Blog Author: Richard Saxon, CBE
Readers may be familiar with my interest in Building Information Modelling or BIM. Since the turn of the century I have been involved with the concept, helping to spur the government to make it their policy to mandate its use. In 2012 I was commissioned to produce a report for what is now BEIS on ‘BIM for Growth’, the potential effect on economic growth of the uptake of BIM in the UK. I became ‘UK BIM Ambassador for Growth’ in 2012-13. A place on the Steering Committee of the BIM Task Group was also provided as it evolved what became BIM Level 2 and the PAS 1192 set of draft standards in 2013. British BIM shot forward and became the world leader as the government mandate arrived in 2016.
BIM evolves rapidly however, and in moving to the next stage, a world BIM standard based on the UK model, the concept shifted markedly. In the opening pages of my 2013 report I did an infographic showing all the possible combinations of meanings to the letters B, I and M. One of them was Better Information Management. The term Building Information Modelling was controversial from the start: Civil engineers didn’t see how Building could apply to infrastructure and the Modelling word, a computing term rather than an architectural one, seemed to imply that geometry ruled. Nobody argued about the Information word, however.
The global standard, the ISO 19650 series, arrived at the end of 2018 and guidance on its use has blossomed through 2020. Guidance has been led by the UK BIM Alliance, a voluntary body set up to carry the ball after the government declared victory in April 2016 as the mandate arrived. It left the industry to pick the ball up and the UKBIMA set as its goal to make BIM Business as Usual by 2020. That was hugely ambitious goal as it quickly realised. However, along came Covid 19, shutting offices and pushing everyone onto digital media to do their work. Suddenly, BIM showed its advantages to mainstream professionals who were waiting to be convinced. McKinsey, which has been studying the construction industry for a few years now, reckoned that we advanced three years at least in just six months. Trends which were apparent became dominant. The use of data became an everyday thing in leading firms, with the most advanced using flying or walking scanners to check sitework against what it should be and installing sensors to make digital twins of the physical and virtual buildings. The data suddenly became an asset itself.
The new centroid of BIM is Information Management. Whereas the game started with architects and engineers revelling in 3D geometry, it now centres on the good organisation of client information requirements, starting with the end in mind. The biggest payback from digital information in built assets is to be able to operate and maintain the asset more economically, and with higher performance. So, what we want the asset to do and what information we need to run it become central questions. The design process becomes steered by the information brief, not just the conventional design brief. This brief is partly formed of the Project Information Requirement, together with the Asset Information Requirement for the in-use stage. Those who will take decisions through the project are asked to set out what those decisions need as supporting evidence and when they need it. The project can then move more smoothly through its stages, with the information model providing the quality-assured outputs and all participants sharing a single source of information, never relying on their own versions.
Setting up this way of working is not yet familiar, quick or cheap. It may become so as guidance improves, and artificial intelligence provides help. The payback in the capital phase is to speed the execution of work, avoiding changes of mind and errors as far as possible. Digital design also opens the way to more offsite fabrication as well as to automation of the working building, delivering a service, not a product. The prospect of ‘Industry 4.0’, the digital transformation that other industries are experiencing, is nearing every day, with the strange year of 2020 accelerating things markedly. The JCT Povey Lecture for 2020 was focussed on just this change, with Dr Damien Buie of Laing O’Rourke pointing up the way construction can find ‘Safety in Numbers’. See the recording of the lecture on the JCT website at https://corporate.jctltd.co.uk/jct-povey-lecture-2020/.
This is work I will continue to contribute to and to follow, after I move on from the chair of JCT at the end of February 2021. Follow me at Deploi.co.uk. Thank you for your support during my term and good luck in the digital future.
Richard Saxon CBE is a client and business adviser and was chair of JCT from 2015 to 2021. He was also the first Povey lecturer in 2003.