Digital delivery is changing the way the design and construction industry is delivering projects and ultimately asset and operational information.

The design and construction industry is undergoing massive changes; the way it delivers projects, and ultimately assets for both vertical and linear infrastructure, is advancing thanks to the use of new technology and processes, specifically Building Information Modelling (BIM). 

Across the globe, governments have started to mandate the use of BIM on centrally procured projects to help improve the efficiency of capital delivery and the way assets are managed throughout their lifecycle. Some are also driving varying stages and levels of delivery as a way to raise industry standards. Private enterprises are also taking notice of the benefits, and are now just as responsible as government organisation for driving change.

Underpinning the change in delivery is the digital era that we all live in. And the key to successfully improve delivery, is to centralise and collect data as a project develops so everyone can use and reuse the same information. Digitizing all information improves the access, analysis and usability of the information exponentially. Specific information can be easily searched on, and data trends can be discovered far more easily, aiding more efficient business and operational forecasting and decision making.

Data specifications such as Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie) have been devised by the US Army Corps of Engineers; which was developed specifically to supply the critical information needed to manage their assets. 

In the US, COBie deliverables are required only at the handover stage of a project. In the UK however, if you’re working on centrally procured government projects, then COBie forms part of your ongoing project deliverable. COBie data drops (as they are known) are required not only for handover information, but to assist with procurement through the different design and construction stages.

Interestingly, COBie had been devised as a way to convey information on vertical assets and has been structured to meet facility management requirements. But if we take this structure and apply it to linear assets will this same structure work? There are a range of discussions in the industry arguing both ways on this topic.

The recently released draft New Zealand Residential Housing and Light Commercial Buildings Asset Metadata Standards, starts to define the country’s potential requirements for both Central Government Agencies and Local Government Authorities. This standard details the data needed for both the capital and operations environments.

There are also different classification standards such as Omniclass, Uniformat, Uniformat 2 and CBI; all of them designed to assist in the structure and organisation of a range of content for database environments, from design to asset management.

No matter which data standard and specification is chosen, it should not be taken for granted that any one is the right solution for every asset owner and operator. When engaging project teams to deliver assets, it is simply not enough for an end client, for example, to specify COBie, without truly understanding what it is that they will be delivered. It is very common for private enterprises to specify one of these data delivery standards without having taken the time to really specify what, out of the standard, is essential for their operations. There is no value in requesting everything if only half the information being delivered is going to be used and updated as part of the ongoing management of the asset.

It is clearly understood that investment in new infrastructure has well established gains for any economy. However, it is becoming widely recognised that proactive asset management and maintenance itself can drive and underpin growth. With the combined benefits of job creation, extending an assets life to unlock its full value and keeping communities functional and attractive, it’s no surprise that so much emphasis is being put into this area.

3D models that are now being created during the design stage are rich with information, but generally only part of the information is useful at the handover stage. As any project progresses, layers of information are created at the different stages and it’s this big picture that helps create a thorough handover. 

Vast amounts of information created during construction is essential for asset management and operations. But the creators of this information all have their own methods of creating this data and it is usually kept within their own disparate corporate environments until the time comes to hand it over. Some of the required information would come from the 3D model, while other data would be created outside of the 3D model environment.

In summary, technology is driving massive changes in the way we deliver projects. Mobile technology that enables project teams to bring documentation and models to the construction site, is also allowing data, vital to the handover process, to be captured. It is removing the need for double-handling and processing of information off-site, meaning data can be captured there and then in the field.

Striking the right balance is important as the level of delivery can be heavily influenced by the supply chains capability to perform in this new way. Understanding how the information will be delivered is also key and a vital part of the project set up to enable the right information to be captured in the most efficient way. Options of mobile and web based technology allow greater flexibility and access into the project environment, enabling all levels of technology users to contribute to the project.

With the convergence of BIM and the desire to drive far greater efficiencies in asset management and operations, there stands a fantastic opportunity to define essential information requirements from the outset of a project. However, understanding the current and future business needs of an organisation is a critical part that feeds into understanding the levels of information management required. Defining a digital asset strategy is essential to underpin and unlock the full potential of investment in an assets life cycle and defines the link between human, information and technology to raise business performance.

Brett Naylor