How BIM is driving efficiences for water companies

Water industry collaboration in BIM can stimulate competition and innovation, says Andrew Cowell of MWH and chair of Chair BIM4Water


In this world where customer service and willingness to pay are driving the demand for efficiency have we focused on competition and missed out on the opportunities through collaboration? Often there is a fear that collaboration will be seen as collusion or create too cosy an environment.

In order to deliver efficiency benefits it is necessary to define the environment in which competition can take place. Creating these boundaries encourages suppliers to then invest with confidence, without this framework investment will be reactive and short term.

One example from the industrial revolution is the establishment of a standard rail gauge; that does not mean that all rolling stock is the same. Rail also introduced standard time to enable timetabling. Train operators compete by developing different timetables using the common timeframe.

As we develop our thinking in the digital revolution it is necessary for industries to set the framework for competition. If we compare the evolution of the industrial revolution with our digital revolution we are probably still in the 1920’s just learning the skills and exploring the potential. We are used to thinking about ‘Projects and Documents’ we are moving to ‘Assets and Data’. In the Water Sector BIM4Water has been picking up from members areas where they believe efficiency could be gained through industry collaboration. We need to move our thinking from delivering Projects and Documents to delivering Assets and Data.

A few areas come to mind where we could collaborate in the water sector:-

•Standard Libraries of products are being worked on by suppliers, designers, contractors and clients. An amazing amount of resource is being invested yet none will result in a Standard. Can we agree as an industry what is required to define a specific product, level of detail and level of information such as Product Data Templates (PDTs)? This gives a common framework within which to innovate different products.

•In process plant a basic building block of design is the Piping or Process and Instrumentation Diagram (P&IDs). Each Water and Sewerage Company (WaSC) have their own interpretation of the P&ID symbols. Could we agree an industry standard and remove the inefficiency of the supply community maintaining several variations?

•Each WaSC has an asset hierarchy to describe plant which is basically the same yet the hierarchies are different. Suppliers need to understand all the variations. If the water sector is to connect into the digital world, Digital Built Britain, should we be collaborating to set some standard asset hierarchy for the sector? For example shaping Uniclass 2015 to ensure it encompasses the water sector.

•In the standards we use there are potential overlaps in scope and sometimes competition leading to silos between the groups applying these standards striving to be the lead. Are those looking to apply PAS1192 and ISO 55000 collaborating sufficiently to bring about a coordinated asset management approach?

•In systems there are those who advocate the tool sets associated with BIM and those who are GIS advocates. The key to both is ‘information’ so let’s collaborate to establish solutions that draw on both tool sets, it is not BIM or GIS, we need both.

•There are a number of industry bodies that are developing the application of BIM. The energy that goes into these bodies is significant. BIM4Water, British Water, Buildoff Site Water Hub, Future Water and Institute of Asset Management to name a few. If we could collaborate to harness this effort in a coordinate direction setting the boundaries to improve the efficiency of the water sector that would be powerful.

There is an industry efficiency to be gained if we can collaborate to set a framework within which we all deliver assets. This is a significant change from our current thinking where we believe competition through procurement is the primary route to a more efficient industry.

The application of BIM is part of the digital revolution, currently its clunky but showing potential. With the awareness and desire to collaborate we can deliver greater efficiency however to do this we will need leadership to set the vision and humility to work together across the many disparate initiatives that are currently underway to create a framework within which we can all then compete.

Let’s look for the collaboration opportunities where we can further the efficiency agenda and focus competition in the areas where it is appropriate.

 If you are free come along and join the debate at the 3rd British Water BIM Conference, BIM the Enabler.....Cost........Efficiency.......Knowledge, 7th March 2016 at Aston Villa FC. mail: events@britishwater.co.uk

Andrew Cowell MWH and Chair of BIM4Water. The views expressed here are a personal reflection and not necessarily representative of either organisation.