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Boosting project delivery in construction with interoperability

By John Cleary
21/11/2019

Boosting project delivery in construction with interoperability

Interoperability is a primary concern in a world where more industries are digitally-powered. In infrastructure, interoperability is recognised as one of the most significant barriers to observing the full value of digital transformation in the UK. 

At a simple level, interoperability might just be the ability of computer systems to exchange and make use of information. But, as we navigate the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, it means a lot more for great productivity and efficient project delivery. 

Productivity problems

The UK as a whole has a significant productivity problem. This may be why the focus on digital transformation across industries is so important for the country. In the last three months of 2018, worker productivity in the UK dropped by 0.1%. The ONS claim labour productivity has been lower over the past decade than at any time in the 20th century. It is a puzzle we are struggling to solve. 

The construction sector is no exception. It has well-documented productivity issues with low margins, inefficiencies, and cost pressures compromising project outcomes for decades. But part of the problem could be the fact that accessing useful asset data has previously been an inefficient process. With interoperability, now engineers and other professionals working on projects can access useful information in seconds rather than days. 

The benefits of greater information sharing

The interoperability of technology can boost information sharing in construction. This could optimise the infrastructure planning and management process. But it could also inform the development of large-scale digital twins by modelling scenario-based infrastructure networks and assets to aid more accurate planning decisions and prototypes. 

But if this is to be successful, there needs to be some standardisation to boost information sharing for better project delivery. And if it does, the benefits could sing to a tune of an extra £15 billion added to the British economy over the period to 2025. However, there are a number of obstacles the industry would need to overcome.

The obstacles to better data sharing in construction

While software and IT systems can boost the efficiency of information sharing, it doesn’t just happen. Part of the problem also includes the work culture in the industry. Historically, teams have often worked closed-off to the rest of the supply chain with a one-track mind to meet the needs of the people who pay them. But the industry is now moving towards collaboration and open working, with organisations trying to incentivise information sharing throughout the supply chain. 

There are also privacy and legal barriers, where the use of sensitive and personal data by organisations has been heavily criticised. There is a lack of clarity surrounding GDPR and the lawfulness of data sharing making companies reluctant to indulge. However, non-personal data is less affected. There are also security concerns where data sharing may increase the risk of breaches, data losses, and potentially high-impact cyber-attacks. 

Then there are the technical barriers which arise as a result of the difficulty in integrating old technology with the new. For example, where data is stored in legacy systems which aren’t built for sharing or the data isn’t digitised. 

Despite the challenges facing companies who want to work in more modern ways, there are significant benefits to doing so. It could boost the speed and satisfaction rates of your projects, simply by boosting automatic information sharing.

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