No New Funding for Infrastructure and Smart Cities

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Monday, June 27th, 2016
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Now that Level 2 BIM is mandatory for all UK public sector projects from April 2016, the UK is looking to press on with Level 3 BIM to support a fully integrated and collaborative process that plans to save building owners billions of pounds each year.

Previously the responsibility of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the BIM Strategic Plan will now be led by Treasury – the clearest sign that the UK is planning to own digital construction globally.

In contrast, the Australian Federal Budget released in early May, provides for strong financial investment of $50 billion for infrastructure projects through to 2019-20. However, it lacks any allocation for new projects or innovative smart city infrastructure planning on the horizon.

A week after announcing funding for Level 3 BIM in the budget policy papers, the UK Government also published its Government Construction Strategy GCS16-20 to deliver £1.7 billion in efficiency savings over the current parliamentary term. Increasing the use of digital technology including embedding Level 2 BIM is a key objective to drive innovation and reduce waste for the UK Government – the single largest construction client in the UK.

The strategy is supported by the establishment of 20,000 apprenticeships across Government procurement. This policy is in recognition of a skills gap in the UK construction industry which, if not addressed, is considered likely to contribute to inflation and reduce productivity in the future. The Public Procurement Policy Note specifically requires the support of skills development and commitment to apprenticeships for any contracts of more than 12 months duration and worth more than £10 million.

Running alongside the UK Government announcements supporting Digital Built Britain is a recent call from the BIM Task Group for industry support to develop a standardised product sharing process and dictionary to support the industry wholesale.

Working in conjunction with CPA, BIM4M2, CIBSE and NBS, the focus for product data sharing is initially UK-based but the BIM Task Group acknowledges the opportunities it will present internationally and the intention is that it will be mapped to Industry Foundation Classes and internationally agreed terms. The proposed process and dictionary were scheduled to be available from April 30 via the Construction Products Association (CPA) website.

So how does Australia really compare?

Setting the missed budget opportunities aside, the Australian Government has at least signalled its interest in digital construction releasing the Smart ICT report in March. The 176-page document is an “inquiry” into the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) on design and planning of infrastructure in Australia.

It demonstrates at the very least that Australia needs to establish a collaborative approach to ICT across federal and state Governments and industry organisations to deal with digital data and its opportunities for lean construction. The report has been prepared in consultation with a large number of local, state and federal Government stakeholders alongside industry associations and private sector interests in construction, engineering and technology.

Despite coming to the conversation a little late and lacking any teeth in relation to any mandatory recommendations, the Smart ICT report does focus keenly on the crux of what a joined up, collaborative national digital strategy is about, that is to say that “these technologies are transformational, with the capacity to increase the productivity of the Australian economy.”

The report is narrow in its focus, dealing only with federally funded infrastructure projects. Its main premise is to urge Government to take on a more coordinated and integrated approach to technological advancements and the opportunities to improve design, planning and construction of infrastructure.

The central focus for the report is the recommended creation of a “Smart Infrastructure Task Force” based directly on the UK BIM Task Group model. Data will become a key critical success factor for the Smart Infrastructure Task Force with the report stating that “information is the bedrock of innovation.” With this in mind, it is recommending the long held view of many industry stakeholders that the Task Force should be responsible for nationally coordinating protocols and standards for infrastructure data including an objects library. Late to the party but hooray for finally turning up!

Aside from the establishment of a task force, the standout recommendation in the report which sets any possible mandatory requirement is for the Australian Government to require BIM to LOD500 on any federally funded infrastructure projects (including those partially funded in partnership) with a construction value greater than $50 million. No context is provided in relation to this recommendation aside from the call from industry stakeholders to mandate BIM in some form.

Whilst the intention is sound – focusing on a manageable and specific project pool in order to bring the industry supply chain on-board in stages – the application of LOD500 is fundamentally flawed as a benchmark of success. The difficulty with using LOD as a measure is that its purpose is to specify the reliability of the information at each stage of a project not to provide an indication of the quantity of the information contained within the model. Collaborate ANZ, the volunteer group reviewing industry Policy or Guidance and how to make them work, released an industry paper, CWG001 on this very point back in 2013 and we are still no closer to minimising the confusion surrounding the use of LOD.

The report recommends funding be provided to the National Archives of Australia to oversee the development of a “whole of Government strategy for the collection, management, storage and security of data related to the design, planning, operation and management of infrastructure.” This recommendation does not provide any context around leveraging the recommendations put forward by APCC to build on the work completed by NATSPEC and its established National Objects Library.

The outcome of any ICT strategy is to ultimately establish BIM as a procurement standard. This is what the BIM “flag wavers” within industry inevitably believe; BIM will become best practice like many technological advances and processes before it. The work already completed by buildingSmart in relation to defining user needs and determining open BIM solutions for all, through internationally recognised standards, tools and training is already well established and could also easily be leveraged to support a national BIM protocol.

Whilst Australia’s strategy continues to languish in the halls of Government, behind the scenes we are seeing progress in areas of data exchanges, objects library, standards and protocols which can all come on stream to support a formal Government strategy. Given our size and agility as a nation, this may ensure that whilst the strategy lags the rest of the world, the innovation and digital infrastructure will already be in place to support it when it does eventually materialise.

It will be interesting to see if any unallocated federal funds are used to launch innovative construction opportunities leading up to election day in July in order to demonstrate any commitment to an agile and innovative Australia.

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