The newly elected vice-chair of BIM4Water, Clare Kovacs (national digital rehearsal lead for MWH Treatment) and current chair Jamie Mills (global BIM manager for Xylem) reflect on and discuss some of the strides forward and developments made by the BIM4Water group over the challenging months that this year has brought
2020 has been an unprecedented and challenging time for everyone but it has also created opportunities to take stock and reassess. This is exactly what BIM4Water has been doing to push forward and achieve its mission “to lead, drive and support organisations to realise value through the digital transformation of the water sector”.
What has been BIM4Water’s major achievement in this time?
Jamie Mills: “There have been lots of things happening but I’d say our major achievement has to be the Roadmap alignment. Having completed our initial roadmap back in 2018, we decided it was now time to redefine the direction of travel and more importantly ensure alignment of all seven BIM4Water task groups with the current UK government objectives in developing a digital built Britain and helping drive the creation of an information management framework for water.
“To do this, we have been working collaboratively with the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) National Digital Twin Programme to assist the BIM4Water task group chairs and their Steering Group sponsors to engage in workshops, redefining the direction of travel and our key milestones, ultimately carving out a strategic vision to drive digital transformation in water over the next five years.
“This review comes at a critical point in the group’s evolution. We have made a number of key strategic partnership agreements, established a new task group – the Data Security Quality & Governance group (DSQG) – and reshuffled lead roles, including appointing Clare as elected vice-chair, gained new a new chair of the 4D Task Group and also a co-chair within the Water Industry Classification Hierarchy & Standards Group (WICHS).”
Do you think the pandemic has had an effect on the group’s activities?
Clare Kovacs: “Yes, absolutely! As a group of industry-leading champions in our fields within the water industry, ranging from recruitment, BIM managers to asset managers, we have noticed a significant gear shift in digital adoption. It is clear to see that the Covid pandemic has helped fast-track both the embedding and operation of digital tools and processes within organisations. It has raised the profile and criticality of the need for a clear digital strategy, which covers the fundamentals of education, collaboration, formulation, standardisation and quality.
“From data quality, accessibility and digital rehearsals to having the right people for the job, it is both the machine and the human elements working simultaneously together that is essential for successful digital delivery.
“In 2021, BIM4Water hopes to make the water industry more aware of these elements and believe that successful change is only achievable by connecting two elements: machine and human. Where machine refers to technology and systems for data creation and use, including how it is acquired, shared, structured and protected. And human refers to the skills of the industry, collaborative working practices, communication, thought leadership, culture and behavioural practices of organisations.
“For BIM4Water to achieve its goals of driving digital transformation of the water industry, the two key elements must be combined (positively) to create the (positive) change.”
Figure 1 illustrates how we can see BIM4Water task groups can be divided between the two elements: “All groups are interlinked but sit in very separate categories, which are both as critical and interdependent as each other.”
“If we look at this mathematically, both elements must be positive and not equal to zero to have positive change; if one does equal zero then no change will occur. And it is both effective communication and engagement that is required to maintain the values above zero.”
Has the BIM4Water focus changed? What are your thoughts on moving the group forward into 2021?
Mills: “Our initial roadmap focused heavily on understanding our approach, the enablers and our desired future state, which would have been driven by the need to get out of the starting blocks, establishing a foundation for the group and raising the profile so digital was talked about across the industry in an applicable and useable way.”
Kovacs: “My focus to help drive the group forward will now be on removing duplication of efforts across other groups and organisations. This is already being supported by establishing partnership agreements and pledges with strategic stakeholders such as the CDBB, Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) and Teesside University to drive forward momentum, raise our intensity in setting standards and providing guidance on digital transformation.
“As an unfunded/non-commercial organisation, BIM4Water’s aim is to help drive the embedment of digital practices in delivery and make these business as usual for Tier 1s (main contractor), and also focusing on Tier 2s (supply chain), on how to bring them on-board and help support them. This will be achievable by aligning data, work breakdown structures (WBS), understanding level of information needs and their timings (LOI), and taking an active shift (on the plan) to the left to ensure it is available at the right time. More importantly, understanding the commercial, contractual and legal envelope of this work, so it is not based on goodwill but data, is a clearly defined requirement.”
Mills: “Many of the major water companies are setting flagship examples of understanding the benefits of successful digital adoption especially with a focus on data and regulatory reporting. For this to work across the industry, BIM4Water needs to sit as the facilitator and raise the profile of digital, developing best practice and making this business as usual.”
Kovacs: “My aim as vice-chair of the BIM4Water group is to work closely with the Steering Group and task groups to drive accountability of data quality and to help set out clear requirements, in exchange information requirements (EIR). And by working closely with the Owner Operators group, highlighting the fundamental role they play in achieving digital transformation in the water industry. The Owner Operators is a task group formed of members from the water companies.”
Mills: “The government sector regulators and stakeholders have acknowledged the importance of digital in tackling key challenges across all sectors and ultimately being better for the public good. This is evident in the Data for Public Good report and visible from the establishment of the CDBB National Digital Twin Programme. To make better use of data, water and other sectors need to overcome key challenges including ontology, interoperability, data quality and data accessibility. An information management framework will be a key enabler for this but the work of specific industry groups like BIM4Water needs to be in place to ensure its delivery across all sectors.
“To ensure the smooth delivery of objectives BIM4Water will establish a new workstream for 2021. This will focus on governance of data and this links directly to the need for alignment, control and direction, in order to maximise the benefits data needs to be valid, useable, accessible and of quality.”
Kovacs: “Both Jamie and myself believe that data governance will drive intelligent and informed decision making from clients, contractors and the supply chain across the asset lifecycle in its entirety, and having this on the BIM4Water Roadmap will work to make this happen.
“There is also a need to understand the gap between industry and academia for digital roles. For example, are academic programmes developing the right skills for the workforce of the future and what does that career path look like? Often seen as a ‘starry-eyed’ concept that is impractical and idealistic, digital roles are not given the attention they deserve with regards to chartership among professional institutions and such status is still only recognised for the more traditional engineering roles. To move forward, recognition for digital professions needs to change and the BIM4water Skills Task Group is well placed to drive this message for the water industry. Additionally, supporting learning and development skills, and providing human resources and senior management guidance to how these roles align within organisational structures.
“I’m keen to assist BIM4Water in creating that recognition and portray what ‘good’ looks like across the water sector. I believe that the BIM4Water Awards is a great place to do that. Although our 2020 awards did not come to fruition, we hope 2021 will be kinder and allow us to celebrate some of the great work being done in the industry with the following three main award categories: achieving health, safety and risk mitigation through digital construction; driving efficiency through digital construction for the asset owner; and digital construction and the data-driven approach.”
Mills: “It is BIM4Water’s vision to be recognised as the voice of the information management landscape and framework for the water sector and, in doing so, developing commonality and standardised ways of working, closing loops of knowledge, sharing best practices and skills to enable open data that is accessible to all. With our new Roadmap, myself and Clare expect 2021 will be about delivering digital transformation as a collective, through joined-up thinking, further collaboration, resource application and realising value for all.”