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Centre for Digital Built Britain

 

Reflecting on our inaugural ‘CDBB Week’ and looking forward to Digital Construction Week, Alexandra Bolton, Executive Director for the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) is positive about the digital transformation in the construction industry and how the Construction Innovation Hub is aiming to be the catalyst for this change.

CDBB is a relatively new organisation, and it can be easy to forget that it was only just over two years ago that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy passed the baton of the digital built Britain programme to the University of Cambridge. Since then, CDBB has worked in a three-way approach: supporting academics across the UK; engaging with policy-makers and participating in government working groups; and understanding the challenges and enablers for change in the industry. This start-up phase of CDBB has now been completed and we have applied the lessons learned in developing the strategy for our next phase of operation – implementation.

We have learned from our ‘research, policy, change’ initial strategy and have developed our onwards implementation strategy to take better account of how our stakeholders might engage with us at multiple points and at different times. The implementation pipeline spans from a ‘discovery engine’ to a ‘delivery engine’. The pipeline, as ever, has a robust engagement strategy and continual support for industry at its foundation and is underpinned by security-mindedness. These support five interconnected workstreams spanning from discovery to delivery: the Future Research Programme; National Digital Twin Programme; Emerging Technologies and Practices Programme; and International and UK Implementation Programmes. We will be providing more information on this in the coming weeks and months, including rebuilding our website – please look out for updates.

As I look back on the physical and digital events we delivered during CDBB week and the outputs we have generated and the conversations that have arisen, I am struck by how there has never been a more perfect opportunity to realise all that data and digital can offer to our industry and onwards to consumers. CDBB and the Construction Innovation Hub are working hard to ensure that we support the implementation of industry change so that society, the environment and the economy can enjoy the benefits.

For the first time we have an active, engaged and supported academic base. The recent CDBB publication Capability Framework and Research Landscape towards a digital built Britain represents a significant study into the existing, aligned and required academic endeavour that will fuel digital built Britain. CDBB cannot deliver all of this research alone, and so this document will help to steer and guide others where appropriate. We have initiated a programme that looks to provide both a blue skies ‘discovery engine’ as well as applied research and development – and with checkpoints along the way that ensure the work will provide useful and implementable solutions.

Policy has always led the way for reaping the benefits of the digital era. Government has committed to providing significant funding and support to the Construction Innovation Hub and other closely co-ordinated programmes as part of the Transforming Construction Challenge. The recommendations put forward by the BIM task group and the National Infrastructure Commission’s Data for the Public Good have already led to positive change. The work of CDBB’s Digital Framework Task Group to deliver the National Digital Twin Programme is proceeding apace to deliver the Roadmap – a series of stepping stones that will take us on the journey towards a future where data can be shared securely and resiliently to provide benefits to all. 

We also have an industry that is impatient to take advantage of the digital transformation. Organisations can see the immediate and longer-term benefits of using digital tools and technologies and are adapting and adopting fast in response. CDBB has recently commissioned Northumbria University to report on BIM Maturity and Benefits and we have had a huge response to our call for input. Industry is also changing itself. At National Digital Twin Day, an event delivered in partnership with ICE, we saw a wide range of innovative start-up and SMEs providing solutions and support for Digital Twins (DTs). Data and digital also open up opportunities in other types of business – for example, new financial and legal services, procurement protocols and other businesses we haven’t even thought of yet. 

Alongside this perfect alignment, CDBB is itself aligned to MTC and BRE as part of the Construction Innovation Hub. The Hub is focussed on the promotion, research and development of new digital and manufacturing technologies for the construction industry, to create high-performing buildings and infrastructure with strong levels of safety, quality and energy performance throughout the life of those buildings. The Hub is proud to sponsor UK Construction Week and Digital Construction Week and showcase the activities we are doing, planning and supporting. 

The Construction Innovation Hub stand at UK Construction Week won the award for best stand over 100m2. However, what was more valuable than the award was seeing the level of engagement at the stand. I was also thrilled to see how the Hub’s partnership with MOBIE is encouraging the next generation to consider a career in construction – and also showcasing the various new job opportunities that the digital transformation can bring. A breakfast briefing organised by BIM4Estates, including Chris Hinton from the University of Cambridge estate, was a full house and showed how the community that they have built is massively valuable, by sharing experiences and therefore the benefits. The seminar programme was excellent with many high-profile speakers and panellists. Several sessions highlighted our work and that of our colleagues, I was particularly pleased to see how the focus was towards delivering better value and quality, rather than just ‘cheaper and faster’.

The Construction Innovation Hub theatre at DCW showcases content from the Hub and external speakers. We are also taking part in debates on the main stage with our Hub and Transforming Construction Challenge colleagues. On our stand visitors can learn more about the Hub by using our virtual demonstrator and by talking to our colleagues involved in delivering the various programmes of work. And finally, a workshop led by Keith Waller, Programme Lead for the Hub, will explore how value-based procurement tools can drive the adoption of a digital manufacturing approach to construction. While many tools and methodologies exist for evaluating the social, environmental and economic impact of the built environment, there is no single tool that supports a holistic value-based approach to procurement. We will be asking participants to help us to develop a new digital tool which will support outcomes-based decision-making in new asset procurement.

The construction industry is transforming, it is happening now and it has real momentum. CDBB and the Hub are actively supporting this transformation and we are grateful for the opportunity that our events and activities provide to talk to people about what we are doing, get honest feedback and spark discussions that lead us into new areas and opportunities. I am proud of all that we have achieved so far and excited to be at the forefront of a forward-thinking programme with a genuine focus on ensuring that the benefits are ultimately delivered to people and our environment’