Digital business platform as the basis for networking in the company


A survey conducted by the KfW Banking Group in the middle of last year on the subject of digitisation of the economy shows that 42 per cent of companies in Germany have digitisation projects firmly planned, while 25 per cent are still undecided. About one third rule out digitisation projects in the next two years. The big companies clearly have the lead. They plan to carry out 80 percent of digitisation projects. The industry with the greatest urge for digitisation is wholesale and foreign trade, which budgets digitisation projects to 67 per cent. According to the KfW survey, 90 percent of companies are digitising because they want to take advantage of the opportunities promised by digitisation and automation.

The construction industry – not digitisation enthusiasts

The construction industry deviates significantly from the average values. Here, only 26 per cent are planning digitisation projects within the next two years, almost 30 per cent are undecided and almost 44 per cent are not planning digitisation. Of all the sectors, the construction industry, with almost 30 per cent, also sees no need at all for digitisation of its companies. Furthermore, in contrast to other industries, this sector of the economy sees the obstacles to digitisation as the most significant. According to the KfW survey, 39 per cent of those surveyed in the construction sector see difficulties in adapting the organisation of companies and work. The requirements for data security and data protection also cause 32 per cent problems. A further barrier (30%) is seen by them in the lack of IT skills among employees and the availability of IT specialists on the labour market. Although the infrastructure will have been greatly expanded by 2018, 30% of all construction companies still argue that the lack of quality of the Internet connection is an obstacle to digitisation.

explanatory restraint

The reluctance of the construction industry to go digital is understandable. It is a very “in rem” branch of industry with many different trades, which often have significantly different forms of work and organisation and yet have to work very closely together. Only together can these different companies, some of which are completely different sizes, carry out successful construction projects. In addition, although most building materials and materials are standardised, there are no generally accepted IT standards with which the various companies can exchange data, plans and documentation on a construction project without difficulty and in a way that is accessible to everyone. There are big plans such as Business Information Modelling (BIM), which is comparable to the Industry 4.0 approach in the manufacturing industry, but just as there, BIM is still in its infancy and is not yet widespread, especially in smaller construction companies.

Many companies see no need for it

However, it is surprising that 30 percent of the construction companies surveyed by the KfW Group see no need for digitisation. The then Minister of Construction and Transport Alexander Dobrindt, for example, was of a completely different opinion as early as 2015. At the time, he wrote in the foreword to the phased plan Digital Planning and Building: “Especially in the area of our core competences such as production, planning and building, digital technologies offer enormous potential in terms of quality, efficiency and speed. By using them, we can ensure early networking, close cooperation and intensive communication between all those involved in the construction of large-scale projects. We can visualise different planning variants at an early stage, standardise processes, create transparency, achieve a realistic risk calculation – and considerably reduce construction times and costs.

Many arguments in favour of digitalisation

Not only Alexander Dobrindt, but also the consultants of Roland Berger saw the great potential of digitalisation in construction as early as 2016 in their study “Digitalisation of the construction industry – The European way to Construction 4.0”. There they write: “Digitisation offers players in the construction industry opportunities to increase their productivity. Other sectors are already benefiting from it – along the entire value chain. But the construction industry is still lagging behind. Only a few players have so far made use of the potential of digitisation to solve this problem”. The hesitant implementation is surprising to the consultants, especially with regard to productivity development. Here, the construction industry grew by only 4.1 percent between 2006 and 2016. The average increase in the German economy was 11 percent, in the manufacturing industry even 34 percent. In view of the weak productivity growth, it is clear that the construction industry has an urgent need to catch up in terms of digitalisation. Otherwise it will hardly be able to effectively manage its complex communication channels, the checking of the various trades or the constant synchronous updating of the various construction documents.

If one sums up the assessment of Minister Dobrindt and Roland Berger in a nutshell, this means that there are also many good reasons for digitisation in the construction industry.

However, in view of the lack of IT standards, the many different players and the different interests in the construction industry, it is not so surprising that the industry is rather hesitant about digitalisation, even though it has something of a digitalised vision of itself with Business Information Modelling. But, as always with such great visions, one wonders how my company can get there even remotely.

PTA relies on the basic data model IFC

In the context of BIM, it is important to refer to openBIM in particular. Here, the international buildingSmart initiative is trying to establish open standards for information exchange and communication based on BIM. The Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), which were developed by buildingSmart as a basic data model, are particularly important in this context.

The IFC basic data model is also an important component for PTA solutions, in the realisation of digital products for the construction industry, such as visualisation or collaboration software. Unlike other data models, IFC is suitable because it is an open standard

Digital archiving makes many things easier

Digital archiving would make life easier for many construction companies and project teams. Today, they have to deal with countless documents every day: Emails, contracts, building applications, permits, CAD data (possibly from various sources and in various formats), quotations/delivery confirmations, planning data, acceptance reports, lists of defects, documentation, resolutions and much more. This is rarely a mainly bilateral exchange, as is usual between contractor and supplier, but there are many different parties involved in the exchange of information.

It would of course be helpful if this information were not filed in paper folders, but rather stored and archived digitally in a sensible and secure way. This would bring great gains in efficiency in dealing with these documents through easy retrieval, version control and collaborative work on documents. On the other hand, the subsequent analysis of the digitally stored data can provide new insights into customer-specific additional offers, but the results of intelligent analyses can also be put to good use in terms of cost and planning optimisation.

PTA supports pragmatic digitisation

Due to its know-how and expertise in the areas of digitalisation, business platforms and industry know-how, PTA can support companies in the following areas:

  • Analysis – recording of the actual state, process analysis and requirements
  • Definition/Planning – Definition of target status, document life cycle, formats and responsibilities
  • Evaluation – advice on make-or-buy, evaluation of technologies and suppliers
  • Realisation – implementation, change management, control, operation

In addition, we offer concrete solutions for companies in the construction industry with target group-specific visualisation, the elimination of repetitive work and the central storage of data. In the field of visualisation, for example, this involves virtual tours for building owners, collaborative work on 3D models and the creation of parts lists or automatic quantity calculations of cubature and surfaces. PTA has already developed a cloud based collaboration tool with a browser front-end for BIM. The tool obtains the back-end services from the Microsoft cloud platform Azure. Its functions include a high-quality 3D viewer, messaging, user and project management functions as well as the upload and download of building models in IFC format.

We also ensure that building plans no longer have to be entered several times, support companies in file conversion and the import and export of CAD files, or have building materials automatically calculated when building plans are changed. Finally, the central storage of data guarantees access to the current plans, documents and parts lists for all stakeholders. You can find the comprehensive expertise of the PTA construction industry team here:

What is BIM

According to Wikipedia, the term Building Information Modelling describes a method of optimised planning, execution and management of buildings and other structures using software. All relevant building data are digitally modelled, combined and recorded. The term was coined by the CAD provider Autodesk. The building is also geometrically visualised as a virtual model (computer model). Building Information Modelling is used in the building industry for construction planning and execution (architecture, engineering, building services, civil engineering, urban development, railway construction, road construction, hydraulic engineering, geotechnics) as well as in facility management.

This means that BIM drastically reduces the high effort involved in plan changes. In contrast to the traditional procedure, changes to the BIM project file are immediately available to all parties involved. In addition, changes to the plan are automatically compared with changed masses and quantities and the cost calculation is updated.

The advantages of BIM are

  • Improved quality of the data, as they all come from a common database and are constantly synchronised
  • Improved exchange of information between those involved in planning
  • Continuous data preparation during the entire life cycle of a building
  • The improved data reconciliation should ultimately increase the productivity of the planning process in terms of costs, deadlines and quality.

The graduated plan of the BMVI (Federal Office for Transport and Digital Infrastructure), which was mentioned earlier in this text, calls for “the introduction of modern, IT-supported processes and technologies for the planning, construction and operation of buildings”. From 2020, the rules are to be made mandatory at least for public building construction.