Focus on PropTech: the construction industry is waking up to digital

The Chair of PCSG, one of Croydon's PropTech disruptors, discusses their contribution to Smart Cities and the rising field of digital twins.

In August and September, we’re running a series of posts on Croydon’s involvement in PropTech – a growing subsector of tech innovation in planning, property development, property management and estate agency.

The inefficiency of the construction industry was memorably captured in a 2017 Economist article: “While everyone else is using iPhones, construction is still in the Walkman phase.”

In retail, publishing and music, digital disruption has long been a part of the narrative. In construction and infrastructure though, it’s a different story.

Digital, data-centred, ways of working, aimed at reducing waste and re-work and helping to ensure projects are delivered on-time and on-budget have been famously slow to take hold. No surprise then that an estimated 20% of large projects go over time and up to 80% are over budget.

There’s a reluctance to swap a paper-based approach for a slicker, smarter, digital one. One reason for this is the investment/ benefit equation: clients may want their supply chain to invest in new digital software, processes etc., but their suppliers will be keen to do that only if the financial benefit to them is clear.

Digital construction age dawns

At last though, digital technologies and processes with the power to transform how we plan, deliver and maintain our buildings and infrastructure are gaining traction.

This has partly been prompted by the Government mandating that all publicly procured projects deploy a digital construction process known as Building Information Modelling or BIM.

BIM is the process of creating and managing data throughout the life of a built asset – such as a bridge, road or building – from planning onwards, using model-based technologies linked to a database of project information.

PCSG is pioneering digital

At PCSG  we’ve long understood the transformative power of applying digital processes and techniques to how we plan, build and operate our buildings and infrastructure. As Chair, I bring expertise from chairing the development of the UK Government BIM Strategy. More recently, I led the formation of Digital Built Britain, the UK Government’s Level 3 BIM programme.

Our built-asset consultancy, with headquarters in Croydon and bases in Australia and Hong Kong, is at the forefront of the exciting work to champion a ‘digitally built’ approach.

Smart Cities

PCSG is part of the Smart Cities Council Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), an industry coalition which seeks to help cities harness technology to address the challenges they face. We helped develop a Smart Cities Guidance Note which explains the standards available globally for smart cities.

Smart Cities Council logo

We also co-developed an app, Entelligently, which was selected for inclusion in Manchester’s CityVerve – the smart city demonstrator.

The app was designed to help reduce the so-called ‘energy performance gap’ in buildings, which can see a significant uplift between the energy use predicted at the design stage of a building and the actual energy use once it is in operation.

It aimed to help building owners or operators to cut their energy bills while improving the comfort of the occupants by using those occupants as human ‘sensors’. Occupants feed back information through their smartphones into the app about whether they are feeling hot, cold or sleepy.

Entelligently app: a screenshot showing the app asking "Where are you?" "How comfortable are you?" and "Why are you uncomfortable?"

Digital twins

PCSG has also developed ‘digital twins’ – virtual replicas of real-life constructions. These bring together a wide range of data, such as BIM data and information from sensors attached to the building, to optimise both the performance of the asset and the experience of the user.

We are currently, for example, supporting the delivery of HS2 by helping the owner to gather and connect a vast range of data about the project and present it in a compelling way using our GeoConnect+ data integration solution.

The objective is to improve decision making, streamline design and delivery and improve service levels in operation, making it a railway fit for the digital age.

Information management

Major retailers and store chains – owners, of course, of vast property estates dotted across the country – are also among those benefiting from the advent of technology in construction.

By ‘digitising’ their portfolios – that is, ordering all the information about the estate online, ensuring it is reliable and making it easily accessible, these stores can operate far more effectively and provide a much better service for their customers.

It means the simple questions like “How many pizza counters do we have and where are they in the country?” can be answered in one click.

Digital hub

In Croydon, PCSG is in good company. The borough is home to some of the globe’s best-known design and engineering agencies – many of whom we have the pleasure of working with. These include Mott MacDonald, Jacobs and Atkins.

Like PCSG, these multi-disciplinary groups are forward-thinking and keen to exploit the power of digital to unlock the financial and social benefits that it brings.

There is something apt too about a built environment organisation sitting amidst some of the UK’s most exciting development schemes, literally watching the skyline develop and transform around us each day.

For more information about PCSG and how we support organisations to apply digital techniques and processes to the design, build and operation of their built-assets, please contact our Business Development Director, Olly Thomas.

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