Interview: Kent council’s Terry Gough – BIM in the public sector

Terry Gough, BIM Champion at Kent County Council, explains how Level 2 BIM implementation will mean an in-house Common Data Environment, coolness on COBie, and providing support for SMEs.

What are your plans for mandating BIM on projects?

All capital projects valued over £1m must now be delivered to Level 2 BIM, as close as possible to the government definition. Kent is currently running five projects utilising BIM technologies and processes, a further seven new build schools will be utilising BIM, but have yet to be procured.

Has BIM saved you any time or money on projects yet?

Not yet, but by November, when the first projects are completed we will have a more concrete idea. One of our main contractors claims they have experienced “early doors” savings in manpower and time, which bodes well for later on.

And we’ve noticed BIM is changing the nature of architects’ work and fees. Where before their fees were split roughly evenly between different stages of work, now it’s more front-loaded during RIBA stages 1-3 and after that they ramp down.

What progress have you made in preparation for the April 2016 mandate?

For the past 13 months I have been implementing work processes and upskilling internal staff and external consultants in collaboration with the National Federation of Builders. In addition, we helped set up the Kent BIM Hub for SMEs, for which I am chairman, as well as the South East Seven BIM Group, designed to align BIM practices among seven main local authorities including Kent, East Sussex, Hampshire, Brighton & Hove, and Medway.

The aim is to standardise BIM use across the south east, many contractors work for all of us so it makes sense to standardise aspects such as Employers’ Information Requirements, Asset Information Requirements and produce a standard BIM Execution Plan.

What are the main obstacles to meeting the mandate?

Ensuring the supply chain is ready and capable. We’ve worked with a number of SMEs in the area but we still need to engage with the smaller one-man-band type contractors to ensure they understand what’s required of them. It’s difficult because BIM so far has been all about Tier 1 and 2 firms, but further down the chain those guys have to fit in too.

I don’t agree with those who claim software affordability is an issue for smaller firms, even smart phones will run useful free BIM tools, like Asite, a cloud-based Common Data Environment, which we used successfully as part of the BIM4SMEs event Build Newcastle Live 2015.

Have you encountered any issues with your current BIM software?

Producing the required COBie data drops, as part of government Level 2 BIM, as Excel spreadsheets isn’t going to make sense as they can’t be used by our asset management software. We’re looking at how we can get asset data into and out of BIM models using our software instead.

Level 3 BIM covers, in part, asset management solutions, so it would be madness to download the data drop in Excel rather than extract it direct from the BIM model into our own solution.

In addition, we are working with Trimble to establish our own in-house Common Data Environment for use by Kent County Council and our project teams. We see this as critical going forward, because third party document management/common data environment software used by our Tier 1 and 2 contractors is not fully interoperable with our systems. If we can get architects, engineers, contractors to buy into our own system, we will be capturing that data from day one, which can feed directly into our asset management system. Having it in-house is a better option for us.

How prescriptive are you going to be on Level 2 BIM with your contractors?

There will be some leniency. Current industry talk is of implementing the mandate in March/April 2016, but because everyone is still on a learning curve we will have to allow some flexibility to the end of 2016 at least.

If projects are not getting it right we will help them identify where they are getting it wrong. The core project teams already understand what BIM is about, the challenge is how they interpret the government’s rules.

The critical aspect is to get the EIRs right, there’s some very poor guidance out there for clients at the moment. This will ensure a more succinct project from start to finish because teams will know exactly what they have to deliver and going forwards our FM and operations teams will have the data they need to run buildings.

Who is the most up to speed on BIM, eg architects, contractors, or project managers? 

A lot of local medium-sized contractors are moving very rapidly and we’re starting to see them partner with architects and engineers etc, taking them under their wing to push forward with BIM. I see no reason why contractors can’t adopt the Information Manager role in future, perhaps via their design managers.

Which groups are falling behind?

No one in particular, everyone’s on a learning curve.

What do you think of the NBS BIM toolkit, currently in beta? 

It’s not a bad little tool, and the ability to define, manage and validate responsibility for information development and delivery should prove useful. However, I’ve had a play around with it and there are a few glitches, for example details I entered on companies were deleted when I re-opened the software. It should improve though, NBS has five years of funding to update it.

The biggest question is who will take ownership of the Toolkit going forward, the client, the Information Manager, or someone else? Should it be up to clients to specify who in their EIR? There’s currently no guidance within PAS 1192 on how this Toolkit should be utilised.

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