Interview: Atkins’ Anne Kemp – Preparing for a data revolution

The huge convergence of ‘Big Data’, including BIM and geospatial data, will enable predictive, behavioural and responsive analytics, influencing how buildings and infrastructure are able to respond to changing conditions.– Anne Kemp, Atkins

Anne Kemp, director of BIM strategy and development at Atkins and vice chair of buildingSMART, on how geospatial data will transform BIM projects, a “call to arms” to get infrastructure on stream with Level 2, and improving interoperability between infrastructure and construction platforms.

Everyone knows about Google Maps and Google Earth, but how will geographic and geospatial systems impact on construction projects and their use of BIM?

If BIM is about the management of information throughout the project lifecycle, then geospatial data will become a significant aspect of that, particularly as we move towards Digital Built Britain and the management of entire estates and portfolios.

I’m writing the Association of Geographic Information’s foresight report, due to launch on 23 November, and a key theme is BIM, asset management and Future Cities, covering the increasing convergence of geospatial and BIM technologies.

Geospatial and geomatic data can have a major impact on all aspects of construction. Professional surveyors are able to accurately map existing site conditions, using laser scanning approaches such as Scan 2 BIM to create BIM models. Point cloud geomatics data can be used during construction, to record what has actually happened on site, as opposed to ambiguous as-built drawings.

Data, taken from sensors installed during construction, can be used to control or intelligently monitor the condition of buildings, and set within a locational context. Sensors can also be used to monitor the public and building users to understand indoor navigation or levels of occupancy, and so streamline designs to reduce the footprint of buildings.

The huge convergence of “Big Data”, including BIM and geospatial data, will enable predictive, behavioural and responsive analytics, influencing how buildings and infrastructure are able to respond to changing conditions.

What work is underway to integrate BIM and geospatial software?

buildingSMART is working closely with the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), the open standards body for the global geospatial community, to develop converged open standards and the overlap in activities of those two organisations is very indicative of how the industry is shifting.

The geospatial industry has been operating in the asset management space for many years, while BIM, with its roots in 3D modelling, has come forward from the construction and architecture side. It is clear there are opportunities to take the best of both to achieve better outcomes for everyone.

One of the big challenges is the lack of consistency of sensor data, with the number of sensors globally set to expand from around 2 trillion to 30 trillion over the next couple of years, it is vital we are able to make sense of that data in a consistent way.

What key protocols will help BIM and geospatial software interact? 

OGC and buildingSMART are working with a mix of IFC, CityGML, the open data format for the storage and exchange of virtual 3D city models, and LandXML, the open data format for civil engineering design and survey measurement data. We are currently examining whether they are doing the right job, if we need to merge them and if there are other protocols from other sectors that could help going forward.

Atkins will be involved in various projects related to smart cities, is there a specific city that is leading the way in using geospatial information for planning and construction?

Singapore Land Authority won the Bentley Be Inspired award at the Year in Infrastructure 2015 Conference for its work mapping Singapore in 3D. They surveyed right across the city, and included models of various utilities, which is a major challenge in the UK where we don’t have the mechanism in place to be able to pull utility survey data together and release it.

The British Standards Institute and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) are trying to get funding to develop a PAS around this. The PAS 128 specification for underground utility detection, verification and location allows contractors to understand how to record the information, but a standard is required defining where the information goes and how it is released.

To me, modelling utilities is a no brainer to enable a smart city – how can any construction be carried out safely if underground utilities haven’t already been mapped to remove the danger of hitting a high voltage cable or a pipeline?

You are also chair of the ICE BIM Action Group, and of BIM4Infrastructure UK. Are there fears that government Level 2 BIM standards and processes are too geared towards buildings, and are not suited to “linear” infrastructure projects, like roads, railways, or tunnels?

BIM Level 2 has been originally building-centric, having evolved from the building sector and software vendors, where it has demonstrated various benefits and savings. It is clear that the scope now needs to be widened. buildingSMART International recently had an eye-opening technical meeting in Singapore where a significant amount of global BIM development activity is now focused on infrastructure, rather than buildings, with clear recognition that that is where the energy needs to be directed to fill any gaps. 

BIM4Infrastructure, OGC and buildingSMART will soon initiate a call to arms for the infrastructure sector to put its collective muscle behind things like Uniclass, IFC and CityGML, to help support and develop them so that they meet with the specific needs of infrastructure.

It would be easy for those in the sector to sit on their hands and wait for the likes of OGC or buildingSMART to tackle the problem, but we really need the industry to engage.

That is partly why I decided to take on the role of vice chair of buildingSMART, which is dependent on infrastructure membership growing to take things forward.

Does that mean there is concern in the infrastructure sector about meeting the 2016 mandate?

There needs to be a degree of pragmatism. What will help is that the BS/PAS suite of documents are being redrafted to be clear on what Level 2 BIM requires. It is hugely important for infrastructure clients to define the information they need from the supply chain to operate and maintain an asset, the format it should be delivered in, and the common data exchange mechanisms they require.

A key aspect is the relationship between the Employer’s Information Requirements and the BIM Execution Plan – this should clearly define how that information is exchanged.

Various groups, such as buildingSMART, OGC, ICE BIM Action Group and BIM4Infrastructure with several major clients are intending to work intensively on this over the next six months to develop Uniclass, COBie, and IFCs to more appropriately support infrastructure.

Is there enough interoperability in the UK industry at large to make Level 2 relatively stress free, or had you hoped that we would be further on by now?

There is still work to be done. The intention is that we will have until 2020 to properly implement Level 2, so I see this as a journey to get the whole supply chain on board to be able to deliver on that. BIM Level 3 will be based on the foundations established during that process.

There is a mass of specialist softwares that still fail to recognise BIM, so it is equally important that clients work with software vendors and the BIM Technology Alliance to reinforce that this is part of the roadmap and an urgent requirement.

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