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Housing urgency will require contractors to embrace BIM fully

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Extracting every drop of efficiency value from BIM will be needed to respond to national housing imperatives, says Jason Ruddle, chief operating officer at Elecosoft.

2017 is set to be a hugely significant year for housing. Two major government announcements were out almost before the Christmas decorations came down. One launched a swathe of new brownfield starter homes. Another cited a “dramatic expansion” of funding for affordable housing, unlocking a whopping £7bn. Local authorities and housing associations are, no doubt, hard at work on a fresh set of applications.

As January unfolds, however, many in local government and the construction sector are eagerly, though nervously, awaiting the imminent Housing White Paper, promised in the Autumn Statement. They need to see the policy that complements these funding plans, because it will probably contain both opportunity and some contentious changes.

Jason Ruddle

Prime minister May labelled the housing sector as “dysfunctional” at the last Conservative Party Conference, while business secretary Sajid Javid has spoken of major reform to impact construction levels which are “nowhere good enough”. Rumours that it would pave the way for a new generation of prefabricated homes surfaced in The Telegraph late last year. Policy shifts may see Local Plan housing targets overridden by tougher national targets, and there may even be moves to weaken green belt planning restrictions.

Increasing UK housing stock is clearly essential. Despite a slight rise in new builds to 189,000 in 2015-16, supply has remained sluggish for some time and remains below the estimate of 220,000 new homes needed just to “tread water”. Despite the best efforts of local authorities and housing associations, there is simply too much demand for the supply of social housing.

Meanwhile, home ownership is becoming distant for young buyers as prices continue, regardless of Brexit, to rise. Home ownership is rising – PwC predicts that 35% of households will own homes by 2025, but this partly reflects the increasing number of over-60s. The rental market is bursting at the seams, homelessness is rising and net migration continues to grow the population.

More houses are needed – fast. An acute sense of urgency is now likely to dominate housebuilding, and will filter through the construction supply chain at lightning speed.

Unquestionable Urgency

Urgency is coming through in government actions and narrative. It was fast out of the gates with announcements that used telling language. In announcing 30 local authorities that have secured partnerships for the first wave of Starter Homes the government explicitly stated that selection was based on “potential for early delivery”. The FT even speculated that acceleration may be the entire purpose of the forthcoming White Paper.

Such urgency will translate not only into a will to get starts underway, but impact client demands. It will drive a culture of acceleration that clients will expect contractors to adopt, and drive through its supply chain. Project owners will pass responsibility for this ambitious delivery to their contractors. How can contractors prove their capability?

Five proofs of accelerated delivery

Contractors have started embracing BIM for public sector tenders. But housing project owners and consulting teams may start to look for more, especially where delivery speed is a funding condition. They will still seek the cost benefits of BIM, but will also want to realise its maximum efficiency potential.

Contractors must do more than show they align behind project aims and can deliver assets. They must deliver on time, every time, to meet tight or near-impossible deadlines – and prove their capability at tender stage, in five specific ways:
Embrace BIM fully: While every contractor should now be able to use BIM, many will still be undertaking first or early BIM projects. Accelerated projects will require excellence, however: BIM Execution Plans must be polished; contractors must show they have every tool to execute and expedite BIM processes for speedy and frictionless delivery.

  • Total Project Efficiency: It will be critical to show dedication to efficiency in terms of time, resource and cost, via use of BIM-optimised design and project management platforms. This is best achieved by adopting a 5D BIM approach that delivers a fully integrated view of projects throughout their duration, including 3D visualisation, programme plans, resource allocations, cost estimations and cost control. They can use software tools to optimise workflow through structured data exchanges, and enable seamless hand-offs: leveraging the software to deliver a defined collaborative approach that spans multiple trades, to ensure repetitive tasks, such as plastering, operate at maximum efficiency.
  • Time-Focused Culture: A reputation for on-time completion may put some ahead, but every contractor needs to prove their understanding of the critical central role of time management. Programmes such as the “Focused Innovation and Improvement for Time” or FIIT Team, initiated at Willmott Dixon, show such understanding, and can give clients confidence. This programme has set out to bring time and project excellence to the fore, and standardise best practices using Asta Powerproject, across the whole organisation.
  • Adaptability & Agility: Tolerance for project delays are already low among the public and media; now clients will be under intense time pressure. Great communication and careful exploration of the impact of client changes or unexpected issues will be vital – giving advantages to those who can show they have systems in-situ to explore optimal scenarios, rapidly resequence activities, and maintain constant progress, all without compromising completion.
  • Transformational: Lastly, contractors that want to win in the anticipated policy environment will need to show their readiness for the future. They must show that they can utilise the smartest of new methodologies and materials, are ready to embrace offsite manufacturing and prefabricated building components, can integrate them easily into their programmes and absorb their associated data into their BIM information systems and the resulting data model.

Delivering the nation’s much-needed accommodation for the future is a responsibility that both national house builders, their subcontractors and the rest of the construction sector, are certainly capable of fulfilling. However, it will be those who sharpen up their existing approaches to time, cost, resource and BIM project management to show they can do so at accelerated speeds that will gain the most competitive advantage and secure a lion’s share of the upcoming opportunity.

Image: Dreamstime

Contractors have started embracing BIM for public sector tenders. But housing project owners and consulting teams may start to look for more, especially where delivery speed is a funding condition. They will still seek the cost benefits of BIM, but will also want to realise its maximum efficiency potential.– Jason Ruddle, Elecosoft