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Government Soft Landings: Bigger than BIM?

GSL will be the ‘golden thread’ between the design, construction and operation of an asset. So what do you need to know?

Like building information modelling, Government Soft Landings will be mandatory for projects procured through central government departments from 2016.

Unlike BIM, the GSL initiative hasn’t taken the construction industry by storm. 

Yet it is likely to have an equal, if not bigger, impact on all of us involved in the design, construction and operation of assets.

Soft landings is a term well understood within the construction industry. It can be interpreted to represent a smooth transition from design and construction into operation. 

However, GSL takes the meaning further, extending it to capture the principles of post-occupancy evaluation, so that required and actual performance outcomes are formally compared. 

“GSL seeks to maintain clarity around asset purpose throughout design, construction and operation”

So, what does this really mean?

The headline is that the principles of GSL extend project team involvement (and obligations) far beyond the completion and handover of an asset – potentially by up to three years. 

This could have implications on resourcing and contractual frameworks amongst other things for designers, contractors and everyone in the industry. 

GSL needs to be on each member of the supply chain’s radar.

Rob Manning, a member of the government’s BIM Task Group, says: “Government Soft Landings is about adopting a mindset and a process to align design and construction with operational asset management and purpose.

“This alignment means that the needs of the end-user will be considered and addressed throughout the design process.

“Designers and contractors will be involved with the asset beyond its construction completion to ensure that handover becomes a smooth process, operators are trained and optimum performance outcomes become a focus of the whole team.”

Taking a step back

The government’s industrial strategy, Construction 2025, seeks to make significant reductions in whole-life asset costs, design and construction durations, greenhouse gas emissions and the trade gap between construction-related exports and imports. 

“The principles of GSL extend a team’s involvement far beyond its completion and handover”

Although the industry is gradually embracing new technology and procurement methodologies, this progressive change in itself may not be sufficient to meet these bold ambitions.

Something bigger is needed and central government - being a major client - wants to influence construction industry practice for the better. This is where GSL comes in.

The benefits of GSL

GSL is intended to align design and construction with occupier requirements.

The thought behind this is that adopting GSL principles will:

  • Enable early and ongoing engagement with end-users so that their requirements are addressed throughout design and construction
  • Extend active involvement of designers and contractors beyond construction and into operation, generating a commitment to aftercare; and
  • Drive the implementation of performance evaluation targets and measures

The primary result should be delivery of an asset that performs as anticipated/required with a smooth transition from construction into operation.

GSL has been referred to as a ‘golden thread’ because it seeks to maintain clarity around asset purpose throughout design, construction and operation.

The evaluation process also enables asset performance to be understood and adjusted as necessary with learnt lessons carried forward to the next project.

The results should lead to optimised use of the asset, demonstrated through:

  • Improved productivity;
  • Efficient running costs;
  • Earlier optimised use of the asset.

GSL should also generate predictability and confidence around asset delivery and its operation/maintenance profile.

The GSL policy was launched in 2012, with GSL being derived from the BSRIA Soft Landings Framework.

The sought outcome is that assets be designed and delivered to the required operational standards throughout their lifetimes.

GSL particularly seeks to ensure assets are:

  • Functional and effective;
  • Operating as productive environments meeting the needs of occupiers;
  • Supported with robust, cost-efficient strategies for management and operation;
  • Supported with full training and commissioning to reduce the cost of protracted handover, reaching optimal performance sooner.

Concerns for contractors

The key components of the GSL process are:

  • A consistent GSL lead (or ‘GSL champion’) working with the project team and working on behalf of the government and representing the taxpayer;
  • Clearly defined asset performance requirements representing stakeholder needs;
  • And aftercare with structured measurement of asset performance for a pre-determined period of time following occupancy. The period recommended in the GSL policy is three years.

This is underpinned with active stakeholder engagement, a project-wide collaborative ethos, plus data and information collection, testing and modelling.

There could be some initial nervousness from contractors on GSL. As we’ve seen with BIM, often the most effective answer to that challenge is by appointing a supply chain champion who is embedded within the project team from the outset.

“GSL means the needs of the user will be addressed throughout the design process”

Rob Manning, BIM Task Group

There also needs to be a clear understanding of how any required ‘corrective’ work is to be addressed.

The concern will be that requirements for GSL are not backed up, leaving the project team unsure of their obligations and exposure to risk.

The aftercare process supports those using, operating and maintaining the asset to achieve its optimum design performance. 

An aftercare plan should be established for implementation by the GSL champion when the asset is occupied. 

Contents should cover information around communication, close-out of defects, seasonal commissioning and the post-occupancy evaluation process.

How much will it cost?

A question some may have at this stage is: how much is it going to cost? It’s difficult to put an exact figure on that.

Initially both designers and the supply chain may want to ‘price for GSL’ because they will see the post-occupancy evaluations as a new activity.

The POE process establishes performance around functionality and effectiveness, environmental measures and cost. 

POE measures should ideally be established at the outset of a project.

“Often the most effective answer is appointing a supply chain champion embedded within the project team”

In defining what is to be measured, thought needs to be given to the means of measurement, the reliability of the results and the usefulness of the comparison in terms of the asset being measured and lessons learnt for the design, construction and operation of similar assets. 

Measurement should be objective and it’s really important not to undertake measurement for measurement’s sake.

POE should be structured during the three-year post-occupancy period. 

Time needs to be given for the asset to settle and occupants to become familiar with their environment. 

The government’s GSL guidance sets out how this could be structured, with key principles being that:

  • Measures such as energy assessments are repeated during each year of evaluation
  • Evaluation outcomes are reported so that informed decisions can be made in the event that corrective action is required
  • The POE period is formally closed out on completion

Processes and systems needed to undertake that POE should reflect the nature of the asset and the variety of stakeholders using and managing the asset.

The BIM and GSL relationship

The relationship between BIM and GSL is a two-way thing. 

A key principle of Level 2 BIM is the implementation of structured information and data exchange points during asset design and construction and, potentially, into operation. 

This allows ongoing validation of proposals and progress against requirements. Each exchange point is supported by a series of ‘plain language’ questions for the project team to respond to.

Establishing GSL performance measures at the outset of a project can help to inform those questions. 

The performance measures can then be effectively tested at each exchange point. This approach helps retain focus on asset purpose (the golden thread), resulting in predictable and acceptable performance.

In turn, a primary output of Level 2 BIM is a comprehensive, accurate asset dataset. 

“We often hear the words, ‘I’m not doing GSL because my client isn’t asking for it’”

Rob Manning, BIM Task Group

This can then be fed into asset management systems to support the smooth transition and effective operation of the asset. 

The requirements for the asset data set will need to be determined by establishing stakeholder and operational requirements through GSL.

BIM and GSL complement one another with GSL assisting the BIM framework, potentially making this element of life easier. 

As Level 2 BIM becomes the norm, our ability and desire to harness and use data will increase; understanding asset performance through GSL will help drive the all-round efficiency improvements needed, enabling a much smarter built environment.

Since the approval of the GSL policy in 2012, guidance documents along with PAS 1192-3 and BS 1192-4 have been published, underpinning the GSL framework. BS 8536:2015, incorporating GSL principles, is at the second review stage and is due for publication in June. 

This year, GSL will also become embedded within government departments to support the 2016 mandate. 

A number of GSL early adopter projects are already starting to record positive results around its impact on delivering operational savings.

Promoting GSL adoption

The 2016 GSL mandate is a strong means of promotion and will impact on many of us in design, construction and asset management. 

The sooner we start adopting the GSL processes, the earlier the benefits will be seen and learning enhanced. 

What can be done to promote GSL adoption within the supply chain?

“We often, however, hear the words, ‘I’m not doing GSL because my client isn’t asking for it’,” Mr Manning warns.

“Industry and professional bodies can give support by raising awareness and developing capability”

To increase GSL adoption within the supply chain community, we need the government construction and operation client to ask for the soft landings approach on every project.

“It will be necessary to influence the procurement professionals in each department and ensure they are ready to have achieved 100 per cent adoption by 2016 coterminous with the Level 2 BIM requirements,” Mr Manning adds.

GSL needs to be led by the central government departments with clarity around outputs and measures essential. Equally, industry and professional bodies can provide support by raising awareness and developing capability.

Albert Einstein reportedly said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

We can’t expect to achieve the targets of Construction 2025 if we don’t consider, test and shape initiatives that, on paper, make complete sense.

Sarah Davidson is director and head of R&D at Gleeds

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