Kier Group’s BIM integration manager discusses her varied 13-year career, which included a spell as an assistant site manager, the challenges of embedding BIM across the business, and the creation of a new digital construction apprenticeship.
You have had a very varied career path and held various positions in coordination, project management, commercial and planning roles, even a spell on site as an assistant site manager in 2009 – does that experience help you in your current role?
Yes, it has given me a rounded knowledge of the various disciplines, roles and people within the business as well as the built environment, including individuals on site, in HR, internal IT, innovation and marketing and information security, which gives me a better appreciation of how BIM will impact on each of them.
I have been lucky enough to have had very supportive line managers and colleagues throughout my career, who have tried to push me outside my comfort zone to try new things and broaden my experience. This has really helped expand my knowledge and appreciation for the industry and the many facets of a construction company.
In what key ways has the digital field developed since you started 13 years ago?
The technology side of the industry has undergone a revolution to the point where it is commonplace today to see high-tech solutions used on site to either assist with delivery or quantify and validate data. The number of start-ups driving innovation is massive with a huge diversity of companies, both large and small, investing in technology because they realise the huge value it has to offer.
A number of contractors, including Kier, are working with academics and supply chains to identify new ways of working, it's an ideal time to enter the next era of Digital Built Britain.
Are there any downsides to “progress”?
On the construction side it is necessary to take stock and really understand the issues and challenges faced before diving straight in and purchasing technology. Sometimes a change to a way of working may be a more effective solution.
You were involved in the development of Kier’s new digital construction apprenticeship focused on BIM. Why was it set up?
Building on the Digital Engineering Technician Standard, we worked with the Learning Skills Partnership and T3 Training & Development to develop the scheme which is about diversifying the opportunities available to enter the industry.
The next generation of talent are typically already digitally enabled and familiar with tech, which makes it much easier for us to teach the foundations and principles of BIM. We want apprentices to be able to take away this learning into other areas of the business when they progress their careers.
How many have completed the apprenticeship?
The first cohort of eight apprentices started in April and are studying for a BTEC and NVQ in Construction and Built Environment. They are line managed/mentored by Kier BIM managers, I am mentoring three of them.
Over the coming months we will promote the benefits of the scheme to other construction firms in the hope of rolling it out across the industry. We are planning to take some of the apprentices to Digital Construction Week in London in October to deliver a presentation to inspire others.
What are the main challenges of embedding BIM across Kier?
People are under a lot of time pressure, which means they don't feel they are always able to take stock and implement changes so perseverance is required. Our teams understand that a transition period is required for teams to learn how to do things differently, otherwise they will miss out on opportunities to discover all that BIM has to offer.
Inspiration is important, I’m lucky to be supported by a team who share the same interest in delivering BIM. We see the exciting future we can be part of, but there are people who do not have the same understanding of the benefits and therefore the desire to join in.
Part of my role is to help people understand what’s in it for them, that BIM is the future and it is here to stay.
Does everyone in Kier need to have some knowledge of BIM?
Yes, that's why it is such a challenge, the business has so many processes and procedures that can benefit from BIM. Our outlook is not to develop a large team of BIM specialists that everyone comes to with their questions – our team will remain quite small, it’s about upskilling the workforce to ensure that BIM is adopted by everyone.
There are many BIM technology and software vendors offering similar solutions which can confuse people from making initial engagement. As a business you need clear direction and strategy to ensure people know how and when to participate.
Is part of it about standardising approaches?
Regardless of BIM, if you haven’t standardised your traditional way of working it is extremely hard to digitise it. It’s therefore important to review current processes and align them before you look to digitise, then implement new coding and naming conventions etc. This is an ever growing challenge in a company with such a diverse offering, there are so many facets.
Are you working integrate BIM with SME supply chain partners?
Yes, we have BIM capability assessments that we send out to suppliers to gauge their level of experience and understanding. It’s not to catch them out, but to identify where they may need further support when working on projects and the amount of time we need to spend training them when they are in contract.
Ultimately, we are only as good as our supply chain so there’s a need to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.
How important is BIM as a factor when assessing suppliers?
It’s right up there. If our clients are asking for BIM we have due diligence to ensure that everyone in the supply chain can deliver what’s required.
How many clients ask for BIM now?
It is massively increasing, particularly on larger government schemes, defence and education frameworks, mainly due to the Level 2 BIM mandate. When we tender for projects we compile different weightings based on client responses and BIM is generally receiving heavier weightings.
Our BIM managers spend a lot of time with clients and JV partners looking at client Employer’s Information Requirements to ensure their needs are being reflected on projects.
Are the government’s PAS and BS specifications for BIM working effectively on projects?
Yes, the standards are robust and the new specification PAS 1192-6, for the collaborative sharing and use of structured health and safety information using BIM, will be a key driver for BIM implementation because health and safety is so important in construction.
Where do you think your career will go next?
I’m keen to stick with BIM and move it forward, maybe connecting it with a broader approach to digital construction and other things Kier is involved in but there’s still a lot to do with BIM as it stands, I’m not going anywhere soon.