Interview: Peter Clark – Asda backs BIM in the retail sector

What’s your BIM ‘maturity’ level?
As a company we are pretty competent, Asda is one of the leading BIM-practising companies in the retail sector, having co-founded the BIM For Retail working group in 2010 under the government’s BIM Task Group. All stores built by Asda over the last four years have used BIM for all the construction information, although Asda stores built by developers have not always used it.

What’s your BIM set up?
Asda hosts and authors BIM models for several of our ‘model’ stores in Revit, which form our starting point and base line. These are modifed by architects on a project by project basis to incorporate the specific M&E, structure, architectural details, and even abnormalities in the ground. We have an in-house developed BIM library of every element used in our projects, so there is no need to consult the National BIM Library or elsewhere.

Have you reached Level 2 BIM, as per the government’s 2016 deadline?
We’re almost at Level 2 BIM, the only thing that’s letting us down is we haven’t quite nailed the integrated cost modelling element. Unfortunately, the cost consultants we use haven’t been as keen to get involved with BIM as other partners.

What are your most recent projects completed in BIM?
A 83,124 sq ft Asda store in Mosborough, Sheffield, opened in April and included our largest ever PV installation. An 75,626 sq ft Asda in Barnes Hill, Birmingham, opened last September. They cost £14m and £16m respectively to build.

Which aspects of BIM do you think are overhyped?
In the past there was a focus on BIM as a form of 3D visualisation, but that’s much less important to us now. It’s more about the information so we’re trying to strip back a lot of the graphical content in models, but host and extract more data.

And which aspects do you think are under-played?
There is huge potential to use BIM to exploit Big Data. Within the retail sector, information is collected on everything from products on the shelves, to energy consumption, to customer footfall, and the number of cars in a car park, all of which is held in different data models. If we can integrate these with the construction information model it will open up new possibilities. The more you integrate, the greater the potential, the challenge is to get the different software packages to talk to each other.

Do architects and contractors understand what a client needs from BIM?
We drove it through our supply chain and told them: “We have these requirements so you need to get onboard, and if you look into it, you can get efficiencies out of BIM too.”

Two years ago, main contractors were not interested because they didn’t think BIM was anything to do with them, or preceived it as a bit of a fad, but now they come to us with propositions for what they can add to a project to sell the advantages back to us. They led us down the path of including 4D and 5D time and cost planning information to improve the programme on site, clash detection, cash flow etc.

What are your biggest concerns regarding the future of BIM?
The level of involvement by suppliers. Currently, it’s bit of a mixed bag, some of the bigger guys are really into it, whereas some small suppliers are still stuck on pen and paper.

The next big step is to define what information is most relevant for different partners. For example, if you want a QS to be able to pull cost information out of the model, you need to be sure you have the right data there in the right format in the first place. We’ve spent the past four years trying to push home the importance of including FM information in the model, and this year we appear to have made the breakthrough and our FM partners are starting to get onboard.

Peter Clark is architectural specification manager at Asda Walmart

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