FEATURE ELECTRICAL DESIGN SOFTWARE Software and apps: gimmick or progress?

ECA director of technical, Steve Martin, looks at the pros and cons of digital working in the sector Apps on smartphones and tablets are


survey carried out by ECA, CIBSE and SELECT in 2017 showed that the

steady shift to software and apps in the electrotechnical and construction industries may be hindered by a few considerable obstacles. Most notable is the apparent lack of pre-existing infrastructure, high cost, and low expertise in the sector. Advances in software, in addition to a tidal shift in the role it plays in day- to-day life, are radically changing the way installations are designed, developed and managed. But, as the survey results showed, the embrace is not always whole-hearted. Four in 10 surveyed said they were ‘not

familiar’ with the term the ‘Internet of Things’, which has become widely used in the industry in recent years. In terms of the main barriers to installing connected technology in buildings, respondents identified ‘the cost of installing it’ (82 per cent) as the main one, with ‘lack of clear advice / knowledge’ (55 per cent), and ‘cyber security’ (49 per cent) also considered major factors. Almost four in 10 clients (39 per cent) said that they didn’t take any steps to protect smart installations against cyber threats. When new technology emerges, a

familiar trend can occur among contractors and clients alike. While the benefits of new technology can be clear, there can be a lack of speed or even a reluctance to incorporate it into projects. This could be due to cost constraints, or a lack of information, awareness and

expertise, and potentially a combination of all the above. Taking Building Information Modelling as an example, the industry widely agrees that it can reduce costs in the design/ build/ maintain lifecycle and save time on projects of all sizes. It is also clear that BIM will be increasingly required by clients and suppliers in the coming years. However, few appear confident when it comes to BIM knowledge and skills, and fewer still are regularly implementing it on their projects today. The same can be said for Building Energy

Management Systems (BEMS) and the growing demand for smart buildings. Typically, systems are designed, installed and commissioned independently and vary widely in their complexity. All could rely on powerful BMS software to bring them together, break down silos, and make it easier for operatives to control and monitor a building’s features through a simple interface. In the realm of the back office, software and apps are already revolutionising ways of working. For many contractors, preparing appropriate risk assessments and method statements can be challenging and time-consuming, even though these are vital to successful contracting. Applications like eRAMS allow contractors and maintenance teams to create, amend, store and print activity-based risk assessments, plus method statements and construction phase plans (CPPs).

bringing new dimensions to design and installation, through the use of virtual reality (VR). Mixed reality (MR), which blends the real world with virtual images and holograms, is also something which may become more common as part of the building and installing process. This approach helps give greater insight into the construction of an existing building and the installations within it, in real-time. The risk of hacking and its impact on unsecured networks is one of the biggest obstacles on the path to digitalisation. This challenge in particular needs to be overcome if we are to prevent contractors and clients from missing out on the potential benefits of software, and to make sure they are not letting their devices become their weak point. Within commercial buildings, security installers need to collaborate with their client's own network managers. This will demonstrate they can help put the necessary processes in place to secure any new installations or help isolate the network, so the security systems can't be compromised. Demand for software-enabled solutions

will only increase, and those contractors who are ready to provide clients with the right advice, systems and support could be in a position to capitalise on these opportunities – and build long-lasting relationships with clients seeking smarter homes, offices or buildings.




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