Manufacturers, technology providers and contractors took part in a Digital Roundtable organised by FIS to look at how technology is impacting our supply chain, barriers to implementation and the support the industry needs to successfully digitalise.

How is technology impacting on our supply chain?
The “Golden Thread” of information was isolated as top priority. Alan Brown of Forza Doors believes that this starts with manufacturers and stressed the importance of an asset management system that follows the provenance of a product. He said: “It isn’t just about the design stage, it’s about the journey of that product all the way through. Key is the handover of information.” He used examples of how Forza is developing installation videos to make information as easy to digest as possible. Diane Butterworth (Diane Butterworth Ltd) agreed, stressing BIM (Building Information Modelling) is a key part of digital management, it is now much more than a “question on PQQs”. She highlighted that companies don’t always have to understand the technology, but know where to get the expertise you need.

Sean Sibthorpe of Overbury prefers the term DIM (Digital Information Management) “a focus on a single source of truth goes from estimating to when it was delivered to when it is an O&M”.
New methods of managing people, the movement of people and helping track competence and support training were key priorities for Richard Knight of Grafter and Ian Heptonstall of the Supply Chain Sustainability School. Matt Kingswood of the Digital College highlighted the productivity gains to be had from e-learning and proctoring as means to get people trained more efficiently, with less time off-site.

Willmott Dixon Construction’s Digital Manager, Chris Johnson talked up the impact of point cloud noting they are “starting to deploy cloud scanning at a couple of different project stages and helping to bridge the gap between design and what’s actually happening on site”. This exciting technology has added “very good transparency into the process and the accuracy of the workmanship” that “allows us to capture issues early.”

Angus McAlpine of Payapps underpinned the value of software in supporting the process, but also helping to “break down barriers”, “creating a more transparent, process” and overcoming some of the contractual and payment issues. “The last thing you want to do is be sitting there searching through multiple historic excel spreadsheets working out whether someone has got a valid variation, you actually need to be able to look back and have a clear audit trail throughout”.

Why do we think construction is among the least digitalised sectors, what is holding back investment?
Mark Norton, Head of BIM at ISG, chairs the FIS Digital Construction Group, he believes keeping abreast of changes within the digital arena is a critical issue for main contractors. “A key thing we’ve noticed as a contractor engaging with our supply chain is the need for agility” he said. “Process can go out of date very quickly. What we were doing six months ago isn’t necessarily that applicable today. Software changes instantaneously and every day we’re seeing new software pop up. Is it good? Should we be looking at it? Do they talk to each other?”

Investing in such a fast paced and uncertain environment is difficult, Kelvin Steel of Stortford Interiors recognised this at the specialist end of the market where contractors are “stuck in the
middle”. Drawing upon his experience with BIM he noted little consistency in client and contractor requirements “it’s a question of feeding design requirements on a project by project basis, some
want AutoCAD, some Revit and others use Inventor.” Kelvin noted that large investments can be a challenge – contractor businesses tend to invest in solving issues on particular projects and then evolve innovation across the business – who and how business cases for capital investment were created was a challenge.

Chris Johnson, noted that a barrier was often that people are frightened of disruption. He felt fear was misplaced, emphasising that “the importance of good staff to a business’s productivity should never be underestimated, and BIM could never replace real jobs. But it could enhance them.”

Rob Aitchison of Automated Markets drew on his experience of the NHS and the billions that have been wasted on technology. “People don’t want more applications, they want things that work”. He talked of the potential Block Chain, but emphasised that the workings needs to be “hidden” or people get caught up in the technology and lose sight of the problem. He believes the key to success is “making it compatible”, ensuring solutions work for all. He also stressed it is vital that each individual involved in integration is considered and more needs to be done to help them to understand the “advantage to them of digital solutions”.

Barry Chapman, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Chalkstring, agreed and felt strongly that training is often overlooked, both in terms of understanding return on investment and implementation. He stressed “the technology is proven. But to me, it’s not just the technology, it’s the people and their ability and the training and the process, go with it”. Supply chain collaboration and who should ultimately fund the costs surrounding digital management tools was debated, with recognition that supply chain partnerships that extended
beyond individual projects were essential to a fair share.

What support does the industry need and what are the drivers?
Improvement in life safety and quality were the key driver for change with Jack Dearlove of ISG adding that this is being driven on all fronts, probably most significantly at present from the insurance industry.

Gal Farhi, Director at Waveline advised us to look beyond the technology. “The technology is not the key, people and processes are. Innovators who understand processes, the companies in the industry that think about real problems, will be the winners.

The best solutions that I see, and I see people pitch every day, are from people who are so far down the line with the subject matter experts that they understand the problem really, really deeply. This allows them to come up with a solution that is simple whilst being sophisticated – not because people in construction are simple, but because they are sophisticated enough to know that overly-complex solutions don’t work”

To conclude the debate, FIS CEO Iain McIlwee underlined the opportunity to use the Digital Construction Group to review and share good practice throughout the FIS community. “Quality is a catalyst and FIS is an enabler,” recognising the need for universal solutions he said. “When you find solutions, don’t let them vanish in your businesses as part of a day-to-day, don’t let them vanish in your projects. Let’s start to pull together those case studies and where you think things are working. We’ve got a community, we can test through that.”

The FIS Digital Construction Group meet regularly to explore the impact of technology on the sector.
A full transcript of the Round Table is available to read on