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Centre for Digital Built Britain

Blog - Dr Mark Bew - Strategic Advisor

Dr Mark Bew, Strategic Advisor to the Centre, sets his role at, and vision for, the Centre for Digital Built Britain

The vision of Digital Built Britain (DBB) is to bring digital techniques and capabilities to the lifecycle of the built environment.  It will enable us to build assets more efficiently and understand how they are used and consumed by the public. This data will inform the design of better functioning assets for the future.  

DBB is a really important programme for the UK. Construction represents about 10 per cent of GDP and fast-paced demographic and social changes are putting new loads on our ageing infrastructure. In addition, we have a diminishing resource to fund new infrastructure and 80 per cent of the assets that we consume are already with us so how do we retro fit these assets with the required digital capabilities to ensure the can provide us with relevant services into the future.  The ability of the circular economy to keep up with us reusing and recycling assets is crucial too.

The BIM Level 2 programme has been a great success and many projects internationally are using our methods and processes; there are now more metros being delivered around the world using UK standards than not, which is a fantastic achievement in the time we have been working together on this project.  This is a great platform for the UK to remain in the vanguard of this crucial sector.

We have seen growth in the market and we have seen growth in adoption, but we need to continue the pressure and continue to grow capacity and scale massively if we wish to maintain our competitive position. 

Level 2 was all about doing the existing model better. The future in DBB is about doing something different. How are we going to do that? Well, we need to develop new skills, capabilities and organisations that have the capacity and skills to take it to the next step.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) will bring together academia, industry and policy to create a tri-group where we can focus those three dynamics on the requirements that face us in the future. Cambridge is a great place to do that and the Centre is designed to bring those three communities together.  Naturally the exact alignment of each communities agendas are not completely aligned – the direction of travel regarding a better and more sustainable future is general, but each community is approaching the challenge from different angles and different paces. The focus is to coalesce those demands, skills and capabilities to capitalise on the various strengths to deliver a much better solution going forward and start to plan for a future that is more open, fair, transparent and equitable to deliver better outcomes for all citizens.

That said, with any industry that is the size of a country – there are 3.5 million people involved in construction and associated services in the UK – there is going to be a lot of inertia. The status quo – the ‘we’ve always done it like this around here’ – is the first hurdle to overcome. There is a general lack of understanding of why we need to change and this must be addressed and progressing with our support of Level 2 continues this process going forward in the immediate future.

Making the process as simple as possible and removing some of the complexities is key, as is lifting the educational capabilities of the community. One thing we know is that every industrial revolution accelerates square law, so getting accustomed to assets that look and behave differently is something we will all have to do.

The combination of growing digitisation and emerging new technologies brings unprecedented opportunities to UK industry and it’s fantastic to be part of that journey and programme. We have made a significant start; when I visit other countries they are looking to the UK as the lead on digital. We have the chance to capitalise that opportunity and I look forward to working with Cambridge to make that happen.