Reduced costs of computer processing power and connectivity is making it more viable to embed technology in products and structures. If we think about urbanisation, which is one of the most important trends globally, then merging technology and infrastructure – streaming data on energy use, weather conditions, population movements and many other trends – will provide a rich source of big data for analysis to inform future panning and development.
Digital technologies are also making an impact on the way buildings are constructed. On the one hand, the rich data and models emerging from Building Information Modelling (BIM) could lead to acceleration in the adoption of off-site manufacturing as the economies and efficiencies become irresistible. On the other hand, 3D printing technologies may mean some products are manufactured or printed on site and customised precisely to the specific structure.
However, it is in the occupancy phase of a building’s lifecycle that we can predict the most impact from digital technologies in the coming years. Indeed, the best commercial buildings already include advanced building information and control systems.
Smart systems in buildings that track, learn, predict and measure user behaviour will go a long way to simplifying the increasingly technology-based building operating systems.
None of these uses of digital technology is truly future gazing, yet the adoption of these technologies in the UK construction industry is lacking. It is the attitude and openness of mind of the leaders in planning, development, architecture, contracting and product manufacturing, as well as building clients that will progress the adoption of smart technology in buildings.
Investment is also a key issue, as it varies greatly across the disciplines, which impacts on the wider industry. It has been suggested that one of the principle barriers to the adoption of technology such as BIM is the fact that not everyone is using it1. Digital technology can also be a collaboration tool, so there needs to be a industry-wide commitment to implementing digital strategies across all sectors within the construction industry.
If this is achieved and there is a real commitment to, and understanding of, the importance of innovation, digital technologies can have a significant impact within the next decade.
1Digital Construction Review, Building, March 2016