Digital construction: cult or culture?

31 October 2018 | By Sarah Fox

Rik Trottier/Dreamstime.com

Sarah Fox worries that digital construction is becoming a secretive world, where the industry’s rank and file fear to tread.

Sarah Fox

Digital construction has its leaders and followers, but are they creating their own cult, enforcing their vision, or bringing true cultural change into the industry?

The difference between a cult and culture is not to do with the technology used, the language spoken or the behaviours demonstrated. The nub is whether the rules are imposed from above – by a leader or by government – or created by the members themselves.

At times it can feel like those involved in digital construction are part of a secret society, and if you don’t know the password you can’t enter. Instead of opening up construction to the current amazing pace of change and innovation, it creates a world into which mere mortals fear to tread.

Yet we desperately need individuals to be free to trigger innovation and change: to challenge the normal ways of working and to lead those who are unsure on this journey of discovery. We cannot allow digital to become a cult. It’s just too important.

The construction industry already has its own culture – the intangible glue that ensures a project team works towards completion, project after project. Culture is the way we work together. The rules of behaviour are set by each project team.

However, there are signs of immaturity in the industry’s culture – poor payment practices, fingers of blame, risk dumping, contractual bullying and professions designed to protect members at the expense of others.

Our biggest barrier to a digital construction industry is neither the technology itself nor the cornucopia of jargon used to discuss that technology – it is our conduct. Digital construction and BIM require collaboration.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires standards to provide a common understanding of what needs to happen and when. It requires contracts to describe the digital procedures required to create the physical project and its digital twin. It requires users to contribute to the debate and set the new ground rules.

In short, we all need to get involved.

Sarah Fox is author and founder of contracts business 500 Words

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