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Centre for Digital Built Britain completed its five-year mission and closed its doors at the end of September 2022

This website remains as a legacy of the achievements of our five-year foundational journey towards a digital built Britain

Digital innovation brings opportunities to improve productivity and predictability in construction. Yet the sector has been slow to change. The problem is not purely technical; digital transformation is also a social, cultural, economic and political challenge. An effective solution needs to address the contributing factors that inhibit digital take-up across the construction supply chain. Researchers at the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research formed a network of industry partners to explore barriers and enablers of digital uptake, focusing on Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digitally-enabled off-site manufacturing (OSM). The research has generated essential evidence to facilitate innovation and transform construction.

Big picture

The UK has a historical under-supply of housing. Increasing building rates is necessary. In their 2017 Election Manifesto, the Conservative government pledged 1.5 million homes by 2022, and 300,000 homes per year on average by the mid-2020s. As of 2018, home-building rates only met half of the 300,000 required annually, while supply shortages contributed to making housing less affordable, sustaining the rise of the relatively insecure private rented sector (PRS) and decline of home ownership, increasing waiting times for social housing and exacerbating homelessness – issues all worsened by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The Industrial Strategy (HM Government, 2018) emphasised the need for a shift towards more innovative approaches to help tackle the crisis by building faster and cheaper to deliver affordable, energy efficient homes. To this end, the Industrial Strategy identified digital technologies, including BIM and OSM as key. Despite the promotion of these technical solutions uptake in the housing sector remains low.


Challenges facing the construction industry include low productivity, aversion to adopting new technologies, an ageing workforce, and low levels of new and skilled entrants. Other challenges include deep and recurring recessions, the fragmented nature of the industry (inhibiting collaboration, certainty and the sharing of risk), a lack of R&D and investment in innovation. 

Financial constraints on digital uptake include a lack of robust evidence to support whole-life investment decisions and demonstrate that innovation can be commercially rewarding. In addition, current housebuilding models do not provide incentives to build faster or at scale. A paradigm shift is required to move towards collaborative procurement routes, highly-coordinated design processes and early-stage design finalisation to support OSM. Low levels of coordination and complex, localised supply chains found in housing construction are barriers to BIM.

There are also organisational constraints on uptake – including resistance to change among individuals and leaders, lack of digital skills among the workforce and an absence of strategic vision – as well as barriers emerging from the public’s negative view of housing built using OSM.

The project

Led by Dr Gemma Burgess in the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, a team of CDBB researchers investigated non-technical challenges inhibiting digital uptake in the construction sector. The project sought to identify strategies for the implementation of digital transformation in organisations, and to consider the implications of and for a broad range of stakeholders including planning, insurance, finance, clients and consumers. The research aligned closely with other CDBB research projects investigating alternative business models for off-site manufacturing and how digital twins can drive business model innovation, with researchers working collaboratively to develop some joint findings.

Researchers conducted interviews with government representatives (e.g., Homes England), industry, and project delivery partners. They also developed case studies with reference to relevant policy, company and project documents, and undertook comparative surveys to document the status quo in the UK and elsewhere. Aims and objectives were formulated and refined in discussion with early adopters of digital innovation, while the research was shaped by resources from the social sciences, including neo-institutional and complexity theory. 

Learnings from this project have been published in eight peer-reviewed journal articles, a Bennett Institute report entitled “Tackling the housing crises through digital innovation and offsite manufacturing”, as well as working papers, industry guidance, and presentations available in the CDBB Knowledge Database Navigator.  

Visit the project page for more detailed information about these outputs, core findings, benefits and active stakeholders.

Meet the research team

“Although the majority of existing research into barriers to the adoption of digital innovation – such as BIM – bring focus to the technology, the barriers are primarily rooted in the social behaviour of decision makers as well as the social settings of the construction industry, rather than technical challenges. Our research identified factors common amongst successful early adopters, including leadership commitment to driving change, a strategy with realistic objectives, a ‘growing together’ capacity-building approach, trust-based client relationships, employee skills and training, and robust collaboration and communication structures. Our insights should help other stakeholders in the construction industry to innovate”

Dr Reyhaneh Shojaei

“Our research is contributing knowledge that will lead to practical changes in people and organisations as we transform our construction industry.”

Dr Kwadwo Oti-Sarpong

Lead: Dr Gemma Burgess, Principal Research Associate and Acting Director of the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research, University of Cambridge

Team: Dr Reyhaneh Shojaei, Dr Kwadwo Oti-Sarpong, Research Associates at the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning.


To learn more about the process, outcomes and impact of this research, visit the project page.

Ongoing research in this domain is reported at

Need to know

  • More than a third of construction projects in the UK overrun on time (40 per cent) or budget (35 per cent)
  • Construction is second to last in the ranking of sectors that are least digitalised
  • While off-site methods are associated with a 50 per cent reduction in the project costs and 30 per cent increase in project lead time, just 7 per cent of UK construction is currently undertaken in this way.