A Legacy of Best Practice in BIM:
Lessons from the BIM Advancement Academy

AECbytes Viewpoint #85 (January 18, 2018)

Iain Miskimmin
Digital Built Britain (BIM) advisor and consultant

The BIM Advancement Academy was started in London five years ago to support the Crossrail project, and the Academy is now supporting the UK government’s drive toward BIM Level 2. In that time, Bentley Systems has engaged with and briefed about 5,000 people from 39 countries and many different roles. One of the biggest groups of attendees consisted of client organisations, owners, and major projects all keen to learn what others have done and share their own good and bad experiences. This environment brings together all the lessons and good practices learned. It keeps them in a constant feedback loop called “current industry thinking” and delivers the “lasting legacy” outcome that Andrew Wolstenholme OBE set for us, bringing these innovative ideas to our BIM Advancement Academy attendees.

Delivering Digital Assets

The Plain Language BIM book, published in December by Bentley Institute Press, is based on these experiences. Plain Language BIM condenses years of experience and lessons learned from Bentley Institute’s BIM Advancement Academy, and guides the reader through the complexities of BIM by providing a “plain language” understanding of the concepts and building blocks required to deliver an effective strategy.

BIM Advancement Academy sessions start at a high level, setting the scene and reminding us why this BIM thing is being done in the first place. For some people, it’s become more about 3D visualisations when, in reality it should be about delivering better value for the clients and owners on a more restricted budget.

In BIM, when talking about outcome-driven procurement, it needs to be balanced correctly because much of the construction industry is not mature enough yet to really deliver a high-level outcome without good guidance and strict boundaries. An important lesson is specifying the function that will achieve the outcome rather than the product, which is a transient thing that will fulfil that function for a short section of the lifecycle.

We have leveraged the knowledge of many organisations to give you the top four things a client should do to deliver a digital asset.

Asset Definition

Define what is an asset for the client. It differs from client to client so, when writing the EIR, it must be one of the things that is set out to minimise misunderstandings and ambiguity. The consensus is that an asset delivers value to the owner. So it could be many things, such as a bridge, a piece of rolling stock, some ductwork, a mobile phone signal, or even a person. Defining information on how to best deal with an asset all the way through its lifecycle must start by defining what one is and to what level we should be recording it.

Asset Breakdown Structure

Map out the relationships, impacts, and cross-owner transitions by delivering an asset breakdown structure. There will be several of them, covering subjects such as:

  1. Maintenance (What will be impacted if I isolate this asset?)
  2. Finances (What will be the monetary impact if it stops working?)
  3. Operations (What outcome will be affected?)
  4. Politics (Will this significantly affect society or the national GDP?)

This structure allows assets and information about them to be linked and the result of any loss of functionality to be truly understood. It will also help the owner to realise where the weak points and vulnerabilities are within any critical national infrastructure. It also appears in the latest Infrastructure Projects Authority document “Transforming Infrastructure Performance.”

Asset Tagging

This next piece of methodology is a priority and helps you gather and organise the asset in order to deliver function and understand the impact. Asset tagging is not a way of labelling physical or CAD-based things, but something that the oil and gas industry has been using for decades to help them deliver outcomes.

The information generated during the asset tagging exercise not only helps to set the function, but also ensures that we have basic information to define the criticality, vulnerability, and risk of our assets. It is as follows:

  1. Classification – What type of thing is it? Creating a common understanding and categorization allows us to quickly identify what the asset is and assess its performance against others of a similar classification.

  2. Functionality – What function does the asset carry out to help achieve the outcome? By ensuring that we know what to specify and what to monitor, we can be well informed when performance drops below the desired level. It can also allow the owner to constantly look for better, more efficient products that will fulfil the function. This efficiency will lower the cost incurred when searching for a better product, make the asset cheaper to maintain, and have less of an environmental impact.

  3. Functional Grouping – How are assets associated with each other? How might one asset’s performance affect another’s, or even affect a collection or group of assets? This information is important because by linking a group of assets based on the function they carry out together, we gain a wider and more insightful understanding into the impact of this asset.

  4. Basic Asset Information – What is the basic set of data for this asset? This information will allow for decision making before we tackle the larger task of a comprehensive, full lifecycle asset data dictionary.

  5. Location – Where is the asset located? This important question is one of the first that we ask because the information will help locate the function within the physical and digital worlds. Some assets will not be functionally or physically connected but, because they are in the same location, they will have an impact on each other if there is a disaster or critical task to be carried out.

  6. Label or ID – What is the identifier that will appear in all the databases, documents, drawings, and models? This information allows all these sources to link back to the function and, therefore, the outcome. Don’t confuse it with equipment that fulfils the function! When you label the physical thing, you must take the security of the object into account. Having an ID number on a label means that something is ok inside your own secure areas, but it could leave you vulnerable in public areas.

Get the Best Data

This final task that is the most time consuming but, without it we will never gain the benefits of BIM. For many years now, we have been defining how to manage, create, secure, exchange, classify, and trust data. However, we really don’t know what data will give us the ability to make decisions, answer questions, and carry out all the tasks throughout the lifecycle of our assets.

To do this task, we need to interact with those people who make those decisions, carry out the tasks and answer questions. Find out what those questions are and how they would like to have the information presented to them. It could be shown in many ways, from videos to virtual reality and from models to metadata. We deliver a whole session on the strategy behind getting this right.


In the six years since the UK has been officially driving toward BIM and a digital built Britain, there has been some amazing work done. But where are we now?

Most of us are in a trough of disillusionment caused by the massive leap into the world of 3D visualisation, which, admittedly, gave value to the marketing department and the consultant. However, it gave so little value to the owner, operator, and maintainer.

This discrepancy can only be dispelled through investment in defining what information will deliver value and contribute to outcomes that will positively impact our economy, our environment, and our society. Our experience with the BIM Advancement Academy has given us knowledge to deliver better outcomes that can be derived from a digital-built world.

About the Author

Iain Miskimmin has been working in the infrastructure industry for almost 20 years with involvement in some of the top capital projects worldwide. For the past 17 years, he has focused on information management and digital assets. Since 2012, he has been leading the Crossrail Bentley Information Management Academy and the BIM Advancement Academy program. This has allowed him to get involved in the UK BIM Taskgroup helping to define some of the standards and methods needed for Level 2 and setting up and running initiatives such as the Infrastructure Asset Data Dictionary for the UK. As part of the UK BIM alliance, Iain shares the UK's knowledge with major clients and owners worldwide. He is an ambassador for the UK Bloodhound Super Sonic Car team and has run the Construction Innovations community called COMIT since 2007.

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