Anne has been working in the industry for 25 years, delivering information to where it is needed for informed and intelligent decision making. She is Director and Fellow at Atkins for BIM Strategy and Implementation. She has been with Atkins for 19 years, where she first introduced GIS to the business, and has acted as advisor to a wide range of projects, ranging from contaminated land to large data management projects. Having served two years as Chair for AGI, Anne is now Vice Chair of Building Smart UK and Chair of ICE’s BIM Action Group and BIM4Infrastructure UK. She has been part of the UK Government BIM Task Group helping the departments to implement BIM, in particular HA and EA, and has just graduated as prizewinner for her MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School, where her research focused on enabling sustained collaborative working across the infrastructure industry.

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I recently helped to edit a new report, the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) Foresight Report 2020, and what came across over and over again was how crucial one community will be in helping us understand, analyse and manage this huge influx of data: the geospatial community.

So what is geospatial? In the simplest terms, geospatial specialists gather, display and manipulate information that has a location attached to it, from an address or coordinates from a GPS. However, there is far more to geospatial than just creating maps. For geospatial practitioners, it’s always been about data, what you do with it and what outcomes you can provide.

We need to sift through a huge amount of noise now to find the information we need to make good decisions, and the geospatial community can help us do it. Geospatial analysis can help us to visualise patterns of information, create better understanding and dialogue, and make more informed decisions.

The AGI Foresight Report 2020 looks at the big issues for our industry, not only big data but things like smart cities, UAVs and BIM. With over 60 papers, I’d suggest as a starter you check out the papers from Robert Eliot at the National Physical Laboratory on Big Data and the Internet of Things (p103), Jim Plume of UNSW Australia & Building SMART on Integrating Digitally-Enabled Environment - The Internet of Places (p207) and Mark King at Leica Geosystems on SIM Cities - why BIM and GIS fit together (p157). And of course the papers from my other Atkins colleagues:

  • Jérôme Chamfray, BIM manager, David Wright, practice director & Simon Miles, principal geotechnical consultant, BIM for the sub-surface challenges (p73)
  • Geoff Darch, principle consultant, Big data in future proofing cities (p95)
  • Barry Hall (principle GIS consultant) To CAD or not to CAD? That is the question (p129)

Sadly in reading all of these great papers, it became clear to me that while the idea of “location” is more widely used than ever (mostly thanks to mobile devices), the term “geospatial” is still pretty niche. Hopefully the report can go some way towards changing this, and helping us recognise the important role the geospatial industry can play in our future. With over 2,100 downloads in the first fortnight since its release, I think we’re well on our way…

You can read the full AGI Foresight Report 2020 here.  

References: IBM and Forbes

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A recent contractor survey (paywall) in Construction News has revealed a lack of understanding from subcontractors is the main factor holding back the development of BIM Level 2. There is no doubt that getting a whole industry to change the way it delivers its projects was never going to be easy. And when you consider this involves a different way of thinking, with a shift away from a dependency on documents and drawings, towards a data-centric approach enabled by digital technologies, it’s clear that it will be tough.

BIM levels
Building information modelling (BIM) utilises information-rich models through collaborative working processes in order to improve the quality of information provided at the design and construction phases to save costs by eliminating waste. In 2008 a diagram was developed based on the different maturity levels of BIM. This was then used to establish what standards and practices needed to be developed / updated to allow each maturity level to be adopted. The current focus of the industry is to adopt maturity level 2. By 2016 all Government procured assets will have to achieve BIM Level 2. (Source:

But that’s not an excuse to shy away from it. Especially when the digital economy is rapidly impacting every part of our lives, indicated by our dependency on our smart phones, and our increased expectation of how we are treated personally as customers, with better information, and a more responsive, integrated service. It cannot escape our attention that we have to transform how we deliver and then manage infrastructure to enable this to happen.

We are lucky that, in the UK, the Government has been brave enough to undertake a comprehensive programme to upskill its central government departments to become intelligent procurers of digital information – making the digital asset as important as the physical asset. And aiming for this digital asset to be consistent across the UK estate so that all departments can share – and trust – each other’s data. Just think of the consequences of that. For the moment, because of this central pull, we are the envy of the world, and other countries, including Germany, Scandinavia, France, Singapore and Australia, are keen to emulate the programme. Strategic planning, integration and running of the UK infrastructure could actually become an achievable aspiration.

But, the industry as a whole has to lean into the challenge. Can you imagine if Ordnance Survey was able to host near-real time data of our surroundings, which we could all view on our smart phones, in the same way that we take Google Maps for granted today. Just imagine if our underground buried assets could all be viewed – accurately and reliably – in three dimensions from a mobile device, within a gaming environment familiar and engaging to those brought up on Xbox, PlayStation – but shifting already to embrace the virtual reality of Oculus Rift and the holograms of Microsoft HoloLens… who says that the construction industry cannot attract the younger generations to help create a better world?

One of the things that bothers me about the results of this survey is the apparent continuation of the “blame” culture – the reason for the slow progress being pushed on sub-contractors and clients. What is so important is that the UK initiative is very much about endeavouring to encourage and enable the client and each tier in the supply chain to take responsibility and help the level below upskill – not least by being very specific about what they are asking for, and working out together, how and who should deliver this. It is so important that we each take responsibility for embracing and enabling the change – supporting each other as individuals, across teams, and across organisations. It is no accident that BIM Level 2 is described as a collaborative approach. When the responses to industry surveys reflect this, we will know we are well on the way. But this is a journey for a whole industry… and changing measures of success to how much an organisation is helping others on the journey, doesn’t necessarily come easily to an industry built on competitive advantage.

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I’ve been working on the UK Government’s BIM programme for three years now and learned an immense amount on the way – the rewards, the challenges and the pitfalls of implementing BIM across a wide range of organisations – both from the points of view of the client and the supply chain.

The first thing which has been impressed on me is that BIM demands clear and unambiguous project management, a lean approach and a collaborative engagement throughout the delivery team. The second point is that BIM could and should be used for anything that is built. The fact it considers a project across its whole life cycle and in the wider environment in which it sits makes it a particularly powerful tool. With a BIM project, you start with the end in mind.

The roll-out of BIM should begin with understanding the decision-making process.

Personally I find that Brad Power from Havard Business School sums it up perfectly: “Process is about action….The problem is, in this explicit focus on process-as-action, organizations overlook a much more powerful process performance lever — day-to-day operational decisions”. Drive Performance by Focusing on Routine Decisions, Brad Power, Harvard Business School, January 2014

Once understood, you can identify what is the minimum data required to support that process, and how that needs to be presented so it is understandable and accessible to the people who need to make the decisions. Ensuring decisions are recorded and retrievable at any stage is key so that the knowledge of how and why a particular part of the infrastructure was developed is preserved for use throughout its operational life. Once you have this defined, then you are in a great place to exploit 3D modelling and visualisation to its maximum potential.

However, if, for example, a client’s desired project outcome is to develop an integrated component of a smart city with in-built sensors and responders a key requirement will be ensuring that the supply chain is incentivised to share longer term objectives with the client. This is why we will continue to see different procurement methods being trialled and collaborative working appearing as an imperative across much of the industry.

What is abundantly clear is that roll-out of BIM is a significant change programme and being able to win the hearts and minds of project managers in taking ownership of BIM adoption, is imperative.

In many ways, BIM addresses explicitly the problems identified by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink (2007:264). “We live in a world saturated with information….But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding”.

So, embracing BIM is not about reacting to a mandate from the UK Government, although that has provided valuable drive and focus on how to make roll-out industry-wide a practical reality. It is much more about needing to embrace the opportunity to become more efficient and effective in our delivery and to remain competitive on the global stage.

I firmly believe that BIM is a necessary pre-cursor to the industry’s ability to respond to and manage big data, and the drive towards future-proofing cities (including the smart city concept). Furthermore, as determined at an innovation summit held earlier this year for senior leaders, BIM underpins much of the industry’s ability to innovate within a stable, safe environment.

So in summary, for now, I would single out five key points for why I believe BIM is important to our industry:

  • It converges information production with sound engineering judgement and design
  • It provides wider, faster access to comprehensible and integrated information
  • It fosters instinctive but rigorous collaboration and better decision making
  • It harnesses innovative technologies and harvests intelligence from big data
  • It enables reflective, adaptive thinking to incorporate whole life and integrated systems approach within the wider geographic context.

To find out more about our work around BIM click here

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