Interview: Willmott Dixon’s Garry Fannon – Bringing certifiable BIM benefits

Garry Fannon, head of BIM at Willmott Dixon Construction, on the benefits of being the first contractor to achieve company-wide BIM Level 2 certification, and why clients are still missing the boat on the government mandate.

Last month, Willmott Dixon was awarded BRE Global BIM Level 2 Business Systems Certification across its contracting, residential development and interiors portfolio, what are the key benefits?

It stamps our capability on the industry and gives clients the assurance we can deliver Level 2 projects. It means we don’t have to answer questions related to our BIM capability on the PAS 91 standardised pre-qualification questionnaire. The certification is more comprehensive than other main contractors and we are the first house builder and interior fit-out specialist to get it.

What process did you have to go through to achieve it?

Internally, we had to align all our BIM processes and procedures for contracting, Partnerships Homes and Interiors divisions. We brought in a third-party BIM consultant to look at our processes and procedures from an external perspective, carry out a two-day review and a draw up a list of actions that needed to be addressed. When those issues were dealt with, they returned to complete a mock audit, which gave us the confidence to invite in BRE Global to complete their audit.

BRE Global spent two days examining BIM processes for the contracting business, then returned for a third day to assess the other two units. It was key to ensure that all our documentation was back to back and in line with the relevant PAS 1192 document.

We had to ensure that any Level 2 clause was being responded to, for which we found compliance maps very useful. We used the internal intranet to help them navigate around the forms and make the audit process much faster, so they weren’t trawling through paper forms.

BRE Global’s focus wasn’t just on BIM documentation, they wanted to look at the wider business, our approaches to e-learning, and plans for supply chain development under Level 2.

Why did you approach BRE Global over alternative certification bodies, such as Lloyd’s Register or Ocean?

We have a long-standing relationship with the BRE, they are a well respected organisation, which made it a no brainer.

Some would say the industry is too inexperienced in BIM to make Level 2 certification meaningful, what would you say to them? 

A lot of contractors are sitting back to see what direction everyone else takes. I see my job, as head of BIM, as to push things forward, a key objective was to show some courage and try to gain certification wholesale across the business, which paid off.

I was questioned on whether taking a large-scale approach to certification was the right approach, some contractors have only certified a single office, which arguably gives them more control. We felt that certification had to happen at some point and were confident we were in a position to achieve it.

Is there a chance you will have to be recertified in the near future as technology and processes evolve?

There are a few unknowns and I can see more certification coming. PAS documents are likely to change to ISO documents and I can see contractors having to become certified separately for Government Soft Landings and cyber security. Things are still a little up in the air and the dust hasn’t settled yet, but we wanted to demonstrate our capability today.

Have you noticed the industry change significantly since the Level 2 mandate was introduced?

There hasn’t exactly been a tidal wave of new BIM jobs after 4 April, but we have seen a slight increase. Most consultants and main contractors are on board, the supply chain is being helped along, but we have little influence on our clients, many of whom are not properly engaging with Level 2.

So many people are concerned that the government has failed to address the client as the front end of projects. If they aren’t on board there is the danger that we, as main contractors, have to retro-BIM projects, because the client didn’t understand the process and brief their consultants properly. That’s where the whole thing is falling down. 

Do you have any other concerns?

It is unclear to me what processes clients seeking central government funding have to go through. For example, if a head teacher wants to get £10m for a project, do they just have to tick a box saying they will deliver it to Level 2, but not really understand what that means?

There are no checks and balances in place – who actually checks if a public client delivering a project to Level 2 has done it appropriately and that, post-handover, the facility is being run more efficiently as a result of going through a BIM process and using data gathered during construction for FM? There are no checks.

What system for auditing Level 2 projects would you like to see in place?

I was surprised that Level 2 BIM did not adopt a process similar to that devised for BREEAM. Under BREEAM, you commit at the start, you deliver a project and have to show evidence to a third-party assessor who determines if you have met the criteria for certification. The Level 2 assessment should require the FM provider to demonstrate that BIM is providing efficiencies in actual operation before a project is awarded Level 2 status. The BREEAM process is quite detailed and very clear, particularly on the contractual side.

How many of your projects are now performing to Level 2?

As of today, 53% of all our future work under the Scape framework is Level 2, that’s out of a total 63 projects. In terms of our total future pipeline of construction projects, 20% are at Level 2, which we expect to increase. Scape gives us control to influence the client and embed Level 2 before pen is put to paper, outside of that we are controlled by what comes through the tendering process, hence why the 20% figure is lower.

We are now proactively approaching clients to push the benefits of BIM, helping them write Employer’s Information Requirements and Asset Information Requirements to demonstrate the benefits they can achieve when managing the asset.

Willmott Dixon developed the Mi Project platform to capture and statistically measure BIM deliverables across your projects. Has it picked up any trends yet?

We are currently testing the platform, which records project deliverables across 12 categories, including time, cost, quality, defects, running costs on site, running costs in operation and health

and safety. These measurements are recorded for non-BIM projects, Level 1 and Level 2 projects and can be compared to assess the benefits achieved when BIM was used. The aim is to demonstrate to clients, and our internal financial people, the return on investment of using BIM.

No trends have yet been noted, due to the low throughput of Level 2 projects. But in future, we certainly expect the number of Level 2 projects delivered defect free to increase. Mi Project was set up to compare Scape projects, but has now been extended to include all projects.

The use of BIM software in the field has many potential benefits for contractors, where do you see this area heading?

As a business we have bought wholesale into Viewpoint’s Field View system, the tablet-based electronic snagging tool is able to deliver four to six hours of efficiency savings per site manager per week, compared to using traditional paperwork.

It is currently being developed into something similar to Autodesk BIM 360 Field, to include BIM data, drawings, specifications and method statements. It will effectively take every site manager’s desk duties into the field, which we estimate could deliver one to two hours of efficiency savings per site manager per day, which is a huge deal for us.

Main image: The Curzon building at Birmingham City University was delivered to BIM Level 2

I was questioned on whether taking a large-scale approach to certification was the right approach, some contractors have only certified a single office, which arguably gives them more control. We felt that certification had to happen at some point and were confident we were in a position to achieve it.– Garry Fannon, Willmott Dixon

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  1. Nice one Garry!! Great man great leader!

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