Digital consents could save country $1.5bn a year

The building industry is proposing a national online system for building consents

An effort to formulate a consistent national online system for building consents is seen by its promoters as the toe in the door for a larger principle of interoperability in building and geographical information systems (GIS).

Building industry and government agency representatives have floated the initial concept to pertinent ministers. “We’re asking: if there were a national online consenting system, what would it look like, what’s the ownership model; what’s the liability model and so forth,” says one of the prime movers, Simon Lloyd-Evans, CIO of the Building and Housing group at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“There is a clear and present need for a consistent online consenting process,” Lloyd-Evans says, particularly with the Christchurch rebuild beginning, everyone concerned should be “making sure the consenting process isn’t getting in the way”.

The online consenting application will require consistent digital representation of buildings and their location and Lloyd-Evans says he sees this as having other important benefits. It will combine building information modelling (BIM), GIS and consenting, which he says could be a world first for New Zealand. “To the best of my knowledge there is no other jurisdiction that has achieved this,” he says.

Currently “the construction sector has multiple rich sources of information, but they aren’t [working to] a standard,” he told the Digital Earth Summit, in Wellington. “Everybody’s doing their own thing and we need to collaborate.”

The “size of the prize” is about $1.5 billion, annually he says; this represents a predicted 10 percent increase in the productivity of the construction sector; “that’s one percent of GDP.”

Building industry representatives appeared on a video accompanying Lloyd-Evans’s talk, testifying to the beneficial effects of encouraging consistent digital representation of buildings, the sites they are built on and the services they are connected to. This will allow the industry to “prototype” a construction project more accurately, they said. In Lloyd-Evans’s words “it irons out any issues on the desktop, not during construction.”

The consistent representation would be kept to a small kernel, he says, so as not to unduly constrain the freedom of construction firms to work in their own way with their chosen digital tools.

There could be all manner of downstream beneficial effects, he told the conference. Firefighters, for example, could have access to the data and would know accurately where inflammable material is located in a building.

Richard Simpson, one of the organisers of the conference, says some of the benefits are doubtless not even visible yet.

He compares a standard building and site representation to the standard digital encoding of music which gave rise to unpredictable innovations such as the emergence of iTunes. Innovations sparked by the change could be a significant ingredient in New Zealand’s knowledge economy, he says.

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