Think back 25 years to 1992 — before medical science took over this was considered half a lifetime.
Now answer honestly, how much progress has our industry made? How far has it advanced compared with the tremendous advancement in technology and the digital world?
People are communicating instantly, by word and vision, across the world. Children as young as four or five are using, and even building, complex computer games.
We have instant connection to world events, be they sporting, political or intellectual. And yet . . .
Yet our industry is still 90% paper-based, with a complete disconnect between the parts and the players in the design and construction sector.
Collaboration is supposed to be the word, the key to our future, but in construction it seems to be just another dirty word — like innovation.
Of course, 1992 was the year of changing to performance-based compliance and the opportunity for us, individually and collectively, to embrace the future together. It hasn’t happened.
How the new Building Code was to be administered — a tiny, relatively dysfunctional central authority and the same council-based Building Consent Authorities (BCAs) — didn’t help.
And, unfortunately, we sat on our bottoms and thought the world hadn’t changed. We failed to see this was a chance to do better and to do it together.
Yet the technology was there, waiting for us to take advantage of it — to use it in collaboration with our industry partners and produce a brave new world. Instead, all we got was a leaky one.
While we watch children play with complex computer games, and millennials snapchat and deftly exchange text messages and videos, we do nothing. Technology isn’t for us.
Sure, the computer gives us a sophisticated typewriter that auto corrects our spelling mistakes. But a real business asset? Never, or at least, not yet. But we have been saying not yet for more than 25 years!
A practical test
In 2008 I attended a workshop in Sydney where the practical advantages of Building Information Modelling (BIM) were demonstrated.
Our industry was still so backward that a suitable digital platform had not been created, so the young techies used a computer game to provide a somewhat strange but effective environment for a small hospital complex.
Nevertheless, it all worked, and those attending could see how BIM enabled you to test various different approaches to hospital design before proceeding with the project.
The audience were then invited to come forward and try out the technology. There was a loud burst of laughter when a keen young man from the front row concluded the demonstration with a bang, completely destroying the hospital using the computer game’s underlying firepower of machine guns and rocket launchers.
A fitting and prescient end to any future advances by our industry. We remain blind to the advantages of a true and complete adoption of technology.
Take me to our leader
The missing element in taking our industry into the 21st Century, very late, but not yet too late, is leadership.
Leadership won’t come from within the government bureaucracy. You may be able to make sense of that monolith called the MBIE but I can’t — although it does incongruously include the word innovation within its acronym.
Surely there is someone, someone from within our numerous industry organisations who could grasp the nettle, take a good, hard look at our failing industry and say: “it’s not good enough, something has to be done to stop relying on good luck and a bunch of dumbed down acceptable solutions”.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Some unrelated but I think illuminating statistics: 40% of the world’s population is on Facebook, at any one time 150 million people are on Snapchat, and less than 10% of building consent applications are submitted as digital files.
10%! And then the BCA scans — yes scans, a bit like that ancient technology call faxing — the hard copy into their system. Remember, a scanned document is completely dumb. At least a PDF can be bookmarked, have an index and contain keynote connections between text and drawings. But a scanned document just sits there.
Our BCAs are drowning under a flood of paper, a key reason why building consent fees are so high. There is the potential for online consenting, but when it comes everyone will have to play their part and submit appropriately presented and clean PDF files.
A very small step, but at least a start. Pity it will not be a national system. Just too hard for the MBIE it seems.
1, 2 3 and lift-off
I have mentioned the first two issues repeatedly, to no discernible effect, so I will repeat them. Steps one and two towards a better, more accurate and more answerable industry are:
1 A single, central Building Consent Authority, with existing BCAs as agencies under their day-to-day management and control, and
2 A national database of compliant construction products. If your product is not on the database it doesn’t comply. No exceptions.
Now for one from left field, but not that far out — more like a return to the 1960s:
3 Mandatory involvement of all of a project’s design professionals during the construction phase, observing construction on behalf of the BCA and certifying compliance on completion, alongside the contractor.
It’s called accountability, but it’s more about all parties working together to ensure the completed building complies with the building code. Call it a dream if you like, but anything is better than the current nightmare.