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Analysis

Building a European digital platform for the construction industry

27 June 2018 | By Angelo Ciribini

Angelo Ciribini, professor of architecture, DICATAM, Università degli Studi di Brescia in Italy, explains how a new manifesto aims to create a Europe-wide digital platform.

In February this year the European construction industry moved closer to its vision of a common European digital construction strategy.

Four organisations of major industries (Committee of European Construction Equipment (CECE), Construction Products Europe, European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) and European Builders Conferation) got together on this topic at the highest political level and invited their respective members and other partners to attend a digital construction seminar on 22 February, 2018 in Brussels, as part of the European Industry Day.

Since then the project has moved on and earlier this month CECE and most of the major European construction industry associations joined forces to draft and agree on the “European Construction Industry Manifesto for Digitalisation”.

The Manifesto calls for strong political leadership from the EU, an appropriate regulatory framework on data policy and budgetary focus on digital skills, R&D and IT infrastructure.

The philosophy behind the project is that the construction industry can help build a stronger economy and an inclusive society by sustaining its competitiveness on the global stage.

The European Construction Industry Manifesto for Digitalisation underlines the importance of an effective regulation to ensure the sector’s competitiveness and adoption of the digital transformation.

But how might the notion of “platform” be defined? Obviously, there are various options and ways that can be chosen which seem fit for the purpose.

The first strand lies with conceiving the platform as a knowledge base capable of hosting guidelines, best practices, tools and devices, in a way which makes them affordable to SMEs.

Another path to be followed is that of devising a sort of mechanism able to allow the players (clients, practictioners, manufacturers, dealers, contractors, etc) to perform some tasks by means of a common data environment (for example, preparing a bill of quantities, or obtaining a building permit).

A digital eco-system could also perform as a marketplace or an e-(public) procurement mechanism. However, the most fascinating and interesting opportunity is tied to the notion of “configurator”: some clues have been already provided by Bryden Wood and the Digital Built Britain Strategy, dealing with the gap occurring between manufacturers and contractors, within a wider, integrated, supply chain.

The platform should be nurtured and fostered by special computational combinations, triggering a process which starts with the site’s digital survey and ending to smart relationships concerning offsite building and HVAC sensorised components to be on real time digitally manufactured, delivered and assembled – as well as smartly contracted and paid through a Blockchained approach.

It does entail that these prefabricated components (to be hired or rented instead of sold?), within the comprehensive paradigm regarding the cognitive built assets, might dramatically contribute to transform such assets as service provision-related tools over the life cycles and its own designers, manufacturers and contractors, allianced together with the ICT companies and public utilities, as providers of living services.

What the manifesto says

Digitalisation is fundamental to EU policy goals

That to remain competitive, the European Union must transform itself digitally. The construction sector, being an integral part of the European economy – 8.9% of GDP and more than 14 million jobs overall – must embrace the digital transformation across the entire value chain.

Digitalisation of the construction industry responds to the sector’s main challenges such as lack of skilled workforce, energy efficiency, lagging productivity, sustainability and many others.

Building on Europe’s strength in the field of engineering and design, a strong network facilitating transfer of knowledge, expertise and capabilities needs to be put in place at the European level.

Image: Giampaolo Squarcina/Dreamstime.com