Thursday, December 18, 2014

If banks were truly running the global AEC, all construction sites would be paperless by now!

Banks generally like to keep a close relationship with the AEC industry.
Apart from small scale works and cash-jobs here and there, anything to do with creating buildings in large parts of the world involves banks as financiers or partners. In return, banks’ fortunes tend to be impacted by the destiny of the AEC markets, the threat of a ‘property bubble busting’ is well known for both.
Conflicting with this cozy association is what can be perceived as an apparent disinterest from banks on how the AEC is going about its day-to-day work.
One can argue that bankers should stick to their knitting and leave the hammer-heads to run their industry as they see fit, but it is interesting to note, how different the two sides are in their approaches to information management.

Paper as a medium rules the AEC while the banks have all but banned it from their processes.
Where did the practice of going into a bank with a little saving-account’s book to withdraw (deposit) money, fill out multiple forms, get a stamp and signature from the teller disappear?
I recently phoned one of my bank managers for advice using her mobile number and she asked to call back on her main-line. As they say, ‘all our calls are recorded for quality purposes’.
While it is partially to assist efficiencies and maybe even to improve customer service, the main driver for ‘ being all digital’ with banks is to control their own risks.
Banks ‘know’ at a very high level that what makes or breaks them at the end is their handle on the information part of the business, possibly even more than the ‘real money’. The high level strategy is then implemented throughout the process leaving little room for individuals to manipulate the data against the banks’ interests.

Contrary to this approach the AEC is anything but organized with their information – at high level there is talk and maybe meaningful looking strategies set by the big players, but what trickles down to the everyday work of individuals is as archaic and manipulative a framework as it has ever been in the past of the industry. Probably even worse than in the ‘old, traditional days of building’ where certain level of global technical knowledge and universally accepted tradesmen’s ethics guided the use of information away from the muddy waters of mistreat.

Exemptions do exist in both camps. Low level individuals can sometimes intentionally or by error mismanage information/funds, causing large losses to affected banks. There do also exist AEC based organizations that can truly claim to have their fingers on the pulse of their project information, meaningfully assisting their companies’ risk management and also helping the bottom line.
However, so uniform in behavior the two camps are within their own fields, that the exceptions, if anything, prove and solidify the rules.

And they are unlike to change in the near future.
As much likely is for the large scale mandating of BIM (in the UK and elsewhere) to work and make a significant impact on the industry as it would for any bank to suddenly opt out of central and digital information management in favour of a paper based one and still thrive.
My guess is, that the banks will continue to keep their own houses as tight and tidy as possible but indulge in the fruits of the chaos, that their closely related sister industry, the AEC serves up.

Meanwhile, congratulations are due for David Philp, who has a new job and is now Director BIM – EMEA @ AECOM! A news that warrants an entire blog-post on its own. May yet write it in the near future as it offers young generations of AEC professionals a great example of a career-path as dazzling as a successful politician’s might be.