Why a Digital As-Built Is a Superior Deliverable in Construction

digital as-built in construction
Illustration: © IoT For All

Let’s be blunt: digital as-builts trump paper ones. 

Digital as-builts are living records of an asset’s as-built condition. They take shape over the course of a construction project through real-time collection and sharing of as-built data. And they can be updated to document changes in the asset management phase so they always reflect the asset as it exists.

Digital as-builts mark a quantum leap in as-built accuracy and accessibility – helping stakeholders work more efficiently during the construction process and supporting owners’ asset management after project turnover.

But digital as-built information is only actionable if it’s easily retrievable once it’s filed away. After all, construction teams spend 13% of their working hours looking for project data. It’s clear that data is not always easy to track down.

This is where map-based as-builts come in. Geospatial as-builts provide invaluable spatial intelligence and enable stakeholders – including owners – to more easily organize, access, and act on their data.

These digital, map-based records are catching on, and they bring contractors in line with where the industry and owners are ultimately headed: digital twins.

Digital As-Builts: A Quantum Leap in Accuracy 

Digital as-builts aren’t simply an electronic version of paper-based as-builts. They’re a different beast.

Real-time data collection and sharing

Digital as-builts are the result of a continuous process of gathering and sharing information in real time throughout construction – rather than a task relegated to the end of a project like their paper counterparts.

While paper documentation entails delays and multiple, manual transfers of data from redline drawings to as-built plans, digital as-builts provide much more accurate information.

And when all stakeholders can access up-to-date project data from anywhere at any time, it reduces rework and other mistakes. Naturally, this saves time and money.

Thorough project documentation

Plus, digital as-builts aren’t solely focused on changes from a project’s original design – as paper ones historically have been. Instead, they may include data that document aspects of a project whether they deviate from an original design or not.

For example, the installation of a sewer line or underground power lines that is going according to plan may be documented with a photo or as-built survey as proof of work and a record of the location before the infrastructure is covered up.

This is priceless in the event of a dispute or future 811 calls.

In this way, a digital as-built is a complete record of a project that shows how an asset was constructed, and – thanks to included GPS data – exactly where it is. Owners of underground infrastructure benefit from this visibility especially.

Essential for construction and beyond

When turned over at project completion, an accurate, comprehensive digital record provides even more value to an owner later down the road. They can draw on that data to inform ongoing operations and maintenance (O&M) and future planning over the lifetime of the asset.

How do digital as-builts achieve this increased accuracy? Because of 5 essential characteristics.

5 Key Traits of Digital As-Builts

Several crucial attributes make digital as-builts vital information sources throughout construction and the rest of an asset’s lifespan.

1. Cloud-based

Data captured for a digital as-built is securely shared in one place so that all stakeholders have access to it from anywhere. Without the cloud, information can easily fall through the cracks – caught up in email and text chains, not passed on quickly, or siloed in systems that don’t integrate. 

2. Real-time

A digital as-built includes information on work that is happening as it is happening. When uploaded to the cloud, stakeholders can access the latest project data at any given time.

3. Mobile

Digital as-built data documents a construction project, which means information is captured where construction is actually occurring – the job site. The use of mobile devices makes the collection of field data possible.

4. Multi-dimensional

Digital as-builts create a context-rich record through different types of data. They might include written information in the form of digital forms and documents, photos, video, GPS coordinates, geographic information systems (GIS), drone imagery, and as-built surveys. Altogether, these data types provide a detailed representation of the built asset as it exists. 

5. Location-based

A digital as-built documents a crucial aspect of an asset: its location. Data captured in the field may contain metadata that includes GPS coordinates. For records without this metadata, making use of location information and mapping tools through geographic information systems (GIS) provides literal visibility of the asset and related documentation.

This information ensures stakeholders and owners know exactly where an asset exists in the real world, making efficient construction and asset management – especially of large-scale horizontal infrastructure – possible.

Ready to create your own digital as-built? Here’s what you’ll need.

Tools for Digital As-Builting

Construction technology improves data transparency and stakeholder collaboration during construction – thereby cutting down on errors, project delays, and waste. And its utility is validated by the $100 million in funding within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act meant to increase its adoption.

Construction tech tools are in part what you’ll use to create a digital record that provides data-rich visibility into a project. These tools fall into two categories: software and devices. 

As-built software

Cloud-based construction software is essential to producing a digital project record. All the field data can be organized, viewed, and manipulated through project management software. Stakeholders need to be able to capture, share, and view as-built data in the field in real-time, so intuitive mobile software, apps, and integrations are also critical for digital as-builting.

Plenty of construction project management software options exist – Procore, Autodesk, and Bluebeam, to name just a few. But to capitalize on location information, you’ll need Mobile GIS to visualize it.

As-built devices

To capture all of this information in the field, digital as-builts require the use of mobile devices. Teams can use smartphones and tablets to take photos and videos and fill out any forms, such as permit or inspection documents. These devices will simultaneously capture GPS data associated with those photos or forms, which will tie them to a specific location.

Drones can provide high-resolution imagery that records progress on a construction site on a regular basis – excellent information that conveys the as-built status of a project at a given time.

While smartphones and tablets capture GPS data, a data collector can contribute an even higher degree of location accuracy. A digital record created with these tools will provide a trove of valuable data depicting the condition and the location of an asset – great news for stakeholders during construction and for owners operating and maintaining their assets after project handoff.

But if this data is squirreled away in countless file folders and people have to hunt for the information they need, how can they put it to meaningful use? Isn’t there a better way to organize and visualize as-built documentation?

Fortunately, there is: digital maps.

Why You Should Map Your Digital As-Builts

A map is a more intuitive way to organize and view data – especially information about a physical object with a real-world location. And when data is put into a visible, real-world context, stakeholders and owners can use it to support decision-making during the construction phase and into the asset management phase.

A 2018 study found that construction workers spend up to 5.5 hours per week tracking down project information, including revised drawings. Getting your data out of endless file folders and onto a map will help you avoid that fate.

Mobile GIS Creates A More Intuitive & Actionable As-Built

recent study on GIS utilization for construction projects confirms that providing as-built information in GIS format is a good move. It showed that 40% of contractors employed GIS in more than half of their projects to collect data on site and to provide digital project information at turnover. It also showed that more than 50% of the GIS users identified client satisfaction as an important benefit of GIS use.

A back-office GIS can format your information on a map. But it requires specialized training and can often be siloed from the field or rely on hard-to-use apps.

Fortunately, there’s another way: intuitive Mobile GIS enables you to map your own as-built data right in the field in real time. With Mobile GIS software on your smartphone or tablet, items you draw onto your map and the as-built conditions you document are immediately displayed for stakeholders to see. They are saved in GIS format – which can be exported for owner use at project closeout. Additionally, data collectors and laser scanning technology can be integrated with Mobile GIS to contribute even more precise geospatial information related to an asset.

Digital Twins: The Next As-Built Frontier

Employing GIS and mapping your as-built information is a major step forward in construction data management. But add 3D modeling, real-time updates via sensors, AI, and IoT, and you have the next phase of project visualization: the digital twin.

What is a digital twin’s relationship with as-builts?

Digital twins can be built gradually over the course of construction, or a 3D model of a completed construction project can be generated and populated with information to create a digital replica. Either way, digital as-built data feeds into the model – providing accurate, multidimensional information that makes a digital twin a virtual replica. This relationship has led to digital as-builts sometimes being characterized as a “starting point” for a digital twin. And digital twins have even been referred to as “next-generation digital as-built drawings.”

Demand for GIS and Improved Visibility Will Only Increase

Being able to see construction project data – including as-built documentation – is key to more efficient construction and future asset management.

Numbers bear it out: in a survey of GIS users in the construction industry, 80% of contractors reported that owners ask for GIS in the final deliverable after completion of the project. And the digital twin industry is estimated to reach nearly $36 billion by 2025 – up from $3.8 billion in early 2022.

It’s clear which way the construction industry is headed. As-built mapping that results in a rich, multidimensional digital record that you can deliver to an owner in GIS format is a step in the right direction.

Trusted by top utilities, contractors, and the federal government, Unearth equips those who build and maintain infrastructure with intuitive data capture, spatial intelligence, and collaboration. In other words, easy-to-use Mobile GIS.
Trusted by top utilities, contractors, and the federal government, Unearth equips those who build and maintain infrastructure with intuitive data capture, spatial intelligence, and collaboration. In other words, easy-to-use Mobile GIS.