Is the building sector 20-years behind IT?

I had a Covid moment in late 2020. After spending an 18-year career in IT (Aus and UK) across various roles, I always thought that I could make it as a Business Development Manager.  Jumping into a digital engineering consultancy focused on the building and construction industry did not seem that much of a stretch. How wrong I was.  I think I reached ground zero after a solid ten months of adaptation, learning, reading, writing commercial bids and meeting new clients and partners.

What I mean about reaching ground zero refers to the level of ‘unlearning’ required, the shifting of my preconceived ideas about an industry. This is the second time this has happened to me… I started a retail business when I was 23 in London, 8-months in running that business, everything I thought I knew about retail required redefining. The same thing happened again moving into the construction industry this year.

From the start of my IT career, I was fortunate enough to start when TCP/IP had been decided as the standard communications protocol for networking. Windows was the business operating system of choice, MS Exchange Email was the mail server for 80% of the world’s businesses and similarly SQL DB for data analysis and data storage. The world I was trained for was one built on standards for communications, data storing and analysis. My career change into the construction industry over 2021 has highlighted to me how big a challenge this industry faces in going down the path of digital engineering and digital transformation.  It seems to me the problem is quite immense because of the lack of smart building standards. The technology used in construction looks like it is 20 years behind the IT space.

I could rattle off a page of IT-centric acronyms of hardware and software systems I have implemented over the last 18 years, which all follow the same communications principle of the Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI model). I have used this model nearly every week to solve thousands of IT issues. Why? The best and brightest minds in Government R&D and academia got together in the 70s and 80s to define how computers, email servers, databases, and operating systems should talk to each other using a common approach.

The construction industry is rife with vertically integrated vendor systems and software, all proclaiming that they have invented the best approach for building technology, data handling, data ingestion, data process, control and communications.  If this was true, where is the Apple or Microsoft of the smart building technology world?  One of the reasons I joined Buildings Evolved is that they have been actively participating on the world stage, shaping the needed standards under the UN IEA Annex in smart building standards in partnership with 30 other academic institutes around the world.  The calibre of people in this group is world-class and inspiring.

I look forward to the next generation of professionals in the construction industry benefiting from this work.  One day soon, someone in their 20s will move from building to building optimising buildings with the latest quantum computing algorithm, because it all runs on common smart building standards. Between now and then it will take money, grit, a sound investment, new technology, training, and most importantly committed people within organisations to make the changes needed to reach this goal.

Feel free to call me and talk technology strategy any time and thanks for reading. Cheers, Lindsay.

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