Oct 22 2013

Reflecting on #ICEBIM

I attended the third Institution of Civil Engineers building information conference last week. This event has grown rapidly in popularity in two years (underlining that BIM is not just about buildings, but vitally important to infrastructure projects too) and is now too big for even the ICE’s capacious Westminster event facilities – the #ICEBIM-hashtagged event was held at a London hotel conference centre instead.

The event boasted a star-studded array of BIM speakers, being chaired by Mark Bew, who leads the Government BIM Task Group, and featuring a host of well-known clients, contractors and consultants – and not just from the civils sector. The Highways Agency, Environment Agency and HS2 all got podium time, alongside firms like Laing O’Rourke, BAM and Mott MacDonald, but so did the retailer Asda, for example, and there was also some space for technology vendors (though mainly confined to a panel debate session), and for some thoughtful future-gazing from Tim Broyd of the Bartlett School of Architecture (but also a civil engineer and someone long involved with construction collaboration – I understand he spoke at an NCCTP extranet conference nearly 10 years ago).

Big BIM themes

For me, three strong themes emerged during the day. First, as we countdown towards 2016, several speakers talked at length about the need for supply chain members to not just commit to BIM but to work as an integrated part of the supply chain – it was summed up by one speaker as “Do BIM or get out“. This is a recurring theme in BIM conferences now – BIM is no longer an option, it’s adapt or die. There was also hints about future changes in procurement regimes, with major clients focused on suppliers who could collate and deliver high quality, right-first-time, connected built environment data, not just conventional professional services (“we’ll pay for data, not services” was how HS2 described it).

Second, project teams need to be thinking about how data is used for decision-making at different stages during project delivery and beyond. I have heard speakers talk before about the progression from data to information (assembled data) to knowledge (organised information – what you would get from reports, for example) to wisdom (the considered application of knowledge); I have written previously about BIM for business intelligence. This applies at a project level and within organisations. The Mott MacDonald speaker, for example, described how their organisation had to evolve new processes at different speeds across the business and create new methodologies to share BIM knowledge across the enterprise.

ICEBIM - BIM for asset managementThird, standards. Predictably, particularly when you are talking about infrastructure assets (bridges, tunnels, highways, flood defences) which may have a working life measured in centuries rather than decades, it was useful to hear speakers talk about the need to manage those assets beyond planning, design, construction and handover, and to empower end-users through access to relevant data. And it’s not just data to support collaboration within individual projects – it’s about collating information and knowledge at the programme level and gaining wisdom that can be applied to future infrastructure investments (Asda talked about BIM being used long-term for both CAPEX and OPEX reduction). Such data will have to be managed using open standards common to all, so that information can be accessed whenever, wherever and by whoever needs it.


Perhaps it’s a sign of how far the debate has moved in two years, but this was also the first conference where I heard the phrase “Common Data Environment” (CDE) widely used. When the UK government’s BIM programme was first outlined, there was a somewhat vague expectation that Software-as-a-Service providers (such as CONJECT) would provide the web-based platforms – “data management servers” (later amended to CDEs) to share multiple ‘federated’ models, with construction schedules (time, 4D) and cost information (5D) held in separate, linked databases. The publication of PAS1192-2 in February has clearly helped concentrate people’s minds on how we need to share BIM data, and web-based platforms are – yet again – seen as the most expedient, lowest common denominator technology to work across geographically dispersed, multi-company supply supply chains. Karen Alford’s Environment Agency use of the model to enable community engagement got me thinking about how CONJECT could be used to securely share models with the wider community – why create a separate website for, say, consultation or ongoing communication when you could offer a view into the live project which the tax-payers are paying for?


About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

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