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BIM and the future of digital construction: 5 predictions for Information Management

How robots will make the built environment more human-centric

Sweco author: Andrew Krebs, Building Performance Digital Manager

Future gazing is an art which many say is fraught with danger, but I would say contains no danger, because danger only exists where there is a risk of an unpredictable outcome. The outcome to future gazing is always the same. The gazer is wrong. That is a simple fact.

Those in the futurology business generally observe the following modes:

a) Look at a new trend (often one they have a direct interest in) and say that this will become the norm

b) Declare that we are all in trouble for X reason (often followed by a sales pitch for the remedy)

c) Retrofit a lesson from history onto today’s context (and then, often again follow it up with a sales pitch for the remedy

The fact that the gazer will ultimately be wrong does not mean there is no value in the exercise, to the contrary, the cynic may say that it helps narrow down the list of possible outcomes by discounting each vaunted concept one at a time, or we may see elements within predictions which have useful insight. Thus, to predict the future of information management it seems reasonable to take a mixture of the three modes, without the sales pitch, and see where we get to.

This brings me to the following 5 predictions where information management is concerned:

1. Information itself will increase in value

2. Graphical representation of models will become more niche

3. Visualisation techniques will become ubiquitous

4. The roles demographic of our industry will change wildly

5. Engineers will set the scene for robots and assess the outcome


  1. 1. Information itself will increase in value

This may seem blindingly obvious to many, maybe to the point of it not being worth including in such an article as this, as we have been saying this for decades and watching it happen for a similar amount of time. But just because it isn’t new, doesn’t mean it isn’t important to keep aforethought when we decide on how to set ourselves and our businesses up for the future.

There is a caveat though. My first point should really read: “Good Information Will Increase in Value”.

This is the information age, and there is information around us in heaps. The problem we currently face is in discriminating good information from poor quality, obsolete or even maliciously incorrect information. Furthermore, we need to challenge ourselves when presented with data to ensure that we correctly interpret that data into useful and unbiased information. We all know that if you have a theory, you can generally find data somewhere to back that theory up. The problem now isn’t finding information, it’s forming conclusions which are accurate, faithful and unbiased. To do that we need to be prepared to revel in the art of making errors.

We need to value our engineers when they try something, and it doesn’t work. Expecting outcomes to be successful every time will simply mean that we game the system and create the illusion of correctness. But reality will be dangerously different.

Let our people drop the odd clanger. It will save our businesses in the long run.

  1. 2. Graphical representation of models will become more niche

Ok, again, we have been saying this for ages, drawings are out with the Ark. We don’t need them anymore, etcetera.

That is fine for the Tier 1 contractors who have large budgets to spend on high-tech equipment, but ask any consultant, architect or other information originator, they are still pumping our huge quantities of drawings, pdfs and such like to be reproduced on paper on site for installation and checking.

The reasons for this are too myriad to go into in detail at this juncture, but to sum up a few, most of the supply chain cannot afford the tech required to allow them to work in a zero drawing manner and humans are paying for the design and want to be able to dip in and understand it.

Am I arguing against my own point? No. Graphical representation of models will always be with us in one form or another, but their ubiquity will diminish, it is diminishing.

Yes, these tools are out the reach of a vast amount of the supply chain today, but we all know that today’s cutting-edge tech becomes tomorrow’s stocking filler, it is just a case of how long it takes for tomorrow to come.

Zero drawing projects already exist. Every large consultancy has one, Sweco’s is the Randselva Bridge in Norway, a truly exciting piece of engineering and a real credit to those who saw the philosophy through from concept to delivery. Even in such a cutting-edge project there still are, as there needs to be, graphical representations of the model abound in these projects.

3D renders, 4D timelining, fly throughs, walkthroughs, VR, AR, MR. You name it. Graphics will not disappear. Humans will still need to experience a design before being happy enough to say “Yes, go ahead and build this please.” But the current obsession with 1980s CAD rendering technology is already disappearing. 2D plans will retire with those who insist on them and the hardware capability to install or verify based on a computerised rendering as opposed to a paper is gradually becoming accessible.

All we need now is the widespread use of non-proprietary data formats to make the frankly usurious software licence costs which currently stifle progress in our industry, irrelevant.

  1. 3. Visualisation techniques will become ubiquitous

We all have a story where we were struggling to convince a client or another stakeholder that our mad idea was the one they really wanted, and we found a genius to whip us up a beautiful image or fly-through which blew the doubters away.

Engineers have always struggled to portray their functional or even artistic vision. My eureka moment was a lighting design for a hospital atrium in my home city. It wasn’t until some very clever colleagues of mine created an interactive lightsim to show the contractor why my idea was better than theirs, and demonstrate the same to the client, that it was even considered. Back then it took two people a week of hard work to create something, admittedly that was something quite special, for the time lightsims were revolutionary and to the uninitiated, almost unfathomably exciting.

Today we have an array of tools which take design models and make them look excellent with decreasing effort. Today it still takes time and dedication to be truly good at visualisation, but anyone who has been with the art since, say, the Noughties to present day will attest that what took a genius a week a decade ago now takes a pretty focused individual just a few hours today. This rate of progress is fantastic, but it comes with a warning, that those who think they can sell run-of-the-mill design visualisations will soon find themselves looking very ordinary, with their client base diminishing as better and better functionality becomes the norm – and a more readily available norm at that.

To continue to make serious money out of visualisation will involve a true dedication to understanding what clients need. The quality of the visual cannot continue to improve as the human eye only has so much ability to discern, so the improvements will be in storytelling and presenting data at the right time, in the right place and to the right people. The art of our industry will move away from being a visual art to a sociological one, automating our visualisations will make our work more human. Hold that thought.

  1. 4. The roles demographic of our industry will change wildly

“He is saying the same stuff we have been saying for ages” I hear you cry. Maybe with the accompanying muse that “Recycling is great for the environment, but not ideal for journalism.”

We have indeed been saying for years that the demographics in construction will change, and in various ways they are. Not always fast enough and not always for the right reasons, but changing, they are.

However, what we have been doing to this point is bringing in different groups of people and then turning them merely into not-so-digital drones.

This is because our methods of design and delivery have only in the last five or so years, started to truly alter from those paradigms set out in the mid-20th century with drawing boards and filing cabinets.

Even when BIM first arrived, we used it as a way of creating 2D sheets from 3D models and then filling filing cabinets with only 66.6% of the design information we created. Not a good start. Luckily that is changing and with that the data we create is becoming more and more key.

Where we have a data-oriented design, we have better ways of getting the best out of that data than a tired engineer sat staring at it, stroking their increasingly weary chin and trying to figure out the best possible answer. Instead of scribbling on a drawing pad or CAD screen, we will have engineers who will code their way out of design problems. We already do, they are just in a minority and their leaders are often too scared of what they have created to trust their infinitely better designs.

The roles demographic will change. The roles will no longer be what we are all used to, humans iterating through options using their cunning and nous built up over decades of staying late in the office eating limp pizza.

Instead the engineer’s role will be to define the design philosophy, set the success criteria and either deploy or develop an automation/robot to iterate through a number of design options which is orders of magnitude higher than that which a human or team of humans can do, and then present the best array of options to the engineer who then uses their decades of cunning to assess the various successful potential outcomes and bring the one which best suits the human-centric needs of the project.

By using robots, we will be able to put the human experience back at the centre of our built environment. Who would have bet on that?

  1. 5. Engineers will set the scene for robots and assess the outcome

Ah, wait…we already covered that. And the future is therefore bright for us, in my opinion.