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Status Codes: Why the complexity?

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In order to really think about how we can put change into motion, we have to start opening-up areas of conversation that will alter the way we think and work as an industry. There is plenty of debate within the digital construction sector as to the definition and role of status codes. Generally speaking, these codes define the suitability of information within a document on a CDE (common data environment) and highlight the purpose of important pieces of information at each stage of the design and construction phases. For contractors and developers, status codes are key signposts yet their simple use is routinely overcomplicated. Why is this the case? How can contractors realise the value of status codes and the role they play in saving time and money on construction projects?

Status codes are used by all members of the supply chain to make information traceable and denote a project stage. Part of the international BIM standard, ISO 19650, there are specific status codes for a document’s purpose, meaning that these codes change as a project progresses into another period. Statuses S0-S4 are generally used by architects, structural engineers and consultants who are involved in the design stage of a building project. The latter stages, S4 and up, are typically used during the sign-off phases at the end of stages and pave the way for construction. 

Status codes let stakeholders share information that isn’t ready for the authorisation stage, yet needs to be communicated to the relevant parties to ensure greater collaboration between those involved in the design stages. 

For contractors and developers who are continually working to tight margins and deadlines, status codes provide important clarity as to the purpose of a document. A status code will highlight whether document is specifically for comment, for instance, so that a contractor can know that it shouldn’t be used during construction. This signposting prevents any confusion and project delays which is beneficial to the bottom line. 

Where do the challenges arise? 

If status codes are not used properly, it leads to great confusion. It should be one of the simplest things to know what a document is used for, particularly when they help stakeholders to build a picture of a project through information. But whilst the allure of status codes is appealing to many, for others it represents a culture change that they just aren’t ready for. Some industry professionals for instance don’t understand the point of assigning and updating status codes, and this could be for many reasons including the fact they may not be sure why they’re doing it in the first place. 

Status codes serve a very important function. From S4 (where the authorisation processes begin), stakeholders can follow the file status to learn when they can begin construction (typically at A5). Without the status being updated and approved however, how else will they get the greenlight to go ahead? 

Inefficiency stands in the way

Unfortunately, whilst status codes should work in theory there are some practical elements which hinder their efficiency. Even though these codes play an important role in signposting the development of a piece of building information, the process can let status codes down. 

The current ‘double-dip’ system is one example. When we say ‘double-dip’ we are basically alluding to information that has been uploaded and then re-uploaded as a new revision, purely because the status codes have changed. This most frequently happens with S4 and A5 as a project is to begin construction. The process is as follows: an architect creates a document and shares it for information (S2). Then after several months they revise the status so it can go for approval (S4). When approved it needs revising again, as approved to a number relating to the stage. The contents of the document may not have changed, but two revisions have been needed to update the drawing block. Is this necessary or can technology be the answer?

In order to further prevent the likelihood of double-dipping, it would be beneficial for the approver to set the status and not the originator. It is frustrating to see a document reach one of the final stages and still need to be manually changed and then re-uploaded. It’s an inefficient, burdensome task which compromises the construction process, and in today’s technological climate could be easily ironed-out.  

Contractors and developers should also be aware that the standards have changed. Companies used to work to the BS 1192-1 suite which has now been amalgamated into the international, ISO 19650 standards. This transition has caused some codes to disappear. Although these codes have been removed from the ISOs, people are still using the old ones – some are even establishing their own inconsistent codes, which is causing confusion. 

We are all creatures of habit. To unlearn what we once knew, support is needed to incite a behaviour change. This will ensure the latest status codes are being used so that everyone is speaking the same language across construction projects. Working to a global standard as opposed to a British suite will enable this, as it will mean supply chains from around the world can consistently sing from the same hymn sheet regardless of which language they speak. In an increasingly globalised industry, this single language ranks high on the agenda. 

Although status codes have the potential to play an important part in enabling efficiencies across construction projects, their value is not being realised at present. In the construction industry there are all manner of labels and signs to indicate how a product should be installed or whether something is a risk. Why isn’t the sector, then, making use of a process which can highlight what a document is for and whether a drawing, for instance, is the right version they should be using? Whilst the change in standards and double-dipping are unsavoury, with a behaviour change and the use of technology, there will be little reason as to why status codes cannot be utilised by a construction supply chain. Where margins are a top priority, status codes and their ability to streamline project delivery will go some way to enabling contractors to reach a utopic bottom line. 

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