Interview: Andy Smith, John Lewis Partnership – responding to the changing office environment

Andy Smith, senior manager, head office facilities at John Lewis Partnership, talks to BIM+ about his role and the challenges and opportunities that currently lie ahead of us. And we showcase the estate digitalisation study he spearheaded.

Tell us about your role at John Lewis Partnership?

My job is to run the team that looks after partners at the head offices’ campuses. That is about 6,000 work stations across nine buildings in two campuses (Bracknell in Berkshire and in London Victoria).

Our job is to coordinate FM services and deliver an outstanding working environment throughout the head office estate. The objective is to enable partners to do their job effectively and work to the best of their ability. Therefore, what we do directly supports the performance of the business.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?

Providing an excellent service which is totally focused on the needs of the partners. This requires us to have both the tools and the knowledge to do this in a professional manner, and to ensure we can respond rapidly to changing circumstances. But I think I get the greatest job satisfaction when I hear that one of our team has gone above and beyond to support a visitor or a colleague in their work.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge our industry faces right now?

Aside from simple financial survival, the future of our workplaces will inevitably change. The way we utilise buildings, their function and purpose should never go back to the way it was. Our historical connection with our workspace – as somewhere to administer the business – has been challenged over the past three months as we all adjusted to working from home. 

We have broken the norms and reset the culture. Therefore, if we accept the office environment needs to radically evolve, we should embrace this, and begin to develop spaces for community, for collaboration and connections. The property industry cannot stand still.

Where do you see the biggest opportunities?

As an industry, we are getting better at the graphical, geometric and data links between construction and building operations. There is still some way to go but it is improving as workflow efficiencies from BIM begin to embed into the construction process.

One of the biggest challenges is our legacy building stock where records are often still in 2D with disparate functional data in different formats, systems and platforms. There is a great opportunity here to create a simple, cost-effective route to digitisation and to offer adaptable systems that can provide the relevant and accurate data required to manage buildings efficiently. 

The really interesting bit for me is not only the way we use the fixed data sets but how we can start looking at predictive analytics and space modelling from AI tools to optimise utilisation, layouts and efficiency.

How do you believe technology will support planning in a post-Covid world?

Digital Inc’s work for the John Lewis Partnership will underpin the way we continue to manage our buildings into the future. As someone who understands how virtual environment tech can support the physical estate, I know that our biggest challenge is demonstrating exactly how this can drive enhanced efficiencies and therefore positively affect our operational costs. Having a BIM strategy consisting of both visual representations and functional data is critical to demonstrating this value. 

In my experience, no-one ever regrets a BIM journey, but getting started is often the most challenging phase. The reality is this journey should never end.

Case Study: Waitrose Campus, Bracknell

Waitrose head office and distribution centre in Bracknell covers a large area of approximately 3m sq ft. A total of 16 separate buildings make up the complex. These are mostly offices and warehouses, but there are also two multistorey staff car parks, a conference centre, plus a sports and leisure centre.

In early 2018, the company began an estate digitisation process, and asked Digital Inc to undertake a full 3D measured survey of all the buildings and surrounding grounds, including landscaping and surface car parking. From this, the team was able to develop a BIM-ready survey model of the entire site.

The first task was to assemble a project team with the precise mix of skills and expertise required. As this was a complex project consisting of many different strands, Digital Inc’s team of specialists and technicians comprised:

  • 2 terrestrial laser scanning teams
  • 1 drone/UAV team
  • 1 CCTV pipe survey specialist team
  • 1 underground utilities surveyor
  • 8 BIM technicians
  • 1 visualiser/photographer
  • 1 dedicated project manager
  • 1 dedicated quality controller

Many areas, including the main distribution centre, were in use 24 hours a day, and detailed planning was needed to gain access to these areas with as little disruption as possible.

Due to the size of the area to be surveyed, drones were seen as the most efficient way to carry out much of the work. This required a great deal of preparation to comply with the company’s health and safety standards, and minimise the risk to staff working nearby.

The use of drones significantly increased the amount of data to be processed, together with the 3D scanning data and CCTV data, this led to sizeable and complicated files.

Digital Inc’s skilled BIM technicians needed to manipulate this large quantity of data, and make sure that all modelling and families were fully optimised to prevent the file becoming unstable and unmanageable. Continuity throughout the project was also vital, and having a dedicated project manager and strong QA procedures meant we could ensure that naming conventions and family NBS standards were consistent across each individual element.

The team’s technicians and specialist advisors were meticulous in interpreting and piecing together the information from different data sources to create an accurate model. Having a dedicated team meant we could keep to our strict timetable and achieve the highest level of consistency from the beginning to the end of the project.

By constantly liaising with the client, we were able to keep them informed of progress at each stage, advise of any potential problems, negotiate solutions, and make sure their expectations were exceeded every step of the way.

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Analysis