BIM Journal Interview - John Ford - Carillion


Please provide the background to your current role.

In 2006 whilst working for Costain, I was involved in a project that was using 3D modelling to coordinate M&E services with the building fabric. I remember the Building Services manager saying “wow, this is the future”. I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about Modelling tools and their potential beyond being nothing more than document production tools which later led me onto the work by Bill East & COBie. Having a strong ICT background and a taste for managing information through the study of the Avanti programme, this was right up my alley.

How was BIM developed internally?

Soon after joining Carillion, I got involved in the BIM development programme. We realised very quickly that there was a huge task ahead when considering BIM as not just a design and construction tool but as a tool for life cycle management. At first, we didn’t try this alone and we approached the vast amount of ‘new’ consultants with BIM in their role titles but we soon found we were getting conflicting advice and not much clarity on how BIM integrates due to them not understanding our business or those we work with. To get around this, they treated BIM as a separate entity and promoted the ‘individual’ named “BIM Manager” without reviewing how his/her responsibilities conflict with others.

After much internal research on BIM & the ‘Level 2’ concept & with much trial and error, Carillion made the conscious and informed decision not to use BIM in any Project Job Roles. We very much believed that all the responsibilities that were required for the successful management and delivery of information using models could be obtained through the use of current resource via training/upskilling of that resource.  We found other organisations who were starting to use BIM managers were running parallel processes to conventional ones like certain design/project & document management activities now being done by 2 or more people/organisations with their own specific agendas and knowledge of the tasks at hand.

This approach simplified matters overall?

We were not oblivious to the fact that this approach we had chosen would not be easier to implement and would take considerable time. Before the whole team could manage this process correctly, we had to identify & understand the responsibilities in question, how those responsibilities disseminate throughout a project team and what training & skills is required to deliver them. What we knew for sure was that none of this would happen if we didn’t get director buy-in and so that was our first task.

Document Controller

Carillion have however focussed their attention to an often overlooked resource, the ‘Document Controller’. We task these individuals to support our good Information Management practices by keeping our printed drawings up to date, managing our Electronic Document Management Systems plus a lot more than you probably realise. We believe at Carillion that the document controller role should be expanded beyond the focus of simple documents and broaden it to encompass all forms of information. Again, this requires significant training not to mention a whole raft of new processes that has greater responsibilities not typical of a traditional document controller.

This role is the only one that is having a major facelift with a rebranding to Information Controller/Manager but only after the skills and training has been delivered. It must be made clear that this wont be an automated switch and the individuals involved have a lot to learn. This is a rather simple change compared to others but one that makes a clear statement by sayings “it’s not all about the documents anymore”.

Let’s Talk Details

For both tender stages and contract stages, we have developed a vast number of processes that would make your head spin at first glance that guide our teams on what they need to look out for.

The responsibilities have been broken up into commercial, project management, design, estimation, Information Controller/managers etc. Many tasks need to be completed, for example checking to ensure we have what we expected in the form of documents, doing a detailed check on those documents and arranging workshops. Our Design Manager for example will engage the design team to see how we can respond to and achieve the requirements highlighted by the employer whilst also reviewing any models/data we have been given. After all, they are the modelling experts as they understand the limitations of the technology as well as the strengths and its upto our design manager to understand what it is they are doing & when …not a ‘BIM Managers’!

Our Information Controller/Manager will review the specifics like how we can gain access to the information in these models using our tool suite and ensuring agreed parameters are accessible.

Most of our Pre BEP will actually be compiled by our design consultants with overlooking guidance by our Design Managers & Information Controllers. We will input aspects beyond design like construction/commissioning/installation information and how we will interact with the employer.

The Bid manager will have a checklist that he can take to the meeting to ensure the team is completing each aspect and the information controller will help coordinate some of the activities by bringing together all this work by the design team and specialists into our management plan, the BEP.

It doesn’t change much during contract stage, at the beginning its very much design focussed and so the Design manager has a duty to ensure design in progressing virtually as well as on paper. The Information Controller/manager will be checking to ensure the data we need is where it should be in the format we desire and both will be inputing into the MIDP which we use as a monitoring tool.

Our commercial managers have the task of ensuring supply chain assessments are being done during procurement and that the results are being used to influence our decisions. Once onboard, we will be using the model as much of a design review tool to help inform as traditional drawings. We will appoint our design lead to manage most of this interaction with models with us simply asking what we want to see and to collectively record our comments. This is all possible if your team feel that BIM is part of the process rather than a side burden that the “BIM Manager” will simply take care of.

Some overhaul for the Document Controller then?

It is without question that our Information Controllers/managers will be expected to do more than usual. They will be given the skills that allows them to perform information takeoffs using tools like Solibri to ensure the data is there or if we simply have lots of blank columns. They will be looking for duplication of data caused by a poorly managed Volume strategy like not ensuring the curtain walling is removed from the architects model when it lands with the curtain walling contractor meaning we have duplication or elements missing.

We are not implying this is all done and dusted & business as usual. We have thousands of employees, many of which are not on BIM driven projects and wont be for years and we want to ensure training isnt simply delivered as a tick box exercise only to be forgotten in the time it takes for them to eventually get involved on a true BIM enabled project.

Future talent to plug the gap?

I think we can all say with some certainty that the future workforce of Generation Y & Z who have a far greater understanding of digital systems & technologies will pickup BIM far faster than it is being done today with many of the skills being acquired by them before joining our industry and so simply applying that knowledge to practical applications.

But that day isnt yet and we still have a workforce that is in much need of upskilling and I personally don’t believe having a BIM Manager supports the integration of BIM into people’s mind-sets and shouldn’t be used for anything more than short term goals where internal processes and training hasnt developed to a sufficient level.

Many thanks again John, be sure to read the full study captured in Issue 02 of BIM Journal here.

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