ISCA - December - Digital Transformation
IS Thought Leadership by Ben Cooper-Woolley, Founder, SiteHive
Advances in digital technology are transforming the management of environmental impact
The built environment is undergoing an unprecedented period of digital transformation, driven by technological innovation, greater regulation and the need to optimise resources during project delivery. Add to this the recent Covid-related requirements for remote working, and the need and opportunity for innovation have never been more aligned.
In the construction sector, the main areas of digital transformation to date have been in general project design and delivery tools - such as electronic document management systems, and BIM/Digital Twins. And these innovations continue to deliver significant productivity improvements across the asset lifecycle.
Now, the focus of digitally-enabled transformation has expanded to more specialist areas, including environmental management. Here, the complex interactions between project teams, stakeholders, regulators, and the environment, offer fertile ground for improvement.
While environmental monitoring is a well-established discipline, it’s an area that has not yet benefited from significant digital innovation. Projects have historically needed high-precision monitoring in order to meet their compliance requirements, and digital sensors were not accurate enough.
The downside of traditional devices, however, is that high precision comes with high cost and complexity. Analogue monitoring devices tend to be expensive, which then reduces the amount of monitoring projects can undertake. They also typically require specialists to operate them and then interpret the data - which increases project costs even further.
Consumer digital innovation has enabled change
The proliferation of consumer electronics, including smart home devices and wearables, has driven advances in digital sensors. These devices typically employ digital accelerometers, microphones and particle counters - which translate directly to vibration, noise and dust monitoring respectively.
To make them viable in the consumer market, these elements had to be developed to be small, accurate and low cost. Which makes them perfect for environmental monitoring too.
The accuracy of digital sensors is now at the point where they can be relied on for general and compliance monitoring. Taking these innovations and building them into devices specifically designed for the construction industry has the ability to transform the management of environmental impact.
The small size means that multiple sensors, monitoring different aspects like noise and dust, can be incorporated into a single device with a small footprint. The low cost and ease means projects can now undertake monitoring over a longer period of time, with more devices - and still reduce project costs.
Deeper insights through digital innovation
The use and benefits of digital technology also extend beyond sensors. For example, for teams interpreting environmental monitoring data from site, it has always been a challenge to identify the actual cause of events that occur. Modern devices can now address this by incorporating innovations such as directional noise monitors and integrated cameras.
Digital MEMS (Micro-Electo-Mechanical-Systems) microphones can identify the direction of arrival of sounds; small, wide-angled cameras can be used to capture images when thresholds are exceeded. These features provide the users with sound maps, audio recordings and visual images of events as they happen.
Users are able to have far greater confidence in their understanding and decision-making as they have a rich evidence-base of information. This allows the causes of events to be understood and addressed as they occur - a truly transformational innovation from traditional approaches.
From reactive reporting to proactive site management
Modern digital technology is giving environmental managers a new toolkit: not only are digital sensors a low cost alternative, but they also enable a new way to monitor environmental aspects. Data is delivered live and continuously and, combined with new software tools, this allows a much more proactive monitoring approach.
Environmental compliance has typically been either an end of month retrospective reporting process, or a reaction in response to complaints. In both situations, there is usually little information at hand beyond the raw measurements, and even those require manual data manipulation and analysis.
The new monitoring devices provide continuous data in real time, enabling immediate investigation through easy to understand graphs. Plus the data now sits alongside rich contextual information such as images, audio and weather conditions that identifies specific issues.
New software tools bring all this information together into one place, making it much easier to understand and action. Digital information can now also be combined with data from traditional high-precision monitoring devices, and all managed together so that users have a complete picture of what’s happening on site.
A hybrid future
There has never been a more pressing need to understand and proactively manage our environment. While high precision measurements are a critical part of this process, digital technology is now providing new tools and enabling new techniques and processes. Not only does this make it easier, but it allows teams to manage environmental impact in a much more proactive way. This delivers benefits for everyone - teams, contractors, stakeholders, communities and the environment. Digital technology, combined where required with high precision monitoring devices, has the ability to provide a much more sustainable approach to urban development.