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The journey towards smart cities and digital construction

As the industry looks to make a step-change towards a common digital language, this offers an opportunity to leverage the existing technology and standards to accelerate the industry towards smart cities and digital construction. In a webinar hosted by The Big 5, we take a look at some of the typical challenges we see in the construction industry, how the industry is changing in a post-COVID-19 era, particularly in terms of the use of standards, technology and digital twins.

Paul Surin, Global Lead Built Environment, BIM – Associate Partner, IBM GBS UKI

Key takeaways:
  • The industry needs a step-change in productivity in design, procurement and delivery
  • Data is the new oil of the industry and should be harnessed to create a competitive advantage
  • The digital built environment and BIM is the framework enabling the collaboration between the different stakeholders


The role of technology in overcoming market challenges

As we begin to emerge from the initial shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we embark on the long road to recovery for the construction industry, it is important to fully understand the market challenges and what is required to start to see corrections in the market.

Overall, the construction industry has low profit margins, low productivity and a high cost of failure. Also, carbon emissions from buildings are almost four times higher than they were designed to achieve. The supply chain is also very complex and fragmented, with poor management and execution, and there is also an issue around insufficient skilled labour. This requires a significant step-change in the way assets are constructed to make the ecosystem less complex.

While there has been an increase in the number of companies handling data and providing niche technologies for digital construction, the issue is that several businesses are developing their own business platforms which are usually isolated, leading to a lack of integrated platform execution and a lack of intelligence across project lifecycle stages, value chain and asset operations.

Similarly, although there is a desire to use digital technologies in construction projects; however, the operational reality is starkly different. The industry continues to experience a lack of IT and OT security of digital twins and models, equipment is not accurately tagged, parts and equipment catalogues lack structure, and we also have limited human capabilities.

Overall, productivity and digitalisation in the construction industry are one of the lowest in all sectors. However, this offers an opportunity to look at how to leverage existing technologies and standards to accelerate the industry and ultimately, reduce the cost of failure.

The road to digital standards and regulations

With the emergence of new products and applications, as well as the use of data as a strategic asset for the industry, there is a big push for BIM and the standardisation of industry regulations through digitisation.

In order to keep up with these emerging technologies, a set of essential international standards related to management and concept principals have been published. These standards and regulations need to be digitised in order to avoid running in the two parallel worlds of the digital and the analogue.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the necessity to transform the industry as a whole, and new post-crisis business models that emphasise a holistic view of the industry are emerging. As a result, the industry regulations and standards need to come with a clear road map and guidelines on how these can help the industry.

Exploiting data and connected technologies

Data is the new ‘oil’ or ‘gold’ of the industry as it is unlimited, reproducible, reusable, and its value increases as it is combined and analysed. Harnessing the opportunity that lies within the data leads to a competitive advantage.

Today, a digital re-invention is occurring in asset-intensive industries that will change the operating model in a disruptive way, requiring an integrated physical and digital view of assets, equipment, facilities and processes. BIM has become relevant for every stakeholder, allowing genuine collaboration at every stage of the project. Indeed, the full adoption of the use of BIM could save 15-20% across the construction lifecycle.

Once we can start to capitalise on the digitisation of the physical world using AI-powered IoT solutions, we can start talking about connected operations, connected spaces, and connected assets, appliances and vehicles. This will enable engineer-connected products, and it will also allow us to manage and optimise connected operations and engage in new business models.


The post-COVID-19 era will usher in a new set of market challenges for the construction industry. However, with this also comes a new set of opportunities, particularly in terms of the use of standards, technology and digital twins. While data is the new ‘oil of the industry’, BIM and standards will create a universal digital language for the industry that is supported by updated regulations. It is evident that technology is an enabler for digital transformation and post-COVID-19 re-invention, as the built digital twin and technology improve and enhance asset operations.