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Sweco’s Andrew Krebs becomes Chair of CIBSE’s Society of Digital Engineering

We’re extremely proud that Sweco UK Building Performance Digital Manager Andrew Krebs has been elected as Chair to this critical and respected industry body. Here, he sets out his vision for plugging ‘Digital’ into the Heart of the Built Environment.

Les Copeland has been the Chair of the SDE since it’s inception in 2017, a product of Les’ vision, amongst others, and since then Les has guided it from just that; nothing but a vision to a solid functioning entity with the world at its feet.

No matter what comes for the Society hereafter, we owe Les a fundamental debt and I hope that he will look back with no small amount of pride at his achievements.

This year sees a few members of the exec stepping back into civilian life, Carl Collins who has been our secretary since I can remember and who will still be involved heavily with the working groups, Ben Roberts and Issy Smith who have both been foundational members working behind the scenes. We owe them all our gratitude for their immense amount of work.

The past few years have been both a challenge and a boon to the society, the obvious boon being the world-wide realisation that when instability hit and things became uncertain, it was digital that provided the answer to many of society’s problems and the general realisation that digital is no longer something flashy to aspire to, but the foundation which enables us. This is of incalculable value, and we must never lose sight of it.

The difficulties have been rather well documented for us all over the past 2 years, and the SDE was no exception. For a young society, the challenges were particularly manifest yet despite that, and as Matt Crunden will show us shortly, work has continued apace on vital elements of our digital foundation.

I think it’s fair to say that over the past wee while, communication of what work has been going on has diminished, largely due to the voluntary nature of what we do, and the immense pressure that the past couple of years has put on everyone.

How we will respond to these difficulties, I will come onto shortly, but what it gives us now though, is a platform to move forward from and the efforts which have built that platform may never be truly appreciated.

When deciding on the way forward for something, it’s probably a good idea to figure out what it is there for in the first place. So to look at our website seems a good place to start and I quote: ‘The Society of Digital Engineering has been formed to provide a home for those involved in digitising the built environment’.

It then goes on for a good bit more, but I think that captures it nicely.

‘Provide a home’ and ‘involved in digitising the built environment’ are for me the two key phrases that we need to keep in mind.

‘Provide a home’ to me means to create somewhere that people can come to feel comfortable and amongst their family. Now some of us may be related, but that’s more accidental than design, but I guess we can substitute ‘family’ for peers. That makes sense to me and I hold it at the heart of what I want to do.

Our peers come from everywhere. We all exhibit traits that others in our group don’t fully understand at times, we will challenge each other and sometimes those challenges may feel uncomfortable, it’s basic human nature. We will challenge each other in a respectful and constructive way, and most of all, celebrate these challenges so that in creating a home for everyone, we realise the strength that a truly diverse society and industry brings us, and on the way learn new things about ourselves and others.

There’s more to that than meets the eye. Some of it, not everyone may agree with, and those are the fun bits. The sentence inherently suggests a finite task. Once the built environment is digitised then that particular task is behind us. Now it’s probable that our aims and role will evolve as we succeed, and I need you to help us define what that will look like, but we have to acknowledge that our task is to finish something, not to, as a great many of our peers are excelling at, in creating a new, largely isolated, perpetual and additional workstream, which seeps value from our industry instead of enabling the existing structures to do better work faster and with greater and greater outcomes.

A true digital pioneer enters the fray knowing that they are aiming to make their role redundant as quickly as is sensible. The good thing is that there is much to do and there is life beyond each phase. But as a society, if we want to truly serve our industry, our aims must be to enable the whole industry to use digital tools, not to sit alongside doing it for them in perpetuity.

To succeed at this aim will be to enable a built environment which answers the challenges of the modern world. That is a role we should embrace unconditionally.

The last part of this sentence that I want to focus on, is entirely unwritten but is the most powerful bit. We are the only society whose remit is unbounded by discipline. We cross every aspect of building services, in actual fact we cross every aspect of the built environment. No other institution can lay claim to that, let alone a society! We must not lose sight of the importance of our position, the fundamental nature of what we do and how we are the true enablers of everything we see around us.

That CIBSE is the first institution to create a body like the SDE is prescient as building services is the sector which has the answers to the main challenges we face across the world.

It is therefore prudent to look to CIBSE and understand the direction of travel there and to do that I want to answer the CIBSE President, Kevin Mitchell’s five challenges: They are to Celebrate, Inspire, Boost, Share and Engage.

Celebrate

The industry has changed in the past few years. Digital pioneers are at the forefront of this, many of them entirely unnoticed, or at best their contributions are not understood as widely as they need to be. Our role here, is to show our industry who has been creating the success that we all rely on. The Model Managers who ensure that the data we create is fit-for-

purpose, the data scientists behind the file formats whose work enables cross-industry collaboration, the lawyers working out how to re-align the adversarial nature of our contractual processes to enable genuine collaboration, the list goes on.

Inspire

This one is obvious. Digital skills don’t come from the same old engineering factories that we are used to getting our engineers from. Our industry, and CIBSE is no exception, always talks about graduates first. Other routes are a footnote or an afterthought.

We must change this and inspire people from all backgrounds to look to construction for a fulfilling career. If we break social/economic boundaries, we will open up a rich vein of talent that is currently untapped.

We will not do that by only showing them the traditional Uni – Grad – CEng route or by making people who don’t take that route feel subordinate, or somehow in service to those who do. We must challenge the industry to re-assess what a genuine contributor looks like and what is truly important in recognising talent and success in our industry.

Boost

“Early career” doesn’t only mean engineers. The SDE must focus on creating routes into all levels of our industry for people with diverse skillsets, diverse backgrounds and different personality types.

Many of our heroes won’t be engineers, they won’t study at academic institutions, but they will create more change and more opportunities than ever before. We must work with them to define fulfilling career paths in a way which values what they are and doesn’t simply try to turn them into the standard model by hook or by crook. Diversity doesn’t mean letting anyone in and then homogenising. It means widening and celebrating the richness of your peer group, then realising the benefits to all of us that arise from doing so.

Share

We all got here one way or another. Many of us started off in non-digital roles and as the industry changed, found ourselves changing both our outlooks and that of those around us. We must tell people where we came from and how our transition occurred. We must look to those around us and encourage them to share their stories too.

Role models matter, they don’t need to look like you, or sound like you, but they need to resonate with you. Therefore, we need to encourage all our good people to show aspiring contributors what a path can look like in the hope that they will catch the eye or ear of someone who has something special to offer us.

Engage

(With your peers to share climate impact reduction knowledge) I think we can go one better. We can engage with our peers to create the change.

It’s a simple fact that we cannot methodically and systematically reduce the climate impact of the built environment without a consistent and shared/open digital data backbone. We must engage with the entire industry to lead this in the right direction.

The SDE is unique, we can have influence beyond building services to our peers around Architecture, Structures, Civils and further.

We must do this. We must bring them all together to create the digital backbone which will enable true collaboration, true learning from previous projects and a genuine ability to change the built environment using the best possible evidence. In doing so we will enrich the SDE and CIBSE’s knowledge base with a growing dataset which will get us closer and closer to the truly correct outcome every time.

 

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