Technology makes it complete

The fit out industry faces two challenges pretty much constantly – you work at the end of a project on buildings that aren’t necessarily configured for easy installation, and you face time pressure, to get things complete by a handover date. What key technologies help you deal with these two issues?

Mark Norton - Digital construction newsThe collation of accurate data is probably the single biggest challenge we face within the BIM environment. While the pace and proliferation of new technology entering the sector has been impressive, we’ve yet to find software that delivers the all-encompassing solution we require. We’re an innovative team at ISG, so when we couldn’t find what we wanted on the market, we took the initiative and developed our very own bespoke in-house solutions. These ‘middle-ware’ interfaces allow us to patch data from one commercial software system to another transparently. This gives us great flexibility in our response and delivery on site.

One of our self-developed construction apps facilitates the efficient collection and reporting of site data via a tablet, such as commissioning figures and snagging elements. This rich data is then instantly available to the entire project team. Accuracy is paramount in the process to validate exactly what we’ve collected on site. Again, nothing currently on the market met our expectations, so we developed middle-ware that collates and checks the data, and applies it to the relevant package. We can also patch relevant O&M dat
a direct to many facilities management (FM) systems. 

ISG is a little unusual in terms of having a substantial fit out division and being a conventional major contractor too – has this led to any symbiosis – collaboration, sharing of good practice etc, across the business when it comes to technology?

Collaboration and cross fertilisation of innovation and ideas is central to how we operate as an organisation – this keeps us agile and at the forefront of technological advances that can benefit our customers and keep us working smarter and more efficiently. We were highly influential in bringing the BIM methodology to our long-standing customer Asda, and now sit on the retailer’s global BIM steering group. The knowledge, expertise and learning from our high-level engagement with Asda, alongside all our forward thinking customers, is consistently shared across the business so we continually build, refine and innovate to challenge what’s possible.

You’re heavily involved in the BIM4FitOut Task Group – the existence of this group shows a particular need for the industry to harness technology – what has been the attitude of fit out contractors overall to BIM adoption and the BIM mandate? 

Tier 1 contractors have been instrumental in both the implementation and wider dissemination of BIM methodology and its considerable advantages across the whole built environment sector. With a degree of market maturity, we are now beginning to witness a growing appetite from the supply chain to take real ownership of their understanding of this technology – undoubtedly driven by the government’s BIM Mandate, requirements from main contractors and recognition that this technology and overarching methodology is here to stay.

For us early adopters, it’s been a fascinating journey, as interest levels have grown to recent unprecedented levels – with routinely full and oversubscribed BIM4FitOut meetings. More than ever before, there is a real thirst for knowledge across the spectrum and this level of engagement is consistently rising. The Finishes & Interior Sector (FIS) is currently developing its own ‘freeware’, aimed at providing a shared platform for bidding BIM projects (BID4FREE). This software is being developed by 3D Repo and its efforts have received universal praise as the fit out industry acknowledges the crucial role that BIM has now, and in the future.

Mark Norton ISG - Technology makes it complete

As the fit out main contractor you’re working with a lot of subbies – how necessary is it that installers know about the technology being deployed at the top of the project team – and if there is a genuine need for it to go right down the supply chain do you see a greater awareness/adoption of tech?

An effective supply chain is one of the core elements leading to successful project outcomes. We are clear that it is absolutely essential that our supply chain partners are fully conversant and knowledgeable on BIM processes and methodologies, as without this commitment, we cannot expect to extract the true value and capabilities of BIM for our customers. This can’t be a top down approach though – it really has to be driven by the supply chain itself, with the correct support and training from the main contractor. Early BIM supply chain adopters are already reaping the rewards of their commitment – as the value and enhanced efficiencies these organisations bring to the table make them stand-out project partners.

Aside from BIM are there other important tech trends that are having an impact on fit out – PIM Software, 3D visualisation apps or Point Clouds, for example? 

Point Cloud is invaluable and forms an important part of our BIM arsenal, providing accurate site data and a validation point from the very outset. ISG regularly uses Point Cloud Surveys for recording purposes, validating installation against the model. This provides contractor and customer with re-assurance of the installation and its integrity, and delivers a full 360 degree record of what is on site, complementing the as-built model.

Mark Norton is chair of BIM4FitOut and head of BIM for ISG's Fit Out and Engineering Services business.

This article first appeared on the Digital Construction News website on 28 April 2016.