Project Engineer, UL

August 13, 2021

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The vital role of digitalisation in construction and property management

Simon Ince expands on why new legislation will make the digitalisation of building safety and property management processes increasingly vital in an industry that is currently behind the curve.

The “golden thread of information” is now a very familiar term for everyone involved in the built environment here in the UK.

Made up of information from design through construction and into occupation, the golden thread comprises everything required to manage a property safely.

“45% of estate teams spend one-quarter of their time managing and organising data – a huge chunk of time equivalent to two to three months every year.”

To satisfy the golden thread, the implementation of the Building Safety Act will require accountable persons and building safety managers to implement digital systems for record keeping, information monitoring, sharing and compliance for high rise residential buildings and any other buildings in scope. All aspects of design, construction, handover, asset management and emergency response should be recorded and made available in digital format.

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But many parts of the construction and property industries are traditionally behind the curve when it comes to digitalisation of their products, policies or processes. Digitalisation is weak compared to other sectors, with a recent UL study revealing more than two in five (42%) property managers consulted are still using spreadsheets or paper-based processes.

This means there’s a significant and highly dangerous risk of red flags being missed, and vital documents or information not being available when needed.

How, for example, will building safety managers effectively monitor and meet all safety-critical work? How will they know all staff are sufficiently trained and capture such records?

This becomes even more tricky when there’s an extensive estate to manage. All safety critical systems, passive and active fire safety measures across a portfolio must be in sound working order with up-to-date inspections and certifications. It is essential stakeholders must know when building products, installations or systems are going to reach end of life. These are moral and legal imperatives.

And while digitalisation will help to meet legal obligations and provide peace of mind to residents and users, it will also vastly improve operational performance.

The UL study showed that 45% of estate teams spend one-quarter of their time managing and organising data – a huge chunk of time equivalent to two to three months every year.

A move away from paper-based or manual systems, including spreadsheets, towards automated digital systems will see this time slashed. It will also help to improve decision making – 28% of property managers said one of their greatest challenges at work is a lack of quality data to enable timely decisions. In a safety-critical situation, this could mean all the difference in avoiding a crisis.

Over the coming two to three years, in the face of the forthcoming regulations, I expect estate teams across the country will start to realise the benefits of fully digitalising their information and workflow; we’re already seeing some organisations appointing building safety managers, who will be flying the flag for digital tools.

It’s vital that they do, and now’s the time to catch up in advance of the Building Safety Bill’s supporting legislation becoming law. High-profile safety incidents demonstrate why this is so important, but regulators will also be demanding it of us in the very near future.

While the new regulations will only apply to buildings in scope, I’m confident that, as organisations and teams get to grips with their new technologies and start to consider how they can apply best practice across their whole portfolios, we’ll see them put to good use for better management of wide ranges of residential and high-use non-domestic buildings.

Certainly the desire is there from those on the ground – 53% believe the latest workplace technology would make them more productive.

Digital partners needed

Currently in prototype phase, UL is developing a digital tool to help accountable persons and building safety managers meet compliance, and is seeking partner organisations to help test and develop it, while also digitalising their information for free.

Built InForm has been designed to track and manage the golden thread of information, including building features, certification, testing schedules, professional competencies and other activities across single buildings or whole portfolios. The data will be available in accessible form to key stakeholders such as regulators and residents whenever required or requested.

If your organisation is exploring its digitalisation options, email [email protected]

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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