BIM: Digitising the public sector

PSE’s Josh Mines talks to Stephen Crompton, CTO at GroupBC, and Stuart Bell, the company’s sales and marketing director, about how Building Information Modelling is set to transform the construction industry.

Building Information Modelling, or BIM for short, is transforming the construction landscape in both the public and private sector. In very simple terms, it’s a way of creating a digital representation of a managed physical asset – but, as GroupBC CTO Stephen Crompton tells me, the real benefits of BIM go much further than that.

“It’s about bringing huge efficiencies to a process many would refer to as construction or, more broadly, the built environment,” he said.

“It’s also about adopting standards and processes in a manner which is already accepted, adopted and embedded in other industries, most noticeably automotive and aerospace.”

In these industries, Crompton explained, before anything gets off the production line, a product will go through thousands of iterations, computer models and simulations to optimise performance and iron out any risk. By comparison, construction has lagged behind in its use of data and technology to minimise risk and waste.

“In construction – as former government chief construction advisor Paul Morrell famously put it – there’s usually one model that gets built and it’s a scale of 1:1, it’s in the wind and the rain and it’s loaded with risk,” Crompton commented. “At the moment, an asset gets procured and then the handover is typically a mix of drawings, spreadsheets, reports and other unstructured information.

“It’s not difficult to see how this is going to lead to the challenges we still see regarding variations, overruns, overbudgets, and not getting what is expected as a final client deliverable. That leads to claims, litigation and other things that we desperately need to address within this industry.”

This is where BIM comes in. By creating a process where documentation and detailed, structured information can be stored and maintained in a digital equivalent of a built asset (or a digital twin), then instead of having to painstakingly re-key information, for example, at handover of the asset, now this digital information can be seamlessly transferred and used for maintenance in what Crompton calls the “ongoing evolution of that asset.”

“At the moment, a lot of what we do – and where much of the waste comes from – is that we work in silos, in discrete organisations, and don’t necessarily have a constant flow of information being shared,” he continued.

“BIM is a collaborative process involving the entire supply chain. Rather than working in silos, all of this process is joined up, beginning with those that are going to be using that asset involved in informing its design.”

Now is the time for BIM

So why is BIM so important now? For one, a mandate that came into force in April 2016 has made it a requirement for central government departments who build or procure assets to work to a standard known as ‘BIM Level 2,’ GroupBC sales and marketing director Stuart Bell stated.

But mandate aside, BIM is also something that makes sense, and is sure to make delivering and managing projects and assets much easier.

“It’s all about a journey of digital transformation, and if historically you managed all your construction projects and built asset information around paper, you know from experience it just makes business sense to digitise all that,” Bell continued.

“It then makes further sense to codify that digital information in the manner that makes it easier to group, search for information, and support decisions when they are needed.”

Importantly, as in any business, BIM isn’t about delivering a single building or improving the lifecycle of one asset, but about continuous improvement across the board.

“In motor racing, for example, you have a continuous performance loop of measuring and improving,” Crompton pointed out. “Ultimately, by doing what we do better in an efficiently mechanised way, we will deliver far better-performing assets that meet the needs of users.

“When you look at things like how we are becoming increasingly more drawn to urban living, the demand on urban centres is huge in terms of housing and infrastructure. If we continue just to do things like we are at the moment, we will not cope with demand nor deliver the service people expect.”

Simplifying procurement

A feature that is making the adoption of BIM much easier is the implementation of the G-Cloud Digital Marketplace. This government database allows organisations to quickly and easily find relevant and vetted suppliers to deliver projects at the click of a button.

“If you have anything that is going to help connect those public sector individuals to the appropriate relevant suppliers more quickly, knowing that important questions have been asked already and knowing they can therefore cut down that process in an approved way, that can only be good – not just for us, but also for our clients and for everyone in the industry,” Crompton said.

“It’s all about simplification of the procurement process,” Bell added. “Linking buyers with a need to registered and vetted suppliers that can meet that need.”

Why GroupBC?

BIM is an exciting prospect for public sector clients and suppliers alike, but why is GroupBC particularly well-placed to assist clients in implementing it into their asset management processes?

“Looking at the record of our business as reflected by our own clients, we have a number of construction clients who have achieved BIM certification and attributed it primarily to the use of our software,” Crompton argued.

The GroupBC CTO also pointed to the vast experience the company has in this market, having delivered BIM projects since as early as 2006.

“By being involved in emerging BIM processes very early on and pull them apart and understand them, it has put us in a fantastic place to be able to deliver those benefits for our clients in both the public and private sectors,” he concluded.

His colleague Bell added: “We are recognised as a safe pair of hands, having over the last 20 years supported organisations with their projects and asset information management needs. We are also experts in the delivery of enterprise-scale projects in the public sector.”

We wrap up our conversation by discussing that even though the switch to BIM is a landmark change, it should not be seen as something which is time-consuming or difficult to deliver.

“This is not about lengthy change projects and really expensive IT schemes anymore; the beauty of cloud software as a service is that you can go into the Digital Marketplace and procure “BIM in a box” that can then be tailored to your agency or departmental needs, and aligned to how you are managing project information,” Bell explained.

“This is part of incremental improvements. Fundamentally, we are still focusing on delivering documentation using a file-based approach.

“But ultimately, if you look towards Digital Built Britain, it isn’t just about delivering single assets: it’s about moving towards a digitised version of our entire national portfolio.”

It’s a bold vision, but there’s no doubt that this is the direction of travel when it comes to construction and asset management in the public sector.



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