Building on the blockchain

4 min read

Blockchain is the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, that has caught the world’s attention from tech startups to investors. But with an ever developing list of capabilities, it’s no wonder that so many companies have begun delving into the opportunities that it could offer to their business. 

Brittanie Campbell-Turner, Senior Project Manager for Mace in North America, takes a closer look at how companies are exploring blockchain and explains how it could be used to benefit our industry.

Simply put, blockchain is a way of storing exchanges of data with three unique qualities:

  1. Many identical copies of the data are held separately, rather than stored in once central location.
  2. It’s highly secure, using cryptography, meaning it's almost impossible to decrypt the data unless you have the relevant passwords or keys.
  3. It keeps a permanent record of each transaction of information.

However, the information exchanged doesn’t have to be transactions for digital currencies; it can be other kinds of information that would benefit from the increased trust that blockchain provides. 

Many of Mace’s clients are already investing and researching the opportunities, particularly businesses that have large amounts of information to exchange. For example:

  • Financial institutions are acknowledging that the security of blockchain could prevent fraud and increase the speed of transactions.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are looking at blockchain to create a more transparent supply chain and ensure products meet drug security act standards.
  • Retailers are looking at how it can be used to monitor their supply chain and check for the authenticity of goods. In particular, jewellers have been quick to recognise the opportunity to track diamonds on the blockchain.

To understand the potential benefits for our clients, Mace is also exploring the benefits for the property lifecycle. 

Whether developing, constructing, consulting or operating, large amounts of information is constantly being exchanged and blockchain has the potential to improve how we transfer data to one another and track it seamlessly. 

Because blockchain is effectively a database, conditions or pre-determined steps can be tied to transactions - these are known as 'smart contracts'. Imagine it as the rules you might set up on your email inbox: if this, then do that - but for real world actions. This is an area we believe needs the most research and will have the largest potential in the next 10-15 years.

Initially we see the opportunity with consultancy services where there is large amounts of existing data to exchange, such as project and programme management. This is where set-up is key to identifying stakeholder decision points and ensure schedule, budget, and quality are all met. 

The design management phase, which ensures the scope of work meets all expectations, has been advanced in recent years by BIM. In the future, BIM Level 3 (as dictated by PAS1192) could be truly enabled by blockchain to allow architects and engineers to design on the same model, allowing the retention of intellectual property, change control for documents and ensure compliance and consistency throughout the property lifecycle for projects, programmes and portfolios. 

During a project, blockchain could also be used with project management software to track requests for information, changes and even cost data based on real-time approval. As this data is captured it has the potential to inform our clients of factual real-time reporting and inform our cost consultancy services for more accurate projection and forecasting. 

To build a complete picture of the property lifecycle, it will be the parallel development of other new technologies such as the Internet of Things sensors and artificial intelligence technology (as mentioned in Mace’s Industry 4.0 report) that will help to bring in data from the built environment.

In construction, sensors could work together with blockchain to track site progress and verify identification, track materials directly from suppliers with smart contracts and allow staggered payments from order to install. 

In facilities management, some property owners that are already trading excess renewable energy are using the blockchain to track and administer transactions. The next step could be for sensors to be used to identify faults in equipment, using smart contracts to arrange parts and installation while keeping track of agreed maintenance. 

We are clear that new technology should be looked at objectively to ensure it meets the needs of our clients, however with such a wealth of new ideas it’s hard to ignore the opportunity that blockchain could provide in the future. 

And just as we have brought lean construction methodologies, new project management systems and rising factories into operation, we will continue to research blockchain to explore how we can find a better way to deliver for our clients. 

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