Peter Caplehorn, chief executive of the Construction Products Association and Keith Waller, programme director at the Construction Innovation Hub, explore how the LEXiCON project will enable a consensus process to help the construction industry on its digitalisation journey
The construction industry has long acknowledged the benefits of digitalising processes and secure data to bring about subsequent efficiencies such as enhancing safety, informing better value-based procurement and improved analysis – the case is very clear. However, whilst digital may have once been considered by industry as a resource that is nice to have, in the past few years particularly, the drive to digitalise is becoming ever more imperative.
Most recently, emerging details of regulation reform with the release of the Building Safety Bill and the newly published BRAC golden thread report demand higher expectations of what construction information is and how we manage it. Contained within these are requirements for information to be accessible, consistent, and exchangeable.
At the core of construction information is essential product information, which is yet to have a fully established standardised approach to help obtain these requirements.
Why is digital product information such a challenge?
The process of digitalising product information seems simple at first glance. We have the technology and new emerging standards to support product manufacturers who have been creating analogue product information for years. Many product manufacturers can and do also supply information in digital form. Nevertheless, this is not standardised across industry and it’s not enough to satisfy emerging working requirements.
The products arena is vast, and product manufacturers display their information in a myriad of formats and ways. However, even with the best of intentions, users of product information don’t always get the information they need whilst, at other times, there is too much unnecessary information. All have varying requirements for their information according to the task. The diversity of the construction sector and its various audiences mean language can also differ greatly from one sector to the next.
To digitalise effectively, we need consistency to make information easily useable and understandable. To make it exchangeable and comparable we require structure. And to make it something the industry can agree on, recognise and trust, we require consensus.
The solution: LEXiCON
The Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub) and Construction Products Association (CPA) are developing the LEXiCON project. LEXiCON is, holistically, about the importance of creating and enabling a consensus process for people to develop, manage and distribute free-to-access product data templates (PDTs). These PDTs can be populated to create standardised product data sheets that can be exchanged between digital applications.
It is the consensus process and people that are the heart of LEXiCON. It proposes the bringing together of all the appropriate perspectives required to agree how to structure and manage product information; noting that whilst manufacturers own product information; designers, contractors, maintainers, and other users of product information need a say about their information needs too. Therefore, for industry to have trust and faith in LEXiCON, we require feedback from all interested parties in industry that this is the right approach. We need to know what needs to be done to ensure we are on the right path for all of industry and, if not, what needs to be refined within our proposals to ensure it is. We need consensus on the proposed consensus process being developed.
This is why the Hub and CPA have published the report ‘LEXiCON Methodology: Creating Relevant Authorities and Achieving Consensus’ for public consultation. It is vitally important that we hear back from all of industry; from those who create product information to those who use it. We need everyone to come together to make sure we can do what is necessary to create joined up product information for a digitalised construction industry.
The reason this is so important is primarily for building safety. Harmonising how the sector collects and manages product data will also be key in supporting the development of a ‘golden thread’ of information that can be traced across the project lifecycle and back to a credible source.
But there’s also a business case for all this. The Roadmap to Recovery, developed earlier this year by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), sets out a bold and ambitious plan for reform, with commitments to “drive up the use of digital technologies across clients and throughout the supply chain” and enable “better data and information sharing across the built environment to improve efficiency, productivity, sustainability and building safety”. LEXiCON has a new urgency in this respect.
We would urge everyone in the construction industry to read the report and respond to the public consultation before the deadline of 30 September.
Construction Innovation Hub
Construction Products Association