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Ignore FM’s digital future at your peril

Once upon a time, the thought of construction contractors managing the operation of buildings was an attractive proposition.

But it heralded a slew of marriages that ultimately ended in divorce.

The first saw Balfour Beatty offload its FM arm in 2013. Then, about a year later, Lendlease sold its UK facilities management business to the same buyer, GDF Suez’s UK subsidiary Cofely.

And, just this summer, Kier announced it would be exiting FM as part of a wider divestment of services.

The collapse of Carillion demonstrated on a massive scale how combining the two increased the risk-profile of a contract and the cost when it unravelled spectacularly.

So, is this an implacable trend?

Ironically, another unstoppable march – that of technology – might cause contractors to pause for thought.

Nobody’s talking about BIM Level 3 anymore. It’s a sideshow, said one well-placed industry insider at yesterday’s National Digital Twin Day.

Hosted by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the event aimed to ‘shine a light on how digital twin thinking can drive more value from data, maximise infrastructure performance and deliver better outcomes for society’.

Lofty aims perhaps, but one that sponsor Bentley was keen to lead the conversation on, tackling issues surrounding not just the benefits of digital twins – the digital version of a physical asset – but the inhibitors and how to get supply chain engagement.

Smart sensors are taking over from that BIM conversation. The technology is just moving so fast, underlining that the big savings in an asset’s lifecycle are in the running of the building rather than the delivery of it.

Which brings us back to the matter of contractors being involved with the efficient running of buildings.

If they’ve installed these advanced systems – that offer deep but readily accessible insight, and that can make a genuine difference – then who better to be responsible for their efficient operation?

And what if part of a contractor’s fee could be reimbursed over time, against a building’s performance, with the contractor being involved in the operation of that building.

It was a topic tackled by senior industry figures at a CN debate last year that speculated on the evolving shape of construction businesses.

“At the moment, we hand over a building, shut the door and hope it performs as designed – we don’t really monitor it,” said Matthew Wrighton, commercial director for the South-east at Willmott Dixon.

“For a customer, it would be a big sell [if we were responsible]. What we’re looking at is the contractor model of the future, and because we don’t [currently] do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t,” he said.

And with the illustration of Siemens now owning an increased portion of Bentley as of August last year, it seems hardware manufacturers are starting to realise that strategically aligning with software developers – in the way that contractors might do with building owners – could provide the market offering they’ll need to capitalise on an evolving situation.


In its continuing commitment to help the industry do business better, CN has launched ConTech to explain how digital and offsite construction, as well as smart equipment and materials are set to disrupt the construction industry – and the business benefits of getting it right.

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