A building surveying view of how technology is changing the built environment

By Alex Charlesworth, Partner, Project Management & Consultancy, UK

I have always been a champion of technology to help us with our daily business, but it must stand the business case test. That is, does it work, and how does the cost compare with the return?

In the case of building information modelling (BIM), I feel that the promotion of its benefits to building surveyors falls down, because the vast majority of us do not yet appreciate what it is, how its cost measures up to its return, and why it would might benefit us. That is, we are not able to apply the business case test.

I believe we are at a tipping point, however, where BIM will start to have more and more of an impact on our daily lives the more we embrace it. Bear in mind that BIM is not just about 3D modelling and collaboration: it is about document management and a centralised platform for sharing data, made up of many different systems all talking to each other. But in order for us to embrace this new technology, the proponents of BIM must first persuade building surveyors of the business benefits.

The technology used in building investigations is also improving. For instance, infrared cameras are now being used more frequently by building surveyors, adding value to our reports and out defect diagnosis. Drones also arrived with a flurry of excitement – a toy that can be justified as a business tool! – until regulation restricted their use. Nevertheless, they will still be able to enhance our forensic investigations, although many of us will employ specialist companies to operate them rather than buying our own.

Using tablets to gather data and prepare surveys is another area where surveyors increasingly see the benefits of time being saved on site. Doing so while maintaining the quality of service is a clear justification for using this new technology, leading to a boom in take-up.

Workspace changes
Technology is also changing the environment in which we work, and in turn, this is leading to changes in the way that investors, developers and occupiers view the workspace. Improved wi-fi enables laptop users to roam around buildings, accessing data via cloud storage based off site. This has reduced the need for servers in each building, therefore lowering cooling and power requirements.

Thanks to employees’ demands, buildings are now beginning to work harder for organisations, with different areas enabling different working environments. For example, collaboration space allows cross-selling of ideas and co-creation space lets clients and partners work together in the same environment, while buildings’ connectivity is improved. We no longer need rely on having to work in the office at all, as connectivity has improved in our homes, coffee shops, transport hubs and even in the outside world. Without the constraints of wires or paper, we are free to select the most appropriate setting for the activity in hand.

This is just common sense, though, and we are starting to see businesses really embrace it. However, there are still many companies who look to office space as a place in which they should squeeze as many employees as possible. This will change.

Retail is another area where technology has really changed the high street, industrial and logistics sectors, driven by the public pressure exerted by online shopping.

Retailers have reacted by making substantial changes to the supply chain, and as our confidence and trust in the internet is growing, we will continue to see huge changes in this sector. The UK is more advanced than many European countries, and forward-thinking investors are predicting similar growth patterns and taking pre-emptive action in the property market as a result.

With changes in how property is used and viewed come opportunities, particularly for building surveyors. Developments in technology will no doubt lead and continue to influence how we use and interact with the built environment. We must embrace such change, not only by using technology tools that helps our daily work, but also by having the foresight to see the benefits to the built environment that technology will bring, getting involved with engineering the resulting changes.

Alex Charlesworth FRICS, Chairman of the RICS Building Surveying Professional Group and Head of Building Consultancy, Project Management & Consultancy, London at Cushman & Wakefield.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2016 of RICS Building Surveying Journal.

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