The old adage “learn from your past, don’t live in it” very much rings true to the modern construction industry. The move into the digital age has taught us that we put too much focus on the definition of terms and struggle to communicate change in an actionable way that everyone - clients especially - can understand.
For example, the acceleration of Building Information Modelling (BIM) has shown the importance of starting small, communicating clearly, and focusing on use cases. However, it’s all too common to see businesses still debating what is or isn’t BIM rather than focusing on the benefits it offers.
More than just a model
The concept of a digital twin is another great example of how the industry needs to evolve. Simply defined, a digital twin is a virtual model of a product, process or service that enables analysis or monitoring to prevent problems before they occur. It also helps businesses to develop new ideas and come up with future opportunities using simulations.
The use of this technology is vital to businesses being able to understand product lifecycles and enabling connected products and services. Crucially, businesses that don’t understand this technology risk being left behind by their competitors. However, putting it to use requires a clear focus on explaining how a digital twin helps businesses to make better decisions, deliver safer buildings, and how the change benefits clients.
Achieving this is reliant on businesses taking a more holistic approach to information management, which includes taking control of:
- Structured data: Ideally performance, inspection and quality data
- Unstructured data: Which includes planning, design, construction and operational data
Unstructured data is often the most neglected area of information management but is arguably often the most important. This information is critical to making decisions and explaining how they are made. For example, answering common queries such as why materials were ordered, why they were delivered late, why a floor plan was arranged in such a manner, which meetings building features were agreed at.
Information structure is vital
Businesses in the construction industry need to spend less time on disputes and talking about digital change, and get on with making change happen. But getting it done is impossible if they don’t know where important corporate data is located.
Design and construction information, such as contract changes, scope variations and meeting minutes, is likely to be stored in locations like email inboxes, apps like Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, on a file server, or in SMS or WhatsApp messages. It could also be located in a business’s common data environment (CDE), where businesses store and collaborate on project information, and apps that are integrated within it.
However, just having the technology in place isn’t enough to drive change and efficiency. Businesses also need to make sure users are using systems and, more so, using them properly.
The importance of standardising
Relying on solutions like Microsoft Teams and Outlook runs the risk of holding businesses back from their true digital potential. It’s easy for information to go missing, conversations to remain hidden and emails to get lost and deleted within these systems. And, in the event of a dispute, not having this information readily available and easy to discover could be critical. This is especially important considering the true value of an email is unlikely to be realised until it’s required to argue a company’s case in a dispute.
To address this, many businesses attempt to build interfaces into Outlook. But this inevitably ends up with most employees not using it and the significant proportion of project correspondence remains locked in users’ inboxes.
Businesses therefore need to bring structure to information management to ensure that all project communication is centrally located, stored in the appropriate folder, and readily available to all employees. Standardizing information management in this way helps to build a digital philosophy of structure, process and collaboration across all project information, regardless of what tool employees use to communicate with colleagues, customers and contractors.
The path to standardization begins with mapping out where data is and, if it’s specific to a user, then it’s a barrier to achieving a true digital twin. Businesses in the construction industry need to learn from the errors of their past and ensure their project information is organised, standardised and discoverable if they are to embrace digital technologies like the digital twin.
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