A year ago today BIM level 2 was mandated for all public projects, what’s changed since and what’s next for our digital futures?

Mark Bew

The drive for greater productivity was one of the key reasons behind the Coalition government’s 2011 decision to support the mandated use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) across the public sector. In the post-financial collapse economy, business as usual was simply not an option.

Six years on and the UK economy is in a different place. Yet as Brexit demonstrates, the need to constantly challenge the norm does not disappear. While we have without question seen world-leading transformation across the UK construction sector as it has embraced technology, the use of information management and more collaborative ways of working, we are still just scratching the surface of what is possible.

As the government attempts to drive growth through investment in transport, energy and communications infrastructure, the use and development of digital technologies will become increasingly important. The mandated use of BIM Level 2 was central to starting this ball rolling - the UK has the biggest cohort of skilled data-aware engineers, designers and suppliers which places us at the front of the queue to capitalise on the next stage.

The UK has the biggest cohort of skilled data-aware engineers, designers and suppliers which places us at the front of the queue to capitalise on the next stage

The Digital Built Britain Strategy and Level 3 was launched in earnest last year to help deliver reductions in whole-life costs and carbon emissions, whilst improving productivity, capacity and value as well as providing a clear link back from the construction sector to our users and clients. This has been an opportunity to rethink the way our built environment is planned, constructed and managed and, for the first time, brings together thinking around BIM, the Internet of Things and Smart Cities.

But make no mistake, we face challenges way beyond those of negotiating our European future as we wrestle with the impact of urbanisation, population growth and the need to boost global competitiveness.

The UK’s traditional construction sector must change. Doing better what we’ve always done simply won’t cut it. The emergence of a digitally enhanced, knowledge-based economy places new demands on our cities and built environment. We need a new approach if we are to take full advantage of tomorrow’s economic opportunities and increase the value of our built environment to society.

The UK’s Digital Built Britain strategy builds on our 10-year journey to embrace BIM and provides a starting point for a wider, deeper, more informed conversation on the opportunity offered by smart technologies, data management and new methods of design, construction, operation, maintenance and end-of-life management.

The rapidly accelerating world of digital information management will fundamentally transform the long-term value seen from public investment and start to provide a route towards better social and environmental outcomes for the benefit of citizens and our economy.

The key however is how do we face up to this next step of transformation and what happens if we don’t, both to our own businesses and the UK on the international stage?

Mark Bew leads the UK’s Digital Built Britain programme and is chairman of engineering consultancy PCSG