Courtesy of Balfour Beatty
Data-rich information models not only can support exquisite representations of facilities, like this one of the Presidio Parkway in San Francisco, but more importantly, they can be used to study alternatives, and optimize design, construction, operations and maintenance for the lifecycle.

Balfour Beatty PLC is stepping up its support of new software and digital tools that underpin full lifecycle use of building information modeling around the globe. A recent deal with Autodesk is a key part of the strategy.

Chris Millard, head of systems integration for the 50,000-employee, UK-based infrastructure firm, says the goal is to expand the power of BIM as an information hub and collaboration nexus. This will support better design, construction and asset management for the lifecycle, and better facility outcomes for owners and society.

"That's why we have begun speaking of 'beyond delivery,'" says Millard. The message the company wants to get across internally and externally is that its goal is to go beyond the ability to visualize, simulate and optimize designs, or to minimize waste and simplify construction, maintenance and operations. Now the goal is to recognize that the facility is there to support business activities and social outcomes—which are tied to facility performance.

"This is a start of driving that kind of revolutionary thinking— 'beyond product delivery," Millard says. "We can't tactically walk through this change in our industry. We need to approach it in a strategic way."

The strategy shift helps explain the company's three-year, $12-million deal it just signed with design software vendor Autodesk Inc. Millard says the company intends to work with Autodesk to influence its development of building information modeling tools and the global project collaboration environment to help expand the value of BIM. Autodesk's 2011 fourth quarter revenue from its AEC sector was $175 million.

With 2011 revenues in excess of $17 billion, Balfour Beatty is positioned to influence the industry by standardizing with Autodesk.

Under the global agreement, all of Balfour Beatty's BIM users on three continents will have the same access to Autodesk tools, including Autodesk Revit, AutoCAD Civil 3D, Autodesk Navisworks, AutoCAD and Autodesk 3ds Max Design. In addition, the vendor will provide training, support and strategic consultancy to help Balfour Beatty maximize its use of BIM.

Aligning technology

Millard and Paul Fleming, a major accounts executive who handled the deal for Autodesk, call the deal with Autodesk a partnership.

"We are already working with Autodesk, but we felt we were somewhat limited in our objectives," says Millard. He says the new arrangement is about moving from tactical, project-by-project use of BIM, to centering BIM and the digital tools that can be integrated within it, as a ubiquitous element of the company's global processes and workflow. "By procuring on a global, versus a regional basis, it gives us benefits in ways we can utilize around the globe," he says.

"But the really important part is going beyond that: We see not just BIM, but the use of the digital toolset in the whole asset life-cycle process as being absolutely essential in a global business like ours—through schematic and concept definition, design and construction, handover, operations and maintenance and lifetime development and performance. Somewhere in the world, in every part of that, someone in Balfour Beatty does it."

"There are very few customers that cover the full cradle-to-grave asset lifecycle the way Balfour Beatty does," adds Autodesk's Fleming. He notes that general contractors, design firms, engineers and architects each see BIM differently, but Balfour Beatty is unusual in that it is in design, construction, operations and investment on a global basis, and it faces, within its own realm, the challenges of the handoff of data among all of those uses. "For us, that offers a new way of working first-hand with a customer with the challenges of the handoff of data at all those different points," Fleming says. "It's exciting"

The To-do List

"We are not going to exclusively use Autodesk, although it will be extremely important, says Millard. "We will continue to work with other vendors strategically to integrate their tools as well—we work with customers globally who don't have a preference of a tool set, in which case we chose one—and we work with others who do."

Millard says the company wants to take advantage of its influence in the industry to help lead the way to standardized, interoperable BIM practices across the whole the supply chain, where he notes Autodesk products are widely used by "the vast majority of architects and small manufacturers working with CAD geometry tools."