Interview: Carillion’s Alex Lubbock – Getting away from the word ‘construction’

My aspiration is that industry comes to understand that we are providing a product and a service and should try to get away from the word ‘construction’.– Alex Lubbock, Carillion

Alex Lubbock, BIM development manager at Carillion, on the Midlands Metropolitan PFI as a future exemplar for life-cycle BIM, attracting talented tech and analytics graduates to the industry via BIM, and the industry’s need to think of itself as delivering products and services. 

What are Carillion’s key BIM objectives?

Our BIM strategy is built around the targets set out in the government’s 2025 Construction Strategy, intended to reduce the cost and time of construction projects. The targets, for a 33% reduction in construction cost and a 50% reduction in time, from inception to completion, are daunting, but I believe realistically achievable as long as the industry proactively changes the way it works.

We are working towards BIM Level 2 compliance, and from a contractual perspective, it will be interesting to see how government departments set out their expectations and ensure they are procuring effectively.

Is Carillion planning to apply for BIM certification?

I am wary of whether certification is merely a badge, or something that will really help everyone to move forward. There remains development work to be done around certification for BIM Level 2. BRE only covers PAS1192:2 and the Capex specification is for the delivery of BIM, not the whole-life aspect, which is important to Carillion as we are as big an FM provider as we are a constructor.

As soon as a clear wrap is put around the suite of documentation to properly reflect BIM Level 2, with a clear framework to work within, it will become an interesting standard to achieve.

You provide FM and support services to more than 100,000 properties. Is developing BIM asset models becoming a major focus?

It is a focus, but our investment in a whole-life approach and an integrated operating model is only worthwhile if customers are asking for it, and at present they just aren’t. It is almost as if our clients are at the start of the cycle on BIM that construction began about four to five years ago.

The Ministry of Justice is arguably one of the most proactive organisations on BIM, which has just started a BIM Asset Information Management Group. We manage and maintain half the prisons in England and Wales so it is very much in our interest to ensure that we receive data that supports the way we deliver FM.

This is an interesting area. Carillion now manages Cookham Wood prison, which was held up as a BIM Level 2 exemplar project, in terms of project delivery, but I am still trying to find where all the COBie asset data went, it certainly wasn’t supplied to us as the new maintainer of the facility.

Is BIM Level 3 exciting from an FM provider’s perspective?

BIM Level 3 should provide a clearer pathway to achieving to a truly smart asset, which alongside the Digital Built Britain strategy, should enable a far more effective business outcome from an FM provider’s perspective.

A key concern for us right now is working to achieve lean integration of data between our construction and FM businesses. The Uniclass standard is the language of design and construction, but it doesn’t currently exist as a language in FM, so addressing this will be key. We are developing a method of aggregating information to enable that translation between the two languages.

What complicates things is working with lots of different customers, with lots of different FM systems and aspirations on how FM data should be set out. We are trying to focus on the core systems we use and how to adopt an approach that works for our delivery, whilst trying to incorporate our customers’ standards. For example, defence will have a different language and different requirements to health, or justice, they are not defined and aligned as yet. Addressing this issue is part of the Ministry of Justice Asset Information Management Group, and should help a great deal.

What are the key BIM challenges from a construction delivery perspective?

A lack of understanding on how to procure projects using BIM, right down through the supply chain. A lack of understanding from clients on what teams using BIM should have in place – simply writing “BIM Level 2” is not good enough.

Supply chain engagement is going to be critical. I put BIM in the same category as football. In the 19th century we developed the rules of the game, drew the pitch, and erected the goal posts, but we are still far from being the best team in the world. It’s a question of going beyond just being great at BIM bureaucracy and standardisation and becoming a world-class practitioner.

What is Carillion doing to improve supply chain expertise?

We are working with Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke, Skanska, Costain and others on the Offsite School, an online knowledge platform for suppliers, part of which covers various aspects of BIM. We are also looking at how we tie that in with complementary resources and industry groups, such as BIM4M2, and making sure there is a consistent message. 

On the skills side, we are working with Laing and Balfour on creating a Trailblazer Digital Engineering apprenticeship, which is expected to become available for enrolment in September 2016, depending on whether enough employers are willing to take responsibility for skills development.

What are Carillion’s most advanced BIM implementations?

A major current focus is on the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (pictured above), in west Birmingham, which as a PFI gives us full life-cycle responsibility. A key focus is on integrated data, integrated operating models and procurement with FM services and making sure the engineering asset management guys have full input into the design process as well as the Soft Landings aspect. Watch this space, it should be an exemplar for the whole sector. 

Do you have trouble finding BIM-literate staff?

As an industry we rely too much on the people we know, without looking beyond for other sources of talent. Statistically, the number of people going through architecture and construction-related degrees is on the decline, whereas engineering, tech, biosciences, business admin and analytics courses are on the increase.

The question is: how does construction market itself to these people and help them understand that you can lead a very attractive white collar office-based lifestyle in construction if you want to? It’s not just about getting muddy boots on site. BIM is hugely exciting and a great way to engage with them going forward.

What are your biggest hopes for BIM?

My aspiration is that industry comes to understand that we are providing a product and a service and should try to get away from the word “construction”. If you buy a book from Amazon for a cheap price, and it arrives the next day with the quality you expect, you give the product five stars in a review. At the moment the construction industry is delivering maybe one or two stars at best. We need to get out of thinking on a project-by-project level and start thinking on a cross-industry level, focusing on the value we can drive out of BIM.

With BIM Level 2 we are starting where the manufacturing industry began maybe 30 years ago, what happens next will be most interesting, when we start to see the disruptive influences of other technologies and players in the market.

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]


  1. I agree with Alex’s vision and I think we will see a wholesale change in the way buildings are procured over the next decade. We currently have a layer of overheads and profit added to supply chain products and services, often via main contracting, where no, or little, value is added to those products in the process. We must drive value into delivery of products and services and flush out the charges that do not.

  2. I agree with Nick on this, without BIM construction is doomed. Excellent point Nick!

Comments are closed.

Latest articles in Analysis