Rebooting construction

With opportunities to significantly reduce costs and improve the delivery of public construction projects, governments are embracing innovation and the potential of data. Working with national governments including the U.K., Scotland and Australia, AECOM’s Global BIM Consultancy Director David Philp thinks it’s time for engineers to step up and make sure we leave a positive legacy for future generations

From electricity to railways and from canals to the telephone, it’s impossible to imagine life without these engineering triumphs. Now, the time has come for us to sell our vision of the future of construction, and it lies in the innovative use of data.

As one of the last bastions of the 19th century way of doing things, the construction industry is undergoing disruptive change. In the bid to drive down costs by as much as 20 percent, reduce whole lifecycle carbon emissions and to speed up productivity, building information modeling (BIM) offers a step change in the entire process. Creating a digital representation of any asset that mimics the understanding and behavior of the solution, BIM is the place where the physical and digital interact through data-rich models and related databases. BIM can not only help with procurement and construction through to the operation and management of buildings and intelligent infrastructure, it also changes the way we work through platforms  for collaboration such as AECOM’s ProjectHub management environment.

In the U.K., the government’s construction strategy for its own estate has included adopting the use of BIM level 2 which relates to the creation and exchange of open shareable data and digital information across an asset’s lifecycle. The initial financial goal has been achieved, regularly cementing savings of between 15-20 percent — approximately US$1.2 million (£840 million) in construction costs. Since April 2016, all central government departments require their supply chain to achieve BIM level 2. This decision led the government and the construction industry to work together to develop the industry’s skills, standards and tools to reduce the cost of social infrastructure. The impact of this decision has been multifaceted, for example there is now increased focus on the potential of modern methods of construction and government departments have started digitizing their estate. The Ministry of Justice is taking the lead and creating a digital library of its assets such as prison cells, and not just the geospatial attributes but also details of performance, lifecycle costs and more.

Now, in the Digital Built Britain program, the U.K. government is raising the bar again, creating a strategy and likely future mandate for BIM level 3, and extending the requirements to include operational and performance data to help reduce total expenditure costs. This is about creating a mature digital economy for the built environment which delivers high-performing assets and exceptional client value as well as a knowledge base to support the evolution of smart cities.

With similar approaches under way with other national governments, we are witnessing the significant impact that BIM is having on global construction. In the future, we can expect many more sensor-rich buildings and infrastructure with the ability to access real-time information on performance. Along with this, built assets will start to learn and adapt. The challenge to the industry is to keep up and embrace the cultural change. Meanwhile, the challenge to developers and asset owners is to see data as a valuable resource in improving our whole built environment.

Managing and mastering data

As companies and other organizations generate, collect and consume ever-increasing volumes  of digital data, ways are being sought to optimize this resource. In any industry and activity, this data provides a wealth of information on how to save time and money, reduce carbon emissions, manage and maintain assets, and more besides.  To create a plan of action, AECOM offers an information management consultancy. Along with managing terabytes of program information, this service is able to execute advanced analytics to provide real-time and predictive glimpses into problem areas, create new data-focused efficiencies in delivery and operation, reduce risk and deliver better performance.

*David Philp was seconded into the U.K. government’s Cabinet Office in 2011 as Head of BIM Implementation and is a member of the U.K. BIM Task Group. He is also Chair of the Scottish BIM Working Group implementing the Scottish Government’s BIM strategy.