Lynsey Brydson, head of digital programmes, Built Environment – Smarter Transformation
Digitisation has the power to unlock huge potential for the built environment. The benefits span many areas, from greater accuracy and efficiencies to health and safety, yet the real value of digital could be in helping the sector to tackle the greatest challenges it has ever faced: transitioning to zero carbon.
Estimates suggest that the built environment accounts for nearly half (47%) of all UK carbon emissions, but at the same time, construction is reported to be one of the fastest-growing industries in terms of spending on research and development. ONS data shows a record £586 million was spent by UK-based construction firms on innovation in 2020, compared to only £14 million in 2010.
With sustainability firmly positioned at the top of the agenda for the sector, we can reasonably predict that the level of spending on innovation and collaborative research will continue to rise, with new digital technologies, processes, and alternative materials offering some of the solutions we need to help transform the carbon footprint of the built environment.
When it comes to digital, however, we already have a range of fantastic tools available at our fingertips – the biggest challenge is boosting the level of adoption. By working together to raise awareness and increase the understanding of tech’s potential, we can encourage people to start using more of these tools and more frequently.
Of course, that might be easier said than done – it is a steep learning curve and we know that it might initially seem overwhelming, particularly for SMEs. The technology isn’t the biggest barrier when it comes to digital, it’s the ability to embrace change, invest in new processes, and learn new systems and skills.
There can also be challenges around interoperability and contractors could be faced with situations where multiple clients are asking them to use different types of technology that perhaps don’t work well with each other. With better levels of awareness and knowledge on both sides, there could be a much more open dialogue when decisions are made about which digital tools to use, ensuring that all parties are getting the most out of a new system in terms of achieving carbon goals, maximising efficiencies and keeping costs down.
Whether it’s robotics, data analysis, digital design, offsite construction or digital skills platforms, there are a range of initiatives and research projects underway – supported by Built Environment – Smarter Transformation – to increase the use of technology across the sector and encourage cultural change.