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Experts at the Hong Kong Development Bureau having a discussion.

Digital delivery calls for new skills David Hooper

The best consultants will be those committed to learning and development.

The Hong Kong Development Bureau has issued technical circular (works) No. 7/2017 that makes building information modelling (BIM) delivery mandatory for all public capital works projects from 1 January 2018 with the aim of “enhancing design, construction, project management, asset management and improving the overall productivity of the construction industry.”

In the past, design tools developed slowly and it was easy to learn them on the job. But now, the lifecycle of a software tool can be shorter than that of an engineering project. Companies that aren’t set up to learn fast will struggle in the new age of digital delivery, while those that take learning and development seriously will lead the market, says David Hooper, chartered civil and structural engineer, and Mott MacDonald’s global knowledge and innovation manager for the built environment.

It’s not just design tools that are evolving fast, it is the way we manage projects and models using collaboration platforms such as ProjectWise and SharePoint, that enable critical collaboration and workflows around a single source of shared data. This means not just getting up to speed with the technology, but also finding new ways to automate processes – as this is where the real efficiencies are gained.

It’s our senior people, project principals and technical directors that have the toughest challenge. Their leadership role naturally means they are a step away from design production, but it is essential they retain a working knowledge of how design is now produced and have hands-on experience of the main design authoring and review tools and how data is managed in a common data environment. How can these key people remain relevant when their appreciation of the tools that underpin their teams’ work becomes diminished? To lead the doing, you must know how it is done. Firms will start to lose the benefits from their most gifted engineers if they cannot keep up with the delivery tools – the very people who make professional services not just good but great.

With advances in how knowledge is managed within an organisation, the days when senior staff could rely solely on their experience are gone.

A new balance needs to be struck between humans and machines and that calls for greater digital know-how. Human experience, intuition and interaction are still invaluable. For example, while advancing technology is a strong catalyst for innovation, innovation needs to be managed. It requires insight into customers’ needs, a bright idea, resources and leadership, and a process that manages the development of that idea into something that adds value.

And while machine learning has given rise to computers that can beat grand masters at chess, we are a long way from the day when a computer comes up with a good idea and can appreciate the overall impact of that idea. We still need people to evaluate the right balance between the needs of programme, cost, quality, sustainability, and risk.

However, data correctly gathered, managed, manipulated, and shared can profoundly change perceptions and enable much more powerful, value-adding decisions. The pairing of experience and digital intelligence will be one of the key attributes of the best advisors within a matter of years, if not months.

We’ll now see in Hong Kong that those who invest in technology, the management of knowledge and innovation, and in learning and development will differentiate themselves and lead the market of the future.

At Mott MacDonald, we have been through that learning curve, having made significant investment in global enterprise license agreements with software vendors. We offer all of our staff access to the latest and best tools they need, supported by global training and technical support. BIM feels like a train leaving the station. Those that are fully on-board have a huge advantage. As it gathers pace others will have to run ever faster to catch up – and there will be some who won’t be able to.

A practical approach must bring technology into the heart of planning for bidding, budgeting and project delivery.

At Mott MacDonald, over the past few years, we have seen our project technology groups move from providing project support to standing front and centre of our client-facing delivery teams. This has happened naturally in response to market demands as we’ve driven innovation and new delivery models.

The days of learning on the job really are over. As we welcome technical circular 7/2017, let’s use it as an opportunity to build the skills among Hong Kong’s construction professionals to lead the way internationally.

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