The benefits of blockchain technology for Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC)

By Laura Truscott

For my Global Shapers application last year, I leaped completely outside the box and chose to focus on blockchain technology. Since then, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that supports many of them has blown up on the mainstream internet. It still remains though, that because of the complex nature of how it works, most people don’t quite grasp the concept and struggle to see the unequivocal benefits that blockchain technology can bring to the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.

The purpose of blockchain technology is to decentralize the network; remove restrictions and the central point of reliance whilst increasing security and accountability. Multiple independent parties are able to use ‘blocks’ to share digital information or transact with each other using distributed ledgers. No one single user owns the environment, but all parties can have confidence in the content because of the validation exchanged among peers.

I’ve gathered my thoughts and research on some use cases of how the technology is already being used or proposed. I hope to use this information to stimulate the conversation about how blockchain will change our industry and where we could be looking to offer blockchain services to our clients to stay ahead of the game.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM is quickly becoming a standard requirement on projects around the world, however it is plagued potential legal issues which can be a barrier to its adoption. The issues arise around fields of security, liability, transferability and live data collection and this is where blockchain technology comes in. Unlike current BIM processes, the entire history of blockchain data as well as the time and author are recorded and protected with the equivalent of a cryptographically strong digital signature. As well as this, the solution is not centralized and has no need for a central trusted authority. It’s quite clear that using blockchain as part of the BIM process would significantly increase the level of transparency of the data shared, resulting in increased trust amongst project collaborators. The obvious intertwining of BIM and blockchain technology has been theorized for some time now, however to date has had no substantial output. I see this as one of the major blockchain opportunity areas for Arcadis worldwide.

Quant

Quant is an idea developed by the Integrated Engineering Blockchain Consortium (IEBC) which uses the idea of Engineering knowledge as the currency or transaction. Quant proposes to use validation claims submitted by engineers to create a network of technical skillsets with detailed levels of education and experience. Collectively, all transactions in the network would establish the entire body of knowledge in the engineering profession. The decentralized database would have endless utility in predictive analysis, financial projection, risk mitigation, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and blockchain applications.

Property Registration

The World Bank issues an annual report called ‘Doing Business’ which identifies dimensions of the regulatory environment in countries around the world. One particular indicator is ‘Registering Property’ which measures the procedures, time and cost to transfer a property. In 2016 the Republic of Georgia piloted a blockchain land-titling registry, dramatically improving their land administration system and now placing them 4th in the world for their ease of registering property. The table below is derived from the report and compares the Republic of Georgia with the USA, UK and Australia. Property registration is common amongst our clients, whether it be governments or developers, and the ease of which blockchain can be implemented for this sort of task should be an easy entry point into offering blockchain to our clients.

Country Georgia USA UK Australia
Procedures (number) 1 4.4 6 5
Time (days) 1 15.2 21.5 4.5
Cost (% of property value) 0.0 2.5 4.8 5.2
Rank (out of 190 countries) 4 37 47 51


Source: http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB2018-Full-Report.pdf

So… Now what?

At the core of blockchain is a system which can implement a trust network that allows individuals and organizations to transact with one another, without the need to trust one another. The implementation of such a network will offer major improvements for a variety of sectors, including large impacts on the AEC industry. At the moment blockchain technology is right at the top of the rollercoaster, ready to build momentum on the rapid ride down so it’s imperative we keep the wheels moving forward.

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