Image: CDBB

Analysis

Q&A: CDBB’s Alexandra Bolton - We don’t need to talk about BIM Levels any more

20 October 2019 | By Stephen Cousins

As the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) reaches the end of its initial two-year phase of work, executive director Alexandra Bolton reflects on its progress in relation to BIM, digital manufacturing and a National Digital Twin and outlines ambitious plans for the year ahead.

Are you proud of what CDBB has managed to achieve in 24 months?

From a standing start with no office and no staff, we have flourished to become a 20+ member team with a dedicated office and have established a strong and inclusive strategy that is already making a difference.

We have rapidly become the focal point for the digital transformation of UK buildings and infrastructure and made significant progress towards ensuring that Britain continues to lead the world in this exciting field.

CDBB was tasked with delivering a smart digital economy for infrastructure and construction. What strides have you made?

We have developed a series of programmes looking at improving academic capacity, aligning with and supporting policy development, and supporting industry change towards a digital built Britain that delivers for everyone.

We established a UK implementation programme, in partnership with government, industry, the UK BIM Alliance and industry bodies, that offers tools, guidance and case studies designed to support the adoption of information management, which can improve the way we design, build, operate and integrate infrastructure.

For example, a public sector ISO transition working group is looking at how public sector bodies can move from PAS BIM standards for information management through to the new ISO 19650 standards. We have a Home Nations working group looking to keep the four home nations aligned in their approach.

It is important not to talk about BIM Levels any more, we found it really difficult to define them accurately. A better path is to look at the lifecycle in terms of design, build, operate, integrate. PAS and ISO standards don’t explicitly talk about levels, they just lay out a framework for managing the information.– Alexandra Bolton, CDBB

Internationally, we have partnered with the Department for International Trade and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to share UK knowhow and approaches to information management with partner countries worldwide. A new online training tool was launched this month to help overseas stakeholders understand how to implement a national BIM strategy.

On top of that, we initiated some 30 research projects in the UK covering topics from the governance of digital technology in a city, through to the use of aerial swarm robotics for bridge inspection. And the National Digital Twin programme produced the Gemini Principles and a Roadmap, the two critical deliverables needed to move it forwards.

What has been the importance of BIM to your work so far?

CDBB is committed to supporting the adoption of BIM as business as usual and the evolution of the UK BIM Programme. Infrastructure projects are working increasingly with BIM, which will help lay the groundwork for the National Digital Twin, and the underlying Information Management Framework that will build on the common data format and standards used in BIM.

These will also apply to existing infrastructure and enable us to take advantage of data generated by both new assets and older systems and ensure it is interoperable, secure and resilient.

It is important not to talk about BIM Levels any more, we found it really difficult to define them accurately. A better path is to look at the lifecycle in terms of design, build, operate, integrate. PAS and ISO standards don’t explicitly talk about levels, they just lay out a framework for managing the information.

Does that mean the term ‘BIM’ will be phased out in future?

There will always be a need for good information management in design and construction, through to operation and maintenance phases of an asset, so what label one sticks on it is just semantics really. As with all these things, BIM will evolve and change over time as new techniques and technologies come on stream.

Has it been difficult to get the industry on board with your work?

We’ve had some fantastic support from industry, from government, the civil service and from academic institutions, everybody seems to be realising that now is the time we need to work together to get this done. For example, the Digital Framework Task Group, which is setting up the Information Management Framework, includes members of government and industry, and wider groups like the Open Data Institute and the UK Regulators Network, which all bring ideas to the table.

This is not about CDBB controlling the programme from the centre, it is very much about coordinating and making sure people are aligned and working together.

The National Digital Twin programme must complete the work of the Roadmap and get an Information Management Framework in place so that data can be shared resiliently and securely between separate digital twins and other data sources.– Alexandra Bolton, CDBB

What key areas will CDBB progress going forward?

We are about to set up a Buildings Client Group, analogous to the existing Infrastructure Client Group, and a Local Authorities BIM Working Group that will examine how councils use BIM and other digital tools in their estates.

The latter will run for six months, chaired by Terry Stocks, and should give us a clearer picture of whether enough councils are using BIM and what’s required in terms of support. 

The National Digital Twin programme must complete the work of the Roadmap and get an Information Management Framework in place so that data can be shared resiliently and securely between separate digital twins and other data sources.

The Digital Twin Hub, a web-enabled community of people making serious inroads into running and creating digital twins, is expected to make significant progress. This provides a safe space where those entities can share lessons learned and ask questions. We already have six infrastructure owners in the initial cohort but it will expand much more widely over the next year or so.

When will the Information Management Framework be completed?

The programme we put forward for the National Digital Twin runs for four years, and the Framework will continue to evolve alongside society and technology. Indeed, evolution is one of the nine Gemini Principles, which we use as the guiding consciousness of the National Digital Twin. The framework itself should be something that stands the test of time, be non-tech specific, broad enough to cover information management in general and allow society to flourish.

Have you secured funding for next year? 

We are lucky to be part of the Construction Innovation Hub, the largest-ever government-backed R&D programme for the construction sector, through which we are working with the Manufacturing Technology Centre and the Building Research Establishment to transform the UK construction industry. A lot of the work we do sits under that funding and is in place until the end of September 2022.

Clients need better visibility of the concrete benefits of BIM, what are you doing about that?

We have commissioned a piece of work to assess the suitability of BIM maturity and BIM benefit tools, which should result in recommendations on how to move forward. There are a number of tools designed to measure how mature organisations or projects are, and the benefits of BIM, but they are not all necessarily aligned. It might be that one tool is perfect and we should all be using it, but it is more likely to be a mixed picture.

Figures on the impact on project costs and programme are vital when you’re explaining either to a board or a client why BIM is beneficial and worth paying a little bit more for in the capital stage.

What work have you done to align manufacturing processes with construction? 

It is important to change the way buildings and infrastructure are designed and manufactured. We supported a good piece of work done in conjunction with the Construction Innovation Hub and Bryden Wood on a Platform-based approach to design for manufacture and assembly.

This concept involves the development of standardised and interoperable components that are digitally designed and manufactured for use across multiple building types, from homes to schools, to hospitals and prisons.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority subsequently proposed P-DfMA as its preferred approach to offsite to be adopted across government departments.