With Victoria set to break ground on some of the biggest infrastructure projects in the state’s history, a new digital asset strategy seeks to improve the delivery and whole-of-life management of Victoria’s projects and assets.
As building, construction and project management technologies evolve, every new infrastructure project carries with it extremely valuable data and resources that, if accessible, would be of enormous benefit to a range of stakeholders in the future.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to harness data and resources through a digital asset strategy.
Victoria, as the fastest growing state in Australia, recognises the important role of data and information in effectively delivering world-class infrastructure and services to meet the demands of its population. That is where the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy (VDAS) comes into play.
The VDAS is led by Victorian Chief Engineer, Dr Collette Burke, and the Office of Projects Victoria, whose role is to inform and advise on the successful delivery of major infrastructure projects in Victoria. The development of VDAS is the result of a large collaborative process involving a wide range of experts and practitioners, including government, industry and educators.
The VDAS is designed to support the effective and consistent coordination of digital information across a physical asset’s life cycle for a range of stakeholders.
At the heart of the VDAS is the recognition that asset data and information is valuable and that remaking, and recapturing data and/or information is inefficient.
The VDAS aims to streamline the many sources and types of information and data used in delivery and whole-of-life management of Victoria’s complex infrastructure assets. This information ranges from engineering drawings, computer-aided designs, 3D models, project schedules, and cost estimates all the way through to asset registers.
Dr Burke said that Digital engineering (DE) is at the core of the VDAS approach. She suggests DE is a convergence of data-driven processes, such as building information modelling (BIM), geographic information systems (GIS) and other related systems for deriving better business, project and asset management outcomes.
The most important tenet of digital engineering is providing a collaborative ‘way of working’, using more efficient digital information management processes.
These digital information management processes enhance integration and coordination, while driving more productive methods of planning, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining assets throughout their lifecycle.
The digital information management processes are fully enhanced when asset stakeholders recognise the value of information and data. A prime example of ‘valuable information and data’ may be the quantities and components as part of a building’s structure. This information is needed early in the project’s life for cost estimates, scheduling, materials availability, options analysis, and sustainability assessments.
That same information, albeit in greater detail, is also needed during detailed engineering and construction for lifting studies, casting, and logistics. The end of the project wouldn’t be the end of use for that same information. That same information can also be utilised during the building’s operation for asset performance, inspection, condition and fatigue analysis and compliance assessments.
Towards future Smart Cities
The above example is limited to one bit of information on one asset. Expanding and fast-forwarding this example to assets across Victoria, the VDAS quickly becomes the launchpad for Victoria as the home for ‘future cities’. Future cities utilise digital city and regional planning with truly integrated services, enhances transparency to the circular economy, improves accessibility and connectivity, and ensures resources utilisation is more efficient.
Indeed, all of this will not eventuate overnight. The VDAS leverages supporting process-enablers, such as technical tools, specifications, practice and procedures. Technical tools and specifications include standardised asset classification systems, open data formats, object-based models, spatially located data, and common data environments. The VDAS-enabling practices and procedures include procurement, governance, validation, people upskilling, change management and collaboration. All of these things will take time to align, but Dr Burke believes we need to start right now.
Dr Burke is a strong advocate of not creating bespoke processes. “It is for this reason the VDAS has been developed in collaboration with existing local and international policies, procedures, lessons learned, and best practices,” she said.
“These include, but are not limited to, procedures such as the Commonwealth Government’s national digital engineering policy principles, international best practices, internationally-recognised asset classifications, and Victorian Government-specific policies, such as the Victorian Government’s Asset Management Accountability, and Value Creation and Capture frameworks, and front-end engineering and design (FEED).
“The goal of the VDAS is to enhance public confidence, achieve greater value-for-money outcomes and facilitate more effective and efficient decision-making.”
Combined, this yields a better and more efficient asset for all Victorians. This is what an engineer should be striving toward.
Informed and consulted stakeholders
Anyone who has led a major change management exercise will know stakeholder engagement and management is a key objective. As a result, the VDAS stakeholder philosophy is to go far, go wide, and go deep into detail – listening to as many stakeholders as possible.
This philosophy has paid off. The VDAS Strategic Framework has reached hundreds of organisations and stakeholders locally, nationally, and globally. There was resounding common feedback: get on with it!
Apart from the wide consultation and stakeholder engagement piece, Dr Burke highlights that buy-in to the VDAS Strategic Framework was positive as people are beginning to understand the benefits that DE and BIM can provide.
“A whole range of stakeholders are likely to reap benefits including cost estimators, facilities managers, schedulers, project managers, senior governmental decision-makers, environmental leads through to safety managers,” Dr Burke said.
A prime example of where benefits through digital engineering are already being realised is in the mechanical service industry. Industry bodies, such as the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association of Australia through efforts such as ‘BIM-MEPAUS’, have been instrumental in gearing toward a digital future. Over half a decade, BIM-MEPAUS have steered the majority of the mechanical service industry – made up of pumps, ducts, chillers, air conditioning units, etc. toward a common digital framework and representation of the entire industry.
Although the VDAS benefits many stakeholders, the fundamental goal of the VDAS is to ensure the Victorian public benefits via enhanced delivery of public assets, improved value for money, and more engaging community consultation. Finally, the public will also benefit from assets created to meet their needs, while addressing community and environmental concerns with a focus on sustainability.
At the crux of these benefits to the public is the improved clarity and consistency on ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ Victorian assets are planned, designed, engineered, constructed, operated and maintained. The VDAS enables stakeholders to gain deeper insights and arrive at well-informed decisions through visualisation, real-time integration with other data sources (such as costs and schedules), and better utilisation of innovative technologies. A prime example of this may be for a project engineer to, in real time, assess the trade-offs between capital cost, operating cost, schedule, deliverability, constructability, comfort, and energy-saving aspects of various insulation materials on a building.
DE benefits everyone
The other major benefit is a consistency to design and construct through vertical supply-chain integration, clash avoidance, seamless handover of information at each phase, and design rationalisation and reuse. Design rationalisation and reuse does not mean every hospital and train station will look the same. Instead, it will mean designers and engineers have appropriate design, will spend less time on planning and drafting design from scratch and be empowered to focus more on the assets meeting users’ needs.
A good way to think about DE, and what VDAS is driving toward, is the concept of a ‘digital twin’.
With the introduction of ‘digital twins’ each one of Victoria’s physical assets can be mirrored by an identical digital representation of the assets.
Through the use of digital twins, engineers and senior decision makers can construct, model, analyse, review and test all parts of the asset or project prior to investment.
This has tremendous upside as it aligns the concept, engineering, function, and deliverables of the asset or projects amongst all stakeholders prior to contractual commitment. Victorians stand to benefit the most from this alignment through enhanced assets that are fit-for-purpose, as well as reduced capital costs due to lower uncertainty.
A digital twin could also have a profound influence on the way we engage with our assets. With the use of a digital twin, buildings and sites could even be ‘visited’ without leaving the office through innovative technologies, such as virtual reality.
In a more remote scenario, a digital twin could also be used to restore and preserve one of Victoria’s many historical buildings and sites of significance in the event of a destructive fire.
Dr Burke is excited about what the VDAS will drive toward; however, she recognises implementation of the VDAS, like any innovative transformation improvement process, will require a commitment to improve.
“This entails an uplift in skills and competency, new ‘ways of working’, changes to the way we perceive data and information, and a dedication to best practice.”
Notwithstanding, Dr Burke is confident this change will swiftly become the norm.
“In the past, we had terms like ‘smart TV’, and it was considered a big deal. Now, we just call them TVs. I believe in a short period of time, terms such as BIM, and DE, will soon just become part and parcel of ‘doing a project’, or ‘debottlenecking our asset’.”
Within that period of time, there is a need to upskill Victorians for a digital asset future.
“I am impressed by the Victorian Government’s commitment to adopt digital asset best practices and their dedication to uplifting digital skills,” Dr Burke said.
A prime example of this is the Government’s commitment to free BIM TAFE courses, which develop the skilled personnel required to implement the VDAS.
“This is only the beginning. Looking to the future, we are enthusiastic about developing more detailed guidance for a range of stakeholders, developing competency frameworks, and mapping where Victorians enhance and access DE and BIM education,” Dr Burke said.
With the introduction of the VDAS Strategic Framework, Victoria opens the door for possibilities and innovation for its assets. With new and rapid advances in technology and information sciences happening every day, moving towards a digital Victoria is essential.
The VDAS is the catalyst to achieve this important transformation for the benefit of current and future Victorians.
The Victorian Digital Asset Strategy – Strategic Framework is available for anyone to download and use here.