Setting digital as the default for water – a Q&A with Clare Kovacs

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Setting digital as the default for water – a Q&A with Clare Kovacs

As the water sector continues its shift from constructing new infrastructure to improving performance of existing assets, full adoption of building information management (BIM) tools is critical to success. Approaching year two of the AMP7 investment cycle, BIM4Water vice-chair and MWH Treatment national rehearsal lead Clare Kovacs discusses the outlook for widescale digital implementation.

The BIM4Water cross-industry steering group, which you co-chair, was established in 2015. How has the BIM landscape changed in that time for water?

The sector is seeing a greater challenge in delivering against a more complex model, driven by total expenditure (TOTEX) and efficiency targets set out by regulator Ofwat. We have moved away from the provision of new assets and are now focussing on how we can improve the performance of existing assets.

To achieve this, we need to understand the existing sites well and establish a strong foundation of data from the outset, which is where scanning, capturing and sharing is key. We cannot expect to deliver projects in the same way we always have and achieve different outcomes, therefore, the adoption of digital tools to assist in delivering projects in a more efficient way is critical to success.

Having started working in the water industry in the 2010-2015 AMP5 investment period as a graduate civil engineer, I can see how much the way in which we deliver projects has changed and what the benefits would have been back then from having a 3D-model, holding collaborative rehearsals, visual planning and working more closely with our clients, tier two suppliers and the rest of the supply chain.

How does water fare against other sectors when it comes to adoption of BIM?

We are far behind other sectors such as rail and buildings, but gaining momentum as more people are starting to realise the benefits of digital delivery and BIM adoption. Our baseline of understanding of BIM has improved and people are more confident and have a greater awareness of the capabilities.

We are starting to excel at embedding digital delivery - scanning, modelling, rehearsing, assembling, transferring and redefining the way we deliver and construct projects - but we still have some way to go.  I’d like to see the tools being used across the board and digital delivery becoming the default position of the industry.

What are the biggest challenges still to overcome?

Our biggest challenge is confidence in the digital toolkit. Although we have proven the benefits and opportunities, we are fighting processes and ways of working that have been embedded for many investment cycles. Therefore, it is about resetting our default position, which takes time because it means changing people’s behaviours.

Has Covid-19 accelerated the adoption of BIM in water?

The pandemic has helped fast-track adoption and highlight the criticality of digital transformation in business. We have all realised that to do our jobs effectively, we need quality data as our springboard, we need that data to be accessible and shareable and we need to be able to collaborate in the right environments. All of which are fundamentals of BIM in water.

How can organisations implement change and fully embrace digital transformation?

My key piece of advice is to fully understand what and why you want to change something. How often have we invested in a piece of technology which is actually not fit for purpose, creates more work and ends up being disregarded? Take the time to map out what you currently have and the interfaces and how you can get them to interlink.

Be persistent, change takes time and you’ve got an array of characters to bring on the journey. The pioneers will be your biggest cheerleaders and the sceptics will be the negativity spreaders.

Understand what the issues are and ask colleagues why they are sceptical? Do they need evidence to prove the technology’s value? If so, gather case studies. Are they nervous about using the tools? Provide training, reverse mentor with pioneers.  Cohesion in teams builds resilience - if everyone is working together and off the same page, the resilience will lead to success.

The sector in England and Wales is now entering year two of AMP7, is it possible for digital delivery to become business as usual before 2025?

For me, AMP6 was about spotlight projects, gathering case studies and seeking to understand. We now know BIM works and therefore AMP7 is about establishing it cross-sectionally, embedding the tools, establishing the processes, setting the requirements and training everyone. These are the years of pain, but they are fundamental to greenlight the way forward and create change.  

AMP8 will be the period when we will know no other way of delivering projects. By then, I am confident we will have redefined the process and reset the default position.

What role should the supply chain play?

The water sector needs to be open to ideas from the supply chain. We need their expertise and knowledge on how to build offsite, in controlled environments and bring to site for final fixing and assembly.

With their help and knowledge, we can de-risk a lot of our sites and minimise time on site. Utilities need to start working more closely and transparently with regards to portfolios of works to start to push procurement into the production and manufacturing environment. This is where we will see the joint rewards and efficiencies as we move forward.

You are chairing British Water’s BIM Conference 2021 on 25 March, why are platforms for collaboration and conversation so important? 

It is so valuable to see practical examples of what is achievable and accessible at all stages of project delivery. If we can increase people’s knowledge and understanding of how BIM can be embedded in the water sector and start to make that change, that’s a fantastic step. Remember, it is about having the right tools at the right time for the job and not all the tools for every job.

Clare Kovacs is chairing British Water’s virtual BIM Conference 2021 on 25 March. For more details and to register go to