Blog Author: Richard Saxon CBE
You have heard of BIM, but what is IM or Information Management? And why has it replaced BIM as the focus of digital processes for the built environment? Thirdly, how do you use IM to deliver the desired outcomes?
In a nutshell, Information Management is a process for integrating all the inputs to planning, designing, building and operating built assets. It’s based on structured, shared information that people and machines read as the ‘single source of truth’. It’s defined by a global standard, ISO 19650, largely devised here in the UK. It can result in a step change in the quality of the product and the effectiveness of the process.
And it’s a lot more than BIM. Building Information Modelling has made a big impact since its first definition in 2003-8. For those who committed to it, it has enabled reality capture through scanning, coordinated multi-discipline design without clashes and errors, engaging visualisations to involve stakeholders and town planners, construction rehearsal and safety planning, offsite manufacture and onsite robotics, and streamlined Operation and Maintenance data transfer.
But BIM never reached a lot of the industry. It emerged from early-adopter US and UK architects and became associated with daring geometry and powerful visualisations. Structural engineers revelled in it, and some services engineers too. Some contractors got it as well and reduced their risks markedly. Clients needed convincing to pay for it, or to invest in their own capabilities. But payback studies were hard to create as you can’t really have counterfactual control examples. Project managers, quantity surveyors and facility managers were rarely engaged. The government mandate of 2016 to all its client departments did not lead to full uptake.
A broader definition and a rebranding were needed. This emerged from the move to create a world standard. PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 1192 was a UK provisional standard, developed from 2013 to power the BIM uptake mandated for 2016. A whole series of modules resulted, covering the capital phase, asset management, data transfer to facility management and security mindedness. PAS 1192 and the mandate spurred international interest and a working group formed to convert it to an ISO Standard. This process changed the definition somewhat. Whilst the PAS 1192 series had emerged in a sequence of ideas, the ISO team looked at it as a whole. It saw the need to reach all parties and to make all team roles clear, especially the client role.
ISO 19650 emerged at the end of 2018 as a very different thing from the PAS and focussed on information management. It followed the same modules but used new language. Because it had to be translated into several languages, the ambiguities of English usage in the industry could not be accepted. The answer was a whole new set of terms for team roles and for briefmaking. We will return to this as we go through the Plan of Work using Information Management.
The UK government sponsored the development of PAS 1192 and the creation of guidance to its use. Once the BIM Mandate arrived in 2016, the government backing for guidance stopped, on the basis that the industry now had to rise to the occasion. That led to the formation of the UK BIM Alliance, a volunteer body of individuals from across the industry who championed BIM and supported those using it. Its leadership also worked on ISO 19650 and set about the creation of guidance to be made freely available online. This resource, on the UK BIM Framework website, is now broad and deep, with a succession of updates through 2020 to 2022 as understanding grew.
The best way to comprehend the Standard is to walk through the workflow. This follows the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 which in turn was adapted to support IM. The eight-stage workflow, from Zero to Seven, covers the life cycle from pre-project planning to operation in use and beyond. ISO 19650 calls the client the Appointing Party (AP), with firms directly appointed by them being Lead Appointed Parties (LAP). Firms then engaged by the Lead Appointed Parties, like subcontractors, are called Appointed Parties (also AP). I take issue with some of this language: Clients often appoint a large number of consultants directly but ask one of them to lead the rest, apart from the Project Manager and Cost Consultant who usually report direct. The term Lead Appointed Party should, in my view, be reserved for the Lead Consultant or Contractor. All parties who carry out tasks on the project, including the Leads, are also Appointed Parties for those tasks. I prefer to call them Task Appointed Parties, or TAPs.
The workflow progresses in a three-column chart. Appointing Party tasks lie alongside Lead Appointed Party ones and those of Task Appointed Parties. Instructions from the AP flow to the LAP who calls up inputs from the TAPs and submits coordinated information back to the AP at each exchange point.
A vital part of the workflow is for the client to set up the project at Stages 0 and 1. They must define the scopes of service for those they appoint by allocating responsibilities, defining required project information at each milestone, setting standards, methods and procedures, choosing the essential Common Data Environment (CDE) and attaching their instructions to contracts and appointments through an Information Protocol. All of these together form the Exchange Information Requirements (EIR), the ISO 19650 term for the brief. Regular clients will need to invest in their own thinking to define their approaches to each of these elements.
Project Information Requirements (PIR) flow from the information needed to support stakeholder decisions at each stage, both to satisfy the brief and to create asset information to run the finished building properly. Standardised naming conventions for all types of information are essential, as are defined procedures. The CDE is the central quality management tool, ensuring that team members do not use their own versions of the design and that progress is tracked and recorded for later audit. The Information Protocol sets out rights and responsibilities for the intellectual property involved and needs tweaks to the appointments and contracts to attach it. JCT has published its own guide to this: BIM and JCT Contracts. It applies equally to IM.
The client can appoint the team by putting out the EIR as part of an invitation to tender. Competing teams under their aspiring leader then respond with an execution plan, demonstrating how they will meet all the requirements in the EIR. Once a winner is appointed, the client will need to allow a mobilisation period for the team to prove that the technological side is all working and that members know how to use it. This appointment process can be done once, for a design-build team, or split into separate design and build procurements.
The team can then progress through the Plan of Work as detailed in the EIR, finishing, if so required, with the handover of asset data from construction into the operation of the building so that facility management can be data based. Lessons learned should also be captured.
The whole Information Management approach is suited to regular clients with estates to manage. Public clients, infrastructure bodies, developers who retain and manage and owner-occupier companies are amongst the best suited. They can invest in their capabilities to define requirements and apply their information brief quickly to each new project. They may also choose to work with preferred firms as advantages of IM for collaboration and learning from one project to the next are best achieved that way. Framework Agreements are ideal for balancing competition with continuity. The government Construction Playbook requires users to employ IM to ISO 19650 whilst the new Value Toolkit provides a way of developing project information requirements to meet human, social, natural and manufactured (economic) value targets.
What comes next beyond IM? Evolution from BIM to IM has been explained here, but the next step focusses on integrating the static information about the asset with dynamic information flowing from instruments on the working asset. The so-called Digital Twin links the asset information database with ‘Smart’ sensors and analytics showing occupancy, comfort levels, system performance and maintenance need. There are already several such buildings and infrastructure assets in the UK. The next iteration of Information Management will inevitably include the Digital Twin with its promise of further reduced energy consumption, lower operating costs and better occupier and owner support.
This article is based on a JCT Young Professionals Group CPD presentation. It can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUjtO7oZ65E
Richard Saxon CBE is the immediate past chair of JCT. He has been a champion of BIM for 20 years, at BDP which he also chaired, for HMG and at Deploi, an information management consultancy for the built environment www.deploi.co.uk. He welcomes discussion at firstname.lastname@example.org