Finishes & Interiors Sector (FIS) has launched the Digital Spine, a new tool to help members to follow and understand the technologies that are shaping the present and future of construction

The construction sector may be familiar with the terms Industry 4.0 and the Fourth Industrial Revolution but, as an industry, it remains one of the least digitised. While this is set to change, finishes & interior sector is concerned that information overload is leaving business leaders in a digital daze that is stalling progress.

The Construction Playbook is driving change in procurement and identifies the need to “develop new solutions including improved digital capabilities”, encouraging a connected supply chain and structured management of data, but the key question is where to start?

There is a cyclone of solutions encircling us, pockets of amazing reform happening but, for many, it is like walking into a bazaar for the first time; a sensory overload with everybody trying to sell to you – often in a language that you don’t understand.

FIS roundtable – key takeaways

Key learnings taken from a roundtable that FIS hosted in 2019 focused on some of the early mistakes of BIM.

When BIM burst on to the scene it was destined to be a disappointment for many. Every “BIM expert” you spoke to seemed to baffle you with the science and assure you that it was the answer to all our prayers – many made unnecessary investment in technology that was not as near to market as they were led to believe and ultimately the scepticism that this has created has hampered BIM progress.

We understand far better now that BIM, like any digital solution, is part of wider reform in a new, interconnected world; it can help shape culture and support change, but as a catalyst not a panacea.

The roundtable really drove home that the environment can be bewildering. A key lesson imparted in the discussion was not to get too caught up in the technology, focus on the problem.

We need to start by identifying the key challenge points in our businesses and link any technological reform to solving our productivity, quality, safety and sustainability – the real ones within our businesses. Think micro to solve our problems first and by linking these up, we will collectively solve the macro supply chain issues.

We went on then to talk about concerns over interoperability and ultimately a lack of standardisation meaning that contractors are often left reinventing solutions to fit in with different digital visions and strategies adopted by clients, architects or main contractors. We kept coming back to a common understanding and the need for an informed supply chain to help support effective and genuine collaboration.

Learning from mistakes

The core ethos of FIS is that we want to create an environment for sharing and learning from mistakes so that together we can work as a supply chain to offer integrated solutions to our clients.

Taking a step back, we decided to create the Digital Spine, a simple outline of the language behind the technology that is evolving to support the FIS community. Crucially, we wanted to contextualise tools against the core areas of business operation where they have the potential to support change.

Stage one focussed on two key questions, “what is it?” and “how is it used?”, but this is an ever-evolving tool and we are now working on Stage Two to extend definitions, add new technologies and enrich with examples of specific tools that are being used and supporting case studies.

Stage Three is more ambitious, mapping connectivity and looking at interoperability and ultimately trying to support a more standardised approach.

We can’t do this alone and we are grateful to all the members who have supported the development to this point and encourage all users to bombard us with questions and omissions to support development from here. We are also glad now to be part of the UK BIM Alliance, which supports that very necessary wider conversation.

Mark Norton, group BIM director at ISG and chair of the FIS Digital Construction Working Group, said: “The Digital Spine is great because it is simple, and the key to innovation is to keep it simple and align it to genuine problems, not get caught-up in the technology.

“We recognise that this is a start and the tool will evolve with questions and as new innovation emerges. We’ll look at where the biggest impact is and how we can ensure the FIS community is pulling together, aware of opportunity, alert to the challenges and vitally too has influence in the way that some of these tools are emerging to support standardisation.”

The Digital Spine is available here.


Iain McIlwee

Chief executive officer

Finishes & Interiors Sector

Tel: +44 (0)121 707 0077

Twitter: @fisorg

Instagram: @fisorg


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