What kind of Transformation?

Gordon Mitchell

Having to wrestle with digitisation, bionics and sustainability (never mind understanding what part our built environment plays to the whole structure of society) presents a complex minefield of challenges, dot-joining and standardisation, but it also presents one of the greatest opportunities to support one (or more!) of many international drives toward optimising the places where we live, work and play. In this moment, however, comes the opportunity to completely reimagine our approach to those spaces. A digital first, human-centric ecosystem transforms the very way we visualise and consider our space and places, and that is all before the considerations of some of the most compelling methods to reduce the carbon emissions relating to our built environment, in line with national/international targets.

Direction of travel

At the very foundation of this opportunity is the ‘barrier of’ and the ‘ability to’ work with the transformation as this isn’t something you can simply pay someone else to deliver; involvement requires engagement! This starts at the very core of the demand organisation, business or indeed nation; digital transformation, or anything in the same ballpark as this type of change programme, is more of a story about us than it is about the technology. The technology we have available today is world-changing, but that statement has been true for years, if said technology was applied properly. Accessing the power of this transformation means asking what kind of transformation is needed –straight to the heart of the change requirement and to the people living it. This means before software, hardware or the rest of it is even on the page, a baseline consideration of what your transformation looks like, or could look like, could be viewed through the following three lenses:

  • revolution: diversification of the model
  • evolution: improvement on the current model
  • reimagining: change to the current model, keeping the same output.

Culture, systemisation and bionics

Irrespective of what type of transformation you are making, you will be dealing with change. In the built environment this is one of the biggest barriers to overcome as even if your transformation programme is a slow and gentle process at the organisation level, the changes at the sharp end being a shared view is unlikely.

If the culture views the organisation from the top down, then from the bottom up we have bionic considerations. We are not just thinking about people's ability to change, adapt and accept the transformation, but that it will happen at the very fabric of their roles and sometimes moving from paper or Excel to an app can be a bigger challenge to the organisation than the system design to which they are trying to move. Getting the right blend and understanding of those specific organisation needs and drivers will be critical to any strategic aim working in a timeframe that can be called transformational.

All of this needs to be wrapped up in the middle by a systemisation agile process that builds a habit into the organisation that this method for change never stops.

To balance these driver factors and align to the organisation value, a strategic level plan that is holistic in its positioning is critical as a warped transformation can end up worse than no transformation at all.

Consideration checklist:

  • it’s a marathon not a sprint; identify realistic phases the transformation will go through
  • end-to-end understanding and integrated transformation alignment
  • clear communication, monitoring and reporting strategy and methods
  • C-suite directional alignment
  • transformation team roles and governance ownership
  • identify just enough education of, and impact on, existing operations for transformation phase one and build in a continuous improvement process
  • modular, open and interoperable approach to technology where possible
  • the transformation, if successful, will be a journey you will all go on and the rewards of this togetherness will transcend beyond the screens and interfaces we work with.

Whole life context and digital twins

‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’

One of the challenges we have just now is that the amount of change potential is so great and it crosses so many touchpoints that you need to get as close to a representation of truth as you can in your digital models to fend off the potential of digital warping. The only real way to do this is by getting a clear, whole life understanding against your digital twins.

Ultimately, it is highly unlikely any budgets are going to stretch to a full organisation-wide digital twin ecology, so knowing where and when to integrate the digitisation, as well as deciding what levels of maturity each area’s adoption should go to, will be critical. Some of the digital dimensions to consider offer substantial societal benefits, as well as those benefits directly applicable to the demand organisation; in aligning those opportunities, you can begin to de-risk the change process, as well as allowing the organisation to better plot its own course forwards, through the transformation, to the values and outcomes the organisation is actually looking for.

This can cover the following dimensions:

  • compliance and governance
  • partnership and collaboration
  • place and space
  • time and planning
  • sustainability and environment
  • financial
  • circular value chain and performance
  • productivity and wellbeing
  • community, culture and society.

Which also lends weight to making your initial systemisation decisions open and interoperable where possible.

Circular, well-being and sustainable opportunities

Some of the greatest upshots of getting digital transformation right is the ability to transform your organisation’s outputs to deliver on some of the most amazing potentials the built environment has, without even breaking stride. When your data is whole of life in context and full life cycle in consideration, labelled and structured correctly, aligned and unified, it provides a machine-readable landscape that will present insights and understandings that extend the capabilities of even the most proficient FM team.

Again, when the organisation embraces the transformation in the right way, with the right culture and communication, this process can be a liberation rather than a replacement. Clarity to redesign the way we think and do business across our whole operation becomes a service that allows our organisation to take the value control back and continuously improve the organisation based on the whole organisation picture of what the true value path looks like.

This awareness can also empower the organisation to sometimes put its foot on the brakes in some of its endeavours in the interests of the long-term collective plan, as sometimes the tortoise does beat the hare, and digital transformation will not look the same for everyone.


COVID-19 forced us all into a new way of thinking about our world, our spaces and our places. This may have started in a cloud of uncertainty and amid challenges that we are still facing today, but in this change the opportunity to reimagine our places and spaces might provide the upshot of many benefits that we possibly wouldn’t have prioritised before. As Winston Churchill said:

‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’

This could be the built environment industry’s time to give the nations of the world a benefit that both the population and the planet will thank us for. The key to making this happen is in building on the short-term gains and the long-term value. Almost every organisation has an entry point that will bring first phase savings (I’ve not met one yet that hasn’t!) and once savings start, transformation becomes a whole lot easier to keep stakeholder engagement and support. So before getting digital, think transformative:

  • how you work
  • the skills to deliver the work
  • the technology toolkit
  • the governance
  • the maturity journey
  • the measures of success

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