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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hamer

Reflecting on Digital Construction Week: Emerging Technologies and the Rise of Startups

Reflecting on Digital Construction Week: Emerging Technologies and the Rise of Startups

The recently concluded Digital Construction Week (DCW) event left an indelible impression on me, albeit somewhat vague, which I have found challenging to decipher. The confluence of various technologies, topics, and trends discussed was indeed broad, reflecting the expansive scope of the construction sector. Yet, despite this vast panorama, no grand revelations stood out as the central theme of the event.

Over the years, walking away from such expos with a vivid sense of the leading-edge technology du jour has been commonplace. From cloud computing to big data, from the Internet of Things to 3D printing, CDE to digital twins and digital twins to metaverse, there has always been a sense of the 'next big thing.' But this time, it felt different.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was on the lips of many, occupying numerous stages and provoking engaging discussions on the implications of the Building Safety Act. However, it was different from the headline act I'd anticipated. The AI spotlight will have to wait until next year.

Yet, amid this complex mosaic of topics, one trend struck a chord: the remarkable surge of startups. These innovative ventures provide highly specialized solutions to address intricate problems. Their approaches, often leveraging AI, suggest that the construction sector is experiencing a subtle yet steady shift towards digital transformation despite its perceived laggardness in embracing technology.

This phenomenon may reflect the industry's awakening to its acute need for technology. Traditionally beset by project delivery delays and budget overruns, the construction sector is beginning to understand the value proposition offered by these technology-focused startups. They tackle these endemic challenges head-on, proposing solutions promising efficiency and predictability.

The digital ecosystem within the construction sector is expanding at an accelerating pace, which, while promising, isn't without its pitfalls. Two Achilles' heels are emerging in this evolving landscape.

The first concern is the availability of data, a pivotal ingredient for AI to thrive. With sufficient, high-quality data, the effectiveness and accuracy of AI-driven solutions are significantly maintained.

The second challenge revolves around data interoperability, the seamless data exchange and integration among disparate systems. This is paramount for establishing a centralized data repository that aligns with the Building Safety Act's compliance requirements.

The DCW provided an opportunity for thought-provoking dialogue with industry experts, such as Nick Nisbet, fondly known as "Mr IFC," and a representative from Finland. An intriguing revelation during these discussions was Finland's decision to mandate Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) within the next two years. IFCs are a neutral and open specification for Building Information Modelling (BIM) data intended to be interoperable, fostering collaboration and data exchange across different software applications.

This development in Finland sparked speculation on the potential for broader European Union (EU) adoption of IFCs. Considering the EU's precedent for technological standardization initiatives, as witnessed at the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), a pan-EU endorsement of IFCs might not be far-fetched.

In retrospect, this emerging prominence of IFCs, despite not being the anticipated highlight, may well have been my most significant takeaway from the DCW event. The potential for IFCs to underpin a standardized, interoperable data framework within the construction industry could be a transformative step. While the DCW did not provide a eureka moment about a ground-breaking technology, it offered a sobering and exciting glimpse into the maturing digital ecosystem of the construction sector.

In summary, the DCW was a microcosm of the ongoing evolution within the construction industry. The burgeoning number of startups indicates the increasing interplay between technology and construction, signifying the sector's shift towards digital solutions to address its long-standing issues. Although no technology trend dominated the event, the discussions and developments around AI and data-related challenges offered significant insights into the industry's trajectory.

The growth of AI-based solutions, fuelled by the rise of startups, is an encouraging trend. It shows the sector's readiness to exploit new technologies to overcome persistent problems such as project delays and budget overruns. Yet, the success of these initiatives will largely depend on how effectively the industry can address data availability and interoperability issues, which are currently seen as the primary roadblocks.

The anticipated government mandate on IFCs in Finland, and potentially across the EU, signifies a significant step towards data standardization and interoperability in the construction sector. This development could pave the way for a more integrated and collaborative industry where data flows seamlessly across different systems, enhancing efficiency and project outcomes.

Interestingly, the event's seeming lack of a 'big bang' takeaway could indicate the industry's transition from a phase of sporadic, disconnected technological adoptions to a more mature stage of consistent, integrated digital transformation. The absence of a single standout technology might suggest that the industry is moving beyond the allure of individual 'next big things' towards a more holistic, systematic approach to digitalization.

The rise of startups, the growing awareness of the need for comprehensive data strategies, and the recognition of IFCs' potential all point towards an industry that is increasingly aware of its technological needs and potential. As such, the main takeaway from the event might not be about a specific technology or trend but the industry's ongoing transformation.

In closing, while the DCW may not have delivered a singular, earth-shattering revelation, it reflected the ongoing evolution within the construction industry. It highlighted the sector's increasing alignment with technology, signalling an era where digital transformation is not merely an option but a necessity. As the industry embraces this transformation, events like DCW will remain critical platforms for dialogue, collaboration, and innovation, enabling a future where technology and construction are inseparable partners in building a better world.


Andy Hamer BA (Hons) Marketing Engineering FCIM

Building a business based on disruptive technologies can be a challenging task; I'm passionate about helping customers find solutions to improve their businesses and increase profitability while minimizing risk.

With a proven track record of delivering disruptive technologies to market in the UK and globally, my diverse portfolio of experience in commercial, sales, marketing, and operations allows me to offer consultancy services that align businesses for success.

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