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Data sharing will transform construction

Senior leaders from the UK construction industry and data experts came together to discuss how the sector could be radically reformed through improved collaboration – and sharing of company and industry data.

Hosted by framework provider Pagabo, roundtable attendees discussed key shifts in the construction industry that are needed to transform and improve hot topics such as health and safety, productivity, SMEs, skills and training, and the green agenda.

Attendees included Ann Bentley, global board director at Rider Levett Bucknall; Dave Newitt, CEO of data centre giant Yondr; Gareth Parkes, head of data and analytics at Sir Robert McAlpine and board member of Construction Data Trust; James Butler, managing director at Faithful+Gould; John Waterman, COO at Willmott Dixon; Jon James, managing director UK Construction at ISG; Martin Ward, co-founder at Construct.ID; Paul Tremble, chief strategy officer at WSP; Quam Adewale, industry strategy lead – built environment at Microsoft; Rab Scott, director of industrial digitalisation at The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre; Rob Byrnes, business support director and head of frameworks at VINCI Building; Steffan Speer, technical director at Morgan Sindall and Charley Wainwright, the future of construction lead at Pagabo.

Gerard Toplass, group CEO The 55 Group and Pagabo, organised the session – and talked about the need for a ‘black box’ moment for the construction industry.

He said: “Technology has democratised a lot of things and gives us a huge opportunity. Lots of other industries and businesses have experienced massive booms because of their willingness to share data. Just think about e-commerce and the amount of information businesses like Amazon holds on its customers, combining with AI to create the best experiences and value for consumers.

“Construction businesses are often quick to try and gatekeep – and protect – their data. They predominantly make decisions based on only their own information, fostering a one-dimensional approach and ultimately slowing everything down significantly. This combines with slow-to-change attitudes and an industry full of more archaic industry bodies.”

Toplass talked about a need to encourage leading contractors and consultants to put competition to one side, and instead really collaborate – sharing data across organisations in order to understand what is happening in the industry, and how a real step change could radically improve the way things are currently done.

John Waterman said: “I have been a COO for several years and every year for me is about driving change, understanding how we can improve company services, alter our culture for the good of our people. What we are talking about today is among the things I am trying to do at Willmott Dixon.

“I absolutely agree that data sharing among the industry is vital for change. Every organisation needs to scrutinise the data for our own business and see what it is telling us – but then this data should be shared. We can then learn how productive we are as an industry, what the movement is in our businesses.

“I don’t think there is even an argument against for this. You have to start the journey – and we are now at the beginning of that journey. I think we need to decide which data we start with. Let’s start experimenting and health and safety is a great starting point. For me, it’s about ‘bite size’ pieces – dealing with data in chunks and starting small. Let’s not try and tackle everything at once.”

Rob Byrnes, business support director at VINCI Building, said: “Data drives change and publishing data about our industry is vital to transform the construction sector. Health and safety for example is an area that would benefit hugely if all contractors shared and analysed their data. It’s for the greater good of the industry and we should all support it.”

Toplass added: “We at Pagabo want to bring organisations together to discuss these topics – and come up with a collaborative plan where we can all work across the industry, sharing data and getting the best outcomes for our people and our projects.”

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