The term “golden thread of information” in the design and construction industry might be a new one for you. Originating in the UK after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, the term is being adopted more and more widely by industry leaders across the globe.
What is the golden thread?
At its most basic meaning, the golden thread is a way to describe a continuous, unbroken, all-encompassing repository of information that grows with an asset. As an asset goes through concept, design, construction, handover, operations, and even end of life, the golden thread is continuously updated.
The golden thread then becomes an immensely helpful tool, not just for general asset management, but for contractor and maintenance accountability, proof of regulation compliance, identifying risk, responding to emergencies, and providing a handover of indisputable historical knowledge as and when the manager of the asset changes.
UK legislation (Building Safety Act 2022) requires the golden thread to be digital, however they have not gone so far as to prescribe a specific format. They have outlined some basic requirements for a digital golden thread though, which boils down to keeping the information accurate, complete, and up to date, and have specified that while an individual or entity must be named as the ‘dutyholder’ or ‘accountable person’ of the golden thread, they do not necessarily have to be the owner or operator of the asset.
How is the golden thread different to what we do today?
There are two key things that make the golden thread stand apart from current processes. The first is the sheer level of detail and amount of information being collected. The second is its digital-first nature.
Many parts of design and construction have undergone digital transformation and there are digital requirements at handover. What this stage is lacking, is the coherence and commonality between all these files – they’re handed in by different contractors in different formats, they’re not required to all be in one place, and the information often ends up in silos (or lost).
The golden thread, in contrast, is required to be a central repository. This tidy packaging of the asset’s information then becomes a lot more appealing for future team members who will need to refer to it, especially when it’s organised, searchable, and uses standards, so anyone can pick it up and know how to use it.
The digital factor comes in handy in later asset lifecycle stages, too.
Post design and construction, O&M teams are still using paper for a lot of their processes. Equipment manuals, warranties, inspections, and other files are still using prints outs and clipboards.
Giving them the golden thread from day one of operations, combined with the requirement to keep it up to date, means they’re being brought into a fully digital world.
What does the golden thread mean for me?
If you operate in the UK and are constructing or planning on operating a residential building, care home, or hospital over 18 meters tall, you’ll need to follow the Building Safety Act.
However, the golden thread shouldn’t be seen as irrelevant to other building or infrastructure types or countries. It’s expected the legislation will expand to more buildings and infrastructure networks in future, not just within the UK but possibly outside it, too.
Right now, the golden thread is being embraced by forward thinking private and public organisations all over the world, whether they operate in real estate, rail, mines, and even roads.
If you want to be leading your industry, adhering to the standards of a golden thread regardless of whether it’s mandatory will put you years ahead of your peers in terms of digital readiness and data capabilities.
Why would I want a golden thread?
There are a multitude of reasons why an asset owner would want a golden thread when it’s not obligatory. During design and construction, the transparency of contractors and subcontractors is limited, and once a build is complete, accountability for errors, overdue work, and quality assurance is extremely difficult to control.
With a golden thread, each contributor’s input on the build is meticulously tracked, making it far easier to hold the correct party accountable. Some of the key motivations for developing the golden thread after the Grenfell Tower fire was upholding standards and safety. Not all contractors (or even owners) misinterpret regulations, cut corners, or are indifferent to quality, but with the golden thread you’re much more likely to be able to identify the ones who do.
On the flip side, if you’re a contractor, you’ll want the golden thread as proof of your quality work.
What does the golden thread mean for operations?
So far, we’ve mostly covered design and construction but the golden thread is required for the entirety of an asset’s lifecycle.
Operations and maintenance teams take up the mantle of the golden thread once construction is complete.
Regardless of the industry, operations and maintenance teams will need to be familiar with how to keep the golden thread up to date. Whether it’s repairs, refurbishments, or demolitions, everything needs to be recorded. Some teams may need to upskill in the areas of digital and data literacy.
How should a golden thread be set up?
As we mentioned, there’s no set platform or software prescribed by the Building Safety Act.
Digital twins, a technology that has only recently become accessible to industries outside of manufacturing, are a perfect vessel for golden threads to be developed in.
A digital twin is often visualised as a 3D model but is much more than that. Synchronised to the real-life asset, a digital twin collects data from the asset through system integrations, IoT sensors, and through processes such as inspections and tickets being digitized. This data collection at first is used to monitor the environment, but historic data build-up quickly means you can identify patterns and trends, spot optimizations, set benchmarks, complete root-cause analyses, and eventually, perform simulations.
The similarities between a golden thread and our WillowTwin™ make it an ideal candidate for teams working on new builds who are keen to get on board with the golden thread.
Built on Microsoft’s Azure Digital Twin platform with industry-specific ontologies, WillowTwin is accessible to all teams, brings transparency and accountability to all lifecycle stages, and is an open environment that can integrate with any existing or future systems.
Learn more about the differences between traditional construction processes and WillowTwin’s impact by downloading our brochure.