I think the answer to this question isn’t straightforward. If we look at the first part, BIM desperately needed an influential sponsor to throw its weight behind an emerging technology that promised so much in terms of efficiency savings. The Government proved to be that catalyst for our industry and the wider supply chain to take greater note of the opportunities that BIM presented, ahead of private sector customers who often couldn’t see past the cost consideration. BIM is now a universal term with awareness from both public and private sector customers – and from our perspective, there has been a radical shift in the industry's perception of BIM from our private sector customer base.
That’s the good part. But let’s go back to the second element of the question – are we driving this technology forward? Here, I think the jury is still out. There are certainly pockets of excellence within our industry and customer portfolios, but an emerging theme within the public sector is that we’re failing to successfully articulate how we can evolve this technology to bring transformational change.
I was recently speaking at a public sector conference about a new approach that ISG has championed, the creation of an entirely new role within the construction process – the Master Systems Architect (MSA). There was a positive reaction from the audience, and I fielded many questions at the end of my session, but what was clear from these conversations was that there was a disconnect from the overarching promise of BIM and the end-user experience. And this is where there is so much opportunity, but also the real danger that BIM adoption falls backwards.
Let me explain. Construction has always worked best when everyone operates as part of a collaborative team. BIM helps to foster these collaborative relationships as we all work within the same modelled universe, sharing data, design information and identifying issues that can be resolved virtually before a single boot hits site. But it’s so much more than that if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This is the point where the MSA role comes in as an antidote to siloed thinking. The MSA is there to interrogate the brief, probe and understand why the physical infrastructure is required in the form it was initially envisaged, and, most importantly, how the new project fits within the context of the wider estate.
This last point is crucial, especially within the public sector, where we often have large physical estates that are not performing to requirements or expectations. Technology is the starting point for this conversation – not steel frames, blockwork and partition walls. The goal is to create an estate based around a common technology ecosystem, creating the conditions for smart asset management decision-making, pre-emptive maintenance regimes and efficient operations. BIM has a fundamental role to play in this new world, as the master asset register and one source of truth.
But this last point is where BIM in real-world operation most likely fails. To unlock the full potential of BIM, we must not view it solely as a pre-construction tool, but a rich asset database that sits behind our smart decision-making capability post-occupancy. My conversations with many attendees at the conference reinforced the commonly held belief that many public sector buildings are handed over, and the BIM model and dataset are simply stored on a laptop and forgotten.
A simple first step is to keep BIM data accurate. Our solution is the development of a smart form, permanently linked to the BIM database. Every time a material change is made to components or specifications in the building, this data is entered once on the form and the asset register is fully updated.
With an intelligent design solution from the MSA, our assets can now communicate back to us, for example, monitoring air exchanges through an air handling unit. Combine this information with accurate product specification data held in the BIM universe, and we have a powerful computer-aided facility management (CAFM) system. This is the future of facilities management – an automated system that constantly monitors performance, identifies issues instantly and proactively tracks and schedules the maintenance regime for every component in the building according to its individual product specification. But this can only work if we accurately maintain the core BIM database.
The public sector often comes in for criticism, but with BIM adoption, it was a pioneer that has helped to transform the direction of our industry. It’s important that with the passing of the mandate, we continue to push those technology boundaries and work towards a public sector estate that is both fit for purpose and efficient by design.