A new report commissioned by the Centre for Digital Built Britain as a partner of the Construction Innovation Hub has highlighted the value of information management in construction and infrastructure. Dr Anne Kemp OBE, chair of the UK BIM Alliance and technical director at Atkins, takes a closer look
Published in June, the report found that every £1 invested in information management (IM) could potentially secure up to £6 of labour time savings while boosting government efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The evidence also suggests IM could enable cost savings across different stages of the asset lifecycle, ranging from 1.6% to 18%.
The Value of Information Management in the Construction and Infrastructure Sector report was commissioned by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) as a partner of the Construction Innovation Hub and produced by KPMG UK and Atkins. It found evidence of strong organisational benefits that could be enabled by IM and also that implementing IM in the construction and infrastructure sector today could potentially unlock wider benefits across the whole economy in the future.
But looking past the headlines, what does this mean? How can IM benefit not just construction and infrastructure projects, but wider society and the economy as we attempt to find new ways to live and work in a post-pandemic world?
Advances in digital technology and data are transforming the functioning of our economy and the way we live our lives.
The built environment is becoming smarter, with the rise of intelligent infrastructure – enabled by the use of techniques such as machine learning and artificial intelligence – driving efficiencies, accelerating the transition to net zero and optimising the performance of the nation’s built assets.
A vast amount of information is created, managed and used throughout the asset lifecycle. IM ensures the relevance, quality, availability and timeliness of this information and facilitates more efficient and effective decisions and investments across the asset lifecycle.
Better use of IM can help to address the productivity challenges facing the construction sector. Access to the right information (as data) of the right quality and at the right time, for the right people and in a format that is trusted by all parties, is increasingly recognised as a critical enabler of the construction sector’s digital transformation. It has the potential to drive down costs, drive up quality and ensure delivery of the right outcomes through the construction and operation of built assets.
A great deal of work has gone into developing robust standards and guidance to aid implementation across the sector, but a significant missing piece of the puzzle was the need for compelling evidence on the holistic benefits of these practices. It is this missing piece that the report addresses.
In the last decade, we’ve seen a step-change in the pace at which the construction sector has adopted IM. In 2011, the UK government mandated that all central government-funded building projects use Building Information Modelling (BIM) from April 2016, accelerating the uptake of IM and acting as a catalyst not just in the public sector but in the private sector as well.
International standards (the ISO 19650 series) have been developed from the UK practices – originally referred to as BIM Level 2 – and an industry-led collaboration (the UK BIM Alliance) formed to help drive the implementation of what is now referred to as the UK BIM framework. The report highlights 11 case studies that demonstrate the benefits realised across a wide range of sectors and organisations with seven of the 11 case studies citing that the 2016 mandate was either the main driver, or one of the main drivers, for adopting IM.
Also important in the growth of IM has been the Data for the Public Good report published in 2017 by the National Infrastructure Commission, which explores the potential for data to improve how our infrastructure is built, managed and eventually decommissioned. The key is to collect high-quality data and use it effectively, sharing data to catalyse innovation and improve services. It set out clear actions in three areas: collecting the right data; setting standards for data; and sharing that data securely.
To further the journey in 2017…
The University of Cambridge received core funding for the Digital Built Britain programme, followed in 2018 by its largest single grant ever, to establish the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB). Its mission has been to expand and embed the digital transformation of the construction and infrastructure sectors to lead to a better built and natural environment, and to create a better future for people and the planet.
In 2018, the Construction Innovation Hub was formed to bring together world-class expertise from the BRE, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and CDBB. At the heart of the Hub’s mission has been the aim of transforming the UK construction industry and harnessing the power of IM to unlock transformational value.
In supporting these activities, the report goes on to set out the benefits of IM to businesses; to the wider economy through driving GDP growth; and to society by improving the quality of outcomes for the end customer, the wider public and the environment. It provides compelling evidence that increasing investment in IM, and a greater focus on and analysis of the wider benefits that it delivers, could not only help to close the sector’s productivity gap, but could also unlock economic, environmental and social gains to create a better future for people and the planet.
The study’s analysis of the 11 case studies found that the use of IM could potentially secure between £5.10- £6.00 of direct labour productivity gains for every £1 invested in IM. The evidence also suggests IM could enable cost savings across different stages of the asset lifecycle, ranging from 1.6% to 18%.
Meanwhile, the study’s analysis of wider benefits to the UK economy found that, through sector-wide adoption of IM, every £1 of direct productivity gain today in the design, construction and maintenance of built assets could potentially translate into £3.70 in annual UK GDP in 2051.
It also provides tangible evidence that IM is driving wider organisational improvements through digital transformation. Analysis shows how organisations utilising IM to enable modern methods of construction have developed new, innovative services in the market, and also brought life into projects that were once simply too costly.
Ambition to “Build Back Better”
This landmark report has a role to play in shaping the future development of the construction and infrastructure sectors in terms of providing evidence for individual business cases, as well as supporting the industry’s Vision for the Built Environment. With contributions from over 75 industry leaders and endorsed by more than 35 cross-industry bodies spanning the UK built environment sector, the Vision describes the future we want: a built environment whose explicit purpose is to enable people and nature to flourish together for generations.
Aligned to the UK government’s ambition to Build Back Better, the simple yet radical Vision calls for people and nature to be at the heart of how we design, build, operate and use our existing built environment.
Adoption of the UK BIM Framework can help to unlock this potential across the built environment not only in laying the foundations for digital transformation but also in creating greater efficiencies, sustainability of projects and providing access to global opportunities for all. The UK BIM Framework provides the UK built environment sector with practical guidance and assistance for better information management practices by setting out the approach for implementing BIM in the UK using the framework for managing information provided by the ISO 19650 series.
It is clear from the evidence that the value of implementing information management brings attractive returns, but it is equally clear that we have yet to fully realise the true value information management offers.
Two clear strategic value drivers are boosting the productivity of our sector by enabling better decision-making through managed data and, more importantly, improving the performance of our sector through delivering on our promised outcomes.
As we look towards the future, the widespread adoption of IM is fundamental to realising the vision of a national digital twin and delivering value at scale. The challenges the construction sector faces are increasingly complex and this report argues that we have both the tools and the expertise to face these challenges, delivering innovative and joined-up solutions that will embed true value into the projects of today, while meeting the challenges of tomorrow.
To read the Value of Information Management report and associated documents, please see www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/news/value-information-management-construction -and-infrastructure-sector
Dr Anne Kemp OBE
Chair UK BIM Alliance