Digital construction report 2021

Incorporating The BIM report

Section 2: Digital transformation and adoption of new technologies

Most respondents have started on a digital transformation journey. Almost two thirds (64%) say that they’ve been on this journey for some time, that they are well on the way to completing it, or that they’ve reached their destination.

This compares with 54% in 2018. More people in the UK have reached these stages of the journey (70%) – and more consultants (70%) compared with clients, constructors and suppliers.

If digital transformation was a journey, where is your organisation on that journey?

Cars on a road - The digital transofrmation journey
Car moving along a road - The digital transofrmation journey

We asked built environment professionals whether they had used particular technologies. The high number stating ‘not sure’ or ‘don’t know’ suggests that definitions of these terms are still not universally recognised, or that their use is not prevalent across their organisations.

In people’s personal and working lives, there has been a huge growth in cloud computing in recent years.

Over two thirds (69%) are using cloud computing, and the vast majority expect to do so within five years.

  • In the UK, 76% are using cloud computing.
  • Large organisations are more likely to use cloud computing (76%).
  • This level of use is higher than in previous surveys.

Within your organisation, do you use cloud computing?

69% say they use cloud computing now

16% say they'll will use within 5 years

4% say they will never use cloud computing

Microsoft Office 365 and common data environments, like Autodesk's Construction Cloud (previously BIM 360), Aconex, Asite and Viewpoint, are the most common examples of cloud computing: they are used by hundreds of respondents. Other applications include file transfer software and NBS Chorus.

"We are using Autodesk BIM Collaborate Pro to collaborate with external consultants, and to work on large projects from multiple geographic locations in our company. We also use NBS Chorus, BIMcollab, MS Office 365 and use clients’ cloud-based document management systems such as SharePoint"

Architect/ BIM manager, medium-sized architectural practice, UK

"NBS Chorus for specification writing. There is a CDE on almost every project"

BIM manager, large-sized architectural practice, Ireland

"Digital storage, digital transfer (365, Dropbox, Deltech, Asite, 4Projects)"

Design manager, large-sized subcontractor, UK

The use of immersive tech (such as virtual, augmented or mixed reality) hasn’t really changed much over the past few years. The number using it has hovered around 30%, and was actually above this figure in 2018 and 2020, suggesting that the usage has dropped slightly this year. The figure is higher in large organisations (33%).

Within your organisation, do you use immersive technologies, like virtual, augmented or mixed reality?

  • 100%
  • 80%
  • 60%
  • 40%
  • 20%
  • 0%
  • We use them now
  • We'll use them within 5 years
  • We'll never use them
  • Not sure

The most common use is for client walkthroughs and presentations.

"VR, for doing 'project walkthroughs' with clients and stakeholders. AR, to view systems or elements within a space, building without installation through BIM"

Specification specialist, large-sized architectural practice, UK

"We use VR and AR for marketing, but also have use cases for on-site service and technical support. We also use VR to train robots at one of our manufacturing facilities"

BIM manager, large-sized manufacturer, UK

In the past 12 months, have you been part of a project that involved an element of offsite construction or manufacture?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Not sure

44% of survey respondents have been part of a project that involved an element of off-site construction. This is indicative of an increase from previous years.

Constructors were most likely to have experienced off-site construction on their projects, as were medium- to-large organisations. Respondents based in the UK were also more likely to have been involved in projects with elements constructed off-site: perhaps reflective of the UK Government’s drive to promote it.

The Coronavirus pandemic may also have been a factor, with fewer people able to work on site during lockdowns.

A wide range of elements was mentioned: particularly modular pods such as bathrooms, wall or floor panels, and MEP components.

"In my projects, bathroom pods and utility cupboards, sometimes plant rooms. We have used precast facade elements and masonry, and precast concrete elements for a car park construction. We have also built a hotel using off-site modular construction (similar to containers) which is then clad on site"

Architect, large-sized practice, UK

"We work with some companies which specialise in prefabricated housing, manufactured in factories and then brought on site and assembled. Sometimes it is the structure that is prefabricated, and sometimes whole walls or ceiling modules can be complete with piping, cables, etc. already installed"

Building services engineer, small-sized practice, UK

In the past 12 months, have you been part of a project(s) that used a digital twin?

It’s still quite early days for the use of digital twins, with 14% having been part of a project that used them. Use is highest among clients (18%) – perhaps unsurprisingly, as they can use the digital twins to understand how an asset is performing in use and apply that learning to ongoing maintenance or new buildings. Use was also higher outside the UK.

Looking at the explanations from survey respondents about how digital twins are used, it is evident that people have different interpretations of what constitutes a digital twin. We have seen this with BIM. This is an area where we expect to see further focus in the next few years.

"Central design modelled for environmental optimisation, as well as in-use energy modelling to demonstrate capacity for net zero carbon in use, and for detailed operational modelling for movements and H&S"

Director, small-sized architectural practice, UK

"In-house development team creating digital twin using models & data from the construction handover combining with real time data from built asset"

BIM manager, large-sized developer, UK

When comparing the uptake of these different technologies and ways of working, we can see that cloud computing is most used, followed by BIM*.

Have you adopted in your organisation or have you been part of a project that used...(Excludes those who answered 'not sure')

0%Cloud Computing


0%Offsite construction

0%Immersive Technology

0%Digital Twin

*Note the slight difference in some percentages, due to removing those who answered ‘not sure’ or ‘don’t know’.

So, in the next five years, what will have the greatest potential to transform the built environment for the better? BIM is at the top, with off-site construction expected to be almost as significant as cloud computing. And despite their limited use just now, digital twins are expected to be at least as important as immersive technologies.

Overall RankRank DistributionScoreNo. of Rankings
Building information modelling (BIM)1
Cloud computing2
Offsite construction3
Digital twins4
Virtual/augmented/mixed reality5
Rank distribution key - Lowest to highest

Next section

Section 3: Industry changes and challenges