For a while now, we’ve been doing our best to align the way we design smart buildings to the process outlined in the RIBA Plan of Work. But, it simply isn’t working.

For most smart building designers, we’re not usually called in until the technical design stage. This often means that designers aren’t able to make the impact that they’d like, or that a client expects. Stage 4, isn’t a helpful starting position. Most clients are unable to articulate what business outcomes or human experiences they expect to unlock with smart building technology. Starting at the beginning with the other designers gives the opportunity to get under the skin of how digital services will elevate operations (be that finding colleagues by skill in real-time, live EPC ratings or reduced employee sick days through well-managed spaces). Design thinking methods really help a client to imagine what their future could feel like and focus on what’s valuable versus what’s just a gadget.

The Plan of Work supports a waterfall way of working. The process is linear – and so it should be in construction… you need to finish the foundations before you can put the roof on. But software doesn’t care about that. The different elements of a piece of software can be delivered in any order – a style of project management called agile. Most construction project managers struggle to marry these two styles – but I think it’s a secret weapon. It gives you the ability to rejig your delivery depending on delays that have happened on the ground.

The process fundamentally doesn’t work for tech either. I think it’s important to bring procurement processes forward into stage 3. I find it helps to prevent rework in stage 4 and 5, so that final designs and specifications match the capability that is actually purchasable from the market. I’ve seen time and time again that what you can buy isn’t as advanced as the specification. That means you’re far less likely to experience value engineering (pronounced: “value extraction”) from your contractor. There’s even some tricks to use smart to improve commissioning.

To help with delivery and articulate what feels like a standardised process, the big consultancies have productised their smart design offerings. They have great diagrams that show what happens and when. The only problem is that the different consultancies all say different things. In the end, a client has to pick which one they like the most from other factors, not their process.

It's important to get this right – it’s not just about being involved earlier. The technology designed and installed is used by everyone in the space on a daily or hourly basis. Getting it to work properly has huge ramifications and costs.

I’m excited to see the changes that the new RIBA president, Muyiwa Oki, will make during his tenure. I fear, however, that he has too many fundamentals to fix and won’t have time to get around to us!

If you’d like to join a taskforce I’m setting up to get a standard PoW overlay written, please email me: Let’s get this sorted!

In Dr Marson’s monthly column, he’ll be chronicling his thoughts and opinions on the latest developments, trends, and challenges in the Smart Buildings industry and the wider world of construction. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, you're sure to find something of interest here.

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Matthew Marson is an experienced leader, working at the intersection of technology, sustainability, and the built environment. He was recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering as Young Engineer of the Year for his contributions to the global Smart Buildings industry. Having worked on some of the world’s leading smart buildings and cities projects, Matthew is a keynote speaker at international industry events related to emerging technology, net zero design and lessons from projects. He was an author in the Encyclopaedia of Sustainable Technologies and a published writer in a variety of journals, earning a doctorate in Smart Buildings.