The construction industry isn’t known for being a beacon of innovation. I’m sure they would forgive us for saying that.
But there’s always room for new technology and we know one local company leading the way.
Operance, founded by Ian Yeo and Scott Pilgrim, are a software and consultancy provider specialising in Building Information Modelling or BIM as it’s commonly known.
We spoke to Ian about how tech like theirs is changing how buildings are built everywhere. It has the potential to save lives and increases efficiency throughout the construction process.
They’re a C4DI success story and to top it off they make a pretty good claim to having one of the best offices in the building.
Before we go any further, you’re probably wondering, what exactly is it that Operance (formally known as Bimsense) do?
Well, in Ian’s own words, “BIM is an acronym for Building Information Modelling. This has quite a few components. So, a 3D model created by an architect or an engineer, is one part of BIM. It’s a real central core part of BIM. But it’s also about information and making that information digital, throughout the construction process.”
“So, you will have an architect’s model. But you can also have, say, an Excel spreadsheet that becomes part of that overall model of a building.”
Thanks Ian. BIM has the potential to be a complete digital footprint of a building, its components, uses, specifications and more.
Operance don’t just do BIM – they offer other services too. They originally formed as a consultancy service for contractors and large estate owners, which is still part of what they do, but they also have an increasing range of software tackling facilities management, operations, and maintenance.
Tying it all together is an exciting concept known as the Golden Thread.
Simply put the Golden Thread is ‘the ability to track decisions throughout the life of a project.’ In other words, Operance empowers users by ‘identifying a thread all the way through design, construction, and the use of the building to know what’s happening to the material of the building and the products.’
The need for this technology has only accelerated in recent years.
One reason for that is the Grenfell tower disaster which claimed the lives of 72 people. The tower block fire resulted from a combination of causes, although Ian points out that the lack of understanding surrounding the cladding which contributed to the blaze was partly at fault.
Whilst he’s not saying BIM alone would have stopped something like this happening, there’s a clear indication that with so many buildings being built, a concrete and reliable way of tracking a buildings lifespan would certainly alert people to problems much earlier, should they arise.
There’s no denying that a disaster like the one that occurred in 2017 alerted contractors and indeed local authorities to the need for greater and more widely accessible building knowledge.
Indeed, regulations are now coming in ‘that require owners in the building to understand exactly what’s in their building, where there’s any changes and what’s happening.’
A big part of this is making this information accessible but secure – a single source of truth. So how do they do this?
The software that Operance provide to their clients is “built on an immutable ledger. So, it’s a bit like a blockchain type approach.” Ian says.
“We understand exactly who’s done what, when it’s been changed, and for what reason, providing that Golden Thread through our product.”
For those who have no idea what blockchain is, you’re not alone, but we also don’t have space to elaborate on it here. For a great rundown, we recommend having a read of this.
The important thing is that ‘immutable ledger’ Ian mentioned above. It’s a way of securely encrypting data and making it simultaneously accessible to the right people.
The fact that they are embracing this relatively new form of technology, that many people are touting as the future of the internet, is exciting and shows that they really are at the forefront of their industry when it comes to innovation.
When it comes to consultancy, Operance are working with “anyone that has a building, essentially”, although more specifically these are companies “who want to deliver a really up to date, modern operating and maintenance manual to the users in a building”.
So, whether its buildings delivered by the largest Tier 1 contractors in the country or local SME’s, it’s quite a large market. They can even work with existing buildings to modernise that property.
I question whether this innovative tech tends to attract more forward thinking, ‘progressive’ architectural projects, but Ian stresses it really isn’t limited to that.
That said, they are working on some interesting projects, including, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Liverpool School of Architecture.
“[It’s] a building with all sorts of complex shapes, fancy brickwork and more. It’s got lots of structural timber, so for example beams and things like that. And it’s a really fantastic looking building.” They’d happily take on more projects like this in the future, but their service is useful for a whole range of important buildings, including primary and secondary schools. This work involves collaborations with offsite manufacturing and modular building companies, of which there are a number in the area.
One building is particularly important to Operance. Like many companies in C4DI, Operance started in the co-working space, as two founders with an idea.
Since then, they’ve added to their number and outgrown more than one office. “The ability to be able to move about this building” is to Ian, one of the benefits of being members here at C4DI. “So as you grow, the building sort of grows with you.”
He also says “It’s a great place to start [a company]. Right from the time when we started downstairs, just the two of us, you have people around you. You have different people that do marketing or people that do design so they’re available, on hand.”
Not only that but the business has benefited from being in a tech incubator with access to events and a community of tech-oriented businesses.
Ian also can’t ignore the benefits of their current office. “It’s the inspiration you get from the view. It’s just wonderful. It actually makes you really want to come and work from here.”
They have indeed got a good view and it’s arguably one of the best spots in the building. Right in the pointy end, where wrap-around windows look across at The Deep and the Humber Estuary, which can be anything from glistening in the sun to shrouded in a spooky mist depending on the time of year.
Having software as a maintenance manual for a building is just the start for Operance.
“Once we’ve got that information available to customers, we can provide enhanced services. You know, this could be sensors within buildings. So, you get feedback on the users and whether the building is being used efficiently.”
“When information is pulled together, it enables people to understand what maintenance they need to do at certain times and how to keep things legal and follow the latest legislation.”
“There’s loads and loads of opportunities we see.”
This approach to optimising the performance of a building, improving sustainability and more is only going to become more ever-present as time goes on and we can see Operance at the forefront of that.
Of course, the company is built on helping clients, one building at a time. “We just want to be the right software for our clients.”
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