building data
Image – Canva.
  • A Japanese building company noted all completion dates on their building signs
  • The building sector in Australia and NZ often struggles with delivering efficiency and certainty
  • Even simple design changes can trigger a new series of processes, slowing the project

Ten years ago when I was in Japan, the Chairman of a very large local property and construction company pointed out the date on all of their building signs that announced “the day on which this building would be complete”.

He explained that it was always accurate, so they were unafraid to make the commitment visible to the public.

The confidence they could give customers was astounding.

By contrast, the building industry in Australia and NZ often struggles to deliver on that efficiency and customer certainty – whether it’s large, sophisticated constructions or people buying their very first home.

There are many hands involved, with each expert completing one piece before handing off to the next, in a process that has become increasingly complex and heavily regulated.

This has resulted in an analogue, vertical value chains with data recreated and maintained in each process multiple times and risk continually pushed downwards and repeatedly repriced.

Even making what a potential buyer thinks as a simple change to a residential design can trigger a new series of linear processes – hand-drawn alterations and slow quotations.

The bloated timelines and apparent limited transparency don’t just disappoint customers, they cost construction businesses sales.

gavin tonnet
Gavin Tonnet. Image supplied.

60 year track record

So how had this company been able to deliver on time, every time, for more than six decades?

By achieving automation and organisation of the entirety of their building supply chain.

The organisation and delivery of every element of a home or building is essentially a piece of data, presenting an opportunity for technology to automate, model and predict exactly how a final plan will look and function, the materials required, how much it will cost and, crucially, how long it will take to complete.

As much of the time and cost underestimation happens in the pre-construction phase – despite arguably being more insulated from external factors than the construction itself – streamlining this part of the building process will drive the biggest improvements in the industry.

Construction and building assembly is complex and the currency has deep legacy.  Whilst not practical to recreate the existing ecosystem, it can be demonstrated that treating building plans as shared data projects in the pre-construction phase is the way of the future.

But technologist thinking teaches us that data alone isn’t useful – it’s the connections between data sets, big and small, that reveal insights powerful enough to transform businesses and industries.

How Australia can achieve this

To bring Australia up to the levels of efficiency being achieved globally, we need to start connecting the gaps between each vendor’s tools of the trade, integrating the disparate technology, software and systems that define even the smallest data points of a project.

Legacy programs that silo their experts have become the lowest common denominator, dragging down the entire ecosystem and preventing us from finding hidden time and cost savings, or unexpected solutions to design and planning problems.

By inviting all hands – including the customer – to take an active role in creating a single source of truth for a building, we can create cohesion for parties and instill full confidence about what happens next.

This also involves taking advantage of the exciting emergence of digital twinning and the force multiplier of virtual pre-construction which puts real-time visualisation and price, even climate impacts into the hands of developer and home buyer.

Almost every element of procurement can pull from the building’s dataset to enjoy some level of machine-learning automation: tendering, negotiating and approving quotes, ordering materials and scheduling deliveries (with a human expert to oversee and troubleshoot, of course).

The sooner we embrace this data-thinking shift, the sooner we can start implementing the next generation of technology to help us consistently deliver to schedule and with un-rivalled transparency of price and process, transforming customer expectations and unlocking revenue.

And not just customer and commercial outcomes, but climate and natural resource impacts as well. Watch this space.


Gavin Tonnet is a recognised expert and leader in property development and technology, both in Australia and around the world having created and led businesses for Mirvac, Leighton, Stockland, Japanese giant, Sekisui House, and start-ups proptech, Donovan Group and utecture. He was responsible for many significant city-changing urban renewal projects in Australia. 

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