Dave Robinson, Head of Technical Support at British Gypsum, shares thoughts on how Dame Judith Hackitt’s “golden thread” is key to the digital transformation the construction industry so desperately needs.
When Dame Judith Hackitt published her report in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, she outlined that the construction industry must change. Hackitt reported that safety standards needed to be revolutionised, recommending that every building have its own “golden thread” of information. This golden thread would support those responsible for building safety, not just in the design and construction phases, but throughout the entire lifecycle of any building.
The government fully committed to Hackitt’s recommendation and now the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) has set out a definition, principles and standards for the golden thread. These principles make it clear that to be truly effective, digital technology needs to play a major role in establishing the golden thread. It’s essential for the construction industry to adapt to this digital shift.
The need for trust and accuracy
One of the main principles of the golden thread is that information needs to be accurate and trusted. This will be a big challenge for an industry that has often relied on paper trails. In digital terms, the construction sector has been lagging behind other industries for decades with the value of data and technology in the supply chain often ignored or misunderstood.
A trusted, accurate golden thread will be a world away from this. It is intended to be a live, digital document, updated in real time whenever changes occur, with those accountable for the building making sure there are no gaps. A single, accurate source of truth for all those involved in the life of a building leaves far less room for errors or misunderstandings that might threaten a building’s integrity.
Security is also a key principle of the golden thread. Personal information will need to be protected and GDPR-compliant. Without employing a reliable, digital system to store data, this will be a significant challenge.
Leading with longevity
A further principle outlined in the BRAC report centres on the longevity and shareability of information. It should be in a format that is easy to hand over and is accessible and trustworthy over the entire lifetime of a building. Although secondary legislation is yet to be published around exactly what information needs to be kept, it will need to be done in a very structured way, a bit like a digital library.
Providing evidence on building safety and communicating and sharing this with ease is nearly as important as the physical changes that are actually carried out. Designers and contractors will need to constantly evaluate how they record their work; it will be the first port of call if breaches or complaints are reported.
Every piece of information kept needs to be simple to access, use and understand and without adopting digital systems this will be impossible to achieve.
Taking on the challenge of culture change
The golden thread could be viewed as another round of restrictive legislation or the positive catalyst that the industry so desperately needs. It is designed to enable better, safer and more collaborative work and by embracing the digital transformation that goes along with it, there’s the opportunity for a huge and positive change.
Where outdated communication channels cause friction and confusion, a digital system helps information to pass across organisations quickly and smoothly. In a sector entrenched in limited productivity, technology can unlock manpower. Adopting the golden thread will not be easy – but there is a choice around how to embrace it.
Better outcomes for a safer future
The BRAC report states that the golden thread is not just an opportunity to understand a building now and in the future, but also key to accelerating wider digital transformation in the built environment. Adopting a digital mindset can deliver economic growth, better public services, greater sustainability and lower carbon emissions. The right approach to the golden thread is not just crucial to ongoing building safety but to transforming our future society for the better.
Embedding these changes will take many years and the report acknowledges that. However, it also urges stakeholders to prepare for legislation and consider how they manage and share information now. The golden thread is a new opportunity to maximise awareness across the industry that change is here – and it’s essential to adopt it, no matter what that takes.