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TIES Living Lab: Culture change in the UK construction industry – Part 2

How can public works be delivered better, faster, and greener? In the second of this two-part series, we outline the UK TIES Living Lab programme work on data and digitalisation.

Deborah Nash, TransportPR
2 August 2022

The legacy of the Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy (TIES) Living Lab project will be phenomenal. Aside from costs savings and creating value for public money, the TIES Living Lab can help deliver the UK government’s ambition to transform infrastructure delivery.

The programme road tests new innovations to enable the construction sector to be more productive, more sustainable, and more internationally competitive, with better use of data and MMC. Welcome to the future.

The programme has three clusters of projects: Modern Methods of Construction (discussed in a previous article), Data, and Digitalisation.

Data projects

Three TIES Living Lab projects look at data tools. They harness data from across the TIES Living Lab consortium to:

  • create a repository of benchmark data and
  • output standard Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and
  • use Artificial Intelligence (AI) for data mining and then carrying out analysis to provide strategic insight into what can improve performance in projects.

They harness the vast quantities of data that our nation’s construction projects generate. All three of these projects are led by academics: a trusted, neutral third party that can robustly and objectively analyse complex sets of data. Dr Doug Forbes of Whole Life Consultants and the University of Dundee, Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, Professor of the Built Environment at the University of West England and Dr Phil Wheat of the University of Leeds are working on these together with Accelar, Loop, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The three projects focus not just on cost, cost performance, and benchmarking, but also examine five other areas. These include carbon and environmental impacts, scheduling, productivity, social value and quality. The projects use TIES Living Lab client groups’ historical data on project duration and risk schedules.

‘A foundation of trust needs to be built to overcome the major obstacle, being cultural, of an assumption that data exposes performance.’

Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi
Professor of the Built Environment at the University of West England

As Dr Doug Forbes states ‘benchmarking performance is crucial in driving forward best practice and bringing about improvement. Sharing that knowledge and information is key to bringing about transformational industry change.’ The immediate challenge is that each construction client uses their own in-house systems for collection and analysis. Construction data is not standardised and does not align with international or emerging standards, unlike the aviation industry which, in comparison, has a very different culture of sharing. For example, since the aviation industry started sharing information about near misses, these events have decreased substantially through the lessons learned from recording incidents.

Without shared data, it becomes impossible to benchmark, or compare, how one project is doing against others. As Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi says ‘A foundation of trust needs to be built to overcome the major obstacle, being cultural, of an assumption that data exposes performance’.

Looking for cost efficiencies within the system is also problematic at present. The key foundation of the TIES Living Lab data projects has been to structure data so that it is classified according to the International Construction Measurement Standard (ICMS).

If current data is classified using this method, it enables comparative benchmarking and standardised metrics. To this end, an ICMS translator, which would create a phenomenal working shift within the construction industry, has been built. Alongside this, a Risk Identifier that tries to predict if a project will encounter risk issues has also been built.

‘Our goal is to digitalise the infrastructure sector. TIES Living Lab has provided a platform to help drive innovation that optimises existing infrastructure, development, and the UK’s net-zero carbon journey.’

Charlie Davies
Strategic Growth Manager at Costain

Digital projects

The three TIES Living Lab digital projects are:

  • an Intelligent Infrastructure Control Centre (IICC), which will provide the most cost-effective way to design, deliver or operate transport infrastructure projects,
  • Advanced Logistics, assisting the smart planning of advanced offsite logistics, and
  • the Social Value Transport Infrastructure Calculator, measuring the social value derived from transport infrastructure projects.

Charlie Davies, Strategic Growth Manager at Costain, the lead partner in the International Industrial Contracting Corporation (IICC) says ‘our goal is to digitalise the infrastructure sector. TIES Living Lab has provided a platform to help drive innovation that optimises existing infrastructure, development, and the UK’s net-zero carbon journey.’

The IICC will deliver a secure cloud enterprise technology platform to assist the demonstration of major infrastructure projects in proving their business case for the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction. This includes logistics and conversational AI, with the use of key data sets outlined by the Department for Transport and TIES Living Lab partners. It offers live operational data and benchmarks which capture efficiencies in a very user-centric platform, reducing the need for data literacy. This is proving so successful that the Ministry of Defence, Shell and Innios are already interested.

Arguably, the construction industry is one of the least productive; dogged by infrastructure or buildings not being delivered on time and over-budget, costing the industry and the taxpayer billions. A major cultural shift is required to understand and put in place best practice. The Advanced Logistics Cloud-based Digital Platform enables the construction industry to track an asset from design, to manufacture, to installation and is pivotal to ‘just in time’ delivery. This method has already been used by the retail sector and car manufacture assembly for years. As an example of the challenges faced, after the fire at Grenfell Tower the Government approached the British Research Establishment (BRE) to ask where similar insulation had been installed-and discovered this was not readily available.

The Advanced Logistics Platform not only enables better planning of projects as well as potential massive cost savings, nearing 50%, but archives all information regarding a particular construction. Two mobile apps have been created from scratch for Iphone and Android. As Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, the project lead, says ‘this is a massive step to creating something far better, as it will be delivering buildings and built assets in a controlled environment’.

The last of the digital projects is currently being delivered by partners Loop, Kier Construction and Akerlof. The Social Value Transport Infrastructure Calculator aims to establish social value metrics that inform the generic framework for creating benchmarks for infrastructure and construction. The project team is developing a model and digital toolset to measure social value and capture the impact of Modern Methods of Construction for transport infrastructure. This will empower clients such as National Rail and Highways England to advocate and promote the importance of social value assessment in delivering better social, economic and environmental outcomes across transport infrastructure schemes.

There will be a series of TIES Living Lab technical papers published on the TIES Living Lab website and TIES LinkedIn.

Find out more at

Neil Robertson, CEO of NSAR and Programme Director of TIES Living Lab reflects on the significance and impact of this programme for the transport infrastructure sector.