Staying ahead of the game

Editorial Type: Feature Interview Opinion Date: 2016-07-01 Views: 3,137 Tags: CAD, BIM, Brexit, Business Strategy, Industry focus, Newforma PDF Version:
Paul Daynes, Regional Director, UK and Northern Europe, Newforma discusses the status of the UK construction industry with David Chadwick
I had already been talking to Paul Daynes at Newforma about his views on the status of the UK construction industry, and we had planned to put together an article on his views. In the meantime, we have had the Brexit referendum, resulting in the momentous decision to leave the Common Market.

In view of the current situation, where we have no idea what the terms of our leaving will be, whether we will be better or worse off, and what will happen to all of those major infrastructure projects that are in danger of cancellation or postponement, we felt it was even more important that we go ahead now.

The first, possibly contentious, question I asked was what makes the UK construction industry world leaders? Paul was quite positive in his answer. "It is not a contentious question - statements have been made in several quarters about our international standing. To back it up, people have pointed to our investment in standards and strategy, enabling us to present ourselves as leaders in construction technology.

"A lot of UK companies are represented abroad on major projects - UK companies have traditionally had an international perspective, and see themselves as well-respected global operators. In addition to that, you only have to take a look at the London skyline - which shows an interesting store front - to see what we are capable of achieving. We are creating an environment that demonstrates considerable entrepreneurial freedom.

Paul added, "Another major factor is collaboration - a key part of how we lead the world, having developed work processes and tools that support the globalisation of a project, all possible with the tools we are learning to use. There is a lot of respect for how clients use the latest technology, and how companies have learned to work more closely with each other."

I asked how this approach differed in other countries, pointing to the lesser US involvement in global projects and the slow take up of BIM in some European countries. "American companies are, perhaps, more rigid in their traditional work processes. In addition, architects have more interest in the control and the delivery of the project. As a result, the US is more insular within the construction industry. Europe on the other hand has a mixed approach to BIM. Without the encouragement and direction of a Government driving standards and processes, there would have been scant need to invest in modern technology.

"We will see the results of this over the next decade or so. Other countries will see that we have the strategies in place to leverage the latest efficiency tools and how they are delivered across the budget. We don't talk about loss making projects but in achieving results."

So will Brexit increase or decrease our influence? "I don't think it will change much. The UK construction industry is adaptable, and will continue to be adaptable. I can see a lot more confidence in the industry, despite the current uncertainty. This will be, to some degree, driven by the economy once the dust has settled and the industry refocuses - whether it is driven by architects, engineers, or driven by projects.

"'It's investor confidence that will drive the industry - providing focus, tools and investment, especially in the public segment, or in the private sector adopting new technology to support processes."

Paul added a warning here though. "In future we will need to use tools more effectively to achieve the end goal. In other words, in times of uncertainty we need to get our own house in order. It's all about investment. The companies that are going to be best placed will be those who have invested in technology. Companies should spend more time getting strategies worked out."

Quite apart from its international standing, is the UK still seen as a leader in BIM? "Quality," said Paul, "has always been at the back of the construction mandate, not just efficiency savings. Evolving new standards in a practical sense. Standards are critical and provide a solid background for the industry. Although aware of the achievements in the UK, lots of European countries are not really getting behind the industry, which is resisting change, and this helps the UK stand out as leaders - and to win global business." As Paul put it, "It may be the 'not invented here' syndrome."

He added that we are doing global the right way. BIM is always about collaboration, and we are showing the world how to collaborate. This may be one of the reasons that we are seeing some positive signs following the Brexit decision. "We are definitely a multicultural country, and more outward looking and progressive than most - and other countries want to get hooked into that." FUTURE GENERATIONS
Moving on, I asked how we can encourage the next generation to become involved in the construction industry to satisfy the shortage of, and increasing demand for qualified workers. "Universities are now learning that we need to change the educational environment, and academia is thinking more about the application than the theory - going into industry and teaching students to use tools to that are actually effective. The focus has previously been about CAD and authoring tools. Now there is much more understanding of the need for good information management systems. More emphasis is now placed in universities on developing skills for business than for traditional subjects."

I asked if construction companies could fund university graduates, in the way they are now taking up more apprentices. Paul pointed to the longer graduation cycles - up to 7 years for an architect to get fully certified - explaining that much of that time was spent within the industry while on release from further study.

So what are the key technologies driving the industry? "BIM, mainly, but also management systems that help businesses run more efficiently, improving the capability of what we do and how we do it." He explained further. "If we look at information silos and how they work together, and relate these to traditional database focused systems, we need to be able to look at the information they contain, but first we need to be able to find it.

"We need to be able to link all information sources regardless of where they may be, in terms of a continuous workflow which combines the information source with the information itself. At the moment there is a disconnect between the information source and the extranet provider uploading data to silos - a disconnect, which, going forward, can be addressed by Newforma Hybrid technology - a strategy, moreover, designed to support the BIM level 3 adoption process over coming years.

"That's part of risk mitigation. Professional indemnity companies who underwrite projects reward companies who make it easy to find information. If they underwrite projects they want to know where information is stored or will be located 5 or 10 years down the line when things go wrong. It's of key importance to the indemnity industry - the greater the risk, premiums will go up.

"Compliance also relies on the ability to find information, enabling audits to be more easily undertaken. Database systems should not just be designed to store data but how you find it in the future, and you can only do this by maintaining the relationship between the communication and the data."

That raises a problem with BIM Level 3 and 4, I suggested. "Digital assets, as a fully corrected federated model, will be a challenge," Paul replied. "We don't use federated data properly - providing connectivity to keep the challenges of maintaining data integrity going forward. Authoring, i.e. having to go back to the document source to update building models, is a critical part of delivering information about a model.

"The challenge of level 3 and 4 is what they are setting out to do. Within the nuclear industry you have to maintain documents through many years for compliance. We haven't really resolved the data disconnects between authoring and usage."

Struck by the enormity of the task to solve that particular disconnect, we concurred that it really is a subject that deserves a lot more thought and, perhaps, input from those more directly charged with the task.