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Centre for Digital Built Britain

 
Blog: Keith Waller on CDBB's Role in the Construction Innovation Hub

Following the official launch of the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH), Programme Director, Keith Waller sets out the collaborative vision for transforming the UK construction sector.

Government’s announcement in November 2018 of the £72m award from UKRI to the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) kicked off a four-year programme of work to transform the construction sector as part of the Industrial Strategy. The CIH – a partnership between CDBB, the BRE (Building Research Establishment) and the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) – has a mission to be a catalyst for transforming the UK construction sector.  

At the simplest level, we will be developing rules and standards for building products and components, bringing manufacturing quality systems to the built environment. In parallel we will be developing protocols for the creation, management, security and use of data that will inform not just the design and construction of projects, but also drive more effective operation. 

So if our mission is to drive transformation in the sector, what is the role for the research and academic community?

Those of you who have read some of the coverage in the trade press about the CIH could be forgiven for believing that our work is all about creating manufactured buildings, replacing the more traditional construction methods. Whilst it is true that we believe manufacturing is an essential ingredient of the transformation, it is only a means to a wider end.

Others, impatient for progress, have said to government: “Why don’t you just get on with it?” Perhaps the answer to those people should be: “There isn’t yet a clear definition of what “it” is, nor how we can measure whether “it” has been successful.”  Sound familiar?

We are not just trying to do the same thing better, we are trying to do a better thing. So the data we collect and how we use it is critical. Therefore, defining and measuring “it” is just one area where the CDBB programme and its partnership with researchers and the academic community will be central to the CIH’s transformation mission.

However, over 99 per cent of the UK infrastructure we will be using next year is already here. So if we understand better how existing buildings and infrastructure perform in service, we can make better informed decisions of how and when to maintain, how best to operate or when we need to replace or upgrade. Data will drive future decisions, not simply ‘custom and practice’.

And when we do need to build new assets – be they schools, hospitals or highways – we need to think of how data will drive not just a better project, but a better outcome. We need to ensure that value is not measured purely through the lens of lowest capital cost, but also whole life value and meeting broader social, economic and environmental outcomes – for example reducing waste, lowering carbon or supporting local communities and businesses.  

We want businesses to be sustainable, ethical and profitable. We want users, owners and operators to have a better experience from the built environment. So our transformation mission is about more than developing technical solutions – product rules, standards and data protocols – it is also about changing culture, business models and how the industry is viewed.  

I am confident we can succeed if we work effectively with all our key stakeholders to develop solutions and methods that improve not just what we do, but how we do it. We have an opportunity to deliver real transformational change and make a positive impact on our society. The academic and research community will be key partners in our programme. It is a mission that inspires and excites me and I hope I have the opportunity to benefit from your skills, enthusiasm and input as our programme progresses.

Contact: Keith Waller, Programme Director for the Construction Innovation Hub