Cognitive asset management – are we in shape to meet the Level 3 BIM challenge?

The construction industry must evolve with new skills and a new focus on customer outcomes if it is to meet the challenge of Level 3 BIM and drive greater performance from infrastructure assets, delegates at the latest PCSG breakfast briefing heard this week.

And according to Mark Bew, PCSG chairman and head of the UK government’s task group delivering the BIM level 3 programme, embracing the power of data to drive a future of smart infrastructure will require a step change in effort and thinking across the sector.

“There is a massive jump from Level 2 to Level 3 and it is going to need some new controls otherwise we will not get the right result. We need to do things differently to get the industry up the curve,” Bew told delegates.

“Level 3 is about the focus on improving the functional performance of assets,” he explained. “It is the move from CAPEX focus to customer focus and that requires data and an understanding of how to manage and use it.”

The “Cognitive Asset Management” breakfast session, organised by PCSG with its partners IBM and Business Collaborator, discussed the challenges and opportunities for infrastructure assets owner-operators as they embraced the digital economy, smart asset management and the demands for customer-focused outcomes.

The session highlighted the evolving way that data and its management through new platforms and software tools were transforming the management of infrastructure assets and discussed how clients and the supply would have to change to embrace the opportunities.

Bew pointed out the progress that had been made to digitise construction under the Government-backed BIM level 2 programme since 2011 largely by providing a mandate to engage the public sector clients and through developing standards and a consistent path for the industry to get behind the initiative.

But he said that the design and build function was just 20% of the cost of assets over a lifetime and while Level 2 was about squeezing down that cost it was just a step on the journey. Achieving greater value over the whole life of assets and reducing the cost of operating assets and ultimately of the services that they underpin was the real goal.

Understanding asset performance, he said, not just the design and construction and maintenance phases, will become increasingly critical as we embrace smart technologies and industry needed the right skills required to deliver for clients.

“We started with [driving down] Capex because at the time that was the pressing problem for the Coalition government,” he explained. “While you can’t find a line for Totex on any client balance sheet you can find the line for revenue. The realisation now is that the big win is from driving down the cost of operation but also boosting the service delivered.”

The work was done since 2011 to help the construction industry to embrace BIM level 2, he explained, showed how tough it was to drive change across the sector. However, he added that it also underlined just how poorly skilled the industry is in the areas required to meet this challenge.

The discussion highlighted that the rapid growth in power of computer-presented significant opportunities and challenges, with speakers reflecting on the fact that while in 2015 we had available the computing power of a rat’s brain, by 2045 we are set to have access to computing power equivalent to the whole of mankind.

“It is the ability to harness this power which is a key part of the level 3 project,” said Bew.

“Smart highways are a great example particularly as we start to discuss autonomous vehicles,” said Bew. “We now need a highway network that can talk to vehicles and to understand how to deliver a better service to customers and maximise the value of the asset.”

IBM’s Gareth Webb highlighted the power of so-called cognitive asset management through which it was possible through the Internet of Things to harness the power of multiple big data sets to aid decision making across the operation of infrastructure assets.

He demonstrated the example of a hydro-electric power station being able to predict and manage its output based on multiple data sources such as power demand, price, weather patterns, catchment water flow and temperature.

However, he pointed out that human skills were still needed to make the decision, hence the need to ensure that the profession’s skills were evolving sufficiently.

“Millennials now expect data to be at their figure-tips,” he said. “We are now able to interact with data more easily but the future of computing must be about learning from lessons and improving for the future.

PCSG technical director Adrian Burgess underlined this need to boost skills in the industry ready to embrace a new digitally enhanced future.

“There is a disconnect between the engineering world and the software world,” he said pointing out that there was still a great deal of confusion in the industry over, for example, what constitutes a common data environment.

“The skills and processes we have in construction are great for today but how will they have to change?” he said. “How do we create the environment of trust that will enable us all to learn from performance – currently we work with a contract that simply tells you want will happen if you don’t perform.”

He added: “It will take a big leap to the Level 3 future, but the better way is in manageable steps, which starts by adopting the principles of L2 BIM and getting a good information management foundation”

Burgess referred to Level 2 BIM as being a foundation and a chance for the industry to get its own house in order ahead of further digital transformation in Level 3.

He pointed out that level 2 had, by and large, been a success and brought a newfound focus on information management which is already helping teams operate more effectively on projects.

When asked about the key challenges in adopting Level 2 BIM, Burgess explained that there is still work to do for client organisations to deliver clear concise Employer Information requirements, for clients and suppliers to set up easy to use Common Data Environments (CDE) and that help is needed from software partners to enable the procurement and verification of data.

For more information about the Cognitive Asset Management event and to discuss your firm’s approach to working in the new digital economy, contact adrian.burgess@pcsg.co.uk.

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