The Digital Supply Chain: Mobilising Supply Chain Management Philosophy to Reconceptualise Digital Technologies and Building Information Modelling (BIM)


Supply Chain (SC) thinking in construction emerged in the mid-1990s. It followed SC adaptations in manufacturing, as cybernetics and developing information capabilities in the 1950s, provided a fertile ground for regulating and optimising the physical distribution of goods. Because these information capabilities improved the quality and profitability of firms, inevitably SCs gained strategic importance for management and procurement. In construction, SC management (SCM) has been seen as the management of material and information flows. Following on the popularisation of SCM in the United Kingdom (UK), after its governmental sponsorship, SCM philosophy was attributed social and relational importance, as it displayed the ability to manage and integrate numerous multi-disciplinary construction actors. During the 1970s, structuring and consistently representing information to capture knowledge about building artefacts was a predominant line of though, which again followed advancements in manufacturing, particularly aerospace. With United States’ initiatives in the mid-1980s, product model definitions were developed for exchanging building information amongst computer applications, and replacing the error-prone human intervention. The advancements in building product modelling joined the long-standing debate on the computerisation and digitisation of construction. Therefore, – contrary to popular belief – BIM is not a newly-found technological innovation, but the natural evolution of these long-standing efforts of industry consortia to structure building information. As SCM introduces the potential for deeper relational integration across tiers, similarly BIM carries the promise to integrate not only building product information, but also the actors of multi-disciplinary project teams. Subsequently, the parallel efforts to integrate the SC by focusing on material flows, and to integrate and standardising the respective information flows are correlated. After all, material and information are two sides of the same coin. Both SCM and BIM have evolved from product-related and tangible concepts to human-centred constructs that affect various multi-actor networks in construction’s institutional environment. Surprisingly, similarly to the relational and actor-related meaning that the concept of SCM carries nowadays, also BIM has been linked not only to coordination of technological artefacts, but also to complex socio-technical processes to align actors and information. Subsequently, this chapter draws upon theory to discuss not only the compatibility, relevance, and topicality of SCM and BIM concepts in today’s construction, but also outline implications for policy-makers and industrial leaders who wish to take the integration of the construction SC forward.

In Successful Construction Supply Chain Management: Concepts and Case Studies, Second Edition. Edited by Stephen Pryke.