Building blocks for digitalization


The built environment is massively important to the UK economy and the wider public good, encompassing as it does all major infrastructure such as road and rail and the buildings in which we live, work and are educated.

However, the sector suffers from low productivity compared to sectors like finance, insurance and manufacturing. Research and development spend in the built environment also runs well behind that of other sectors at less than 1% of revenues, compared to 3.5% and 4.5% of auto and aerospace sector. Large projects are typically taking 20% longer to finish than scheduled and end up around 80% over budget.

With challenges of that scale facing it, you might expect the built environment to embrace the transformative effect of digitalization, but it remains inherently conservative when it comes to taking advantage of this new technology.

However, Dan thinks a fundamental shift to a process-driven approach could pave the way for digitalization within the built environment. “Building anything is a complex process involving many processes and people. We have tended to concentrate on the technology instead of the processes and therefore standard processes have not been recorded in a systematic way.”

Dan’s first recommendation is for businesses to understand and systematically record (and follow) their own businesses processes. “As a first step in digitalizing your processes it helps to start with BS EN ISO 9001, quality management systems. This specification details the requirements of an organizational quality management system.”

With the foundations in place, Dan’s next suggestion is to turn to BS ISO 19510, Business process model notation (BPMN). It provides a system of notation that is readily understandable by all business users, including the business analysts that create the initial drafts of the processes, the technical developers responsible for implementing the technology and the business people who will manage and monitor those processes.

“It creates a standardized bridge for the gap between a business’s process design and process implementation” said Dan. “You can articulate any process using this method through a series of standardized symbols and notations. Different symbols denote different activities and it can be applied to any process, from ordering a pizza to building a bridge.”

“Once you’ve mapped the process using this notation you can start to assess how the elements of a process can be digitalized in an integrated way.”

A standard that further develops this process in a construction-specific environment is BS EN ISO 24981-1, information delivery manual (IDM). By illustrating where information needs to be inputted and outputted during the process, it facilitates interoperability between software applications used during all stages of the lifecycle of construction works, from briefing to design, documentation, construction, operation and maintenance, and demolition.

This provides a basis for accurate, reliable, repeatable and high-quality information exchange, a fundamental of digitalization.

When it comes to putting in place a digital strategy, Dan’s advice is to carry out thorough process mapping first, using the standards mentioned above, before investing in any new technology: “Begin by documenting the processes and working out where the time is spent. Only then should you decide on what software you need to realize value.

Concluded Dan, “All of these standards and related developments are part of a process-driven strategy to encourage the built environment to embrace digitalization. The message we want to get over is any new business model should be process-driven, and companies shouldn’t be buying new technology for the sake of it.

“Following a process-driven strategy, starting from the foundations of your business up, will ensure that any new technology you buy will integrate into your processes and enable data sharing between different parts of your own business and your supply chain.”


This article was originally published in BSI's Standards Outlook - Issue five