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A year with Clarion: Pt 2 - Taking the lead using BIM for Asset Information Management

Ellie Simcock

This article follows on from ‘A year with Clarion: Pt 1 - Transforming the Housing Industry’ by Peter Shovlin

The process of implementing digital innovation and information management processes within large organisations is complex. When set on that path, organisations face a mix of external and internal pressures which are often at odds in direction. This presents challenges that require a balanced approach.

In this article, I explore some of these challenges and the approach which Clarion Housing Group took in collaboration with matterlab, setting them apart as leaders in BIM implementation for Asset Management.

Introduction

The digital maturity of the ‘Architecture, Engineering Construction and Operation’ sector has evolved steadily over recent years with an increased number of project teams using BIM. During this time we saw the development of a series of standards (BS 1192, ISO 19650) that aim to unify the digital project delivery and operation into a robust Information Management framework. However, national reports including the NBS’ BIM Report 2020 continue to indicate that there is a lack of client demand for BIM, a trend that presents a key barrier to expanding the industry’s digital evolution.

We are now seeing a shift in this trend predominantly driven by the housing sector - housing providers and associations are taking the lead in BIM implementation!

One such organisation leading this movement, which I have the pleasure to work with, and as we introduced previously, is Clarion Housing Group. As the largest social housing provider and landlord in the UK, Clarion manages over 130,000  homes and continues to develop thousands of new homes each year.

To support this level of growth, Clarion is placing an emphasis on the importance of Asset Information Management by viewing information itself as a key asset:

“Clarion are dedicated to delivering more affordable homes across the UK, but with a strong focus on using digital technologies to produce higher quality and better manageable homes. With a strong and robust data set Clarion can analyse and exploit their information to deliver better service to all of our customers, whilst at the same time ensuring our future pipeline is managed in the most efficient manner, which in turn allows us to commit to continual aid of the housing crisis. Our work with Matterlab engulfs our ethos and is centralised around the definition, capture and validation of information to enable such analysis and exploitation to take place.”
Dave Lee – Director of Digital Design & Offsite Manufacture

To provide the infrastructure necessary to manage asset information, Clarion aspires to lead on innovation by investing in the development of custom digital technologies.

As Clarion’s digital partner, matterlab recognised early in our engagement that to overcome the typical barriers to success in order to deliver on Clarion’s aspirational objectives, a new approach would be required.

The Driver - The Golden Thread of Information

Managing asset information is known to be a pinch point for many estate owners/operators. Information is often lost, fragmented, unstructured or shared in an uncontrolled way. Invariably, this leads to difficulties with facilities management, demonstrating compliance and having a view of the single source of truth of the estate.

To address such complications, Clarion launched an ambitious digital evolution plan, setting up long term goals to target issues with traditional project delivery practices, operating the estate and managing customer experience. The focus is now on uniting estate information into a connected system to capture and maintain the Golden Thread of Information featured within the proposed Building Safety Bill, whilst simultaneously reviewing the way asset information is managed in its entirety.

Barriers to success

To begin with, matterlab worked with Clarion to establish a set of digital project and asset information requirements, utilising the ISO19650 BIM Information Management suite of standards.

As part of our continued engagement, we are now overseeing the execution of these requirements by developing a technology landscape that facilitates the automation of capturing and validating asset information on projects. To ensure the successful embedment of innovation within the organisation, we focussed on overcoming the barriers presented by core BIM aspects, listed below.

The Barriers - People, Processes, Technology

1. People

In the not too distant past, BIM was often considered as a process, independent of core project activities; an optional add-on. This was coupled with a resistance to change and a lack of clear industry leadership, previously reported in a survey conducted by the CIOB. It is not uncommon for digital initiatives to fail if existing organisational practices are flawed and there is a lack of a mindset for change within the organisation.

To successfully implement change presented by digital technologies, distributive leadership can be applied. Distributive leadership facilitates a change-conductive environment by focussing on collaboration, common objectives and responsibility, regardless of position within the organisation.

In addition, large organisations comprise many departments with varied needs, yet often have information in common which is managed differently by each. This presents another issue with departmental cross-communication that may result in the inefficient implementation of new technologies. Therefore, it is essential to skillfully communicate across departments, to ensure there is a united view over proposed innovation.

matterlab worked collaboratively with Clarion to overcome these challenges by deploying a balanced approach of combined top-down and bottom-up leadership when defining requirements and engaged with the future users of the technology across departments. We understood early that an organisation that sets out on the path of a digital transformation changes along the way, requiring an Agile approach that delivers value-adding features incrementally, whilst also providing the ability to easily adapt to changing requirements.

2. Processes

Another hurdle is that although available to guide organisations, Information Management standards lack granularity, and it is difficult to adapt established processes to their requirements.

For example, the code of practice for the production of Asset Information Requirements using COBie is specified in BS1192-4 Collaborative Production of Information. Whilst the standard provides a list of additional expected and optional COBie attributes, they are insufficient to provide the level of asset information required by facility managers to demonstrate compliance and effectively manage the estate.

The COBie Guide to The National BIM Standard-United States has addressed this issue by providing detailed equipment (asset) information attributes. However, equipment is listed in plain language, rather than utilising a classification system which brings a level of ambiguity, making the automation of data validation a challenge.

To contrast this ambiguity, classification systems are too detailed to manage asset information requirements effectively. If you search the NBS UNICLASS Product database for a ‘pump’ for example, your search will return 9 pages with possible classification codes to choose from presenting yet another issue of validating data with extreme granularity.

As such, over time it can become a costly and resourceful task to validate asset information delivered in COBie for data dependency and linking, missing attributes, logical verification, unlinked data or track changes in data deliverables during the course of a project.

For such reasons, I have seen some organisations steer away from standards. I have seen others having to go through hoops of workarounds to make standards deliver the information in the format they require.

To support the wider national BIM standardisation notion, matterlab worked closely with Clarion to adopt open BIM industry standards. However, it is recognised that implementing standards is only a starting point and issues such as those listed above need to be addressed carefully through the technology infrastructure matterlab continue to develop.

3. Technology

Frequently, client organisations use technologies that vary from project to project to patch up gaps. As a result, organisations end up with numerous tools which do similar jobs but when used in silos this results in fragmentation.  As organisations are starting to appreciate more and more the value of business analytics across the portfolio, it is a prerequisite to reduce this fragmentation by centralising the use of information management technologies into a connected environment of systems that collectively serve as a reliable business intelligence data source.

However, off-the-shelf technologies can be costly, cannot be easily tailored to client’s needs and often require ‘workarounds’ or have a closed protocol. This poses a barrier to future growth. To a large organisation such as Clarion, it was essential to establish a long-term technology landscape vision that allows for adaptability, scalability and connectivity as their digital needs continue to evolve. This was a key driver behind the decision to invest in the development of custom-built technologies that collectively deliver the aspiration for a smart, connected digital asset management landscape of the future.

Summary

So far in this article, we explored barriers that clients face when trying to implement BIM.  Such barriers may lead to a low level of adoption or cause digital initiatives not to fulfil their goals.

On the one hand, a Digital Transformation is an inside-out process. When organisations set out on that path as such, their focus is on internal practices, systems and tools. The success of the initiative relies on sound organisational practices and the people’s mindset for change. This can be addressed by a balanced distributive leadership when embedding innovation within an organisation.

On the other hand, we explored information management processes and guiding principles set by standards (such as BS 1192-4, soon to be replaced by the ISO 19650 series) on how to implement them. Implementing standards is an outside-in process, which considers the business from the perspective of the wider industry to subsequently adapt processes, systems and tools for its benefit. Some issues were identified, mainly adaptability, ambiguity and disconnect in the way data requirements are structured, making validation a resourceful and costly process, requiring a tailored approach.

Third but not least, we considered the limitations that often come with off-the-shelf technologies when trying to scale up business processes. 

The Key?

This brings us to a cross-road of implementing change brought out by digital initiatives. To consider both the internal and external factors, organisations need to address these issues collectively, rather than view them in isolation, calling for a balanced approach, to avoid creating those same silos which, fundamentally, BIM is trying to address.

Clarion is changing the game by adopting such an approach. Rather than viewing BIM as a standalone process, it is considered as a key facet of their wider Digital Transformation plan, understanding the significance of quality Information Management and the collective value it brings across the organisation and the wider industry.

We are pleased to be helping them change the game!

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