In order to derive lessons about effective delivery strategies for major projects, looking at well-known developments around the world which have been delivered successfully is a good place to start.

In the rail sector, the 118-kilometre Crossrail project linking London’s east, west and centre which is currently around 70 per cent complete and thus far on time and within budget, fits the bill perfectly. In 2014, for example, Public Accounts Committee member Richard Beacon said ministers in the UK should look to the project as ‘a textbook example of how to get things right,’ especially in regard to the level of pre-construction scoping and planning work carried out.

crossrail map

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Technology was a key driver for the project. Given that the sheer scale of this project was such that virtually every major consultant in the United Kingdom was involved to at least some degree, a critical success factor revolved around the early development of a ‘single source of truth’ for all information which was considered to be important, Crossrail Ltd head of technical information Malcom Taylor said.

From a CAD perspective, Taylor – who has been in Australia recently sharing his experience as part of a seminar series hosted by technology provider Bentley Systems – says this was largely achieved through the adoption of basic principles outlined in a standard known as VS 1192, which deals with collaboration in a multi-disciplinary environment. From a document management perspective, a Workflow management system was used along with a database they had previously used to look after all of the workflow, document activity and contract administration.

The end result was that they were able to create a core, centralised single point of truth with regard to their technical information system in respect of both the building itself and the document management and contract administration system.

Asked about lessons learned surrounding the effective use of systems such as CAD and BIM on major projects, Taylor says there are three key areas to consider.

First, it was important to think carefully about the type of information which will be required over the life cycle of the asset during operations and maintenance as well as during design and building, he said. Taylor stressed the need to ‘start with the end in mind’ and understand the type of information you need to capture at each stage of the process.

“If you start with the end in mind, know what it is you need to collect and then collect it, you can be sure that you have got the right data at the right time,” he said.

Other lessons, meanwhile, revolved around the need to adopt efficient technologies in terms of data collection along with that to give appropriate recognition of the ‘people’ side of the technology. Whereas the second half of the 20th century in terms of data collection and information gathering was all about using folders and personal computers, the modern way is all about databases, and it is imperative to use more modern tools so that this can be done as efficiently as possible, Taylor said.

He added that whilst much of the information required for projects today is largely similar to what it has been in the past (drawings, schedules and the like) it was important to better ways of how this can be captured, stored and presented – a phenomenon which may create resistance amongst some who are comfortable with their existing methods for these tasks.

In terms of adoption of BIM specifically, Bentley vice president – ANZ Brian Middleton says Australia suffers from a lack of effective leadership. Whilst the level of focus upon the capabilities of BIM as a modeling tool have been adequate, he says there is insufficient focus upon how intelligence captured during the design and construction phases can subsequently be used in the operations and maintenance phases, which can account for around 80 to 90 per cent of overall cost of owning the asset. Too often, he said, use of multiple technologies and file formats during design and construction and the practice of different parties discarding information which was not needed from their own point of view resulted in a set of information at the end which was disjointed and not easily understood by facilities managers and maintenance contractors.

Middleton is particularly disappointed about references to BIM as a software tool in a report following a senate inquiry into use of smart information system technology in the design and planning of infrastructure, saying it should instead be viewed as a combination of people, process and technology to move information across the asset life cycle.

“There are two things that I see,” Middleton said when asked about how Australia and New Zealand are performing in terms of BIM adoption, “A huge appetite and a lack of leadership.

“There is a huge appetite in the supply chain amongst the contractors and huge enthusiasm on the part of owners and operators. But there is a lack of knowledge and understanding and leadership in terms of applying it and obtaining the benefit.”

By all means, technology is of great value to major construction projects involving rail or other infrastructure.

How much use we make of it will depend upon the extent to which it is used to foster collaboration across the cycle of design, construction, operation and maintenance.