Transcript – Season 2 Episode 3: What's the point in BIM?

Building Information Modelling (BIM) seems to have an image problem. As a process for creating and managing digital information on a construction project across the project lifecycle, it enables those who interact with the asset to optimise their actions, resulting in a greater whole life value for the asset. So, why is it so misunderstood?

Host Eoin Ó Murchú is joined by Jon Kerbey, BIM Director at HS2 and Andrew Walker, a digital consultant within PwC’s capital projects team, to discuss the benefits of BIM, including efficiency savings.

Transcript

Eoin Ó Murchú
Hello, I am Eoin Ó Murchú and welcome to the reimagining capital projects podcast. Our discussion today is all about BIM, o building information modelling in the capital project space.

I am delighted to be joined by two new guests, who are well versed in this topic, Andrew Walker, a digital consultant within PwC’s capital projects team, leading our work in realising the performance and efficiencies and benefits of BIM; and Jon Kerbey, BIM director at High Speed 2, a landmark 56 billion pound high speed railway project in the UK.

Welcome to you both.

Andrew Walker

Thanks Eoin, good to be here.

Jon Kerbey

Thank you very much.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Andrew, great to have you in the podcast. Our listeners will have a varying understanding of BIM, its terminology and its application, but I am curious what exactly does BIM mean to you?

Andrew Walker

There is many different definitions of BIM out there. Object-oriented modelling, federate modelling, all these sorts of technical jargon. For me at its simplest, it’s really just the construction industry’s approach to how they digitise built assets through the life cycle of those assets; that’s through design, build, handover and operation; and it’s how you create and manage that information right the way through the last cycle, essentially creating that digital version of the physical asset that you are building, and then how you maintain that through the life cycle.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Is this the digital twin term you hear a lot of?

Andrew Walker

It is a that, what’s good about the digital twin term is, it is that digital version of the physical asset that you can use to help inform your decision making on the physical asset, and it lives its own life, before the physical asset, and alongside it when the physical asset exists. The other thing for me around BIM as a term is, it’s a bit of a badge, and probably an unhelpful one in some parts of the industry, has quite a technical reputation around it, when actually more fundamentally is just about how you can use it to digitise ‘the built environment.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Jon, you are a client for a major infrastructure project, is this your perspective as well?

Jon Kerbey

Absolutely, completely agree with what Andrew just said. For me, it’s almost a philosophy and a way of working, so it’s not just a technology, it’s not just a process, and it’s certainly not just a 3D model. If anyone says that you can buy ‘BIM in a box’ then they are certainly lying, that’s certainly not the case, and if we could, then I would certainly have bought it before.

Also, just to add a little bit of context to it, a couple of years ago, there was an industry study done on digital transformation. They looked at a number of different industries and sectors. If we look at where construction sat within that league table, it actually sits second from the bottom, only just above agriculture and hunting, and obviously that’s not a great place for us to be. It does present a lot of opportunities for us to improve, but in terms of where we sit within that league table, like you expect retail and banking to be at the top, which they were.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Really what you are saying, there is an opportunity here for a big shift in attitude in terms of how construction approaches BIM and the use of digital infrastructure within and the construction process?

Jon Kerbey

Absolutely, so BIM and the government’s mandate for BIM is really the big step change, the big transformation for us to start to improve our position within that league table, and for us to start really being digitally transformed. That can’t just mean us taking a traditional paper-based process and making it electronic, because that’s not going to have the same emphasis and impact that we needed to have. It’s not just about producing a 3D model, which is what some people believe BIM is about, just because the British standard tells you to, it’s much more than that, it’s about exploiting data.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Clearly you are living this every day. From your perspective, what are the real benefits of BIM from a project delivery sense and even from measuring KPIs as you progress?

Jon Kerbey

A few years ago, we came up with a target for our efficiency segment for BIM, and we attributed around half a billion pounds worth of savings as a minimum on the efficient implementation or the effective implementation of BIM on HS2. We are starting to see some of that come to fruition now. Our supply chain are seeing, depending on what’s stage they are, so during the Hyper Build development, we are seeing some really efficient processes happening. We are seeing data actually being used throughout the select committee process, for example, which is giving some real benefit to how we are going through that legislative process. We are also seeing lots of benefits during scheme design, particularly around how we are quantifying our cost estimates, and there are some really big savings being seen there.
We are really starting to see some of the work that we’ve done to define what we want from BIM actually come to fruition.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Andrew, from your perspective, does that resonate with the stuff you’ve seen from an industry perspective?

Andrew Walker

Yeah absolutely. The potential benefits are really significant, but there are so many different ways that you can use BIM that obviously impact the actual benefits you are going to realise at the end of it. One thing that comes to mind, we did an interesting piece of work for the UK government, looking at analysing, and quantifying the benefits of BIM, and we essentially created a bit of a framework that had about 117 different ways in which you could use BIM and then the benefits that they would generate. Obviously, if you are not using BIM in certain ways, you won’t generate certain benefits. What we found through that was these benefits generated from simple or commonly known things around BIM, like using the 3D model essentially for bit of design coordination and reviews, helped the design team resolve these issues just more efficiently, and so there was savings there.

Actually, what we found was the biggest benefits were in the operational phase, and that’s probably intuitive to people in the sector, but I think it was useful that it was backed up. Really one of the specific examples there was around the access to better asset information for the operators and maintainers, was one of the key benefits there, and it actually increased their first time fix rates on the reactive maintenance, and they attributed to about a 10% saving to all their reactive maintenance as a result of having just much better asset information from the BIM model, from a BIM process that had gone through the last cycle.

Jon Kerbey

Andrew, that piece of work has been really great for us and for industry. It has been really hard for us to quantify the savings that are attributed to BIM, purely just attributed to the process and the technology, and all of the things I talked about earlier. It is equally as hard to evidence that you’ve actually saved something against that, because it’s an efficiency saving, it’s stopping something happen that would have happened if you hadn’t have done that. Again it’s really hard to say, having the work that PwC have done has been really helpful from that regard.

Andrew Walker

Yeah and I would say thank you Jon. I would reflect those conversations were quite challenging, because in some organisations, some individuals has a natural optimism to think actually, ‘we would have found these issues anyway regardless of whether we use BIM,’ but actually getting into that detail was really helpful to find those specific cases, where there were benefits, and to summarise the overall findings, there we did find about 3% of the whole life cost was saving. There is many reasons why actually the real benefits are larger, but even that 3% is quite significant when you compare it to the average margin of contractors, being at around 1-1.5%, but also when you extrapolate over very significant projects, like HS2 or the National Infrastructure Pipeline, what sounds like relatively small percent actually becomes a really significant number in absolute terms.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Jon, to capture the benefits that Andrew and yourself just described, what steps should organisations take to making sure that BIM is implemented correctly on their programs or projects?

Jon Kerbey

For me, you almost have to start right at the beginning, if the focus is on getting the basics right. That’s making sure that you really understand what your processes look like, even things like making sure you’ve got the right taxonomies associated with your data, making sure that your data is structured, making sure that you know, even just the metadata; the attributes that you are storing against it, all of that stuff adds up to making sure that you can find the data and you can actually use it later, and then you can actually then start to do some more powerful things with it.
If we look at BIM in its wider sense, it impacts on technology, as I mentioned, it impacts on process, it’s got a data side, but it’s also got a cultural people side, which is the transformation bit, and it’s really easy to forget about the people side, the culture side, and that is actually the most important and the most challenging.
If it’s about digital transformation, then we do need to make sure that right culture is in place, because I know from experience that if you try and do this and you haven’t got the right culture, you haven’t won people’s hearts and minds with the benefits and the ways of working, then as soon as the pressure hits, data will be the thing that people forget about, and it will be the thing that doesn’t get delivered or doesn’t get delivered to the right quality. If we are talking about a minimal viable product that includes data, then we need to make sure that we’ve got the project managers, and the whole of the organisation and supply chain on the same page.

Andrew Walker

Yeah, and I would completely echo that piece around the importance of people. When I think about that transformational change, is people, process and systems in that order of importance and challenge, in terms of having that successful result at the end of the transformation. I agree in terms of clients or organisations really need to focus on where BIM can drive most benefits for their organisations, and to do that they need to understand the business processes that can be impacted by BIM to strike out those uses of BIM that aren’t relevant, but then focus on the really value adding ones to their organisation, and particularly also cognizant of their role in the asset life cycle. Some organisations; a design consultant might be quite focused up front in the design phase, compare that to an owner operator, who takes it right the way through from concept to the ultimate asset operation and maintenance phase. They’ve got very different business processes that they need to think about, how BIM can actually help those business processes through the life cycle.

Eoin Ó Murchú

So, Andrew, then reverting back to wider industry view, looking at it from a construction, infrastructure or a real estate perspective, where is BIM on its journey today in realising and grabbing these benefits that we’ve just described in detail here.

Andrew Walker

Sure, it has been a long journey, it is probably fair to say, back to the construction strategy of 2011 and previously. As Jon mentioned earlier, the BIM level 2 mandate around 20ena16 definitely helped the industry in that initial adoption phase, and helped kick start the way the organisations are starting to use BIM. You read the NBS surveys every year, and at the moment, last year they said about 75% of respondents were using BIM in a meaningful way, which is obviously increasing year on year, so that’s great. To me that’s still quite an isolated use of BIM in terms of how you actually use it to better design your buildings, or maybe people starting to integrate it with construction process and understand how sequencing works onsite. There is definitely some leading edge, but there is also a big trailing edge on the industry for that, and I think that in the future there is a real opportunity for it to have a much more fundamental role in helping clients digitise and organisations digitise their business.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Jon, from a HS2 perspective, what are the key challenges or blockers that are impeding a successful BIM strategy?

Jon Kerbey

This is probably more from an industry perspective, but obviously HS2 as well. The value of data is generally not understood. We are getting better articulating the benefits and the value of working at data level, but it’s really hard to move away from traditional processes, which are generally not data driven. We need to get better at that.
Back in 2013/14, HS2, we conducted a BIM upskilling study, which at its time was one of the most comprehensive studies looking at our supply chain capability to be able to deliver on the requirements that we were going to be putting into the market place for our main works civils contract. It was quite a successful study, it came up with a number of recommendations. One of those recommendations said that if we don’t intervene in terms of upskilling some of the supply chain, particularly some of the lower tiers, then we won’t going be able to get our requirements delivered to us.
We put together an ELearning site, bimupskilling.com, and we’ve had around 3000 people from our supply chain from HS2 limited and from academia and other parts of the world, go in complete those modules, and hopefully now really understand what BIM means to HS2 and they can start delivering to our requirements.

Andrew Walker

From someone outside of the HS2 organisation, it’s fantastically positive to hear that story of how transformational BIM is being treated within HS2, because back to where we started on this, sometimes BIM does have a unhelpful reputation, as being a bit of a technical tool that’s sits down in technical teams and is not elevated to the level to where it’s an opportunity to help actually digitise a business and improve some of these wider business processes. I think that’s great to hear from someone who sits outside of HS2 as well.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Andrew, with that perspective then, where do we go from here what is the future of BIM?

Andrew Walker

There are probably a few thesis around that subject. From my perspective, we’ve touched already, its broadening the use of BIM data. There are some quite narrow ways in which it is used at the moment. Like parametric modelling, is something that’s starting to or has been used in around structures and isolated building, but actually to broaden the opportunity to use that in a way that it’s going to materially impact programs at work, is something that’s interesting.
That’s a good example, maybe, where BIM is almost a great enabler for a lots of exciting things. Some of the client conversations I’ve had recently, across national portfolio of projects. Clients looking to use BIM to aggregate the material demand across those projects, so that they can be a lot smarter in how they do procurement, so employ category management techniques to buy things smarter.
There is lots of air time at the moment around exciting things like 3D printing and 3D printing your buildings and drones for progress measurement. All of that is built on the fundamentals of having an intelligent 3D model of your asset, which is what fundamentally BIM is trying to give you. That’s where in the future, we will start to see more of those business wide processes being impacted and benefiting from the transformation that BIM can enable, and ultimately hopefully improve the productivity of the sector, back to Jon’s point, we want to step a bit further away from ‘hunting’ than we are at the moment, so hopefully BIM can support that.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Based on what Andrew just said, Jon, have you seen anything in the industry on the uptake of AI and machine learning in the BIM space?

Jon Kerbey

Again, as Andrew said, using BIM as the foundation in terms of the data that is produced and gathered through that process, we are seeing some generative designed techniques used. Looking at how high performance computing can be used with artificial intelligence to actually take the data, take the inputs, and then produce thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of different designs that meet those input requirements to varying degrees of compliance. That’s a really great application of this. It takes away some of the mundane design tasks that engineers have to go through, they may or may not like that activity, frees them up to do things that they are unable to do at the moment, again really linking into Andrew’s point about productivity.
From HS2’s perspective, if we look at what we are trying to do from that and how we are trying to almost predict where BIM is going to go and put our vision to that. We’ve already talked about a digital twin, and we certainly see that as something that we will be absolutely using, and at the moment maturing towards operations and maintenance, so really looking at how we can move from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance, using internet of things, sensors, all of those kind of things to actually understand the real time performance of assets. But now, during design and construction, we are looking at how we can, what we are calling a virtual railway use that to really understand HS2 as it’s designed and assets actually starting to be built, do digital rehearsals. So, we can look at how we can understand the construction sequence and look at how we can make better decisions earlier and not have any issues on onsite when we get there.
All of this is really aiming towards the government’s view of the national digital twin. Really what does that look like, how can we as HS2 and other big organisations, big projects feed into that as well as make sure that we’ve got this UK wide view of infrastructure.

Eoin Ó Murchú

Well. I think, that’s a good place to leave for today. My thanks to the digital twins, Andrew and Jon for being here today.

Andrew Walker

Thank you.

Jon Kerbey

Thank you.

Eoin Ó Murchú

It’s a really good insight and really good chat. Again, to everyone listening at home, thank you all. We will be back again soon with more episodes, but in the meantime, we have a healthy back catalogue of episodes online, so please do check them out.
Some of the content today, that was mentioned will be auto-referenced in the show notes, and as always please do check out our website at pwc.co.uk/reimagine.
Please subscribe to the series to get all our latest episodes and please don’t forget to rate and review, so until next time, thank you all for listening.

Contact us

Alpesh Shah

Capital Projects & Infrastructure Technology Lead, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7212 4932

Eoin Ó Murchú

Capital Project Services: Technology Select & Optimise, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7718 979 676

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