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Digital engineers are go

What does digital acceleration mean for the operation of buildings – and do we have the required skills? Andy Sneyd considers the question in the latest of our opinion pieces

What does the phenomenal growth in the digital world mean for building services? The amount of data being produced by buildings is growing rapidly and more and more of it is being stored in the Cloud, because occupants and building maintainers want 24-hour access.

This is where the real value is in construction and why the big tech giants – Google, Apple, Cisco, IBM and the like – are circling. They want to capture all that data and then use it to ‘sell’ better building services to commercial clients, including preventative maintenance, energy efficiency, security and access systems.

Unfortunately, many in construction don’t think the data revolution has anything to do with them because they can’t see how it will deliver a business advantage. By the time they have woken up, the industry will have moved on and left them behind.

Mechanical contracting is being commoditised and building engineering firms are in danger of being pushed right down the value chain, but the big added-value elements are linked to ongoing operation of buildings. And that means capturing Big Data.

iPhones now offer dual cameras that enable you to scan and record installation details in 3D for quality control purposes.

This could revolutionise the way we check and verify work on site as well as providing an indisputable record in the event of any legal problems.

Meanwhile, construction companies are already investigating the use of drones to fly through their sites recording project progress. It is a brave new world out there, but construction is being slow to embrace it properly.

We also need to put our digital business in the hands of today’s young engineers.

The ‘gaming generation’ has grown up with systems far more sophisticated than Level 2 BIM.

In fact, they are continually amazed at the antiquated way we work, although they love the final product.

They just know we can produce it more quickly; more efficiently and then operate it far more effectively.

IT cornerstone

The IT is still a back-office function for too many in our industry, when it should be top of the boardroom agenda.

It is the cornerstone of the future of our sector, yet we seem to still be arguing about the format for BIM Product Data Templates!

The secret is good data where and when we, or the building user, needs it.

The brain of every project needs to be in the Cloud, so that the various trades are able to interrogate the data they need from a variety of mobile sources – phones, tablets, whatever. The killer for contractors is having to wait months for the consulting engineer to produce lots of data we don’t need.

With the flexibility of the Cloud, you can get access to exactly what you need when and where you need it.

This is already second nature to people under the age of 25. It is also the norm for the tech companies that want access to valuable data, so that FMs and managers can run better buildings.

All the political parties sold us a promise of millions of apprenticeships in the run-up to the election.

So let’s grasp the opportunity under a new administration to set up a programme that ensures all of ours are ‘digital apprentices,’ ready to lead us into the data revolution.

Andy Sneyd is president of the Building & Engineering Services Association

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