Smarter Cities

Editorial Type: Opinion Date: 2016-07-01 Views: 3,108 Tags: CAD, Construction, Software, BIM, Dassault Systèmes PDF Version:
The Construction industry needs to catch up with the Smart City boom, says John Stokoe, Head of Strategic Business Transformation at Dassault Systèmes EuroNorth
Cities are getting smarter with data sources and multiple sensors connecting people, services and things with each other. Bringing together infrastructure, social capital and technology fuels sustainable economic and social development, providing better lives and urban environments for all. However, while cities themselves are on an upward technology path the construction industry is not taking the same dynamic trajectory.

Cities must innovate quicker and 'smarter' to deal with the major urban challenges of population growth (or decline in some cities), housing, healthcare, energy, education, transport, finances, security, economic development, and leisure. Balancing the needs and wants of cities and their citizens is complex and fraught with political and financial minefields.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicts that by the end of this decade, construction will account for more than 13% of the global economy, with the UK sector contributing almost £90 billion to the UK economy (or 6.7%) in value - 280,000 businesses covering some 2.93 million jobs - around 10% of total UK employment.

Building is an outdated, dangerous and low productivity industry, however. Steering cities and those that build them in the right direction has challenged planners for decades, especially in the UK, which lags behind many countries and much of Asia for modern building practice. Working practices have remained largely the same for hundreds of years, with highly skilled labour carrying out tasks for which they are often over qualified.

Simply outsourcing work, i.e. making components in a factory, enables manufacture by lower skilled operators, cutting costs, improving quality, reducing on-site rework and allowing total operational control, consisting mainly of assembly of quality-assured parts that are guaranteed to be fit for purpose.

A smart new vision is required, enabled by creating virtual twins of cities, to be used as highly visual, interactive and dynamic 3D models that evolve with the city and grow as more information, knowledge and data is added. They can then be used as a central reference point for local government, urban planners, architects and citizens to view their city accurately, based on information unified into a single source of truth.

Unified 3D digital models will provide a platform to build up an increasingly detailed model of the city as new projects and live data are added, creating a 'time machine' historic mode. Learning from the past whilst monitoring the progress of current work, it will allow city authorities to manage the past, sustain the present and plan the future.

Interactive, data rich 3D models can also help define the future of cities based on 'what if' scenarios, covering the millions of interactions of things and people that comprise them, and creating strategies for health services, mobility, security planning and energy delivery. Feedback from the mass of data from sensors and city activities, combined within the single unified platform, can feed multifaceted simulations looking at the City as an organic whole, rather than compartmentalised entities with 'invisible data' locked away in silos.

Total City simulation could reveal problems not previously evident, enabling planners to predict events in transport systems, public services, utility provision and security. Seamlessly linking the system to financial software would also enhance cost planning and budgetary predictability, with potential problems and outcomes observed, costed and fixed before they occur. Building up information and knowledge within the 3D City model makes complexity visible and more understandable. Projects can proceed more smoothly with all stakeholders aware of the consequence of their decisions.

Recent decades have seen technology propagate across many UK industries to improve efficiency, productivity and profits. By comparison the construction industry is far behind. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills makes this official in their economic analysis of UK construction, which states "...the proportion of firms innovating still ranks low relative to other sectors."

Studies of the construction industry have also documented 25% to 50% waste in coordinating labour and in managing, moving, and installing materials. In many cases talent and skill are underused, avoidable accidents happen and productivity remains low. The introduction of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), have changed the way developments around the world are built and managed, involving more parties in larger scale projects within tighter regulatory and legal frameworks and demanding greater transparency, openness and a spirit of collaboration - rare commodities in the construction business. Therein lies business opportunities - when extended supply chain collaboration practices, powering other industries into innovation, are applied to building, they produce stunning results. A construction supply chain, sharing closed data, can have a major, positive impact on the delivery of a project.

Many building projects overrun, outspending budgets by over 20%, and end in expensive and wasteful litigation. In fact, all stages of design and engineering, from contracts, bids and awards to fabrication and construction are fraught with risk. Risks are not just more financial, either, as buildings define their locations and neighbourhoods and people have emotional attachments to them.

Risk can be reduced when clients, architects, contractors, communities and stakeholders work interdependently on the same current unified knowledge platform removing guesswork and misinterpretation in a secure collaborative environment.

The well-known, major construction companies occupy only a small percentage of the total market. Small firms, many lacking advanced technology, make up the largest part of the industry. Integrating disparate groups and processes is a role for the project manager, however some project management systems have limitations and are only used at the construction stage without reference to the bigger picture. A system that spans and manages projects from concept design, fabrication and build to operation and maintenance, using a seamless collaborative platform based on rigorous industrial construction practices and defining workflows, can deliver better results.

The UK building industry needs a business platform that addresses the needs of owners and occupants as well as architects, engineers, fabricators and constructors - to better understand the long term business, technical and commercial implications of their projects, to support waste elimination, and to run leaner and safer construction project environments. This takes the BIM process beyond the limitations of design-based BIM level 2 to the ideal level 3 and 4 spectrum of full building lifecycle management, with improved efficiency, cost and waste reduction, and a positive return on equity.

Advanced technology also attracts fresh talent to the construction enterprise. Small firms, getting to grips with new technology, would provide a welcome and valuable intellectual boost - bright, enterprising people bringing new approaches unshackled by tradition, and achieving changes through disruption.

Litigation at any stage of a construction project is the result of poor communications between systems and people. Problems with resources or services are always expected, but are absolutely avoidable. Unifying the change order system on a building project allows people to work collaboratively with access to the current status of the building and its information. Better informed strategic and tactical decision making at all stages can virtually eliminate errors caused by wrong or superseded instructions.

However, powerful interest groups, complex city infrastructure and mass transit systems, and a baffling array of often conflicting regulatory and environmental compliance issues, are forcing other changes in the UK building industry. One such change, regulatory compliance, often seen as an obstacle to progress, is a valuable asset if handled properly. A well-developed delivery system that is able to integrate and accommodate regulations ensures that they are tracked over time and complied with long term.

Environmental questions can be answered using unified building data to accurately determine the status of buildings before they are built, optimised to meet environmental targets and incorporating weather and climate data, as well as energy consumption. Joint development has led to innovative and ingenious designs only achievable with easy access to project information.

The movement toward integration and collaborative construction, coupled with industrialised, off-site modular building methods is gaining momentum, changing the nature and management structures of the construction industry and resulting in better quality buildings brought in on time and budget. The next logical step for 'smart' cities is to deploy technology that reduces fragmentation, unifies documentation and safely speeds up design and construction - with contracts based on value rather than price and with openness and transparency replacing inefficiency.

Construction industry players who don't step up to the challenge of modernising their processes are holding the entire industry back. Smart cities are getting smarter - but unless they include the construction industry they will never be all that smart.