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Weaving the Digital Thread in the Built Environment - By : Substance,

Weaving the Digital Thread in the Built Environment


This is a summary of a lecture given by Érik Poirier at Avis de recherche. Mr. Poirier is a professor in the Department of Construction Engineering at ÉTS and co-director of the Research Group in Integration and Sustainable Development in the Built Environment (GRIDD). He specializes in the integration and optimization of information flows in value chains operating within the built asset industry.

Digital transformation in the construction industry

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The Digital Age in the Built Asset Industry

The digital transformation across most, if not all, economic sectors is rapidly gaining momentum. This transformation mainly consists in integrating advanced technologies to increase productivity and performance. At the heart of this transformation are many technologies including Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems, cloud computing, additive manufacturing, virtual and augmented reality, Big Data analysis and data science. The Quebec construction industry is following suit, namely though the implementation of building information modelling (BIM), which is becoming mandatory for public infrastructure projects according to the government of Quebec’s implementation road map (Feuille de route gouvernementale).

One challenge in this shift is managing the volume of data generated from various sources, which has been increasing exponentially since 2010. In fact, a conservative estimate shows that the construction-related data sphere in 2025 are set to reach at least 9 zettabytes!

On the one hand, the opportunities offered by modern technology are exciting. Indeed, studies have shown estimated losses of several billion dollars incurred from missing, inaccurate or erroneous data in the construction industry. On the other hand, more data is not a panacea. It must be accurate, available, up-to-date, and made available to all stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of a built asset.

The Digital Thread

The digital thread in the built environment refers to the flow of generated data, transformed and communicated throughout the lifecycle of a built asset. The goal of the digital thread is to decompartmentalize data so that relevant information is always available in the right place, at the right time, to the right person. It supports a communication and collaboration framework where data from different systems can be integrated, transformed and analyzed. At ÉTS, we are striving to define operational conditions of the digital thread in the built environment with governmental, institutional and industrial partners.

Digital thread

This operationalization involves four interrelated steps.

  • Characterizing the digital thread in construction and built environments.
  • Developing policies and strategies for its implementation to address non-technological issues.
  • Defining practices and processes for its implementation by reconfiguring systems both internally and throughout the supply chain.
  • Developing a digital and information ecosystem in support of its implementation.

To improve decision-making in the built environment, we must not only make these data easily available, but also ensure their quality. Only then will we be able to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by technologies such as BIM or digital twins.

Additional information

For more information on the digital thread, please refer to the following paper:

Succar, Bilal and Poirier, Erik. 2020, “Lifecycle information transformation and exchange for delivering and managing digital and physical assets.” Automation in Construction, vol. 112. p. 103090.


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