The Capable Client

The capable client should know what they have, what they want and how to ask for it. They should be able to answer questions and make decisions about their asset portfolio at any point in the lifecycle with confidence and minimal effort.

To understand why this is important, we must cast our minds back 10 years and ask what happened to make our industry want to have capable clients.

During the financial crash of 2008-2009 many governments and organisations realised that they had significant funding problems. The days of borrowing large sums and ignoring the national debt were past and the time of austerity hit hard. When you have a restricted budget, you look at getting better value for what you buy, making your money go further.

It was quickly recognised in the UK that construction represented a significant portion of their GDP and that government funded construction such as hospitals, schools and some major infrastructure covered about half of this spending. So, on the 31st May 2011 the UK Government launched the Construction Strategy which stated that by 2016 it would require fully collaborative 3D BIM with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic. In other words, they wanted BIM to be business as usual in 5 years.

Since the 1930’s the UK Government has published around 30 reports on construction, each telling us that our industry is lagging behind, is too conservative, risk adverse and needs to change. Each report has been largely ignored because there has been little legal or financial backing to make the change happen. This felt different and thanks to strong leadership in the UK BIM Task group and also a willingness to be the “First Mouse” by Crossrail, change started to happen.

Government Soft Landings (GSL)

One of the major releases at the same time and in my opinion the most important of all the BIM documents was the Government Soft Landings (GSL) 8-part paper, giving guidance to clients and also those who work directly with them to deliver their assets.

Some of the key themes it expands on are as follows:

Early Engagement of the End User

Who is this “End User” and why are they so important? In the primary instance the end user is the part of society that the asset is built to serve, in other words the consumer. This may be the person who drinks the water, drives on the motorway, rides on the train, is educated in the school, incarcerated in the prison or uses the power from the plug socket. To get better value for this end user, we must truly understand what they need, when the need it, how they need it and why. Involving them right from the beginning to ensure that whatever is built fulfils the outcomes set by them.

Taking responsibility

During the lifecycle of a piece of information it will have been authored, checked, quality assured, approved and authorised. These all give us a reassurance that it can be trusted and is of value. But we shouldn’t look at pieces of information in isolation, they need to be federated, coordinated and interface checked with pieces from across a very disparate supply chain. At every interface and exchange there needs to be someone who takes responsibility for the information at that stage, so that as we progress through the lifecycle its value doesn’t diminish and finally become worthless, so the end user has to commission an as-built survey to truly trust what is there. It doesn’t really matter if you call them a BIM manager, Information coordinator, data compiler or whether they are full or part time in this role, someone needs to be appointed to take responsibility and hold onto it until the next phase takes it on.

Outcome driven procurement

Outcome driven procurement is a key topic that was raised as the UK started on its digital revolutionary journey. It was laid out in the Government Soft Landings document, but like many publications of its ilk, is left on the shelf by too many client organisations.

I see this procurement strategy as a WIN-WIN-WIN situation for End User-Owner-Supply chain, but it can be difficult to articulate in a contract, especially to a level that is enforceable in our existing contracting culture.

Some great examples are out there, such as a well-known supplier of aircraft engines. You don’t buy one, but you do purchase pounds of thrust per minute in the air. This means that when it’s not delivering value to the owner, it’s not earning money for the supplier.


So, what does that mean?

  • The End User should have less delays, risk and cost to their journey

  • The Owner knows they are going to get a good quality product that won’t break down and when it does, a repair team will be there fast to fix the problem. It also means the maintenance regime is at peak performance to get the best out the asset (Engine)

  • The Supplier has a long-term cash flow that is guaranteed, as long as they supply the outcome. This gives them a healthy order book, pushing up the value of their company and safeguarding jobs.

But that’s in Aerospace, how would that work in civil engineering?

There is an excellent example of how this would work in a highways context just down the road from where I live.

The highway in question is a single width lane with passing places, it rises on a slope up to various properties with fields and woods either side. Through lack of maintenance the drainage ditches on either side have long filled with leaves and debris leading to all the water that runs off the nearby fields and woodlands using the road as a streambed. This water flows down the road breaking up the surface and causing potholes, some of which are very deep. This of course does not give a good or safe ride for the end user. Every year the council pays a contractor to fill in some of the potholes with tarmac which washes out within a few weeks depending on the weather.

This costs the owner every year with reputational damage and also financial damages claimed by road users. The supplier or contractor’s hands are tied as they are only engaged and paid for a small amount of tarmac and the time it takes to fill the hole, yet their reputation is greatly diminished as their name is linked to a poor road surface. So we enter into an endless cycle that is beneficial to nobody.

outcome 5.jpg

What would be the outcome?

“To have a safe and comfortably driven on surface for the road user”

When the road user complains that this isn’t being achieved, the owner will stop paying the supplier until it is fixed. The better option for the supplier is to spend a small amount of time and money digging out and clearing the ditches in the autumn to ensure they aren’t clogged with leaves. This way the water flows down the ditch, not the road, ensuring it achieves the outcome all year around. I’m sure the same could be said about Ironwork and other street furniture also.

  • The End User has a safe and comfortable experience where they don’t damage themselves or their vehicle.

  • The Owner has a better reputation for ensuring their highways are kept well maintained, will save money on End Users insurance claims and also materials which come at both a financial and carbon cost.

  • The Supplier has a long-term cash flow that is guaranteed, as long as they supply the outcome. This gives them a healthy order book, pushing up the value of their company and safeguarding jobs.