Digitalization must be seen as added value says Skanska's Miro Ristimäki

Miro Ristimäki, Skanska
"Digitalization is something that affects the entire construction industry, and it must be pushed forward as a single industry. I believe that even a small step can bring a big impact", predicts Miro Ristimäki, Skanska's Director, Digital Services and Innovations and chairman of Digitalization group of the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries RT. For Ristimäki, digitalization and standards are tools, the benefits of which everyone must realize for themselves.

At Skanska, Miro Ristimäki is responsible for his company's digital services and innovation activities. Ristimäki emphasizes that the task of digitalization is to simplify the operations of companies, not to make them more burdensome. Therefore the implementation of all technology must have a business perspective and the use cases that benefit from it must be known. At the end of the day, digitalization must also be reflected in the bottom line.

Digitalization, technology and management with information are just tools with which we strive to improve our operating methods. As information moves more and more, we need to understand how to make better use of it, both within the company and in the supply chain.

Ristimäki points out that in the construction industry, digitalization and information-based management have just picked up speed, and work still needs to be done around the basics. When the flow of information is not complete, the existing information cannot be used versatilely. Things cannot be digitalized until the information is digitized.

Digitalization and digitization are two different things. Digitization is, for example, taking the information of a PDF document into a database or data model, from which we can extract it. By using digitized information, we can digitalize operations and find wider business and scaling benefits.


A data model is like a skeleton of the information of a building

BIM data models are a key part of the digitalization of the construction industry and an important part of Ristimäki's work. A data model is like a building plan in digital form, where you can find all the necessary information about the building. However, this does not mean that every single piece of information is stored in the data model itself, but the information can be found behind the links. Using standardized codes, the building's information model connects the information on different information platforms to available digital form in the same place.

A functioning information model is like a skeleton of the information of a building, on which you can hang key information and retrieve everything else from elsewhere. If you want to know more about the building's window, you can get more information from the data model by clicking on the window's GTIN (Global Trade Item Number). This works when all the building's products are identified and coded and the information model communicates smoothly with other platforms. So, the information model is not just a floating house in the software, but a sophisticated database of the building's information. It is only as good as its information content, and it is not worth collecting information that no one will use.


The "holy trinity" of information management

Ristimäki states that in information modeling it is important to have standards for which information is modeled in the models and which information is central. A lot of information is created in the various stages of construction, but not all information needs to be forwarded. There are already over 150 standards in the industry, which makes it confusing. Ristimäki, in RT's Digitalization group for the construction industry, is trying to promote agreement on what are the common standards that the industry will use in the future.

The Digitalization group and Ristimäki see that the key to making the construction industry more efficient can be found in the digitalization of product information and supply chains. With the help of machine-readable GTINs, even concrete elements designed and manufactured to order can be identified, and coded information travels from the factory via transport to the construction site and to building maintenance with the help of information platforms. Product customization and the resulting information flow reduce the manual work of construction projects, prevent human errors, and shorten the turnaround time of construction sites.

For me, managing with information means that the right information is in the right place at the right time. Product information and supply chain digitalization contribute to this whole holy trinity


You need product information to calculate a realistic carbon footprint

Ristimäki considers responsibility to be the driver that will drive digitalization and standardization in the construction industry. The green transition requires supply chain transparency, which in practice means more accurate information and tools. To accurately calculate a realistic carbon footprint, you need product information as well as information about emissions related to work and the supply chain.

We need data so that we can reduce the carbon footprint of construction. To be able to carry out change in a systematic, sustainable, and scalable manner, we must have uniform standards and a common agreement on what and how information is used. Otherwise, everyone has their own calculation formulas, and we don't know which is which, and we are comparing pears, apples, and bananas.


Change management and insight

Ristimäki says that Skanska is in the top group that actively moves the discussion on digitalization forward, but at the same time states that no operator can make a digital leap on its own, but the entire construction industry must work together to bring about change. When construction is made more efficient, it changes the industry's operating field and business models:

When we digitize and digitalize, we should not always digitize the way we operate, but digitalization gives us the opportunity to challenge the current operation. Can we do something better or more efficiently now that we have new tools and information flow?

Ristimäki states that the digitalization of the construction industry is a multifaceted phenomenon. The reform requires change management and the willingness and ability of actors to look at their own work in a different way than before.

This change requires people's understanding, insight, and courage to look at things from a slightly different perspective. In some product categories these things already work automatically, but in others this will require more work. We now need to share information and practices. I call this phase the realization phase. We have hypothesized the benefits, and now we need to think about how we present them to stakeholders.