Water companies need to lead on BIM

British Water BIM conference supported by MWH

The need for more leadership and engagement in BIM from water companies was highlighted at the recent British Water BIM Conference says MWH engineering director Andrew Cowell

This month the second British Water BIM conference in association with MWH brought together over 100 delegates from across the water industry to hear presentations on the theme of 'BIM Today, ALIM Tomorrow, Delivering a TOTEX Future'. Among the important messages to come from the conference was the headine that BIM is changing the construction and infrastructure industries and the water sector needs to engage otherwise the framework for the digital future will be set by rail, energy and highways.

Furthermore water company leadership is required to define the employer’s information requirements (EIRs) and consider standardisation opportunities across water and sewerage companies (WaSCs). The conference highlighted that the supply community is stepping up to deliver BIM and is ready to collaborate with WaSCs in changing the way we work. It was also noted that the regulator can play a part in encouraging the adoption of BIM practices.

Bob Stear, head of research and development at Severn Trent Water, recognised the potential for BIM and encouraged the development of an industry change plan, generating a sense of urgency, creating a vision and identifying implementation steps.

"BIM is changing the construction and infrastructure industries and the water sector needs to engage otherwise the framework for the digital future will be set by rail, energy and highways."

Eddie Launhardt, integrated operations and maintenance business specialise from Scottish Power presented a compelling case study showing how a strong client vision and leadership can deliver value through improved asset information management. Greg Bentley, chief executive of Bentley Systems illustrated how technology is developing to support the total expenditure concept (TOTEX), integrating design and operations data. See more here.

BIM can contribute to our TOTEX future of efficiency and improved customer service, however we need to invest in laying the BIM foundations today, which is information and how we manage it. We need to understand what information is required by our water companies. Clear leadership to set strategy and define EIRs is called for. The supply community is gearing up and ready to work with water companies in defining and delivering better information. BIM4Water is also stepping up and has task groups with active participants from across the water sector looking at case studies, standard libraries and guidance.

BIM is a top table issue. UK Government BIM Strategy, Construction 2025 and Digital Built Britain all recognise the urgency of adopting BIM practice in the UK and the value it can give at home and in the export market. Competition in the wrong areas can hinder BIM progress. Examples given included; difficulties for water companies to collaborate to standardise on asset data required; a focus on competitive tendering and 'buying the cheapest of 3' rather than developing long term supplier relationships and standard products. New commercial models are required to incentivise collaborative behaviour and the regulator should consider whether the regulatory environment supports this. There is light at the end of the tunnel, the conference concluded that by working together as an industry we can deliver a BIM enabled TOTEX future.

 Insight from delegate workshops

  1.  Are we getting engagement and leadership in BIM from Water Companies in order to deliver value to the customer and long term resilience?

• Variable client leadership - some good, some disengaged

• Employers information requirements and common data environment are required

• Little evidence of industry level collaboration by clients to standardise

• More regulator influence on BIM may focus client attention.

2. What is the impact of BIM to the supply community?

• Confusion about what is required by clients, supply chain feels saturated

• BIM demands early engagement by the supply community, engagement is currently variable.

• Early sight of asset standards and specifications is required.

• Lessons can be learnt and applied from other industries that have been through this already.

• Level of definition needs to be understood by the supply chain. BIM4Water Standard Libraries task group is addressing this issue.

• Knowledge and use of the common data environment for data storage and access is required.

• Understanding of data exchange standards is required.

• Some SMEs are learning quickly and gaining more business

• BIM supplier assessment form feedback will provide the current supply chain awareness

and capability which will start the process of support, training and improvement.


3. Does BIM help to bring innovation into the water industry integrating asset management,

capital delivery and operations?

• Operations engagement needs to be encouraged

• BIM is not in competition with asset management, BIM can enhance this with better data

• BIM brings innovation in existing asset capture, enriching that data

• BIM is an opportunity to bring various siloed systems together

• Concern existing owner operators data is poor and gets lost through the lifecycle


4. Do we need to rethink our commercial and delivery processes to realise the full value of BIM?

• Are engineers scared of standardisation which changes the way we think about design?

• Common standards are required. These standards must allow safe innovation. BIM4Water

should facilitate development of common standards

• Can software vendors help the process of using neutral data formats?

• Open model carries a risk of ownership and responsibility

• In some instances procurement is focused on unit cost not long term value and TOTEX, need

to stimulate collaboration, procurement based on ‘cheapest of 3 prices’ is not best value.


5. Does the introduction of BIM align the long term interests of the consumers and the interests of shareholders?

• Standardisation of products, standards and asset data requirements across WaSCs is an efficiency opportunity

• BIM4Water can help to deliver case studies at an industry level to demonstrate BIM value

• Change management is required to develop long term thinking