Building Safety Bill opens opportunities for Operance

UK software vendor Operance has been involved in the development of practical solutions to deliver ‘the Golden Thread’ as part of the UK Government’s Building Safety Bill.

Much of the attention on this week’s (5 July 2021) publication of the UK Government’s Building Safety Bill has understandably focused on the ongoing repercussions of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire disaster and the highlighted need to replace aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. However, in the four years since the disaster, significant changes including digitisation of aspects of UK building safety have also been set in motion.

Hackitt recommendation 8.1‘The Golden Thread’

Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety, Building a Safer Future, was published in May 2018. She recommended a digital by default “golden thread” approach to the management of building information.

This recommendation was a timely encouragement to the UK construction industry to maintain, even hasten, its digital transformation. With respect to building information modelling (BIM), the 2016 ‘BIM mandate’ had passed two years earlier. But there have been signs that the pace of BIM adoption has slowed, despite the continuing development of international standards such as ISO 19650 (eventually launched in January 2019), the publication of the UK BIM Framework (launched in October 2019), the pan-sector National Data Strategy (September 2020 post), and the exhortations contained in the Construction Playbook. (Published in December 2020; this initiative and related themes were explored at the April 2021 NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit; read NBS Summit: accelerating digital transformation.)

Product data

In parallel, other bodies have been hard at work. For example, the Construction Products Association has been developing proposals to help suppliers and manufacturers digitise product information to comply with new regulatory requirements for the construction products market (see also the CPA’s proposed Code for Construction Product Information, CCPI). Alongside, in a project led by Su Butcher, the IET has also been developing a ‘plain language guide to product data’ (see IET blog). And – addressing Hackitt’s call for data to be “appropriately open and non-proprietary” – the Construction Innovation Hub-backed BIM Interoperability Expert Group (BIEG) explored interoperability issues, producing an Information interoperability: business benefits case tool in February 2021.

These and related developments are, of course, being closely monitored by software vendors, including through the Technology Group of the UK BIM Alliance,* keen to ensure that such initiatives are compatible with their products and services. In the past, considerable investments were made by many manufacturers in creating BIM objects with firms such as BIMStore (post), NBS’s National BIM Library, SpecifiedBy (posts), BIMObject and Cobuilder, among others. Meeting Golden Thread requirements is another major industry challenge.

Operance and the Golden Thread Initiative

Operance logoOne project involving construction software vendors has been the Golden Thread Initiative (GTI). Hull, UK-based Operance (March 2020: Operance releases smart building manual) has been providing technical and consultancy support to a team sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The group has been testing methods of producing a standardised digital Golden Thread for building safety information that will satisfy the requirements of the Building Safety Bill.

The eight-month initiative, led by housing association L&Q on behalf of the MHCLG, was launched in November 2020. Working groups with industry experts from particular specialisms have been exploring different standards and ways of creating a working prototype of the Golden Thread. Operance was represented across several of the groups, focusing on information management technology, project management, information and process mapping and asset information collation.

Software development

The company is also developing its own software to define, coordinate and audit building operations and maintenance (O&M) information. Chief product officer (and a member of GTI’s Information Management Platform working group), Scott Pilgrim says:

Scott Pilgrim - Operance“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise with the GTI to help transform the construction industry, making buildings safer and protecting lives. Our vision to create a digital Golden Thread is completely aligned to that of the GTI. … As well as being able to provide our own insights, … Operance’s participation in the project means we can listen and learn from all of those involved to understand fully what the industry needs. This will be a huge benefit to the development of our platform….”

Johnny Furlong, BIM strategy lead for L&Q, said:

“L&Q is leading the GTI initiative with the MHCLG to pilot ways that organisations can produce a standardised digital Golden Thread of building safety information for their HRRBs {high-rise residential buildings}. The development of a digital Golden Thread has the potential to revolutionise the built environment. We invited experts to join the GTI because it is crucial we have the best available expertise available to us. Operance have had a valuable part to play, bringing their expertise to several of the GTI working groups. We are looking forward to reporting back to the Government.”

Blockchain-powered: Operance O&M

Operance FMReleased in Summer 2021, Operance O&M is a purpose-built desktop application to define, curate, audit and maintain information about a building from design to occupation. The solution provides an immutable ‘quantum ledger’, built on blockchain technology, to produce a secure lifecycle record of high-quality building safety and asset information.

Accurate and easy to understand building and asset information will be shared with owners, operators and occupiers via the companion mobile app, Operance FM, providing users with crucial detail in real-time via smart building and home user guides. With this building information at their fingertips, users can easily search, share, update and utilise their data to operate and maintain their facilities, whilst managing risks and continuously developing the Golden Thread.

Operance has also offered social housing associations and other organisations the opportunity to test the software and help shape features to suit their needs. The business is also offering help with strategic digital transformation and BIM consultancy services to enable organisations define and articulate their digital estate ambitions.

Update (11 December 2022) – In April 2022, the Operance parent company, BIMSense, raised £250,000, from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, to further enhance its platform before the introduction of new rules to improve the safety of high-rise buildings. This was on top of the initial 2020 investment to launch Operance. The latest investment was expected to enable the company to create four new jobs in Hull.

[* Disclosure: I have been chair of the Technology Group of the UK BIM Alliance since summer 2019, and was also involved in the work of BIM Interoperability Expert Group.]

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