With construction facing an increasingly complex regulatory system, the Construction Innovation Hub has partnered with Cardiff University’s Digital Compliance Network to help firms navigate the evolving landscape. Impact director David Philp and digital construction lead Dr Ahmed Alnaggar explain
A number of tragic events in recent times have demonstrated the critical need for good governance, compliance and safety in the built environment. Quite simply, compliance can be the difference between the safe or non-safe occupation of built assets from schools and residential dwellings to rail networks and highways. Therefore, ensuring public trust in our built environment is a foundation that the Construction Innovation Hub seeks to establish through all aspects of our programme.
Creating that confident relationship between our buildings, linear infrastructure and confidence of those who use them is essential. This connection needs a clear line-of-sight between our built assets and compliance against regulatory frameworks.
Our information management projects and work with the UK BIM Alliance/British Standards Institute has helped drive adoption of the UK BIM Framework supporting an accurate system of record also known as the “golden thread”. Additionally, our Digital Estate project has been helping asset owners digitise their existing retained estate to support resilience and statutory compliance.
Building safety in the built environment
This is all playing out in a UK regulatory landscape that is becoming increasingly multifaceted, with the Building Safety Bill and the new Building Safety Regulator to consider in addition to existing building safety and Building Regulations, fire safety and emergency services enforcing authorities. Warranting full compliance with these requirements is more challenging for construction organisations than ever before. We are witnessing not just a growing number of regulations, requirements and standards but also the increasing need for auditability in all aspects of compliance checking.
To support these drivers for change, The Hub has partnered up with Cardiff University and its Digital Compliance (D-COM) Network to develop a “digital compliance ecosystem” to support construction firms in piloting the complex regulatory landscape with better ease and certainty supported by the digitisation of the regulatory compliance process.
How digitalisation will increase safety in the built environment
The digital ecosystem will integrate and make more accessible the web of tools and data sources that firms must use as part of the compliance process. As well as driving greater and more consistent levels of compliance, the new digital ecosystem should also help to reduce costs and administrative burdens for construction businesses.
Digitisation of compliance processes will bring wider tangible benefits, including:
- Greater certainty that all regulatory requirements are being met.
- Reduction in time and resource spent in investigating the root causes of failure.
- Increased transparency through the central collection and management of compliance data for the UK construction industry.
- Improved auditability provided through digitised compliance processes.
The project followed two key principles when developing the digital compliance ecosystem. Firstly, that it will be built on open standards, where possible, and will use open APIs. Secondly, that it will also concentrate on integrating different compliance data sources/simulation/ processing tools, as opposed to centralising all aspects in one “compliance checking service”.
Industry users will utilise the compliance ecosystem through a series of software tools, these include:
- Document Viewer: Will allow a user to view a document within the digital compliance ecosystem. It includes tools to navigate the document interactively and search.
- Document Editor: Will allow the user to create and update documents in the compliance ecosystem. This includes editing their content and embedded logic, thereby digitising Requirements, Standards or Guidance clauses.
- Compliance Checking Management Tool: Will allow a project team to initiate and manage the process of submission and assessment of the automated compliance checking process.
- Building Control Management Tool: Will allow a building control professional to review and determine the outcome of a building control application submitted using the compliance ecosystem.
Each of these software tools will be driven by data provided by the core components of the compliance ecosystem through a set of open APIs and using open standards. One of the key open standards that is required for the compliance ecosystem is the ability to represent, in a machine-readable way, construction regulations, requirements, standards and guidance. To this end, we defined the concept of a compliance document, which is: “A digitised form of a document containing construction industry regulations, requirements, standards and guidance. A compliance document contains both human-readable text, figures/tables, a machine-readable structure, and logic to enable automated compliance checking.”
Fig. 1 represents the architecture of the digital compliance ecosystem:
Descriptions for each of the core components of the ecosystem are as follows:
- Compliance Document Service: Provides the storage, retrieval, querying, updating and management of documents stored in a machine-readable format.
- Results Service: Provides the storage, management and retrieval of the results of compliance checking of a construction project.
- Rule Engine: The compliance checking engine. The rule engine executes compliance checks against a given document by utilising compliance data retrieved from a set of data sources, including BIM model data and data provided by other software tools such as geometry checking tools and energy simulation tools.
- Service Lookup: A software service that provides a directory of other services within the digital compliance ecosystem.
- Dictionary: A software service that provides the ability to translate between the differing semantics of documents and industry data formats, including the ability to translate the terms that are commonly used inconsistently across languages and technical domains.
The project will continue to produce prototype software implementations, designing and implementing various exemplar user interfaces and implementing and testing proof-of-concept software prototypes. Finally, the project is undertaking demonstrator projects to test the compliance ecosystem using digital models from existing buildings.
Construction Innovation Hub
Dr Ahmed Alnaggar
Digital construction lead
Construction Innovation Hub