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Why International Standards Matter – even in a post-Brexit world

Attitudes to the European Union (EU) range across a continuum from ardent ‘remain’ to ardent ‘leave’, but, whatever shade of opinion is expressed, there is almost universal consensus about one thing: Brexit has created great uncertainty. This has been damaging to the UK economy and to many UK-based businesses, including lots in the construction industry.

The day after the June 2016 Brexit vote, the pound suffered the biggest single day loss for a G10 currency in recorded history, hitting new lows against both the US dollar and the Euro in late 2016. This has made imports more expensive – including metals, chemicals and timber destined for construction use – and made the UK less financially attractive as a place to work (some sectors of the UK construction industry are heavily reliant upon EU migrants).

While the pound has recovered some of its losses, the continued uncertainty and rising fears of a messy exit have caused it to weaken again. And skills shortages continue to plague the sector.

Digital transformation is vital

Such political and economic uncertainty is not conducive to client investment in construction and infrastructure. Industry forecasters Glenigan and the Construction Products Association are suggesting overall construction output may only grow around one per cent in 2019 and 2020 – though, for us at eviFile, it is pleasing to hear infrastructure provision, particularly in water and rail (two of the early adopter markets of digital progressive assurance software), may outperform other segments.

However, with limited opportunities for growth, making construction more productive takes on renewed importance. Experts at McKinsey have identified that technology can make one of the biggest contributions to improved construction and engineering productivity, but the sector has historically lagged all other industries in terms of digitalisation. Manual, paper-based processes can still hamper the efficient creation, delivery and management of business-critical information about our built assets.

The need for agreed standards

Since the early 2000s, successive UK governments have been encouraging digital transformation in construction and infrastructure provision. Through building information modelling (BIM), for example, teams can collaborate more efficiently on design, construction and delivery of built assets, enabled by information technology.

The UK has become a world leader in BIM, helping formulate international standards relating to digital processes in the built environment. Application of such standards means teams can easily and quickly exchange built asset information consistently and compliantly.

The UK BIM movement has also addressed security, producing PAS 1192 Part 5 in 2015. This led to built asset security management being put firmly on the industry agenda, and we have followed ensuing debates with obvious interest – not least because eviFile is focused on providing high levels of information security when it comes to critical national infrastructure.

Regardless of the eventual Brexit outcome, many UK businesses will still need to work productively with EU-based counterparts and in the EU – so the future prosperity of all of Europe is in everybody’s best interests. And in an increasingly digital world, effective international working will also require businesses to collect and seamlessly exchange data securely, consistently and to agreed global standards.

Securing our ‘digital twins’

Whenever firms need to establish the provenance of materials or products, prove their safe delivery or show that systems have been correctly installed, using data collection, management and reporting systems that can effectively bridge international boundaries and be compliant with international standards is vital. This is particularly important when clients and their supply networks increasingly operate internationally.

Locally developed paper-based record-keeping systems are often less secure and almost always more costly, labour-intensive and time-consuming than when using electronic platforms. Moreover, they will rarely meet international verification requirements.

UK-developed technologies such as eviFile, streamline data collection in core sectors including infrastructure, construction, utilities, oil and gas – all vital international markets. By communicating reliable real-time data, we can build effective trust-based commercial relationships. This is fundamental, whether you are a politician wanting to police a trade agreement, or a major UK business wanting to prove the quality of your work.

Strong data integrity and security will increasingly underpin key business processes as we seek to build future trade in Europe and beyond. And, as BIM and other technology-enabled processes become commonplace, security will also be critical to both efficient management of the physical assets upon which we rely, and to management of the data about those assets – their digital assets.

by Luke Allen / Nick Halliday

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