Building with vision

From foundations to frontiers, data is transforming the digital estate.
Digital technology is helping make better, safer, greener buildings. How far has Scotland still to go on that journey? 

The construction world is being reshaped by digital technology. Greater understanding of the data behind the design is leading to higher standards of infrastructure than ever before. At the centre of this transformation is building information modelling (BIM), which is enabling construction firms, architects, contractors and companies from right across the supply chain, to gather better data, work closer together – even enabling design problems to be fixed almost before they’ve occurred. 

The early adopters are already demonstrating how successful adoption of BIM can be, aiding construction and reducing inefficiencies, with leading lights such as David Miller Architects showing the way forward. 

But how far has the rest of the industry come? This was the topic of debate at FutureScot’s Public Sector Asset and Estates Management conference in February. Experts from the private and public sector gathered to discuss both how well the foundations were being put in place, as well as the frontiers which lay ahead. 

Graham H Stewart, digital director at consultancy Digital Guerrilla, who attended the conference, said BIM requires a ‘leap of faith’ and not everybody is quite so keen to take it yet. 

He said: “You do need to put a lot of effort into that at the beginning,” he said. “It takes that vision and leap of faith to actually invest. Maybe a lot of tier 1s and tier 2s are up to speed, and a lot of architects and engineers, but even then there are pockets of excellence, it’s not the entire organisation.” 

He added: “The whole industry needs to upskill and with many of Scotland’s SMEs having five employees or less, it’s a massive task of how to get that expertise and knowledge, how to get all the hardware and software.  

“It will take 10 to 20 years to embed in the industry and start seeing the real benefits.” 

One of the speakers at the event, Paul Dodd, Head of Infrastructure Technology at the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), said the majority of presentations highlighted the opportunities, and the challenges, which faced the industry. 

He said: “Across the spectrum, from foundation to frontiers, there are lots of exciting examples and applications we’re seeing and that’s great in terms of solving distinct challenges.“However, how we bring that together into a holistic organisational oversight and start to bring these different technologies in, to gather wider insight is probably where the greater challenge lies.” 

SFT leads the implementation of BIM for the Scottish Government and Dodd said the conference was an excellent showcase of work within the public sector – with the work of Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Canals and the NHS all prominent examples. He said: “It shone a light on the momentum that is being made by public bodies. There’s a lot to do – but by continuing to share and collaborate we can help everybody move forward.” 

Other presentations included Morag Angus, the Scottish Government’s chief surveyor, who highlighted the contribution that planning the digital estate has to play in tackling climate change. The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland released a report earlier this year which underlined the importance of infrastructure in tackling both ‘the climate emergency’ and creating an inclusive growth economy. 

Meanwhile, the conference offered up different perspectives from varied companies, including how Heathrow Airport had pulled together many disparate systems into one, while Historic Environment Scotland, demonstrated how digital technologies were also being applied to some of the country’s oldest and most historic buildings.