Blockchain in the built environment and construction industry: A systematic review, conceptual models and practical use cases

Highlights

Identifies recent challenges facing the construction industry and recognizes current attempts of exploring blockchain as part of the solution to some of these challenges.

Performs a systematic review of blockchain uses in the built environment and construction industry and identifies seven distinct areas of applications.

Introduces an extended socio-technical framework for implementation of blockchain into the construction industry including two conceptual models: the Blockchain Four-Dimensional Model, and the Blockchain Actors Model.•

Compiles an extensive list of challenges and opportunities presented by blockchain across the four dimensions (technical, process, policy, social) to offer a state-of-the-art review of its current state.•

Presents a decision support tool to appraise the suitability of use cases for blockchain applications and demonstrates it with three use cases.

Abstract

The construction industry is facing many challenges including low productivity, poor regulation and compliance, lack of adequate collaboration and information sharing, and poor payment practices. Advances in distributed ledger technologies (DLT), also referred to as Blockchain, are increasingly investigated as one of the constituents in the digital transformation of the construction industry and its response to these challenges.

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The overarching aim of this study was to analyse the current state of DLT in the built environment and the construction sector with a view to developing a coherent approach to support its adoption specifically in the construction industry. Three objectives were established to achieve this: (a) to present the first state-of-the-art and literature review on DLT in the built environment and construction industry providing a consolidated view of the applications explored and potential use cases that could support disruption of the construction industry. Seven use-categories were identified: [1] Smart Energy, [2] Smart Cities & the Sharing Economy, [3] Smart Government, [4] Smart Homes, [5] Intelligent Transport, [6] BIM and Construction Management, and [7] Business Models and Organisational Structures; (b) to propose a framework for implementation composed of two conceptual models (i.e. the DLT Four-Dimensional Model, and the DLT Actors Model), developed according to extended socio-technical systems theory and including four dimensions (technical, social, process and policy), to support the development of DLT-based solutions that are adequate to the challenges faced by the construction industry. The DLT Four-Dimensional Model and the DLT Actors Model contribute to improve the understanding of the concepts involved when discussing DLT applications in construction and represent flexible, adaptable and scalable knowledge constructs and foundations that can be used for various further investigations; and (c) to appraise three specific use cases (i.e. Project Bank Accounts, regulation and compliance, and a single shared-access BIM model) as potential areas for DLT through the application of a decision support tool. The results show that Project Bank Accounts (PBAs) and regulation and compliance are candidate areas for DLT applications and warrant further attention. However, for the third use case (i.e. single shared-access BIM model) DLT are still insufficiently developed at this time.

The research shows that there is real potential for DLT to support digitalisation in the construction industry and enable solutions to many of its challenges. However, there needs to be further investigation of the readiness of the industry, its organisations and processes, and to evaluate what changes need to occur before implementation can be successful. Further investigations will include the development of a roadmap process incorporating the four dimensions to evaluate readiness across a series of use cases for the construction industry (Blockchain Construction).

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