If we’re going to manage data effectively, we need construction professionals to take a data-first approach, says Maria Hudson.
Regulatory compliance is a phrase that seems to be on the tip of every tongue across UK construction. In the last few years, we’ve seen a sea change, with landmark legislation sweeping away many outdated practices, introducing a new benchmark towards a brighter, more accountable era for the sector.
For example, with the requirements of the new Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) being introduced in earnest, and secondary legislation and new provisions coming into force, such as the Higher Risk Buildings Regulations, alongside Gateways 2 and 3, the public and political spotlight is on contractors and asset owners to comply.
Anyone who has worked to meet requirements of new regulation before knows that it’s not a simple task, especially when you take the industry’s legacy processes and structural challenges into account. If you factor in the current economic climate, supply chain and labour strains, as well as technical competency that exist within the market today, then there is an added complexity of rolling new processes out to comply. In fact, it’s not so much the regulation requirements in themselves, but the perfect storm of these compounding events which is putting on the pressure.
“It’s no wonder many are in a tailspin, without a clear path toward compliance, let alone a data and technology strategy or a programme to educate staff on what’s needed and why it’s important.”
And it’s not just building safety and fire protection that are facing scrutiny, there are a number of other legal hoops companies need to jump through. Possibly the highest profile of these is Parts F and L of the Future Homes Standard and Regulation 40, and the requirement of the latter for thorough photographic evidence to demonstrate how a building is constructed and materials and technology used, which is a pretty sizeable undertaking.
From tailspin to action
With so much to consider, it’s no wonder many are in a tailspin, without a clear path toward compliance, let alone a data and technology strategy or a programme to educate staff on what’s needed and why it’s important.
The time has come for asset owners, developers and contractors to put their collective houses in order. Those that don’t meet requirements and are not compliant can expect the full weight of the law to come down on them if they cannot show they’re putting the right processes in place to satisfy the regulator.
A key component of Building Safety Act compliance, as an example, is having complete, whole-life asset information, from planning to handover. However, making sure the right information is available to the right person when they need it can be a real headache. Yet it needs to be addressed, and now. Even the smallest information gap within a data set can have a significant knock-on effect and bring the risk of slowing projects down further.
Of course, there are online platforms that exist to help track down data, log it, manage it, and keep it up to date, but like any tool, they’re only as good as the people using them. The human factor is often overlooked in all this, but it’s incredibly important, as it’s the other side of the digital coin and a root cause of why data and information gaps can occur in the first place. Essentially, if your team has not been instilled with a data-first approach, then it’s hardly surprising when crucial information needed further down the line is overlooked.
“Organisations could enthuse staff by incentivising them to spot potential data gaps. After all, achieving compliance doesn’t always have to be all stick and no carrot.”
Data is king
This is why it’s now so important to foster a culture where building data is king, and digital assets have as much value as physical ones. After all, the physical property can only be occupied once the digital data and key information that supports it is complete and correct.
It’s not easy. People, especially when they’ve been working in an organisation for a long time with a specific set of processes, get into established workflows and cycles that can be difficult to break. This is why complete overhauls done overnight rarely work, and technology is left to sit getting dusty on the shelf. You need to bring people with you and get them to feel like they’re invested in this important process. It requires a piecemeal approach, with incremental steps that invite and educate, as well as ensure understanding as to why.
Demonstrate the benefits
Probably the easiest way to overcome these mental barriers is to directly show how the introduction of these platforms can not only benefit the organisation but also provides advantages to individual persons within the workforce. For example, not only will the employee feeding into the tool be playing an active role in safeguarding the business, but also the automation and functionality these systems offer will reduce their admin time, freeing them up to do higher-value tasks.
Going further, organisations could enthuse staff by incentivising them to spot potential data gaps and develop ways in which to close them. After all, achieving compliance doesn’t always have to be all stick and no carrot. What’s clear, though, is that as an industry, we need to invest in people as much as the adoption of technology to achieve that still-elusive golden thread of information and make data gaps a thing of the past.
Given that falling out of compliance with fire safety regulations carries an unlimited fine, equipping teams with the mindset to understand the data they have and eradicate data gaps makes commercial sense. With margins squeezed to their tightest, every penny counts. So risking falling foul of the regulator and damaging your business, all because you didn’t do your data due diligence, is not a place any of us wants to be.
Maria Hudson is chief marketing officer at Zutec.
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