Atkins has achieved Level 1 throughout its worldwide operations – here’s how the company did it.
- Get the language right
- Create a trusting atmosphere
- Get leader backing and persuade sceptics
- Win over the project managers
- Help clients meet their side of the bargain
- First create a standard, then a digital plan
- Common data environment matters
While many of the larger companies have managed to get some of their departments BIM-compliant, rolling it out across a global firm is an undertaking on a different scale.
Taking BIM worldwide means getting a very large group of people from different cultures and jobs to agree to work together in the same way.
Engineering consultant Atkins is fairly unusual in achieving a global BIM roll-out. It has now implemented a base of Level 1 BIM across the world.
The firm has offices from Bahrain to Birmingham covering a range of construction disciplines including architecture, surveying and engineering – all of which can talk about and specify projects differently.
So having a common language for projects across the group is important. The global introduction of BIM is helping with this.
“If we were starting now it would be much easier because the landscape is much clearer”
Anne Kemp, Atkins
In 2011, the company was already developing its own BIM standards. This was before the government’s BIM strategy was launched and taskgroup had formed.
“If we were starting now it would be much easier, because the landscape is much clearer,” says Atkins director of BIM strategy and implementation Anne Kemp.
The Atkins BIM standard was released last year and is being used on projects globally across the group.
The standard was created over two years by a team of 28 people from all regions and disciplines around the world. Now there are people throughout the business who make it work smoothly.
They include a programme manager, implementation team and executive sponsor at regional level, a BIM implementation team and manager at business level, and a group strategy team.
Senior BIM champions for each of the businesses communicate BIM in a way their part of the company will understand. A ‘BIM for bids’ team develops generic information to help the rest of the company produce consistent responses to bids.
The standard can support people in working at either Level 1 or Level 2. However, Dr Kemp is adamant the firm needs to get Level 1 right before moving wholesale into Level 2, as she says consistent standards and methods are a vital building block to modelling in 3D.
Dr Kemp says she learned several lessons from the experience of introducing BIM to Atkins and from her work with the UK BIM Task Group, a few of which are detailed here.
Get the language right
Sometimes people see BIM as simply a technological change. Consequently they see it as irrelevant to them or do not appreciate that changes in behaviour – such as collaboration – are a vital part of it.
“One difficulty is BIM is often communicated as a technology change, but it is actually a business and commercial change,” Dr Kemp says. “You have to put it in the right language.
“Talking about it as something of relevance to the whole business helps people to see that it has an impact on them and gets them listen,” she adds.
Create a trusting atmosphere
Project teams have to trust each other enough to collaborate, listen and be unafraid to ask questions, if any new way of working – particularly BIM – is to succeed.
“We have to make people feel able to say, ‘I have a challenge here’, or, ‘It didn’t go right’,” she says.
“That is valuable information to share across the business and in no way is it about name and shame.”
Get leader backing and persuade sceptics
A key part of the change-management process is winning over those who are sceptical about the idea. Part of this is to show people how it “will enhance their working rather than get in the way”, Dr Kemp says.
Having the public backing of the leaders of the business also matters so “people feel they have permission to engage,” she adds. For example, Atkins’ BIM strategy was signed off by its chief executive.
Having the government throwing its weight behind BIM has helped to persuade people that it is not just a fad; this has helped increase BIM’s profile within Atkins and with clients.
Win over the project managers
With hindsight, Dr Kemp thinks she would work on winning over the project managers earlier. There were some who were really against the new standard.
They have lots of experience, have done it their way for a long time and are “quite rightly robust” about change for the sake of it, she says.
“But if and when they have seen it has been more efficient and saved money, or stopped a problem happening, or prevented bad decisions from being made, or helped information to be shared in a consistent way, then they have been converted and are often the best proponents of BIM you could have.
“These are the ones you target as BIM champions in the future,” she adds.
Help clients meet their side of the bargain
To do Level 2, clients have to specify what data they want. “In practice, we are still finding that most clients do not do this,” Dr Kemp explains.
She thinks this will change over the next few years as a growing number of private clients are adopting BIM and contractors working in the UK public sector will have to meet its 2016 Level 2 deadline.
In the meantime, construction firms that are able to work at Level 2 will need to help clients work out what Level 2 BIM is, which could slow things down a bit for the next few years.
First create a standard, then a digital plan
Having introduced the standard and reached Level 1, the next step for Atkins has been to develop a digital plan of work.
This sets out what data and what level of detail is needed at each of the key stages of a project. Those stages have already been agreed across the major professional institutions.
The digital plan of work is important for 3D modelling, as it should ensure it is not worked up in excessive detail early on – which might mean wasting time reworking it later – but develops at the right speed as everyone involved comes to understand the project.
Dr Kemp says the digital plan of work is “incredibly valuable” because it means the client, contractors and suppliers know exactly what each party has promised to deliver and by when – and why that data is relevant and necessary.
It is important everyone on a project has a similar view of the digital plan of work, but the UK BIM Task Group’s industry-wide version is not anticipated until March 2015.
Once the digital plan of work is in place, Atkins is BIM ‘Level 2-ready’, she explains, because then it can work together efficiently in 3D.
“But for me, we cannot say we are delivering a full Level 2 project unless the client is also there and able to specify and receive the digital data.”
Common data environment matters
Dr Kemp says the implementation of the common data environment, which enables disciplines, teams and organisations to work with a single source of data, is especially important.
To make this work well, there need to be clear systems in place for reviewing and approving data for sharing.
Sharing information without the right checks can lead to “mistakes and misunderstandings which are hard to un-do; this is the source of so many of the over-runs that the industry experiences today,” she says.
The roll-out of Level 1 across the group is not the end of Atkins’ BIM development. It will keep checking how BIM is working and being used in practice, training staff and making changes as lessons are learned from projects and in response to clients’ needs.
It will also work with the rest of its supply chain and its clients to move to Level 2, Dr Kemp says.
“You have to keep going, training, maturing, progressing, sharing the lessons and making sure that you celebrate success,” she says. “And a bit of grit and determination with a healthy sense of humour does not go amiss, either.”