BIM People – Melanie Dawson, GRAHAM Construction


Melanie Dawson is Head of BIM at GRAHAM Construction. She is also the founder member and Co-Chair of the Northern Ireland BIM Regions Group. spoke to Melanie about her work with GRAHAM Construction, her involvement with the Northern Ireland BIM Regions, BIM education, and her advice for adopting BIM.

Prior to joining GRAHAM Construction early last year, Melanie had worked as a Design and Innovation Manager before choosing to specialise in BIM.  Melanie holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Building Information Modelling & Integrated Design from Salford University and a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Architecture from Queen’s University Belfast.

Can you tell us about your work as Head of BIM at Graham Construction?

As Head of BIM for GRAHAM Construction, I am responsible for leading the BIM change programme, which includes everything from writing the BIM strategy for the business to the implementation and mobilisation of BIM processes and technology across the various regions and sectors GRAHAM operate in across the UK and Ireland. I manage the GRAHAM BIM support team which consists of BIM Coordinators and Technicians who support the business to help make BIM work for us and our clients.

What are the main advantages of using BIM?

GRAHAM approach BIM with the aim of capturing as many of the advantages it has to offer across 3D, 4D and 5D then onsite through to handover to our clients. We aim to have a smooth flow and transition of the information as it is developed by our various internal teams involved in the project from our office based team to live onsite, this is when the greatest advantages are achieved. Our ability to be collaborative is a big advantage for GRAHAM, understanding and having trained colleagues in place to use the information and models being issued to us by a growing number of clients is extremely valuable. By extracting and inputting to our BIM projects we reduce risk and are able to provide an excellent added value service to our clients.

Please tell us about Graham Construction’s BIM adoption?

2016 was a pivotal year for GRAHAM Construction in terms of the BIM Journey and we are very proud of the milestones we have hit along the way. In April last year GRAHAM Construction completed the BSI Audit for BIM Level 2 verification certification against PAS 1192, we were delighted to be awarded certification immediately after the audit and to be the first Tier 1 contractor in Northern Ireland (NI) to have achieved this exemplary standard. Our processes underpin our BIM strategy, with this sound foundation we have invested in developing our people and our technology to ensure we can deliver projects successfully. BIM adoption is driven from the top of our organisation and seen as one of the key tools to facilitate the bigger GRAHAM Vision 2021 strategy for profitable growth. Strong communication has been key to GRAHAM adopting BIM, this takes many forms, through our BIM action group, our internal communications and company website and also our external communications via social media and more. BIM is about digital collaboration and we aim to utilise digital tools to share our journey both internally and externally, our goal is to show we are ‘BIM Ready’ for business through our strong dialogue.

What are the main projects which Graham Construction has utilised BIM on in Northern Ireland? 

We have a number of projects in NI were our teams are utilising BIM processes and technology to add value. Healthcare is a key sector for GRAHAM and we are deploying tools to our teams to allow them to work with the models and associated information on these jobs specifically in NI. GRAHAM operate predominantly in the UK and we have a number of projects where BIM Level 2 is required contractually and also a number we have selected for BIM deployment because we can see the advantages of applying the tools and processes, we call these live jobs our ‘Enabler’ projects as we are using them to up skill colleagues, deploy our systems and processes and to use the new technology the business has invested in, essentially they are enabling us to make BIM happen.

Can you tell us about Graham Construction’s success in delivering BIM projects?

We have a number of live contracts across the UK where we are contractually required to deliver BIM Level 2, a number of those projects hand over in 2018 and will make great case studies for us to share going forward. Our success is process driven, we use the BIM Level 2 requirements as a framework for delivery and structure to ensure consistency across the business. As we follow this process we can measure the success through KPIs set at the outset of the projects. We have also been tracking the number of BIM projects coming into the business and this number continues to rise, again we see this as a sign of success as clients are confident in our ability to deliver and also help them on their BIM Journey.

Please tell us about the Postgraduate Certificate you undertook at Salford University?

The course focused very heavily on Lean Construction and the processes behind BIM, and the end goal of implementing BIM on projects. It was extremely interesting and sets the scene for why we are really doing BIM, it’s about finding smarter and more efficient ways of working and removing waste from the value stream, essentially BIM is construction’s way of making projects lean. Before studying at Salford I completed a degree in Architecture at Queens University Belfast, this gave me a great insight into the design process and the possibilities within construction projects. I worked in a number of leading architectural practices after completing my degree but for me the exciting part was always the projects that got to site, hence the move to main contractor organisations from 2007 onward was easy and I followed what truly interested me, the construction.

What is your advice for people thinking about doing a BIM course?

I recommend that you have a core discipline in something else, such as construction management, quantity surveying, engineering etc. There are many courses available out there; you should find one which aligns with your core discipline and your end goals. If you want to specialise in BIM I think having a thorough understanding in another core role within construction will allow you to take the BIM knowledge and apply this practically to the day job and hence get the most value from your investment in education. We have built our BIM team over the past year and when bringing on new team members that’s what I look for in applicants, strong construction knowledge complimented by BIM skills. The ability to engage and communicate is vital, something few BIM courses look at but worth investing in for those wanting to develop in this field.

Can you please describe your work as the Northern Ireland BIM Regions Co-Chair? 

I founded the Group in late 2012 and have Chaired/Co-Chaired the Group for the last 4 years. The NI BIM Regions Group was set up to raise awareness and knowledge sharing around BIM in NI, we were one of the first regions set up across the UK as part of the scheme established by the UK BIM Task Group. We organise events to engage with industry, our BIM ‘Now and Next’ event in November 2016 attracted an audience of over 400 people which is an encouraging sign that NI professionals are taking BIM very seriously and are keen to know more and build on the BIM networking opportunities at events like this. The BIM Regions NI Group have a steering group who meet every few months, the group is diverse and we are delighted to have members from local government, leading design practices, contractors, ICE and academics from NI Universities.

Please describe your observations of companies adopting BIM in Northern Ireland? 

I think there is a good level of adoption, willingness and awareness and the majority of progressive businesses are on the BIM Journey. GRAHAM are adopting BIM because of the efficiencies and advantages it brings to our clients and organisation, many other businesses in NI I believe are also focusing on the drive for efficiency and can see how BIM could be the catalyst for that. I think we would all like to see more clients asking for BIM on projects and this would increase adoption further through the direct need to deliver to client expectations. The construction industry is extremely resilient and has stepped up to the challenges of new contracts and complicated projects to secure work. More BIM projects would be a great driver for adoption and change in the industry.

What advice would you give to a company considering BIM adoption?

I would tell them to go for it, start the journey and you may be surprised how far you get on that journey once you take the first steps. With the UK mandate, we have seen an increase in demand for BIM so I think those considering it perhaps need to accept that it is coming and eventually they will need to respond. A phased approach is easier to adopt and hence the sooner they start the smoother the transition should be.

What advice would you give to a client considering BIM for a project?

My advice for clients would be similar to businesses considering adoption, set some BIM goals and break this down into manageable value-adding pieces to start with. For clients beginning with the end in mind is very important, understand what you will use the information for at the end of the project and this will help them to buy better information at the start. Ask the questions internally of the team, what are we going to use the information for? What is the purpose of the information? Again, like businesses who have adopted BIM clients who start the journey keep going and don’t turn back, they can see the advantages and the efficiencies and understand BIM and digital construction are part of the future of construction projects.

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