Why do we need the golden thread?
The information about a newly constructed building is handed over from contractor to owner via the building manual or operation and maintenance (O&M) manual.
The contents of the manual are usually set out in the original tender documents and can include a description of the design principles, details about the building’s construction, as-built drawings and specifications, instructions on operation and maintenance, an asset register of plant and equipment, commissioning and testing results, warranties and certification and perhaps requirements for demolition9.
Additionally, the CDM (Construction Design and Management) Regulations require that the principal designer prepares a health and safety file10, which should be created at the pre-construction phase and updated through the construction phase. This could contain information such as hazards identified and how they were dealt with, structural principles, information relating to the use of equipment, the location of significant services.
Pre-digitalisation, the O&M manual would have been handed over as multiple lever arch files containing reams of paperwork. Today, although the documents may be delivered electronically, the accessibility of the information in them may not be much better than those fat files of paper.
In 2011, when the UK Government announced its intention to push the adoption of BIM in its Construction Strategy11, one of its core reasons for doing so was to improve asset management. The theory was that by tracking elements of a building from their design through into operation, it would be possible to deliver greater whole-life value. Building owners would have evidence of how products and equipment actually performed and would be able to make future purchasing decisions based on that. A decade on, this largely remains an aspiration.
Even before the Government’s drive to BIM began, there were attempts by parts of the industry to improve the handover from construction to operation, of which data handover is an integral part. Back in 2009, BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust (UBT) launched the Soft Landings Framework. In 2016, the Government adopted and modified this to become Government Soft Landings. An important requirement of Government Soft Landings is the smooth transition of data and information from the project information model into the asset information model, as detailed in the UK BIM Framework12.
However, that transfer of information from the project information model, or BIM model into the asset information model or computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) system, is still proving challenging, thanks to barriers created by the software being used. A 2020 study13 by Dr Kay Rogage and Professor David Greenwood of Northumbria University tested over 100 building models and found that the way the models had been authored made it impossible for them to be transferred automatically into FM tools.
The researchers comment in their report: “In our research sample there were persistent difficulties with the accuracy of models and their logical organisation: and these appeared to be due to modellers’ inexperience, lack of time, incentive or realization of what is required.”
For the golden thread to become a reality, there is a huge need to standardise the way that models are created and labelled (see section ‘How can building owners get ready?’ to see how some are tackling this).