We shouldn’t settle with the notion that construction is and has always been slow to adopt technology. It creates a kind of stasis which really isn’t compatible with the industry’s other blemish: its fondness for overcomplication. Acronyms for example, have a real knack of letting us think something so simple is beyond our comprehension, if we don’t know what they stand for. It is why now more than ever the industry needs to iron-out any complexities and offer greater clarity, so that the tangible benefits of technology can be achieved. But which is the best course to enable this? What is causing confusion and how can it be overcome?
The industry savours its terminologies – APIs, IoTs, CDEs and more – they’re part of our identity and of course roll off the tongue with far greater ease than saying the words in their full form. Yet although they serve an indisputable purpose in email and everyday speech, their fixed status or reverence indicates a sacredness which can be troublesome if we ever wish to contend what we understand them to be.
Let’s take the example of a CDE, aka a common data environment. A CDE is commonly understood as a technology which enables businesses to have a single source of information across their platforms. It evokes commonality; a single perspective on a complex web of information. Whilst this definition is questionable – there are multiple views on what a CDE is – it is important to remember that a CDE is one facet of the technology that is needed for businesses to access the information they need. It is merely one area of what is actually required to design, build and operate a property portfolio. CDEs are seen as offering one source of many pieces of information, which is completely utopic. Unfortunately, in reality things can be a little more complex than that.
An environment for information
Although the term may not suggest it to be so, we make use of ‘information environments’ on a daily – hourly, even – basis. On our smartphones, laptops, watches and apps we can view the same piece of information across these individual platforms; whether it is a photo that is stored on the cloud or an audio file which has been emailed from one ‘environment’ to another.
However, I personally think we have moved away from this idea of CDEs allowing one source of information to be made available. In my opinion this notion seems pretty impossible when for instance, a business is sharing the same information with two other companies that each have their own version of the information stored on their CDEs.
A CDE is not just a single system that retains data by itself therefore; it is one part of a collection of systems or tools which constitute an ecosystem, a larger information environment, as it were. For the construction industry, it is an information environment and not solely a CDE which enables businesses to find and distribute information, host drawings and documents, and assure collaboration across project teams and stakeholders. Types of information that are stored within information environments, to ensure data is identifiable from the design to build and operation of a building, include:
- Building control
- Security requirements
- Legal and financial information
- Smart requirements
If these pieces of information are stored on separate systems, this creates siloed sources of information which leads to duplication and a lack of trust.
Is the rise of technology a challenge?
Although having access to the information is one thing, ensuring you can find it easily is another. Information that is stored across disparate systems is problematic, but it is even more frustrating when the pieces of data cannot be accessed in good time to inform decision-making. This could either be because it has been saved on a desktop under a different name, or the version you thought was correct is now outdated.
This inconsistency and unreliability are breeding grounds for scepticism and distrust. You might want to ask yourself how this can be when we live in an age where it has never been easier to find and create information.
There are many solutions to this issue, but two of the most important are process and people. It is vitally important to have the measures in place to streamline the way you access information; by essentially utilising an information environment which acts as a pane of glass or window onto information stored across multiple systems. To further trust the credibility of the information, alignment to the suite ISO 19650 goes some way to assuring commonality and quality when it comes to managing the information at your disposal.
As main handlers, circulators and gatekeepers of information, people are part of the resolution. Understanding what an information environment is and why it is important really needs to be better communicated to end-users – the value has to be realised by them. Otherwise the processes will exist only in theory and information will still be something of a commodity that isn’t being utilised to its full effect.