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Below you can find the transcription of the webinar. If you prefer to listen to our expert’s conversation, you can find a whole video recording on our website.
Paul Wilkinson is an authority on the use of construction collaboration technology platforms, SaaS and related fields such as BIM, mobile technologies and social media.
Richard Scott is a construction technology veteran who developed first to market construction PM tool Priority One, now known as Field View.
Paul Wilkinson: What would you define business unification as, and where would an organization look at unifying its processes? Where would they start?
Richard Scott: When you think about business unification, it's really about breaking down the barriers between different functions and departments so that the whole organization can start acting as one sort of interconnected ecosystem. When you start to think about that topic, it's really about interoperability. It's a term that has been around for a long time. It's normally applied to IT systems.
Paul Wilkinson: How would you define it?
Richard Scott: In the simplest terms, it's the ability of two independent software systems to connect, communicate and exchange information. This can be done in a number of different ways, at different levels of sophistication.
The ability of one computer system to connect to another without human intervention and send information that can be read is one aspect of interoperability, called, I think, syntactic interoperability.
But then that can evolve. The ability for systems to send information and data to one another and for them to be able to have the necessary understanding to interpret that information and do something with it is a more sophisticated way to think. That's called semantic interoperability. What's interesting with semantic interoperability for that to work, you have to have a common information exchange model, something that both these systems reference in order to achieve that level of understanding.
So as well as technical interoperability, which is obviously essential, there’s interoperability between departments and functions. We think about common business systems, shared data, and the ability to sort of unify that information and deliver business intelligence, which isn't just about the data and information contained within one function, but it's really a consolidation of all this information. It gives you the big picture.
It's clear today, and we've seen the demands and the pressures on the construction sector to handle more and more data and information and data they never had to think about before.
Paul Wilkinson: I'm doing some work in the field of interoperability at the moment. One of the ways in which we define interoperability is the ability to exchange and use information independent of the technology that was used to create it. So, that information is sufficiently open that it can be used by multiple solutions. We try to take the technology dependency out of this and become more information-centric.
But we're picking on a problem that's arisen because of the nature of how our tools developed. We developed architectural technologies for architects, estimating tools for estimators, or accounting tools for accountants. But we didn't necessarily make the connection that the information that an architect might specify is then used for estimation and is then used for calculating invoices and so might all need to be independently exchanged.
Richard Scott: Exactly. And I think there are a lot of aspects and pressures within the industry today that are making it more important to share information between departments and for different departments to be aware of the function and operation of the departments around them. We talk to customers and industry almost every day, and it's clear that the subject of the moment is interoperability. Everybody wants to break down these silos. Everybody wants to be able to see information from different places and bring it to embrace, aggregate it together and create some kind of synergy.
Even though the whole interoperability is generally applied to computer systems, it works in other aspects of construction, between construction phases. For instance, if you think about the way that the RBA has broken down construction phases and how information needs to move between these phases and be understood between them.
Paul Wilkinson: You talk about the plan of work here?
Richard Scott: Exactly. You know, and new initiatives like EIR, the exchange information requirements, which are meant to be sort of established and set out right at the start of the project, right at the very first stage, and create the tempo and the definition for the data that needs to be managed all the way through the to the project and even handed over and used within operation. Even in the supply chain, interoperability within construction is probably an essential aspect of being able to deliver successful outcomes. Back in the days of the Egan reports, he was talking about integrated supply chains. Almost sort of beginning to suggest aspects that we now consider to be the golden thread or how do we carry this information, this data, all the way through the construction lifecycle, almost cradle to grave.
Richard Scott: Now we've got NMC, new methods of manufacture, designed for manufacture. This whole kind of topic of: Can construction act and function like a manufacturer? is a really interesting sort of area to discuss. And, we've also got a well-established productivity problem inside of a construction. I think its comparison between construction and manufacturing is really interesting because if you look at automotive, you see massive transformations in quality. You look at construction, and it's not quite that. I think in the last 20 years, there has been a huge improvement in productive productivity, digitization, and construction space. In comparison to other industries, we're still four, five stages down.
Paul Wilkinson: I mean, I think McKinsey, several years ago now, produced a series of surveys looking at digitization of different industries now and their American surveys, probably the most well-known one, because it indicated that construction lagged every other industry apart from agriculture and hunter.
Richard Scott: And I believe that's still the case.
Paul Wilkinson: The European digitization Index put the construction at the bottom. I've been to an event recently where one of the speakers compared our industry to where the film industry in the graphics sector was 20 years ago before they introduced open common standards that they could all use in their business workflows and so forth. So we are in the process of having to catch up. But we are in a fortunate position. In some cases, many of the technologies tried and trusted in other sectors are available to us now to use and deploy with confidence because they've already been tested and improved in those other sectors.
Richard Scott: Yes. That's a really bottom point. We've got a lot to learn from other industries. Emerging technology is really interesting as well. The technology landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. We are now looking at BIM, almost becoming a sort of well-established concept. Maybe it hasn't got the traction we'd expect, but it's not going away for sure. Reality capture and IoT (Internet of Things) are other aspects of data that are important to the whole. And the aspect of how we interoperate with those as well.
We want to be able to make well-informed, data-driven decisions. And I think it's an interesting mantra: What gets measured gets managed.
Paul Wilkinson: I think we're maturing as an industry. We've had ten years now since the launch of the UK Government BIM Drive, so good information modeling has become intrinsic to many parts of the supply chain, but it's by no means yet universal. I'm involved with the UK BIM Alliance, and we're having conversations within the alliance, or at a trade show recently where we're talking more about information management, taking away the focus on just purely one aspect of the technology and broadening it out.
But interoperability still remains at the core of that. I'm involved with a government and industry interoperability group and developing at the moment, as part of my work with that, to have a code of practice for interoperable information to cover the whole lifecycle. So it's not just about that construction phase, but it's enabling that process from the early stages of the conceptual design and specification EIR, right the way through beyond commissioning and handover, right through the operational life for facilities management, asset management, and so on.
Paul Wilkinson: From your perspective, what does the landscape look like now, and how well-equipped are we as a set to deliver on the promises of interoperability?
Richard Scott: I started knocking on the door of UK construction in 2000-2001 after doing some licensing development work. Almost everybody that I spoke to at the time said, well, we've just finished putting in our accountancy systems or back office accounting systems. That was almost the first wave of technology adoption in construction, I think. And we are just thinking about it. We're in the process of putting in our document management systems. I don't think they were called CDs at the time. They were eDMSs. And the idea of using mobile technology in the construction space was like, wow, you’re ahead of your time, come back and talk to me in a couple of years' time. There were some early adopters.
Paul Wilkinson: We had the same resistance in the sector. When social media first came in, people were resistant to even allowing their staff to share information online. And yet now it's become almost vital that people share information online.
We'd love in construction to have those free flows of information that mean we become information-focused rather than technology-focused.
Richard Scott: I think the key point is here that the vast majority of very well-established systems that are used inside of the construction space are quite old. They're well established and well-respected because they do a fantastic job. But I don't think they were designed for, you know, the design of that product 20 years ago didn't really think about interoperability, as you touched upon earlier on. So I think it's a case of how do we catch up, right? Because these systems, these well-established sorts of, you know, tier one, gold plated gold standard systems, they're going to go away. So how do we allow them to communicate?
There’re a lot of technologies and a lot of companies looking at how you do that. And there're a lot of different ways. I think what we are looking for is this idea that sort of, as you say, the accountancy system understands costs but has no concept of quality. The quality system understands compliance, defects, and NCRs, but has no concept of delivery schedule. How do we bring these things together? And there are quite a few ways to do that in terms of communication. And I think that's the challenge that we have today.
Paul Wilkinson: Okay. I think we should move on to the next topic, about you were alluding to this just a minute ago. I've been writing quite a bit about the platform approach. Some firms are positioning their portfolio of solutions as a platform. They're working in some cases with partner businesses to create an ecosystem around their core solutions. So, where do you see the role of platforms in helping businesses unified approach?
Richard Scott: I think platforms are almost essential. It's a word that everybody uses, right? It's everywhere. If you walk through a construction technology event, you'll see a platform all over the place. I think it's useful perhaps just to sort of bring that back to basics and help the audience understand what a platform is and why it's so special.
Everybody's got a platform in their pocket, right? Everybody's got a mobile phone. This is essentially a platform. What makes it a platform? It's been developed to allow other vendors to be able to create applications that can plug into this platform. It's either Apple iOS, Google Android, or something else. For those applications to seamlessly connect with other applications around them in a way that doesn't involve any kind of interaction from the user. We've all seen this.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, these things may seem like sort of technology of the future, but they're here today. They're in your pocket.
So, imagine you receive emails on your mobile phone. You can choose what email client you want to use. There are plenty of them in the App Store. You can pick the one you like, plug it in, and it'll work. You don't have to do anything to make that work. You can use a calendar application. You can choose many calendar applications, plug them in, and it works. And it's the same with satellite navigation, right? Remember the days when you had a real sat nav on your car's windscreen? Now, you can choose a satellite navigation application, Google Maps, Apple Maps, whatever happens to be.
But where the magic is and what the platform does is allow these applications to work seamlessly. So I receive an email with an invite to come and talk to you today, and that invite is automatically put into my calendar, in respect of the calendar that I chose to use. And this morning, when I get into the car, and I look at my calendar event, it says: Would you like me to navigate you to the location that you go into? And I haven't done anything. I haven't had to configure how these applications work. They understand the data. They understand the protocols on which the platform is defined. And it looks just like magic.
Just imagine that scenario in the construction environment where different applications can plug into the platform and immediately co-exist. It doesn't matter what you plug in. These things just work. Now, how does that happen? How does the magic work? I think that's really about standards. Standards in terms of data, the way you communicate, in terms of protocols, and understanding of how communication happens.
Paul Wilkinson: I think protocols are a good word to use. If you think about how the World Wide Web and the Internet work, that's based on global agreements, standard protocols, and open standards, which are created and shared. They enable the global sharing of information and the flows of information right across the Internet in a way that we would never have envisaged when I first started the industry back in the 1980s. So it is important to think about the value of open standards from my point of view because I think there is a danger that sometimes you can begin to think, Oh, we've got everything proprietary, proprietary things talk to each other. But you forget that on occasion, you'll be dealing with supply chains that are using different solutions, and on the next project, you might be dealing with a slightly different supply chain, again, using a different complexity.
So I think it's important to move away from a focus on proprietary standards to be thinking about more open standards that enable the free flow of information just as the World Wide Web does. We'd love in construction to have those free flows of information that mean we become information-focused rather than technology-focused or, you know, concentrating on the greatest and the latest funky technology. It's got to be about the information. That's the important bit, just not the device or tool that we use.
Richard Scott: Exactly, you know, and the whole platform paradigm is evolving as well. So, you know, platforms can work in a couple of ways. You know, you can take independence best in class software solutions and connect them into a platform that almost acts as a kind of mediator and translator that says, okay, I know how to talk to Siri, I know what to talk to BIM model, I know how to talk to a cost cutting system. We plug them in, and this creates a connection. That's one way to deliver a platform. There are ways to interconnect using other techniques as well.
But there's also this concept of a single source platform, and that's where Archdesk is positioned. A single source platform has essentially all the characteristics of a platform as we describe that. But it also builds these applications almost as an application suite as well as the platform characteristics. So within Archdesk, for instance, we manage project cost and budgets as a domain, aspects of BIM as a domain, and aspects of scheduling as a domain, but they're all built into our product. That's called a single source platform. She has the same database, which means that all this information is all in one place, and it can be surfaced and can be delivered to business intelligence very easily and very quickly. So there are a couple of different ways to look at the platform propositions, but it's all about interconnectivity, and it's all about synergy. The magic happens when, you know, you have two or three sorts of domain-specific applications working together, but the output is greater than the sum of the parts, and this is what we're looking to achieve.
Paul Wilkinson: Looking for synergies.
Richard Scott: Exactly.
Paul Wilkinson: Let's just do a little bit of future gazing. What do you think are going to be the key trends that businesses will need to pay attention to over the next ten, 15, or 20 years?
Richard Scott: I think this is really interesting. At the start of my journey in construction technology, it was clear that culture is a big challenge within construction in terms of adoption of new technology. So I think we're going to need to focus on the culture of the organization in order for this technology to really be able to deliver on its own, on its promises.
But then you look at the technology itself. The landscape is transformed incredibly, right? Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, these things may seem like sort of technology of the future, but they're here today. They're in your pocket. If you go to your photo album and you search for cat or beach or snow, Google or Apple, they'll give you all your pictures of cats, snow, and beaches. This is happening within the construction domain as well, as a sort of reality capture for the grammar tree, robotics sensors, and lidar. Data started to come from the site through this high technology.
Paul Wilkinson: I think it's also important as we're future gazing to be thinking about the pressures on the sector, the changes that we've seen in the last 2 to 3 years alone through COVID, and the push to enable people to work remotely. We suddenly became huge converts to zoom teams meetings in a way that we would never have if there hadn't been the crisis of COVID. It brought about a recognition that technology could be a powerful enabler.
But we also need to be thinking about what are the big picture items as well. It's about climate change and some of those big challenges that we face as a society and using technologies and using data and information enabled by those technologies to address those big issues.
We talk to customers and industry almost every day, and it's clear that the subject of the moment is interoperability.
Richard Scott: I think it's clear today, and we've seen the demands and the pressures on the construction sector to handle more and more data and information and data they never had to think about before. If you think about a value procurement, construction playbook, you know, all of these initiatives. They're asking for information about supply chain, locality. They're asking for information about ethnicity and even asking for information about the wellness and wellbeing of your staff on site, which I applaud. This is information that's just never been asked for before. So I think our industry is going to adapt.
We have a new generation of digital natives who are taking up senior positions. These people expect things to work. They've not been without the Internet; without mobile devices, they don't know another world. So I think that combination of the changing culture, new generation, emerging technologies, and some really leading, cutting edge technology is going to be exciting, sort of the foundation on which to build the next few years. I'm sure we're going to see that productivity goes through the roof in terms of construction.
Paul Wilkinson: What journey do you often see companies going on with respect to the level of interconnectivity? Where are they on their journeys?
Richard Scott: Right now, it seems to me that most of the companies that I'm talking to, or we are talking to in Archdesk is that they know they have siloed, independent, unconnected systems that do a great job, but the demands in their business now need them to do more. We need to think about it as a whole. We need to think about it as an interconnected system.
In terms of being able to solve that problem, in land and expand sort of approach is really important. You're not going to change everything overnight, right? The technology might enable that, but the people just won't be able to take it on. So, find a point within the organization where these two domains come together and where the ability for them to work in a synergistic way without huge valid to the business and focus on that. Land and expand. Just take small steps.
Paul Wilkinson: Back quite a few years now, there was a major study in the United States, which looked at the impact of poor interoperability on facility owners in America, and they estimated the annual cost to facilities owners was something like $14 billion per annum. And so these were significant costs in avoiding poor interoperability or mitigating the impacts of it, and also the delay impact and the poor interoperability. So how can interoperability improve project efficiency from your point of view? From an Archdesk point of view.
Richard Scott: It allows the people who are spending time trying to bring together information in order to satisfy the demands of the executive or the strategic people within the organization. (We're looking at performance from it from a big picture perspective.) It allows them to focus on doing the job that's important to them rather than doing the administration required to feed this information to the people that need it.
So it's about giving back time so that people can focus on the important things, which is often delivering the project well, rather than doing the administration or managing data or paperwork in order to provide the information to the people that need it.
I think what I've learned over the last 20 years is the needs and the views of data at the tactical level, like the project manager, where the heart out and the muddy boots exist, and the needs of the people in the C-suite who are looking at the business performance as a whole are very, very different. And whilst you can apply technology to a tactical level. That guy is interested in getting the job done quickly, right? As long as I get the job done, it's been successful. Whereas, you know, at the strategic level, it's okay, I've gotten the job done, but I also have all of the data about how we got a job done in order for us to, you know, look at it, analyze it, drill into business intelligence and do an even better job next time.
We’re in a fortunate position. Many of the technologies tried and trusted in other sectors are available to us now to use and deploy with confidence because they've already been tested and improved.
Paul Wilkinson: How far construction companies are advanced in developing a standardized data model?
Richard Scott: Well, it feels to me that's outside of the realm of the construction companies, right, so there are organizations who are doing this today. And sometimes I think it can be quite contentious conversations. Right. But if you take IFC, right, it's probably the only sort of common file format that we have built-in not too long. So whilst it may not be great, it's the best we've got.
Paul Wilkinson: IFC it’s industry foundation classes just for those who wonder what IFC stands for.
Richard Scott: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Apologies for that. I can get a little bit technical sometimes. But I think that there are organizations out there that are independent of the companies themselves. We're trying to develop and drive these standards you talked about earlier on.
Paul Wilkinson: They're businesses which are taking IFC, and they're developing open source tools. For example, I saw it at a trade show just two or three weeks ago. One of the American speakers saying this is the platform of the future where we take away the focus that we've had today in the industry on products and technologies and become more information, more data-centric, and use the power of data that can surface for using standards-based tools.
Richard Scott: I think the outcomes of that are consistent across all industries, right? We want to be able to make well-informed, data-driven decisions. And I think it's an interesting mantra. You know, what gets measured gets managed. When all these things come together, the industry needs to change. There's no question that the transformation realizes its significance. You've got to look at automotive manufacturing as other industries have taken digitalization to another level. And I think it's a really exciting time and I'm really looking forward to the next few years. I think it's a really exciting time for extraction technology for the industry itself. And I'm really happy to be part of it.
Paul Wilkinson: Okay. We're out of time. Thank you very much for your attention. And thank you, Richard, for your time this morning.
Richard Scott: My pleasure. Thank you, everybody, for tuning in.
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