlines, a software project will likely fail. Refocusing on the practical applications technology can offer rather than just the technology itself, stakeholders will be more motivated to use it to address real problems and tasks.
Those companies already willing to adopt technology may now have data silos in disparate systems across the building lifecycle where documentation varies between digital and paper-based formats. This can also make it harder for organisations to justify another investment and the change management it would require.
Gathering information for legacy building stock or live projects across a portfolio can be time-consuming, especially if work done was completed by different contractors and documentation of varying quality is spread over multiple systems or in filing cabinets. Fortunately, retrofitting information from in-use buildings does not have to be that difficult.
The first challenge is to get all building information across disparate systems and formats into one place. Then it’s possible to identify gaps and fill them. Createmaster’s fully managed Building Digitisation service turns your building information into digital form and consolidates it into one single source of truth structured into industry-proven templates ready for use under the Building Safety Act, and visible within a dashboard. By processing documentation and adding metadata so they can be easily categorised into Building Safety Act guidelines, it’s easier to see what information is missing, fill the gaps and progress data collation to completion. Once a final assessment has been done and all documentation is accounted for, duty holders will have the right information to hand at the right time and have the tools to understand data requirements and document renewals to ensure ongoing compliance. With Zutec’s Golden Thread dashboard, it’s possible to manage document collation, actions, approvals, gateways and compliance across a property portfolio all in one place.
Making sure all building information is digitised in line with the Building Safety Act framework and readily available to relevant persons will ensure data is findable, decisions can be made and identifying and addressing potential safety hazards much easier. This will result in improved safety standards, more control over building operations, and a reduced risk of accidents or incidents.
Digitisation streamlines regulatory processes, including allowing you to ensure design, planning, and building documentation such as operations and maintenance (O&M) manuals, fire safety certificates, and health & Safety file are compliant. It facilitates better collaboration, data sharing, and communication among stakeholders, leading to better understood procedures, increased efficiency, and reduced rework.
Digitisation of building information provides an up-to-date view on the condition of a building, providing insight into where maintenance is required, or inspections are needed to sign work off or renew certificates. This data helps in proactive maintenance, asset management, and facility optimisation, resulting in improved building longevity, safer housing, reduced complaints, and better resident experiences. Moreover, it also facilitates accurate information and documentation that is available to residents and the regulator so that compliance checks and quality requirements are met. And should the worst happen, the fire services will immediately be aware of evacuation protocol and have an as-built record of the building so that they can take the most effective steps to control the situation and preserve life.
The Grenfell fire raised the stakes in building digitisation and there has been some positive work in rolling out safety regulation relating to high-rise buildings, but more needs to be done across the industry to fully embrace digital transformation for the betterment of the built environment.
If you’d like to find out how our team of experts can make it easy to process, structure and categorise all your building information across your property portfolio in one platform, get in touch for a demo. Or for more information, download our Building Digitisation booklet or catch up on our webinar, ‘Key Building Registration Information Unlocked with Digital Retrofit’.