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Chris Nisbet, Global BIM Leader at leading specialist engineering company Black & White Engineering, explains how the pandemic has driven digitisation across the AEC industry. Chris specifically focuses on the changes it has brought to MEP design services, how companies have stepped up their digital transformation strategies and why this has changed how they operate and manage projects.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a huge knock-on effect for the AEC industry, which has had a long-lasting impact on the MEP design supply chain. Despite this, the sector has responded positively, utilising technology developments to transform traditional methods of working.

Tech-driven collaboration

Collaboration among teams has been a key challenge as businesses have had to keep workforces safe but engaged, skilled and productive too within a remote working environment. The pandemic has changed the way businesses of all sizes, including SMEs like ourselves, collaborate and work together on projects. For example, the use of public cloud services such as BIM 360, Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure has accelerated to enable off site working, reducing the need for outdated on-premise servers.

MEP design projects involve a lot of collaboration and coordination between various different parties sharing highly sensitive and confidential information. How could this continue, and be carried out effectively, if teams were physically dispersed? Technology provided the answer. Secure cloud-based services including document management processes, virtual meetings and specifically tailored cloud infrastructure such as BIM 360, for example, have been adopted by MEP design firms at both an organisational level and project level too.

Increased quality and less margin for error

When home working became an everyday reality, there was a risk that quality and productivity levels might drop. Quite the opposite to what was feared, the use of technology has created a more streamlined approach to the project delivery process. This has resulted in fewer errors being made and allowing people to work ‘as one,’ quickly and securely, despite being geographically separate.

For example, at B&W we host the majority of our client projects on BIM 360 and this has become our ‘go to’ method of working. It’s this method of working which provides a single source of all up-to-date information which also allows maximum flexibility as all employees can access information from any location around the globe.

It’s improved transparency of information across project teams and one huge advantage it’s provided is that clients can now also interact and access information more readily. In fact, due to the benefits public cloud services are bringing to the sector, we’re seeing many projects where the use of BIM 360 is becoming a mandatory client requirement, given how it’s helped to improve the design and construction process delivery across the sector.

By using BIM 360 at B&W, it’s enabled us to maximise employee resources as team members are able to collaborate from anywhere in the world whether that’s from our UK, Middle East or Singapore office and, in turn, drive efficiency across the business.

Technology and workforce investment

As digitisation within the industry continues, it’s important that businesses make the right level of investment both in technology and their workforce so that all employees can use, and benefit from, cloud-based services and processes. At B&W we’ve developed an enhanced training provision to upskill our team, recently partnering with Eagle Point (Pinnacle Series) which provides a flexible up-skill training programme, so that employees are confident working with our technology infrastructure. We have a dedicated IT team too who monitors our technology resources regularly to ensure they’re being optimally used across our global workforce.

We’ve also adapted and improved specific employee skill sets so that we’re aligned with technology developments and can utilise such innovation effectively. For example, we have recruited a high number of BIM managers over the last 16 months to support our ever-growing BIM technology use. All employees are equipped with high quality tech resources including laptops and monitors for remote working and we’ve made significant investment into Autodesk products (such as Autodesk Revit, Autodesk Navisworks and BIM 360) to enable our people to work productively.

Moving forwards

Despite the pandemic and the huge challenges it’s presented to the industry as a whole, through digitising we have seen improved collaboration, more transparency and improved efficiency on delivery of projects with a smaller margin for error.

Specifically focusing on the MEP design sector, the opportunity for increased digitisation and technology adoption is there for the taking – but businesses must recognise that technology developments are only an enabler when utilised effectively. To achieve this, companies need to establish the right processes and provide adequate levels of workforce training.

At B&W, we understand the costs associated with, for example, BIM adoption but our experience demonstrates that the return on this investment is immense in terms of productivity and accuracy. Since remote working has become the norm, we have witnessed first-hand how technology can enable us to deliver projects more efficiently and not just meet client expectations but exceed them too. Our investment in technology, coupled with our priority to enable our workforce to utilise new digital tools effectively, has seen B&W win more projects this year and last, positioning us as a leading BIM-enabled MEP design services provider.

No one could have predicted the pandemic and the consequences it’s had. However, the MEP design industry has witnessed just how much technological innovation can revolutionise established ways of working which drive up quality, transparency and increase productivity, while saving resources. BIM technology can, for example, provide great visualisation capabilities in augmented and virtual realities which enable project teams to review designs and resolve anticipated complexities. 3D scanning is another powerful tool which provides accurate 3D information to further develop a project’s design.

Businesses should now focus on the continued development of their digital transformation strategies to truly unleash the potential of technology and the game-changing impact it can have on MEP design services.

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