‘The mandate changes the language everyone speaks, which is key’

Brian Churchyard, senior manager for construction design standards at Asda, on overcoming the industry divide between “BIMers” and “non-BIMers”, and why Level 2 BIM is a lot like digging the Channel Tunnel.

How advanced is BIM implementation at Asda?

Asda originally mandated the use of Autodesk Revit for all new stores prior to having a clear business understanding of what BIM meant. With the majority of our consultant base and Tier 1 contractors now investing time and effort, the next major challenge is for our single FM partner, CityFM, to rewrite data on assets that sit within our existing estate database, formatting it so the information is accessible to all engineers and services guys on site via iPads, and is compatible with BIM.

During 2015 we developed an Employer’s Information Requirements document that aims to get the naming protocols and datasets aligned with the rewrite of that asset database, so CityFM’s CAFM software can speak to BIM.

It’s an enormous task, but we’re moving in the right direction to be able to model and tie it back into data generated in the asset database. That will enable a virtual cycle of information, so data we get from the field across our estate starts to influence our construction models and, in turn, our build programme.

Will the Level 2 mandate impact on your projects?

I’m hoping that as we follow our Level 2 aspiration we get benefits off the back of the mandate as our large main contractors and architects doing government work move to comply with it. The mandate forces the issue of changing the language everyone speaks, which is key.

Moving to Level 2 BIM is like digging the Channel Tunnel, with the end user on one side and our FM provider and consultant base on the other. Both are currently trying to figure out the tools to use while simultaneously digging the tunnel, eventually both will meet in the middle to trigger a rapid flow of information between the two sides.

What BIM data is most important for Asda’s asset management?

Fixed assets like refrigeration, HVAC and bakery are big spend areas, so if we can get data on energy performance, breakdowns, warranties etc. that will influence the type of specification we produce going forward.

Our EIR document lists six key areas of spending, with subheads covering the data info we want on each. That links back into the FM asset management side of business so data can be harvested and interrogated. It’s important we remember that the data we capture today influences the specification of tomorrow. 

In what areas are you struggling with BIM?

A major concern is the divide in the industry, between the “BIMers” and the “non-BIMers”, those that are looking towards the future will get there because they are open to our BIM ethos, but not those that prefer to stick with what they know and resist change. A lot of the subcontractors operating at a smaller scale will be a challenge compared to the big architectural practices, contractors and M&E consultants.

Are consultants or contractors charging a premium to run projects in BIM?

There is a lot of noise around the higher level of detail you are asking for and the extra man hours required to complete it. It harks back to when we moved to Revit in 2007 and people said they needed more money to upgrade hardware to run Revit and invest in training.

As we move to a true Level 2, my gut feeling is we will start hearing the same types of noises, but after a while it will bed in and become the normal way of working. Then there will be rich databases those businesses can feed off, reducing duplication and effort, and therefore cost.

Will you mandate BIM for the supply chain in future?

During 2016 we will apply our EIR to a live scheme, then in 2017 we will start looking at embedding contractual BIM requirements for our consultants and main contractors. We are taking a phased approach to Level 2, rather than simply “turning it on” as there is a lot to be understood.

We ran another Level 2 pilot scheme in 2015 to build a virtual model of a small petrol filling station to identify any gaps in terms of Level 2 information, including the EIR, and skillsets needed by our consultant base.

There was lots of head nodding in meeting rooms, in terms of people claiming to understand what was required of them, but when we got to the stage gate data drops within the project we started to see the misgivings, poor information or information not populated appropriately. It exposed the reality of the situation and the capabilities of consultants, so we are now aware of what to be cautious of, and to ask the right questions in terms of support required or whether to just opt for consultants able to work to Level 2.

Are you aware of the October stretch target requiring all government departments to electronically validate BIM data from suppliers by October 2016?

We are aware they really need to be put in place to push things forward and force the issue, and are working on our own systems and processes to enable data validation. Whether this is contractors’ tender returns, based on our EIRs, or data drops at specific stages of works, it all needs to be validated against our requirements.

Are you using the NBS BIM Toolkit or the Digital Plan of Work?

In a word, no. Our EIR was developed at the same time as the NBS BIM Toolkit “Beta”, and we have done as much as possible to stay up to date with the latest thinking. We’ve been looking at using the NBS Create specification system, [which aims to enable quantity surveyors, architects, service engineers, structural engineers and landscape architects to all work on specifications in the same way throughout the project timeline].

One difficulty we experienced last year was the pace software becomes usable, it feels like that area is still developing, along with the consultant base around it. As much as we want to start adopting these types of tools that can become useful as we go into Level 2, my instinct is that some have a way to go before they become practical.

What do you think of the BIM Task Group’s stated goal of reaching Level 3 BIM by 2025?

We have to be heading towards it, if your organisation is not doing anything now to establish solid foundations for Level 2 it will be difficult to catch up. If we get the naming protocols around Level 2 right and the level of information and data is robust, you could argue that the move towards Level 3 will be easier than moving from Level 1 to Level 2, assuming the software catches up! 

The holy grail is having a single integrated building model that can be updated in real time, then projects become all about efficiency and pace, and the process replacing resource to help reduce the operating cost of the business. That in turn will help us reduce prices for shopping customers.

Those that are looking towards the future will get there because they are open to our BIM ethos, but not those that prefer to stick with what they know and resist change. A lot of the subcontractors operating at a smaller scale will be a challenge.– Brian Churchyard, Asda

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