This website uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use and how to manage them.


EEJ Digital Engineering

The future role of DE

To lift the lid on industry attitudes to BIM and DE, we ask some prominent players what barriers they believe are preventing the widespread achievement of Level 2 BIM; and what they feel needs to be done to overcome them.

Our Panel of Experts
Mark BewChairman of the UK BIM Task Group and a Director of Engineering Construction Strategies

"Capacity in the market is a significant barrier: three years ago people were asking ‘what is BIM?’; the next year it was ‘how can we do it?’; now it’s ‘we can’t grow enough capacity to meet demand’. There’s a big danger that we could run out of steam through low capacity to respond to demand. We must encourage companies like Laing O’Rourke to keep doing what they’re doing in terms of growing both capacity and capability.

"Poor client behaviour is another problem, or rather inconsistent behaviours in terms of procurement, with various parties failing to fully understand the process. If it’s undermined we all fail. Projects have to be led by the client and my job is to ensure that government departments are trained and capable to accomplish the task in hand.

"Additionally, the greater transparency we’re aiming for with BIM and digital engineering, inevitably brings security risks, so there has to be a clear mitigation in place to address this, with good guidance and support. And the risk is not just for obvious assets such as nuclear power stations, but anywhere people congregate, including stations and shopping centres.

"We also need to have controls in place that validate data, ensuring all data are ‘clean’. To this end we have been working with industry to deliver the digital plan of works which will enormously assist in this process. Key however to adoption are people; we need to give staff time to adjust to the new ways of working and understanding and we shouldn’t assume any particular part of the community is better or worse than the other, I’ve seen Luddites of all ages and many more experienced colleagues taking up the digital challenge with gusto.

"Overcoming barriers to wider BIM adoption requires consistency, training, support for clients and suppliers, clear guidance, patience and a willingness to collaborate and try."

Dr Anne Kemp, Director of Atkins’ BIM Strategy and Development,Has recently completed an MSc in coaching and behavioural change,

"From the process side, the difficulty is that people try to shortcut on standards. At Atkins we’ve established a sort of jigsaw approach. We’re implementing global standards across the group, with a digital plan of work to establish what all parties should be doing at each stage of a project. With this in place, we can afford to play in and benefit from 3D (+) modelling. We want to encourage this rigorous approach across the industry.

"Without standards in place, we can’t trust the data; how can you reliably track back to how a decision has been made? You can’t, for example, track back to calculations. We need to have everybody on the same page with shared motivation if Level 2 BIM is to be more widely adopted.

"From working with clients I’ve realised that there’s a tendency to address projects, when we should be looking at the overall portfolio: i.e. addressing a scheme’s defined capacity, and we need to look at incentivising the supply chain to take a longer-term approach. "Authentic and adaptive leadership is essential for sustaining collaborative working. We need a more holistic awareness of what’s going on, we need to be more human in our approach.

"On the technological front, we still face problems regarding inoperability of software, as vendors are still playing a bit of a game and siloing their products.

"There’s also a problem with people not understanding the workflow process – which should be lean and controlled. The idea that it’s ok to share work in progress within a co-located multidisciplinary team is causing problems – we are finding that this industry misunderstanding is built into vendors’ software, and we need to address this both across the industry and with the vendors.

"Collaborative working is powerful – but it’s not a panacea. There will always be areas where the job just needs to be done, and a command-and-control approach is still needed. But neither do we want to engender ‘group think’ in an industry that’s still pretty siloed and traditionally adversarial. We need to identify where and when it’s appropriate and implement it with trust and transparency – and with supportive but feisty challenge.

"CAD separated an older generation from what was going on in the industry, and we could repeat that mistake. Yet with BIM we should be able to mend this generational knowledge gap. I’m interested in BIM as an inclusive enabler of lateral and creative thinking."

Prof Stephen Lockley, Chairman of Building Modelling at Northumbria Univiersity Newcastle Research Director at the BIM Academy and a Director of BuildingSMART UKI

“Level 2 BIM essentially acknowledges the existing practice of drawing and document based collaborative working that is enhanced by model authoring and exchange.

“The current generation of BIM authoring tools are effective in producing documentation, such as drawings and schedules, for sharing within a project, but they fall short on exchanging and sharing models.

“Perhaps one of the largest technical barriers is the poor support for importing one BIM tool’s model into another BIM tool, whether that is in a native BIM format or in the IFC standard. This impedes effective collaborative working by introducing errors in the exchange process and forcing organisations to implement potentially unnecessary software technology updates or changes. In addition, these updates increase the construction industry’s training requirements and costs, as individuals have to learn a variety of software platforms in order to work together on different projects.

“Culturally, collaborative working is constrained by a simple lack of understanding and appreciation of other disciplines’ needs and objectives. This often manifests as errors due to miscommunication, duplication of effort and unclear divisions of responsibility. The industry’s reliance on ‘work packaging’ with its pseudo-clear boundaries defined in terms of legal and financial frameworks, together with a general absence of trust, frustrates true collaborative working, even at Level 2 BIM.

“The industry must push for open standards in model exchange and these exchanges should be bi-directional. That does not mean ‘round-tripping’ of model exchange, merely that the output of one BIM tool can be read, presented and attributed reliably in another. This is particularly important with different software versions of the same BIM tool. Data must take priority over software platforms and must be durable for decades rather than months.”

Liam Brady, Town Hall Complex Client Programme Manager, Capital Programme DivisionCorporate Service Department, Manchester City Council

“In Manchester, the Town Hall Complex Transformation Project team has been keen to utilise the project’s ‘data rich’ building information models in a manner that will deliver benefits and value to Manchester City Council [MCC] during the operational life of the complex.

“BIM has been seen as the basis of the long-term development of the city’s estate management strategy, covering the entire tapestry of reactive maintenance and planned maintenance, scheduling, purchasing, stock control, replenishment and financial management.

“According to my colleague, Construction Director Alan Garbutt, getting stakeholders and central budget holders (the Treasurer) to grasp the benefits of Level 2 BIM is the biggest challenge, ‘and can generally only be addressed by proving operational efficiency and associated financial savings’. The problem, he says, is that this can often be a longer-term benefit which can be difficult to show in the short term.

“For commercial developers who retain their own estate, Alan says, the benefits should be seen immediately by making the asset better managed and more efficient, ‘and even for developers who sell on their assets, sale with a clear, computer modelled asset database will eventually, in my opinion, be seen as essential so it is a short-term cost to the developer which will add long-term value.’

“Salford University has conducted two research reports as part of the BIM learning and development project. The first of these, in 2011, highlights the use of BIM during concept and design, while the second (2013) focuses on BIM for facilities management.

“The latter highlights some of the barriers and enablers the project team had encountered, and according to our project control officer David Woodcock, it identifies barriers as including: technical expertise / ICT support; fast implementation; lack of interoperability; reduced FM involvement up-front; and lack of strategic direction for FM.

“The report lists improved technology (outside the organisation); good relationships with the project team; shift from data gathering to problem identification; increased software interoperability (good collaboration between software companies); and goodwill and enthusiasm, as enablers.”

Malcolm Taylor Head of Technical Information at Crossrail

“One of the biggest barriers to enabling the widespread achievement of Level 2 BIM is people not understanding the full implications of a common data environment. It’s not just about CAD; it’s about documentation and records too – a database in which documents, data and 3D models are all stored.

“Following COBie to the letter, as defined by the government, is a definite barrier for infrastructure owners / operators who may use the characteristics of COBie as a means of transmitting information during construction, but not actual COBie spreadsheets.

“And while the building sector embraces COBie, it has its own problems with facilities management. There are, for example, many different systems in operation in schools across the country, systems the Department for Education would like to see standardised with a common language. In infrastructure, we already have a straightforward system for managing and maintaining assets.

“Thankfully Part 3 BIM [PAS 1192-3 specification for information management for the operational phase of assets using Building Information Modelling] recognises that infrastructure owners and operators have their legacy systems in place.

“Infrastructure will continue to struggle though to meet Level 2 requirements as currently defined – although these do look set to become looser.

“A further barrier to widespread achievement of Level 2 BIM is the erroneous widespread assumption of interoperability between various types of software, particularly in 3D modelling. This is a barrier that will be overcome in time, but clients should be demanding greater interoperability.

“Another issue for clients is that they need to understand that while asset management in operations and maintenance is currently very operations-centric; in a BIM Level 2 world it will inevitably be more data-centric, with the application borrowing data as it needs it.

“It will take infrastructure owners time and a willingness to migrate their traditional systems into these new ways of managing information, but it will ultimately lead to reduced operating and maintenance costs.”

James EatonGlobal Head of Digital Engineering at Laing O’Rourke

“For me we have seen a substantial shift; two years ago DE was only touching the ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ of our organisation (around 15 per cent of the population). However today awareness, knowledge and practical application of digital engineering is starting to grab the hearts and minds of the early majority (a further 30 per cent) and the opportunity now is to convert this population and then the ‘late majority’ (a further 30 per cent) should start to follow – thus we would then see DE as ‘business as usual’ and not a commoditised entity.

“For this to happen we need to ensure the benefits are understood by all roles within the industry and bring it to life to those yet to be convinced, and we in Laing O’Rourke have over 200 practical case studies accessible to all – this enables people to ‘view and filter’ examples through their own particular ‘lenses’, i.e. programme / AM / delivery etc.

“However for Level 2 to be fully achieved across all projects, regardless of private or public procurement route, we will need leadership from all clients in both their behaviour and procurement approach. We need to work with clients around their project execution / implementation plans and ensure the standards and protocols are set early on in any project lifecycle.

“We have a number of examples in the Group today where we have been approached by our clients to support and help in the process and of course we are delighted to do so, as this will always ensure a greater probability of success as the project moves forward.

“We need to be careful about over-simplifying statements such as ‘we want a data-rich model’ – for this to be achieved all parties (including technical users / non-technical users / software vendors / clients / contractors / AM providers) need to participate in this definition and ensure both the ‘what’ is defined and the ‘how’, i.e. the way of achieving this.

“For me, our industry should not see the defining of this new ‘unified modelling language’ as the competitive advantage between companies – we should be collaboratively driving to achieve this swiftly. “It will be the successful application of this which should benefit all parties and deliver our clients the efficiencies and confidence achieved in other industries today, such as aerospace / automotive who lay claim to have achieved Level 2 over 20 years ago.

“BIM is a business process, not a technology. With the right workflow and processes defined, BIM enables organisations to improve the quality of building design, reduce costs and achieve the collaborative workflows required to drive true innovation.”

Back to listing