The digital future

Jozef Dobos believes that the construction industry needs to embrace to new ways of working

The construction industry has made huge advances in recent decades especially in areas such as materials, mechanisation techniques and health and safety. However, in other respects it could be argued progress has gone backwards. Back in the days of engineering giant Brunel, major infrastructure projects were conceived, planned and built in relatively short timescales.

Today, it is a lot more complicated. Some changes have certainly been necessary such as stricter employment legislation, shorter working hours and much more stringent health and safety practices. However, long drawn out public consultations, political indecision, complex legalities and inflexible contracts -and generally slow decision-making processes make progress frustratingly slow.

There is one other serious issue hindering progress. That is a resistance to change – or at least an inability to change -when it comes to adopting new digital workflow. Driving these news ways of working is technology and in particular the internet. And through improved mobile communications, everyone is connected via their mobile devices and all equipment on site is increasingly connected – something that is described as ‘The Internet of Things’.

The ‘cloud’ as it is known has become the accepted way to deliver IT infrastructure in the modern era because of the huge benefits it offers. It has had a major impact on industries such as retail, logistics and banking. The construction industry has, however, struggled to embrace new technology and undergo the change which is inevitable.

‘So why is this so?’, you may ask. It is a combination of factors most likely. For a start, large projects run on long and inflexible contracts. Some projects take decades to complete and the project management and deliverables are based on what was current at the time of the agreement. Also, clients such as governments but also most construction firms are ginormous, risk-adverse and with very inflexible ways of working.

Of course, when it comes to new technology, it is the millennials who have the vision and capability to introduce new technology and new working practices that can seriously boost efficiency and productivity. However, in most large organisations these ‘new kids on the block’ are not going to be in senior-enough management positions where budgets are set, and decisions are made.

Adapt to survive
At some point soon, the industry is going to have to adapt. If it does not, the survival of the established players is at risk. You do not have to look too far to see the impact of what are known as the ‘disruptors’. The taxi industry and Uber, the music industry and Spotify, the retail industry and Amazon, the property rental sector and Airbnb, the office rental sector and WeWork; the list is endless.

These disruptors do not have the legacy issues of the established market leaders. They force industries to change and those that adapt -introducing the next day home deliveries, offering mobile booking apps and building city short-rental apartments, for example – survive and flourish. The future for those that did not adapt enough was not so bright and included established names such as Kodak, HMV, BHS, Maplin and Toys ‘R’ Us. Maybe the demise of Carillion was a warning shot, only time will tell.

Nonetheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Over the last few years, there has been a significant shift in attitudes and slow, but gradual acceptance of the fact that a new technological era has arrived in the last frontier of construction. Objections to open source systems, hosted services and data held in the public cloud are diminishing as the number of adopters grows and benefits become more and more apparent.

At 3D Repo, we have been at the forefront of innovation with a multi-award winning digital construction platform that enables users to quickly and securely access project information via a web browser. We give project teams and software developers instant access to 3D BIM data online as part of an enterprise-grade open collaboration platform.

What we offer is pretty revolutionary and that is not always a good thing! It is not what people are used to, but it is definitely the future. It means that companies in the construction sector can move to web-based workflows and not be burdened by cumbersome and, proprietary but also legacy systems. Today, companies such as Atkins, HOK, Skanska, Canary Wharf Contractors, Crossrail and Balfour Beatty are amongst those adopting 3D Repo on a huge variety of construction and infrastructure projects worldwide.

It is important to just understand a little bit of the technology behind our developments. Instead of a conventional file-based approach to data storage and processing, our software breaks down files into miniscule information blocks that are more easily accessed and distributed online in an encrypted fashion.

Other vendors provide systems but they are based on conventional and more importantly proprietary file formats. To modify even a single door in a building, you have to upload a new version of the entire 3D file again. With our system, data blocks can be mixed and matched, filtered and optimised, to push out an enormous amount of data over the Internet very fast. This not only makes it easy to create custom workflows very easily thanks to the open nature of the platform, but it also makes the whole BIM dataset futureproof as proprietary file formats are not suitable for archival purposes.

This new approach to delivering IT is of particular benefit to large projects where teams need access to lots of data over long periods of time. It is also great for multi-party collaboration, with various companies working in different locations and time zones, that need to quickly change information, validate it and visualise online without the need to download, install or process large models.

Free and open
Ultimately, the industry needs to embrace the cloud as others have done before. Construction has many proprietary software vendors, but we are trying to democratise the free and open nature of information in the digital age, as well as co-operation in general. We are trying to change things so that everyone with the right permissions and clearance has access to the right information at the right time and for eternity. An open source web-based approach reduces the time and cost associated with sharing knowledge, simple!

The adoption of open source technologies is something that is happening all over the world and across industries. It is important for the future of the construction industry as the effectiveness of BIM will ultimately depend on ease of access, standardisation and affordability for work that relies on sharing data. The software is now a free commodity, it is the data that has the real value!

Jozef Dobos is the CEO of 3D Repo. 3D Repo provides a cloud platform and BIM data repository for collaborative working. Instead of architects, consultants and contractors sharing massive proprietary files in a costly and time consuming manner, they can simply use a web browser to access BIM data for managing projects as well as verifying, validating and analysing the data in a fully collaborative environment

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