The revolution will be digitised. Construction companies need to get on board now – or get left behind, says John Eynon
I give the odd talk now and then, and recently I’ve started by asking two questions:
- What kind of built environment industry do you want to be part of? One that leaves a legacy for your friends, family, communities and society at large?
- Secondly, what are you prepared to do about it? Plenty of armchair critics here, no shortage of opinions, most people sitting in the stands saying what should or shouldn’t happen, but a much smaller number actually standing in the arena trying to do something.
We are living in unparalleled times. The built environment industry is under huge pressure from within and without. This isn’t just about digital stuff, is it? It’s health and safety, quality, fire regulations, diversity, inclusion, mental health, skills, young people, procurement and spending, to name but a few.
Press for change
Some may feel our industry doesn’t need to change – and I would wonder what planet they’re from. An industry that kills at least one person a week, and injures many more, needs to change. In what other sector can you go to work and face the possibility that you might not come home in one piece, or not at all? And, of course, there are the Grenfell 72 – every one of us let those people down big time, their families and that community.
While I have never said BIM/digital is the answer to everything – it is not the silver bullet to all the ills of our industry – it is a catalyst for disruptive change. Adoption of the technology, the processes and the culture required forces you to think about everything you do.
I know of businesses, probably innovators or early adopters, who migrated to BIM ways of working several years ago. Now they’re reaping the benefits of their investment and hard work, and key decision-making. Profits up, efficiency and productivity up, resource levels stable, producing more with less, and punching above their weight. Efficiency and competitiveness in a cut-throat market. Who says it’s not worth it?!
This can then lead to impact those other factors above. Better designs, tools for evaluating design and construction much earlier in the process. More offsite construction, leading to safer and higher quality construction. And, of course, in this new tech environment an industry that is a short hop, step and jump from the gaming industry. What’s not to love if you’re a Millennial or Gen Z?
Add to this the flexibility of digital working and this makes it much easier for those with families and other commitments to be productive and efficient participants.
Of course, you might be hoping this will all pass you by. No chance. The tide is running up the beach now.
Whatever your role or that of your business or organisation in the built environment, whatever your place in the food supply chain, you will not be untouched by this in some way. This revolution, Industry 4.0, will and is touching us all now, absolutely inevitable.
As I have said on many occasions, we are living in Darwinian times. It’s not just survival of the fittest; it’s about adapting to change and different environments – but do it rapidly! We are seeing this already but for individuals, if you don’t have the relevant BIM/digital skills for your role, you won’t get the best jobs – period. For businesses, again, if you don’t migrate then for some jobs you won’t be able to meet the requirements or be competitive enough. It’s that simple.
However you look at it, there will be blood on the floor and in the water. Some businesses and individuals won’t make it through this transition period. Too little, too late. I have worked to avoid this over the last 10 years but it’s unavoidable now. Some businesses will fail and some careers will effectively end or divert into cul-de-sacs.
Kodak is the prime example of this from another sector – the inventors of the first digital camera didn’t recognise its significance, were outgunned by their competitors and are now bankrupt. They were once the global leaders in photography look at them now. The digital tide has run through them like a plague of locusts. Fast, deadly, inevitable.
Modernise or die
Mark Farmer, in his excellent report Modernise or Die, has articulated this far better than I can. The choices are clear now and time is running out, the window closes, the guillotine falls.
Those that adapt will survive and, more than that, succeed in this digital revolution. If you don’t, the consequences are clear.
So your call, really!
Now back to those questions:
- What kind of industry do you want?
- What are YOU prepared to do about it?
John Eynon is a journeyman architect, design manager and BIM champ. He is a writer, blogger, lecturer and speaker. Alchemist, prophet and commentator on the Built Environment.