Image: Ryder Architecture

Analysis

A Scottish lesson in BIM

25 August 2020

How can the government’s latest promise to spend £1bn on a school building and refurbishment programme ensure it delivers whole-life value? By looking north of the border to a flagship scheme that is ensuring the Scottish school building programme maxmises the use of BIM by setting out a common approach to employers’ information requirements, and making the client information manager a key position. Denise Chevin reports.

When it comes to BIM, the chasm between contractors and their clients doesn’t seem to narrow. The building team complain there is little interest from the building owners receiving a digital model to aid asset management. Clients retort that they are deluged with information, most of which they don’t need.

How refreshing then that north of the border, efforts are afoot to close this gulf and make sure that BIM delivers all the benefits it’s meant to – a digital representation of the building that can be used to make managing and maintaining it, and measuring and improving its performance far more efficient. What is even more impressive is that this new initiative is being applied across the £1bn Scottish Learning Estate Investment Programme to bring these benefits to all new schools and colleges.

The initiative comes from the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT). This is an agency set up by the Scottish government more than ten years ago to improve public sector infrastructure across Scotland. SFT provides additional skills, resource and knowledge to public sector organisations, supporting them to more effectively plan, fund, deliver and manage their construction projects and buildings.

The conversation is maturing around ‘where do we put this digital information for this new school’, to ‘how do we link this information to our estate systems’. People are realising the value and benefits.– Paul Dodd, Scottish Futures Trust

Standard information management plan

As part of its work, the SFT has recently launched a new Standard Information Management Plan (SIMP), which it says will enhance infrastructure delivery and performance of 26 schools in 11 council areas that will be built or substantially refurbished under the £1bn programme.

The SIMP enables public bodies to specify best practice digital information management processes throughout the construction and maintenance stage via BIM, following the process set out in the new ISO 19650 standards.

"We’ve been supporting and leading the BIM programme on behalf of the Scottish government since 2015," says Paul Dodd, head of infrastructure technology at the SFT.

"The Scottish government’s programme on BIM was implemented in April 2017, making BIM mandatory across the public sector, and we continue to develop tools, guidance, training and support to help in the adoption of BIM within all public sector projects." 

SFT launched a portal in 2017 containing comprehensive guidance, including a return on investment tool, to demonstrate the cost and quality benefits of using BIM.

Training and upskilling to meet new standards

As part of rolling out the new SIMP policy, SFT is supporting training and upskilling to help local authorities move from the British standard PAS 1192 to the new international standard ISO 19650. "The SIMP will be used in other sectors eventually, to help move to the ISOs in other sectors if needed," says Dodd.

He adds that although BIM has been delivered "very successfully" within education projects in Scotland since the mandate, the handover of information at the end of the project has not been carried out as well as it could have been.

"Contractors are innovating, using the BIM models to get better outcomes from the design and construction phase, but clients are not clearly articulating what information they need for operating [the completed asset]. Authorities would ask for BIM, but only perceive it as a design and construction solution. However, with the SIMP, we’re trying to generate information that can be used beyond that, and also across an estate as well.

"The conversation is maturing around ‘where do we put this digital information for this new school’, to ‘how do we link this information to our estate systems’. So that’s more evidence that people are realising the value and benefits, which is exciting,” says Dodd.

To help the roll out go smoothly, SFT has created knowledge-sharing groups, bringing in tier 1 contractors and information management consultants as well. "It’s all about setting the project up for success, and supporting that," explains Dodd.

Contractors' response

David Carson, preconstruction director – Scotland at BAM Construction, is one of a number of digital leads from tier 1 contractors who who have taken part in workshops during the SIMP’s development.

He says: "The SIMP will bring a standard approach to how the information is delivered, meaning that designers, contractors and subcontractors not only know what information is to be provided but exactly how they are required to deliver it to allow clients to best manage the buildings during the operational stages."

Education is one of BAM’s key markets in the region. Since 2010 it has completed £492m of education projects for eight different local authorities and currently has three educational projects either on site or in the preconstruction phases. He says that organisations are at different stages of their digital transformation, but generally, most are working towards the delivery of what used to be known as Level 2 BIM implementation.

Says Carson: "I am not aware of any similar initiatives elsewhere in the UK, and the only time we see standardised Employers Information Requirements is where we have worked for the same clients in different regions of the UK."

Peter Barker, managing director of BIM Academy, which is also involved in Scottish school programmes, agrees: "The UK government hasn’t got anything as rigorous as this, so I think it’s a really positive thing the Scottish government has done.

"The advantage of the SFT approach is that there’s a very clear set of guidance and standards on the website: here are the tools, here’s the approach. The standards can be a bit complex for some, but here at least it’s very clearly set out.

"I sense there’s more of a laissez faire approach elsewhere in the UK. They’re encouraging the use of ISO 19650, but it’s left more to the individual project teams to work out how to apply it."

There’s a learning curve for people involved in procurement and design to get their heads round. It’s about the appropriate information and the digital properties of that information.– Peter Barker, BIM Academy

Will the Scottish lessons head south?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a school building programme in England at the end of June. The rebuilding programme will start in 2020-21 with the first 50 projects, supported by more than £1bn in funding. And while the use of BIM has been mandated across public sector projects since April 2016, as Carson and Barker have observed, there is no equivalent programme for BIM oversight and help across the school building programme in England.

"I think we’re quite fortunate that we have that commitment from government and support, especially not just creating the tools, but also then helping to embed them within programs and local authorities," says Dodd.

He says that the SFT is sharing the plan to help bring about digital change more widely. "We’re involved in the Centre for Digital Built Britain client group, and we do link in with DoE, so we’re in conversation with them about sharing and collaborating where we can. We’re really trying to help bring about wider digital change."

Arguably, rolling out a standardised approach is more complicated south of the border because most new schools are now under the academy programme. In Scotland all schools are still the responsibility of local authorities, who either fund the work themselves or through central funded programmes. The benefits are that innovation in the school building programme can then be harnessed by local authorities across other buildings they manage and maintain.

"We engage with local authorities beyond just the investment of new projects, but we’re having conversations with wider asset management teams around their approach to digital estate management. The NHS Scotland, for example, also has a digital estate working group. NHS Scotland leads the digital estate working group for health, and we’re liaising with them around their own transition to ISO, and that’s still evolving at the moment," explains Dodd.

What happens now?

The SIMP programme was formally launched in May, after SFT identified the first 10 projects it intended to support through it. The key ask when an authority implements the plan is that they must appoint a client-side information manager. "That’s about getting the right skills and expertise there, or even supporting up-skilling," says Dodd.

Carson says the appointment of a client-side information manager is key to ensuring that the client’s information requirements are clear from the outset. "It stipulates that clients should ensure that a suitably skilled and experienced person carries out this role. The SIMP toolsets include a Scope of Services for this role to assist clients in the procurement of these services.

"Thereafter, designers, contractors and subcontracts will simply include within their fees or tenders for the work in delivering the client’s information requirements."

At the moment, he says, those clients with a computer-aided facility management (CAFM) system tend to be more focused in what information they ask for, but others just ask for everything, and half of it won’t be used. "So, by setting a standardised approach, you’ll get the benefits of everyone asking for the same information.

"You’ll also get the benefits of being able to learn lessons from the process as well, for the next schools that are developed. It allows local authorities to share and collaborate, learn what worked well and what didn’t,” he says.

Making the main contractor's job easier

Alan Duffy, head of digital project delivery for Balfour Beatty Scotland & Ireland, is equally optimistic about SIMP. "It means that there is going to be a comprehensive set of documents that identifies what information is required, so the client knows what they’re going to receive, and as a contractor we know what we need to deliver.

"At the moment, we’re receiving documents that are not complete or not available at all, documents such as asset information qequirements and COBie deliverables are not clear or are over and above what they actually require. We also need to understand how information is integrated into the client’s CAFM system at the earliest opportunity to deliver the full benefits that BIM can provide.

"Often I find that when we receive projects at Stage 4, the models lack the correct Level of detail and information and coordination required for that stage and there’s a big gap that needs to be addressed by all of us as a project team.

"The appointment of an information manager as early as Stage 2/Stage 3 is going to greatly improve the quality of information during the early stages of a project. The information manager will work with client and support their project team to ensure everyone knows what needs to be delivered."

BIM Academy’s Barker again says that the concept is a good one, but says that procedurally it’s complex and unfamiliar to some, and that needs to be understood.

"As a result, there’s a learning curve for people involved in procurement and design to get their heads round. It’s about the appropriate information and the digital properties of that information. People are very much still used to dealing with 2D plans and drawings, and this is another layer of information, in a digital format.

"People need to understand that the information needs to be populated, and also you need a proper planned process, because if you don’t, it will end up being chaotic. So, there will be additional effort required, and therefore probably additional costs involved in the capital stage, but the ultimate benefit to the client is that they get much richer information and reduced operational costs and risk."

Queensferry High School for Edinburgh City Council is an exemplar project of Scottish Futures Trust's approach

Case study: Queensferry High School and the missing link between BIM and energy

One example of an innovative approach to digital construction is on the newly completed £40m Queensferry High School, for the City of Edinburgh, where BIM data was used to support improved energy and environmental performance, meaning whole life carbon, as well as cost.

BIM Academy managing director Peter Barker explains how the company got involved in the scheme: "The predicted versus actual environmental performance of previous schools projects had fallen short. So, BIM Academy did research for SFT which looked at improving the interoperability between BIM, i.e., tools like Revit, and the analytical tools that environmental consultants were using to assess environmental performance.

"Ironically, we found that there are tools that are used for building environmental analytics that are quite powerful, but they don’t communicate very well with BIM design tools. This issue has been around for a number of years, and it just hasn’t been resolved," he says.

"So we built a workflow that really improved that analytical process, in order that the architect would model the design in 3D digitally, and the model could then be analysed much more frequently and readily in the analytical software. And it’s definitely optimised the design solution."

Working with architect Ryder and environmental engineer Ramboll, BIM Academy came up with an efficient method that was built into a study on improving the environmental performance. The process is now being been rolled out across other schools in the region.

Lead image: Ryder Architecture