“It’s not brain surgery.” The saying implies that the activity in question is relatively simple in comparison with the difficulty of operating on the human brain. There may be some truth to this saying—but NOT if it is applied to the building process.

Consider that a typical surgery does not begin until every necessary person, tool and supply is present in the operating room. The structure of the operating room is designed to optimize the performance of medical staff, its environmental controls are set to maintain the optimal temperature, lighting and air quality. Each person is highly trained in detailed protocols and highly compensated to perform very specialized duties. Last but not least, the patient is a living organism whose body is actively working to sustain itself and become healthy. There is an old adage in healthcare circles, that you better do something quickly that helps your patient improve or their own immune systems are going to kick in and heal the patient without medical assistance. Point being: in the OR, a lot of energy is expended to create and maintain order.

Now, contrast this with the typical building process. A project is often spread across large, unconditioned geographic areas. Team members often enter the project with incompatible skill sets—some highly skilled, some with no training at all—and incentives— some highly compensated, some hardly compensated at all. Their actions are often uncoordinated, both in terms of timing and knowledge-sharing, and they perform these actions in weather conditions that are highly variable. Point being: this is a recipe for disorder, if not disaster.

At the risk of giving some of you a mild headache, join me for a moment as I travel in time back to high school physics class.  Do you remember the definition of entropy? Entropy refers to the degree of disorder or randomness in a given system. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that everything naturally tends toward a higher degree of disorder, that the total entropy of a system tends to increase. Yikes. Let’s conclude the physics lesson before that headache turns into a migraine… (if you’re a glutton for punishment, feel free to follow this link on entropy) .

Building, as you might imagine, is not an exception to the universal rule of entropy. Historically, building, has allowed a high degree of disorder and randomness to exist within the process of production as well as the final product. All phases of the building process seem to revel in disorder.

Until very recently, the ability to change this situation—along with the requisite tools, technology and knowledge—has not existed.

However, in the last decade, a convergence of several distinct forces has made real change in the building industry not only possible, but increasingly necessary:

  1. The incredible power being unleashed by new technology, both hardware and software.
  2. Increasing awareness, on the part of architects, engineers and contractors, of the potential for change within the entire material procurement chain.
  3. Dissatisfaction, on the part of owners and developers, with the market’s status quo.
  4. Energy efficiency and sustainability.

The influence of the market forces described in items 2, 3 and 4 has been steadily increasing since the early 1970’s. The technological tools (item #1) being developed, such as:

  1. Team enabled BIM software platforms that share and synchronize project knowledge
  2. Seamless data reporting and analytics derived directly from the BIM Models
  3. IOT solutions that tie real building data to the BIM models creating real-time data feedback loops.
  4. High Quality, high performance building modules that integrate all the building disciplines.

are finally sufficiently robust that the building industry can begin to re-organize itself in a way that can adequately address the new and growing market demands.

And there will be plenty of market opportunities for those who can leverage these technological tools to achieve a higher degree of order in the building process—and maybe make building a little more like brain surgery.