How can we provide clients with a perfect record of their facility so that they can reap the benefits of digitalisation? I sat down with James Dixon, digital construction lead for ISG’s science and health business, to discuss his method.
ISG is a global construction specialist working across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia creating smart, resilient places where people and businesses thrive. Dixon’s role in the company is twofold: he’s hands-on in project deliveries and takes part in the strategy development of the business unit. As a strategist, he looks at the big picture: how to streamline processes while delivering exceptional value to clients. As a digital construction lead, he deals with daily project tasks, scopes out requirements, addresses issues, reports on progress, and so on.
After joining the company in late 2020, Dixon’s primary responsibility has been a £300 million Institute of Neurology project for University College London, UCL. ISGis the main contractor on the first phase, and Arcadis, a consultancy firm, is the project manager.
A project like this requires specialist knowledge about science and health services. In addition to demanding architectural and structural design, mechanical engineering is a massive part of the project. A large amount of maintainable equipment and data is needed over its lifecycle. Consequently, the M&E subcontractor’s data requires special attention from Dixon.
IFC and COBie – The opportunity and challenge
IFC plays a vital role in the UCL project’s data management and is the application-neutral format that allows data exchange between project stakeholders. It is a natural choice for clients who receive as-built data from various projects and design software.
Construction Operations Building Information Exchange, or COBie, is a subset of IFC. Its most common use is in product data handover from construction to operations. COBie relates only to non-geometric data, so it can be exchanged in tabular formats, such as a spreadsheet file.
To make COBie useful, each project participant must export consistent IFC data from their respective tools like Revit and Archicad. Otherwise, getting a high-quality COBie file would require a lot of manual tampering and interpretation.
Dixon uses Solibri to check the models and make them freely available to all the project contributors. He needs to automate data extraction from models, retrieve the correct parameter data, and place the data in the right COBie location every time. To be able to do that, he devised a process that every contributor now follows.
From requirements to asset parameters
Clients use Employer’s Information Requirements, or EIRs, to describe their information needs during a project’s delivery and handover. The information includes requirements—among others—for fire, acoustic, or thermal resistance ratings. The data eventually goes into the client’s FM system. Consequently, the COBie file must be up to spec to avoid misinterpretations or errors.
“I look at what asset data is needed per discipline or per package and then work backwards from there,” Dixon explained.
Dixon wants each organisation in a project to structure their data similarly. For example, if he wants to store the fire rating, he requires the parameter to exist in the native software, which is not always the case.
When he exports the IFC, he links that native parameter back to the exact location he wants it sent out. This way, the fire rating data always goes into the same place irrespective of whether the object is a concrete beam, a floor, or a door.
Guiding the process
To get everyone in a project on the same page, Dixon has devised a step-by-step guide as a part of the project execution plan. This guide shows how to use IFC exports, structure IFCs, and even operate the designer’s respective software. This level of detail is necessary for the moment but not so much in the future as the procedures hopefully turn into a routine.
Dixon supplements the hands-on guide with workshops. He thinks that people might not be able to follow a potentially new workflow without education and training. In addition, he follows up on how designers manage their data.
“I will undertake audits every three or four months on this particular project to make sure that they understand what’s going on,” he said.
Even though the designers get specific instructions on performing certain workflows, he has not experienced a noticeable resistance to change. The designers benefit from the same process as they work with other contractors and clients in the future.
Collecting every piece of data
Data must be not only present but also accurate and complete. Even though most model data stem from the design process, the subcontractors augment them with information that only they can know.
ISG provides the site crews with intelligent submittal forms. The contractors fill in installation dates, model numbers, and other site-born data. They don’t have to interact with a massive 3D file since ISG transposes the information back to the model.
Subcontractors’ data becomes part of the technical submittal process, and other people in the project team confirm the correctness of the data.
A positive outlook
Dixon feels confident that he can deliver an impeccable COBie model at the UCL project completion in 2024. They’re already on the right track.
“For example, our classification data and our type and system data are to be 95% complete by this Christmas,” Dixon assured.
The Clients Project Manager (Arcadis) receive reports on a quarterly basis and can monitor project progress on a particular dashboard. ISG works on a New Engineering Contract (NEC), which allows them to flag issues proactively through the early warning notice. That’s another practice that makes risk management easier for everybody.
Dixon believes that new opportunities would emerge if ISG structured COBie data consistently in every project.
An AI platform could analyze and optimize the performance of designs and enable considerable benefits in terms of CO2 emission and energy use of facilities. Data would become the driver of social, economic, and environmental improvements. It’s not about technology but more about methodological and process change.
One of ISG’s values is “Dream smart.” They encourage new thinking and bold ideas backed by knowledge, sound decision-making, and first-rate implementation. Dixon’s actions and thoughts match that value perfectly.