Construction, the final digital frontier. These are the musings of the FIS CEO: my mission to explore the horizons, seek out new technology and question whether the construction industry will boldly go where everybody else has gone before.

It’s worth pointing out here that I am not advocating seeking out new galaxies to avoid the endless Brexit debates. But at the start of the New Year, it is important to look ahead and consider what is most likely to disrupt the construction sector. If we look beyond Brexit and at the things we can control, I am convinced that the construction sector is on the verge of digital disruption. “BIM is coming” has become akin to “The End of the World is Nigh” (it is, by the way), but BIM is only a part of this digital revolution.

There are three key reasons why I confidently make this prediction. Firstly, we had a warning shot across our bowels from Carillion. We need to be more productive and in this pursuit of productivity, virtually every other sector has been disrupted by digital solutions. Getting a cab has, for many, become “ubering it”; popping into the bank is a rare occurrence for most of us; Amazon is changing the shape of the high street; the driverless car is just around the corner (merrily running an algorithm whether it is better to run over three badgers or you!) – even factories can be monitored on mobile phone apps. I tell you, it is coming – just Google it!

The second driver is Quality and Risk Management. Grenfell was a stark reminder that to deliver on quality we need to improve our ability to manage information and control process. Central to this is the Golden Thread and a need to communicate more effectively, ensuring that there is an understanding of and information on compliance and competence (as per the FIS Product, Process, People framework) at every level of the supply chain. Risk management is that: it is not removing, but limiting, the potential to do harm, and it is also recognising that mistakes happen. But if everybody has the information they need and we know everything about the product and people involved, we can isolate failure down to exceptional circumstance, and review, learn and, importantly, identify and limit wider problems.

Finally, the technology sector is interested. All of a sudden, I am meeting more and more IT people at construction events and they are talking to me about stuff that I barely understand but that seems to hold the key to unlocking some of our problems, like artificial intelligence and blockchain (see the recent FIS Focus article on if you need this demystified). It will be these innovators that open our eyes to the art of the possible and ensure that secure and seamless transition of critical information between all parts of the supply chain becomes a reality. Other prizes could even be automatic, transparent and fair flow of payment – now imagine that!

So, when I talk about the digital revolution, I am not referring to an army of robots or teleporting between sites. I am talking about the start of joining the dots, linking specification to ordering and product information to site competence. Welcome to the Digital Revolution. As Spock would say, anything else is “Highly illogical!”

Iain McIlwee
Chief executive
Finishes and Interiors Sector