February 2019 saw the release of the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy (“VDAS”), one of the key projects from the newly created Office of the Victorian Chief Engineer. Its aim is to “improve the value and utilisation of both physical and digital assets with the use of digital engineering (DE) across the entire asset life cycle”. Meanwhile, the Queensland Government’s “Principles for BIM Implementation” have more ambitious aims.
While it stops short of mandating the use of BIM, the VDAS does lay the foundations for creating clear systems and templates to standardise how BIM is used on government projects, creating a “unified and consistent approach”. And it’s easy to see how these new norms, once established, can filter through to private sector projects as well.
At 50 pages, the VDAS itself contains few technical specifications, but it sets out a timeline for the creation and release of more detailed templates and technical guidance over the next 1-2 years, as well as BIM TAFE courses, with development continuing into the longer term.
VDAS Goals, from p.6 Victorian Digital Asset Strategy, February 2019
The strategy aims to be “scalable commensurate with the project/asset size” and emphasises the need for “open and consistent data formats, standards, protocols and systems”, such as BuildingSMART, IFC and COBie. It promotes the use of UniClass2015 to structure and label assets.
The VDAS is tailored to Level 2 BIM, where users produce separate models which are federated together at pre-agreed points. Level 3 BIM, where all users work directly in a single common model, appears to be some way in the future.
One immediate practical impact for consultants is the requirement for two steps in defining the use of digital information on any project:
- The Government asset owner should develop Exchange Information Requirements (EIR) to provide clarity about what information and uses of information will be required at what point, and what level of detail.
- Tendering consultants and contractors should respond to the EIR with a Digital Engineering Execution Plan (DEEP) which sets out how the EIR will be met.
The release of templates for the EIR and DEEP will be critical for design consultants.
The benefits of digital engineering are considerable for governments, who tend to be long-term owners and managers of the assets they procure. Some of the benefits articulated in the VDAS are:
- Greater confidence that asset delivery, maintenance and operation will meet the service need;
- Improved visualisation and community consultation;
- Reduced construction waste and CO2 emissions;
- Better management of government asset portfolios; and
- Alleviating cost overruns, delays, claims and litigation.
Other benefits listed in the documents include fewer variations, greater confidence of operating expenses, fewer tender queries and improved design accuracy and quality (including safety in design). These benefits are not, we would argue, an automatic outcome from adopting BIM. Instead, they depend on a fundamental change in the procurement process, as they call for more investigation, development and work in early project stages in order to generate the accurate models that will help deliver these outcomes.
On that point, it’s a good sign that the VDAS recognises that its implementation will require “a change in the way we work”, as well as “a dedication to best-practice change management processes”.
Melbourne-based consultants should watch our events page – we are planning an event with the Office of the Chief Engineer in the last week of March to discuss this further.
Although less detailed, the action plan released by the Queensland Government in late 2018 is more ambitious than the VDAS. The “Digital Enablement for Queensland Infrastructure: Principles for BIM Implementation” (“the Principles”) reiterates the government’s commitment to adopting BIM, and announces the progressive implementation of BIM on infrastructure projects “as appropriate” from 1 July 2019.
The 2016 State Infrastructure Plan had aimed for BIM to be implemented on all major state infrastructure projects by 2023. These Principles accelerate this, stating that the Principles apply to “new major construction projects” with an estimated capital cost of $50 million or more which commence a detailed business case from 1 July 2019 (and also to smaller projects where there is apparent value). Beyond 2023, the aim is to expand the Principles progressively to all built assets.
The Principles set out short and simple goals. Like the VDAS, they emphasise the importance of “open data standards that are interoperable and archivable”. The Department of Housing Public Works is to be the lead agency responsible for administering a central repository for built asset information for Queensland Government assets. The Principles commit to “active maintenance” of digital information, so that digital records remain current and useable.
The Principles also contemplate the release of “agency endorsed information requirements and BIM management plans that outline the use of federated models which include scheduling, costing and the use of digital models for asset management”.
So in both Victoria and Queensland, we are “watching this space” as we await more detailed technical guidance. Although they are very much a works in progress at this point, the VDAS and the Principles kick-start an important process towards establishing clear and consistent procedures and encouraging government stakeholders to invest in digital engineering.