Article: Digital Transformation in the Building Sector – Survey Insights

In this article, we present the findings from a survey with professional stakeholders in the building industry. We wanted to understand their experience of digital tools used in their work, and their opinion of the proposed tools that we will develop in the CHRONICLE project. Here is a brief overview of the findings.

Digital transformation in the building sector: insights from the CHRONICLE B2B survey

by Minna Kuivalainen and Veronika Sabikova, Smart Innovation Norway (SIN)

Introduction

The global climate goals and European policy goals, such as the European Green Deal or recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, positively influence the greening of the building sector. At the same time, the digital transformation has an impact on the building and energy sectors. These changes within the operational environment open opportunities for new digital tools and technologies to support the green transition in the building sector, which is where the CHRONICLE project steps in.

The CHRONICLE project addresses the emerging needs by developing a set of digital tools for building management and renovation planning. To this end, CHRONICLE carried out a survey among professionals in the building sector in the autumn 2023, to shed light on their views on digital tools in general and the concepts that the CHRONICLE project will develop in particular. This article provides a brief overview of the results of this survey.

In total, 102 industry professionals from various European countries and with diverse expertise levels shared their experiences and insights with us. We collected responses from professionals in different positions related to building design, such as architects and engineers, and from the building management sector. The responses represent a range of expertise from small to large scale companies with the majority of responses from Denmark, Lithuania and Spain.

The type of tools that are being developed by the CHRONICLE project were well received by the respondents with over 80% rating them useful. In the following sections, we provide the key insights from feedback on current use of digital tools and proposed usefulness of the tools being developed by CHRONICLE.

Digital tools: useful but complex

We asked building sector professionals about their use of digital tools in their daily work. Analysis of the current usage of digital tools brings interesting insights, although the information cannot be claimed statistically representative for the whole industry.

Half of the facility managers and building owners who responded to our survey rely on digital tools to manage building performance. More so, two thirds of professional respondents in the building and renovation design related sectors rely on digital tools for planning and design in their current roles. The tools utilised, while varied in their application, have high satisfaction rates, indicating they meet the immediate needs of their users.

However, the survey respondents highlighted some of the challenges that come with digital adoption, such as complex user interfaces and steep learning curves. With the digitalisation of the building sector, also data integration and interoperability emerge as common challenges across existing tools. Complexity associated with the tools prevents many companies from taking the full advantage of them.

Our findings indicate that Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology, which CHRONICLE tools also rely upon, is widely recognised for its potential, but its utilisation is not as widespread. Professionals point out the high cost and complexity as barriers, hinting at a need for democratising access to BIM technologies, particularly for smaller players in the industry.

Tools for building performance monitoring

The survey indicates a strong interest in the CHRONICLE digital tools for monitoring building performance. Having a digital overview of building conditions, such as indoor air temperature, energy consumption, and renewable energy production is seen as particularly valuable. The availability of maintenance alerts and notifications for malfunctions was highly regarded, underlining a desire for tools that not only provide information but also offer advice and notifications. Digital building management is seen as an important factor in becoming more efficient and reducing operational costs of buildings.

However, respondents highlighted several challenges and concerns, such as high costs, complex setup, and the need for numerous sensors. Data related concerns, such as data security, integration with existing systems were also raised, combined with concerns about the data being too generic. Additionally, language barriers and the need for user-friendly interfaces were noted. These challenges point to the necessity for developing accessible, cost-effective, and integrated solutions tailored for a range of different building and user types.

Tools for renovation planning

The CHRONICLE renovation planner was well-received, with 78% finding it at least helpful to have a tool to plan and evaluate renovation scenarios for a building and to assess them through parameters, such as cost, energy efficiency and CO2 emissions. Equally, the assessment of the renovation effectiveness against chosen parameters generated high interest by 82% of respondents. Many open answer responses highlighted the need for accurate historical building energy consumption data as a challenge, but crucial for obtaining accurate renovation plans or predictions of the impact of the renovations.

Digital building logbooks

The CHRONICLE digital building logbook, in its simplest form, aims to be a database to store building related data securely, and to make the information accessible to relevant users as agreed. While only a fifth of the respondents acknowledged having first-hand experience of digital building logbooks to store building related information, 80% of the survey respondents find the concept helpful. A range of uses for such logbooks was suggested, from contract management to storing documents and historical data on building performance. The tool is expected to streamline processes and ensure that documentation is readily available, accurate, secure and easy to share. Key considerations for tool adaptation would include cost, maintenance and adaptability to evolving regulatory requirements.

Conclusion

While the advantages of digital tools can be easily identified — cost reductions, comfort improvements, and efficiency gains — professionals are wary of the additional expenses and complexity associated with them. User-friendliness and customisation are paramount for the new digital tools, alongside ensuring that tools can integrate seamlessly with existing systems.

With the ongoing smartification of the building sector, the feedback from professionals points to clear requirements: simplicity with detail, accessible pricing, and data integration and interoperability. Tools that find how to respond to these principles will be on the path to greater adaptation, contributing to enhanced building performance and sustainability.

The CHRONICLE project seeks to respond to the identified challenges. The received feedback has been compiled into concrete requirements to be addressed by the technical partners comprising CHRONICLE’s development team already at the design phase of the CHRONICLE system.

CHRONICLE will continue to maintain communications between the stakeholders and the system developers throughout the project lifetime, to receive feedback on the tools usability and to assess how well the expectations of different end-user groups have been met.

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