Opinion

Mark Bew: Moving on from BIM Level 2

4 April 2018 | By Mark Bew

Two years on from the UK government’s mandate to mandate BIM use in public procurement, BIM tsar Mark Bew argues that construction needs to understand the value of data exploitation, information management and analytics.

Based on the conversations that I have day in day out across the UK construction supply chain, it is clear that the industry is still very much at the start of its digital transformation.

Yet we have come a long way. As we approach the second anniversary of the government’s unprecedented April 2016 deadline to mandate the use of BIM in public sector procurement, sweeping change to embrace data is now highly visible throughout the sector.

The BIM Level 2 programme successfully started a conversation about data, as then chief construction adviser Paul Morrell advocated. This has now begun the slow process of moving industry away from a lowest cost mindset towards a new world of better outcomes.

Initially needing to be weaned off 2D drawings, we now see an industry not simply designing in 3D but actually embracing a new digital future in which data has value.

Simply observe the impact that the UK programme has created beyond our shores. Internationally, asset owners, designers and constructors are routinely using our methods and processes. In fact, there are now more metros being delivered around the world using UK standards than any other – an amazing achievement given the short time that the UK has been driving this project. 

So what’s next? We need to continue the pressure and continue to grow capacity and scale massively if we wish to maintain our competitive position.

Driving the UK economy

Recent work by the Digital Built Britain programme demonstrates the critical role the built environment plays in driving the whole of the UK’s economy, with a significant proportion of the £1,869bn annual GDP directly related to its performance.

As we move towards BIM Level 3 and beyond, it is vital that our digital mindset continues to influence every aspect of the industry and that we create a Digital Built Britain.

The question is: what is stopping us? If the BIM Level 2 programme has been successful, then why do I still have so many conversations across the industry telling me that making this vital transformation is too costly, too difficult, too time-consuming and fails to give the required return on investment?

“As we move towards Level 3 and beyond, it is vital our digital mindset continues to influence every aspect of the industry.”

Mark Bew, Centre for Digital Built Britain

Why do we still see too many clients across the construction sector driving forward on a lowest-cost basis – focused on capex and opex rather than the need to invest in better long-term outcomes?

The answer of course is culture, and with such a conservative, low-margin, low-barrier-to-entry industry, changing this culture was always going to be a challenge. The status quo – the “we’ve always done it like this around here” – is still a huge hurdle to overcome.

However, help is at hand in the shape of investment in the new Centre for Digital Built Britain in Cambridge. This new body is a key plank in helping the industry to meet that challenge – it is central to ensuring that we have the capacity and skills to move on and continue to stay ahead.

The vision is to bring digital techniques and capabilities to the lifecycle of the built environment. To move the current debate beyond technologies and towards new business models that will enable us to build assets more efficiently and understand how they are used by the public.

Making the process of transformation as simple as possible and removing complexities is key as the industry becomes accustomed to a new and rapidly changing world.

That inevitably means embracing a new language to help industry to move away from the world of BIM and towards a new and bigger world of data exploitation, information management, feedback and advanced analytics. It is a new language we must learn if the industry is to accelerate its vital transformation today.

Mark Bew is strategic adviser for the UK’s Centre for Digital Built Britain and chairman of engineering consultancy PCSG

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