HS2 – making digital transformation a reality

Digital transformation work on HS2 is creating a BIM legacy for the UK construction and rail industry to be proud of, says John McSheen.

Wasted time and costs across the UK’s construction industry have long stood in the way of improving efficiency and effectiveness in the sector. Poor information management and lack of IT deployment contributed to the problem - clients and supply chains simply didn’t have the right information to make informed, timely decisions on projects. 

The 2016 government mandate to implement building information modelling (BIM) on all publicly procured projects was a big step towards improving the way we design, create and maintain assets. Implementing this – and proving that it worked – on one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects, HS2, was an even bigger step. 

HS2’s ambitious aim is to develop and deliver a world-class BIM implementation and recognise the potential to drive industry towards ‘Digital Built Britain’ through innovation and open data standards. Atkins has worked alongside HS2 to bring together industry-leading BIM experts to make this transformational change a reality. 

To achieve not just compliance, but innovation, required new ways of working, new capabilities, new standards and policies, the introduction of disruptive technologies and unprecedented collaboration between contractors. 

Our combined approach focussed on four key areas – leadership; people and culture; process; and information and technology – that would enable HS2 to deliver its strategic outcome of a “consistent, collaborative process for production, management and delivery of digital representations of the physical railway assets over their life-cycle”.


Atkins brought together leading thinkers in BIM to create a HS2 capability model that identified core ‘capability elements’ needed for successful operation of BIM – the foundation from which the HS2 BIM implementation is driven. These experts helped HS2 define the ‘virtual railway’, stretching beyond the level 2 mandate, and creating a BIM roadmap for what the programme would look like in 2026.  Alongside this, we created a robust benefits framework, aligning BIM capabilities to the benefits realised, and translated these into a set of performance indicators that enable reporting and adjustment as the programme progresses. 

People and culture

To deliver HS2’s BIM vision required everyone within HS2 and its supply chain to adopt new ways of working, behaviours and culture. To fast-track adoption, we looked at several areas simultaneously. Developing and implementing a change and engagement programme, defining a BIM competency model to assess the levels of skills required to support successful BIM delivery and exploring maturity and accreditation models. This has resulted, for example, in an industry-wide upskilling platform, providing access to key training materials free of charge and that continues to be updated as BIM and the industry matures, along with work on developing the future workforce. In an industry facing significant skills shortages, this initiative is something that benefits not just HS2, but everyone in construction. 

Process and information 

Key to HS2’s BIM application is the common data environment (CDE). This brings together information, processes and technologies in a collaborative environment to ensure that quality data is appropriately shared from multiple data sources. Developing open, shareable asset information ensures HS2 can benefit from significant improvements in cost, value and carbon performance. Atkins helped HS2 create the standards for its CDE, as well as the information requirements for the supply chain. This unique system-agnostic and data-centric approach to delivering BIM is minimising the burden placed on the supply chain and is future-proofed to capitalise on new and innovative technologies as they emerge.  


HS2’s BIM strategy is leading industry, stimulating the market to come together and develop a first of its kind ‘Visualisation and Integration Hub’, that will enable expert and non-expert users to intuitively search, surface and query spatial, geospatial, asset and project data in one place. 

HS2 and BIM are both relatively new, but both are evolving at rapid pace. Whilst BIM has been successfully delivered on building infrastructure, this is the first time it has been applied to a project of this size and complexity from the outset. 

Real benefits from BIM are already being seen by HS2 and its supply chain. The combined work has been shortlisted for this year’s Management Consultancy Association Award for Change and Transformation in the Public Sector, along with reaching the finals for the British Construction Industries Skills Impact Initiative of the Year and Construction News Awards for BIM Excellence. 

Atkins continue to support HS2 with the implementation of its digital transformation. The evidence of the benefits of BIM will increase as the programme continues, industry advances and digital working becomes ‘business as usual’ activity for all.  We hope that by sharing best practice and lessons learned, we’ll leave a BIM legacy for the UK construction and rail industry that HS2 and us can be proud of.

John McSheen is client director, HS2 at SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business.

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