Emma Hooper is on a mission to get everyone speaking the same data language, in particular IFC – that way lies greater interoperability and real BIM advancement. Denise Chevin caught up with her.
Emma Hooper, an associate at Bond Bryan Digital and digital information specialist, found her metier after graduating from architecture at Nottingham University when she took a job at the fit-out specialist Styles & Wood as an architectural technician.
So began a career that would see her move from CAD to “falling in love with Revit”, to pushing the boundaries of information management, to become one of the UK’s foremost experts on IFC – Industry Foundation Classes – the standard for open BIM data exchange.
IFC is used for transferring model data between different software packages. Hooper is proficient in this sphere – she even wrote a book with Bill East, the father of COBie, a subclass of IFC.
Hooper is a member of the BSI B/555 committee for BIM standards, part of the BuildingSMART UK & Ireland committee and an ambassador for the UK BIM Alliance. She is also only one of 10 people in the world certified as being proficient in COBie.
But what has drawn her into what some might see as an admittedly vital but surely arcane world? Hooper tells us more about her journey.
It’s the unglamourous stuff, I know, but establishing a standardised approach underpins the whole of digital design, construction and operation processes. Without it, there’s no interoperability between different software and systems. And that means chaos.
IFC is about putting in place an information layer across the industry. We need to be speaking the same language so we can all plug in to each other’s systems and requirements.
And we need to be using IFC right through an asset’s life.
“Getting information right and setting that out in a consistent and standardised way underpins all that we do and is the foundation of the work of digital twins. It’s just so important.”
IFC is a data model, not a file format. You need to focus on the structure of the data and have a standardised way of doing things – and I’m trying to educate people into that, which is what I was speaking about at Digital Construction Week recently. I’m trying – with others – to make clients aware of that and also trying to explain this world in a more accessible way and make it more interesting.
I would say over the past 10 years there has been a focus on tech rather than information – yet getting information right and setting that out in a consistent and standardised way underpins all that we do and is the foundation of the work of digital twins. It’s just so important.
Talk us through how you developed your love of digital information
I studied architecture at Nottingham University. But although I liked design, something was missing for me. When I join Styles & Wood as an architectural technician and got introduced to CAD, things just fell into place.
I got hooked on using a computer and I was like a sponge, just soaking up as much knowledge as I could. Any new software package I came across I just wanted to learn.
In 2009 I started to use Revit, teaching myself, initially using it for visualisation. I moved to Metz Architects in Leicester where I was given full rein on how software was implemented and managed.
While I was there I worked on the first project to be procured using integrated project insurance (IPI) for the construction of Dudley College. It was my first job as an information manager – and the procurement methodology allowed everything to be joined up. IPI’s claim is that it insures project risks rather than liabilities and everyone involved in the project is covered, so there’s a no-blame culture. It means that information can flow freely through a project. Because it is designed to support collaborative working and integrated teams, it allows a lot of design work to be done upfront as a genuine collaboration.
From the project, I could see just how interlinked the information was and the huge BIM documents and spreadsheets that were being produced (and still are) weren’t the way forward: we needed to move to a more database-driven approach to manage information.
“A lot of what I do is helping clients define what their information requirements are. Even before the projects start clients need to pin this down to match their business needs. That’s not being done a great deal at the moment.”
It was also at Metz where I was first introduced to IFC through the content work we did. I wanted to take this further by looking at how IFC worked within Revit: it was a long, tedious process, but I learnt a huge amount and my whole outlook on BIM changed. It became clear it was all about the information and less about the software.
It was about that time (in 2017) I left Metz and joined Bond Bryan Digital.
So what’s your role now?
I’m information manager at Bond Bryan Digital, based in Sheffield. I tend to work with contractors or clients on a range of subjects.
A lot of what I do is helping clients define what their information requirements are. Even before the projects start clients need to pin this down to match their business needs. That’s not being done a great deal at the moment.
It could be a whole range of information a client might need to manage its assets – carbon, operational costs, anything to help make decisions.
The lack of focus on information has been where we have gone wrong with BIM in the last decade I would say.
A lot of the time clients don’t define what they want and it’s left to the project team to decide for them.
Is it changing?
ISO 19650 – the standard series that has taken over from the BS/PAS 1192 suite – is all about information management. I helped write the UK BIM Framework guidance, in particular part D, which explains how to write information requirements.
Traditionally we’ve never been very good at specifying what information we require and wonder why at handover we don’t get what we need.
It is now changing slowly.
We now have a good foundation of standards, what need to focus on now is how these join up and how they are implemented, while educating industry on basics of information and digital literacy.
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