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Local authorities encouraged to 'go digital'

2 February 2021

A new video from the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) encourages local authorities to ‘go digital’ in their approach to design, construction and operation of their buildings and estates.

The video seeks to challenge the perception among some local authorities that BIM is costly, burdensome and only suitable for capital projects – as highlighted in the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s recent white paper (https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/files/111120_bim_in_la.pdf). The jargon-free video was produced by the CIH with input from the local authority representatives on the Local Authorities Working Group (see Q&A below).

It includes a case study from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.

The video is the first in a suite of CIH tools to enable local authorities to transform how they plan, procure build and operate their buildings and estates. The next step is an interactive digital roadmap to guide local authority property teams through the steps and demonstrate how tools can be adapted to suit their information needs and capabilities.

David Philp, CIH digital impact director, said: “Councils in England collectively spent around £25bn on capital expenditure in 2017/2018 and approximately £4bn on building maintenance and operation. Managing data digitally offers the potential for efficiency savings and can also ensure that councils have better access to information that helps them to respond to challenges ranging from responding to the Covid-19 pandemic to meeting carbon reduction targets.

“By introducing the benefits of a digital approach to managing information, this film will enable local authority leaders across the country to take the first step on their digital journey.”

Charlotte Cordingley, head of estate and asset management at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, said: “Managing our data digitally in-house has brought a range of benefits, including increased standardisation, greater collaboration between departments, and better long-term planning and management of the authority’s estate and assets to help achieve long-term objectives including cost savings and carbon reduction.” 

Information management and BIM are now seen as an efficiency measure: you know you’ve got the right data to make the right decisions. That’s why our message is so strong.– Terry Stocks, Local Authorities Working Group

Q&A: Local Authorities Working Group chair Terry Stocks

What drove this initiative?

The local authority sector is quite complex in terms of its structure and budgets. It ranges from big county councils right down to boroughs and districts. It seemed not an untapped area – there is some great practice going on – but it was felt some additional focus would be useful.

The overwhelming outcome of the initial white paper was that it would be really good to re-emphasise the key message that BIM’s not about 3D models, it’s about data.

You don't need to jump in with two feet and massive budgets.

Which local authorities are involved in the working group?

We’ve got Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Sevenoaks, Stockport, West Sussex, Islington, Wokingham, and Cambridge City. We’ve also got groups like the Scottish Futures Trust and the UK BIM Alliance.

Some of the councils were reactive in adopting BIM and information management: they’d realised that they’d outsourced their data, and their contractor went into receivership. Take Stockport: they were off the mark very quickly, they realised they needed to get their data back in-house, and that they needed to put an information management structure in place – and they’ve got some really good outcomes from that.

Tell us more about the video and what’s next?

The video creates a really high level message for senior executives within local authorities. Hopefully the video will help them understand the concept [of information management and BIM] and understand that it needn’t cost them a fortune.

And then we’ve created an interactive roadmap that says this is the journey from strategic planning, to estate strategic planning, to capital delivery to operations, etc.

The tool articulates what each of those stages are, the benefits of doing it properly, and the BIM enablers.

The roadmap draws them towards the concept of a proof of concept: this is how you might try it. It gives them a checklist to work through, asking them key questions like: Have you have you identified your stakeholders? Have you identified their information needs? Have you got an information manager? Have you thought about where you're going to store your information? Have you written down what information you might want delivered at the end of the project?

These aren’t quite enough to be EIRs and AIRs, but they’re good enough for a proof of concept.

And if the proof of concept works, they can move to a business case.

The roadmap should be ready by the end of March.

This initiative started before the arrival of covid-19? Is the pandemic giving your messaging extra impetus?

Information management and BIM are now seen as an efficiency measure: you know you’ve got the right data to make the right decisions. That’s why our message is so strong.

And covid-19 isn’t the only pressure on local authorities: they’ve got to deliver the carbon agenda, housing, key worker housing, etc. There might be a challenge for the BIM message to get noticed, but as councils have worked through their covid recovery plans, they’ve probably realised that there are gaps in the information and data that they have, particularly when everyone's working remotely.

The cladding remediation programme is also top of mind: the narrative there is that information management is the gateway.

Once the video is being watched and the roadmap is being used, what’s next for the working group?

The working group will continue into the new [financial] year, and we’ll continue to widen engagement. We’ll be tracking views of the video and downloads of the roadmap. We might consider an impact assessment.

I think the group’s agenda for the coming year will be more akin to a peer support group, rather than a development group. Hopefully that will draw more local authorities in.

Stay tuned to BIM+ for interviews with Charlotte Cordingley at Stockport, and Tom Scholes, group manager – asset & data systems at Oxfordshire County Council.

Main image: 55314765 © Andrew Hamilton | Dreamstime.com

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6az0AG77OQ