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Standardising data is the first step to efficient workflows in construction

by Sion Geschwindt
Antony Brophy, UK director of business development at Cobuilder, explores the importance of standardising construction data.

Standardising data is key to streamlining construction workflows, says Antony Brophy, UK director of business development at Cobuilder

Those who work in construction know that it is a complex industry. Every project has many different stages, from the engineering and design of a building to its management – and each of these will involve a host of people and organisations, from the client and the architect through to suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors.

This complexity means that workflows are often fragmented and links between teams can easily break down, causing delays and making it more difficult to gather, manage and communicate information about the project. In fact, a recent survey by Foundry found that more than half of construction firms are plagued by inefficient workflows.

It’s essential that organisations take steps to streamline communication channels between different teams. Not only will this enable them to speed up project lifecycles, but it will also ensure that the right decisions are being made at every stage, and that regulations and legislation such as the Building Safety Act are always being adhered to.

BIM is helping to join the dots

The need to improve efficiency is driving many construction businesses to push forward with their digital transformation strategies. A core component is Building Information Modelling (BIM), which now lies at the heart of many new building projects and is becoming standard practice across the industry.

The BIM process helps organisations to manage information throughout the lifecycle of a building project and its implementation involves describing every aspect of a built asset. For many years, ‘BIM objects’ downloaded from websites has been the route to forming this description. This object will usually contain data that describes its physical appearance, as well as what it is, how it is classified, its performance values, material types and expected lifetime, among other information.

BIM undoubtedly has a huge role to play helping to join the dots across workflows – not just at the start of a project, but throughout a building’s lifecycle. It is helping teams to work more collaboratively and providing everyone with better visibility into a building’s planning and design process. However, as a method for delivering data, concerns are raised regarding the consistency, accuracy, relevance and usability of the data being sourced for BIM objects.

Digitisation risks creating information overload

The move towards BIM has also generated a huge amount of digital information – and many organisations are struggling to get to grips with how to share and manage it.

This is being further complicated by manual and paper-based processes, which continue to be used in planning phases as organisations make the transition to a fully digital approach. If paper documents are damaged or lost, this can slow projects down and make it difficult to gain a holistic view over the information that matters.

As digitisation becomes more widespread, another issue to consider is how easy it is to gather digital files together in one place. It’s easy for a PDF containing details about building materials and specifications to be lost over email – and human error when inputting product information onto a digital document can lead to inaccuracies.

Standardisation for digital workflows

Data, regardless of its source, must be organised in a way that makes it easy for everyone to input, understand and share widely across the sector – for organisations in different geographical locations and in accordance with multiple industry regulations.

Common data structures, such as data templates, are helping the industry to share product data in a standardised way. The physical properties of a construction object are entered into these templates – such as its fire rating, length or colour – alongside other environmental and performance data to provide a credible source of information.

These data templates are also being built upon digital data dictionaries, which enable machines to read and understand information in the same way, no matter the difference in language or semantics. Storing attributes and properties in a consistent way facilitates the flow of information during building projects and ensures interoperability so that any BIM software or digital tool can understand it.

As the industry integrates ever more digital technologies and processes, it’s easy for organisations to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they are facing. Standardising data as part of your digital transformation strategy will help you to create seamless communication and eradicate workflow inefficiencies.

Read next: BSI teams up with Cobuilder to make standards ‘machine-interpretable’

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