Analysis

Interview: Lucy Abbott, Wates Group – The needle has moved on BIM adoption

6 February 2019 | By Stephen Cousins

Lucy Abbott, group BIM director at Wates Group talks to Stephen Cousins about growing demand for Level 2 BIM, the importance of drones for construction validation, tracking time and cost savings on projects, and a three-tier process to checking suppliers’ BIM capability.

How many of your projects are BIM projects? 

Around 60% of our schemes have some kind of BIM deliverable, which could be anything from basic 3D coordination through to Level 2 BIM. There’s a complete mix of BIM deliverables across the public and private sectors, with projects values ranging from £10m up to £180m.

The trend we’re seeing is for an increasing number of projects being tendered with a Level 2 requirement, which is a reflection of the maturity of the industry and clients becoming much more au fait with the requirements and standards.

There’s definitely an increase in the number of public and private customers going down the Level 2 route because it sets a very clear structure for the supply chain to adhere to. However, the private sector doesn't necessarily adhere to the standards verbatim, they take the aspects of the BIM process they think will add value to a project.

That’s interesting, BIM+ ran a survey towards the end of last year that found a worrying decline in demand for BIM from the private sector – it sounds like you haven't really experienced that?

No, I think it’s growing, although when we deal with private organisations, like developers, they may not have everything scoped out yet. Clients are very much influenced by their consultants, they may be embarking on the process for the first time and want to understand how it works along with the benefits that can be achieved.

First timers tend to make asset information requirements quite high level because they are not entirely sure how the data will integrate with their CAFM systems. They tend to be a bit more cautious, and have a practical approach to learning as they go.

Have you recorded any measurable benefits in terms of time or cost savings etc?

That’s something we are tracking using KPIs to monitor projects, looking at all the coordination issues identified during the design stage and the cost and time saved by finding them prior to going to site.

This is somewhat theoretical because you cannot directly compare the same project delivered traditionally versus being delivered in BIM, but it has enabled us to clearly evidence and mitigate the design and spatial coordination challenges that would not have been identified until a later stage.

The trend we’re seeing is for an increasing number of projects being tendered with a Level 2 requirement, which is a reflection of the maturity of the industry and clients becoming much more au fait with the requirements and standards.– Lucy Abbott

The process has highlighted the importance of ensuring that we have a significant level of information available in the model at design stage, which is a challenge given the varied levels BIM maturity across the industry. It is flagging up how early engagement of the supply chain is absolutely paramount to ensuring that we have a fully coordinated, compliant design that is fit for purpose prior to construction.

What is your current overarching strategy for BIM on projects?

Where previously, Wates has reacted directly to customer demand for BIM we have now reached a stage of maturity where the business recognises the value and benefit of implementing a BIM process – now there’s an internal as well as an external driver.

Our latest BIM strategy launched at the beginning of 2018, and was developed in response to the growing number of BIM projects we are delivering. It is focused on embedding BIM across the business as part of the way in which we work, and recognises the need for a definitive plan to support delivery, drive efficiencies and profitability through the business whilst reducing risk, and adding value on the projects we deliver.

People have been talking about the need to engage lower tier contractors in BIM for a few years now, have you made it a contractual requirement on projects?

We evaluate the capability of our consultants and supply chain as a prerequisite to their procurement on projects being delivered in BIM. They are invited to undertake an online questionnaire and the responses they give generate an automated score and that enables us to essentially “sense check” whether or not they are viable for use on a BIM project.

It’s basically a three-tier system: if the organisation is approved they can deliver any type of Wates project with a BIM requirement; if they fall into the “advisory” category then it means there’s generally something within their responses we need to delve into further.

Some organisations point to additional costs associated with, for instance, the delivery of asset data: maybe the organisation hasn’t previously been exposed to the delivery of COBie or worked in a Common Data Environment.

These are all things that can be resolved, but we need to be aware them at the front end to be able to provide the relevant support and training before we embark on the project. If the organisation fails to meet our minimum base criteria for BIM we do not work with them on a BIM project.

Is the current drive behind new digital technologies helping construction throw off its reputation as being slow to innovate?

It has definitely catapulted us in the right direction. Digital process and technology is helping us explore new areas much faster than previously possible.

Getting clear and consistent requirements from customers, although the quality of responses is improving, it is still hugely varied. BIM requirements can be either very high level or conversely incredibly detailed but not necessarily practically achievable.– Lucy Abbott

Last year, Wates trialled new field tools on live projects that allow us to directly interface with BIM models, undertake quality assurance activities and capture data using tablets or smartphones. It’s something we are looking to roll out this year on certain BIM schemes. 

Virtual reality is being used more to help customers understand design proposals by immersing them within the spaces of the prospective building. This is particularly useful when you have multiple stakeholders and can remove the need for a mock up-type scenario because the customer has the opportunity to experience and understand the design of the proposed space or facility via a digital replica.

Digital surveying is another exciting area. We have trialled robotic total stations and drone capture, principally as a method for construction verification, recording point clouds and overlaying them on the model to understand if we are building within tolerance.

Lots of contractors seem to be experimenting with this type of automated construction verification tool to check as-built versus as-designed. How significant is this technology going to be?

Hugely significant and clients are becoming much more aware of the power to specify it as a requirement. There’s also an obligation on contractors to prove that what they have actually delivered to their customer aligns fully with the design proposals they have committed to delivering. 

Apart from supply chain engagement, what are the biggest challenges with BIM right now? 

Getting clear and consistent requirements from customers, although the quality of responses is improving, it is still hugely varied. BIM requirements can be either very high level or conversely incredibly detailed but not necessarily practically achievable.

Sometimes, after the project is secured we have to go through a renegotiation exercise with customers to help us understand if we have interpreted their requirements properly so that we can accurately scope them out.

Wates has started to offer fixed rate “standard”, “advanced” and “premium” BIM packages at tender stage that we can subsequently tweak and bespoke as necessary. If we go on to secure the project that gives us a much clearer set of criteria to price and procure services against.

Another challenge is the lack of clarity on asset information requirements at the front end. Customers may require a COBie deliverable and identify the data fields they want to be populated, but often there hasn’t been a clear consideration of what types of assets the data relates to.

It’s not common for a client’s FM providers to be involved with specifying asset information requirements, when we get on board one of our first questions is: “Can we speak with your FM provider so we can identify these information requirements as early as possible?” Without this information we are unable to procure the supply chain based on a fixed scope of service. 

Is part of the problem that clients don’t have a long term view of how the building will be operated and maintained?

Perhaps they’re not getting the right level of advice at the right time. It must be quite frustrating for customers when contractors come on board and start identifying significant gaps that need filling, but it’s just part of how we can provide support.

Part of the problem is that there are a limited number of FM providers engaging with BIM, and we have yet to see any FM providers actively using our models. But that’s also an opportunity and there will be companies, either from FM, contracting, or the consultancy space that will look to fill that gap because customers will be crying out for it soon.