Taking the lead in digital eco-tourism

TRSDC’s implementation of BIM process and protocols is not only improving the way it is building and developing the tourism megaproject, but is also reshaping how the Saudi Arabian construction sector operates

Earlier this year, The Red Sea Development Company, the developer behind the ambitious regenerative tourism project, announced that it had become the first asset owner in the world to achieve the prestigious BIM Project Kitemark, awarded by the British Standards Institutions (BSI) for its digital project delivery and adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM), aligned to ISO19650.

ISO19650 is a series of international standards for the effective management of information throughout the delivery and operational phase of construction. TRSDC was awarded the BIM Project Kitemark for its excellence in information management, which has enabled the developer to embed best practice throughout its organisation and indeed, its partnerships on the megaproject.

Established in 2018, TRSDC deployed BIM right from the start and has continuously looked to develop its digital project delivery services since then. The company says that using BIM has helped it create a shared environment that allows international teams to continue working at pace, despite challenging COVID-19 impact environments.

Furthermore, it highlights that the use of digital techniques has meant that better quality, data-driven decisions, are able to be made in much shorter timeframes – days, rather than weeks, for instance. TRSDC asserts that BIM is a core part of its ‘model-first’ environment, and that it has been working closely with project partners to build BIM capabilities across all facets of its operations on the megaproject.

In turn, it hopes that this total embracement of BIM will have a positive impact on the Saudi market for future digitally enabled projects, with benefits such as the minimisation of waste by using Design for Manufacture and Assembly techniques and the utilisation of modern methods of construction, such as off-site manufacturing, becoming commonplace throughout the Saudi construction industry.

With the Red Sea Project having passed significant milestones and with work on Phase One – which includes work on 16 hotels and the project’s international airport – on track to be completed by 2023, Big Project ME spoke to Ian Williamson, chief project delivery officer, and David Glennon, senior digital delivery director, about how TRSDC’s deployment of BIM has helped the project progress, and why its role as a digital leader is so crucial for the future of the Kingdom’s construction sector.

“We’re 40% of the way through Phase One delivery and we’ve just committed more than $3.19 billion worth of contracts, and we’re awarding at just over a rate of $266.6 million a month. We’ve spent around $1.59 billion of cash on the project. A lot of our infrastructure in terms of roads and highways has been built, and on the marine side, jetties to get out from the mainland, allow access to the islands, and so on, have been completed,” says Williamson.

“We’ve awarded ACWA Power the utilities PPP, so that project is mobilised, trenching is starting, and the first works are getting done on the utilities side. We’ve got a contract for the distribution of utilities, which is with CCE for our Coastal Village, and we’ve got about 200 buildings there that are set to be handed over by December (this year). We’ll have the first 8,000 homes effectively built in the Coastal Village by the end of the year, fully commissioned and handed over to our operations teams.

With TRSDC taking over its offices there in August this year, Williamson adds that operations on the megaproject are rapidly moving from early works to the building of completed projects. With plenty of work to be done between now and the end of 2022, which is when The Red Sea Project is scheduled to begin welcoming its first guests, it is all systems go for the project team.

Given the vast scale of The Red Sea Project, as well as the amount of work being carried out across the different packages, leaning on technology is the certainly the only way forward for the developer.

To this end, the work carried out by David Glennon and his Digital Delivery team has been essential to the continued success of the project. While technology has been embraced since the beginning of operations, he reveals that it has only been over the last 18 months that its uptake has really accelerated – thanks in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you look at about two years ago, we were being relatively traditional with how we were (doing things), but with the beginning of home working and not being able to get together, it accelerated the way we’re using some of these digital techniques. One of the things that we’ve done is deploy a collaborative design platform and make it available to everyone. We’ve given all the consultants and contractors the tools collaborate, and we’ve given them really in-depth training on how to come together and collaborate,” Glennon explains.

“The lack of ability to travel and get into meeting rooms and do things dynamically meant that we’ve had to advance everyone’s understanding of technology to be able to enable not just meetings, but walking into the physical space utilising BIM technology,” Williamson elaborates. “COVID has certainly accelerated – by a few years – the embracement of technology at all levels, right from the CEO down, and through the organisation. And it’s not just at The Red Sea Development Company, but across our huge supply chain around the world.”

“We’ve also started to use some lean design techniques, which has meant that we’ve been able to change our traditional design review processes – which may take weeks – down to days, and in some cases, hours,” Glennon relates.

“By bringing all the information together and getting all the key stakeholders into a room at the same time, we’ve been able to very quickly identify what the top four or five issues are, feed that back to the project partners, and get them moving again. This then gives us a couple more days to go into a bit more detail and feed that back to them as well,” he says, adding that while some of this work is reflected in the Kitemark award, a lot of it is done by closely working with partner organisations and understanding how they operate, so as to help them shift towards a common way of working for all parties.

Williamson points that as the developer behind one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest and most influential projects, the initiative and leadership has to come from TRSDC. By setting the standard for the rest of the industry, the hope is that other organisations and companies will follow suit, thereby organically raising the level of the sector’s digital transformation.

“We have to set the scene, the standards, the vision and the intent. BIM has clearly been embraced by structural engineering organisations at least 10 years ago, and MEP has been catching up, but certainly on the architect side, they’re loathe to embrace what we’re asking for. Interior design and landscape as well, that is not something they’ve historically engaged with.

“We’ve got 10 consultants on a hotel project and trying to get all parties to similarly engage is a challenge. Some are clearly more advanced than others, but David and his team are working hard to pull everyone up to the same level. Even the consultancy specialisations that have not embraced it before are being encouraged to come onside. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a carrot and stick approach from us. We’re persuading and cajoling, encouraging and pointing out the merits to some, but sometimes we have to be a bit more contractual and highlight the contractual obligations that they have to fulfil and that they’ve signed up to,” Williamson states.

“The contractors who aren’t using it, they know that this is their opportunity to learn from us and the partners around them,” says David Glennon.

Despite these challenges, Glennon points out that the benefits are rapidly becoming apparent to the industry, with many partner companies realising the potential BIM offers and are willing to learn how to best utilise it.

“We’re driving it as the developer and once we’re clear why we want the data in a certain way, so as to drive other processes, they get it and understand it. What I think is more interesting however, is that the contractors who aren’t using it, they know that this is their opportunity to learn from us and the partners around them. We’re definitely starting to see a change in the market in that regard, especially at the contractor level, where they’re starting to use the data and tools,” he reveals.

“They start to understand that here is an opportunity to learn and grow as an organisation, and to be ready for the next project. (Once they understand that), they’ve actually been really pleased to get involved.”

Glennon adds that the BSI Project Kitemark has been helpful in this regard, with professionals working at local contractors and consultants seeing it as the level that they need to achieve within the industry. Furthermore, he reveals that off the back of the award, training providers are now wanting to provide their services to organisations within the country, which was something almost impossible to imagine 18 months ago.

“As a developer, we’re going to have to live with these assets for the next 50 years of their lives,” says Williamson, “So, we’re in a unique position, where we’re specifying the requirement, defining a source of funding, and we’re building it. Ultimately, however, the real long period is the operations side. Most of these assets will go up within three to five years of their inception, and we can manage the whole digitalisation over the course of a 25-years or longer lifecycle. It proves its worth – during design, that’s well established and self-evident; it’s starting to prove its worth during construction, it could go a lot further; and eventually, we’ve got to take it further and figure out how we can take complex sets of data and really assist the operations and FM teams to really utilise it.

“It can be quite daunting to receive an avalanche of information, so we need to start working out how to simplify how they can get access to the right information. But we’re in a uniquely privileged position of dealing with the whole lifecycle of an asset, so therefore, it almost has to be us to trigger the standards and their application,” he adds.

“We have a real opportunity for this to be the case study for how this is done in a real and meaningful way,” Glennon says, “I’ve worked on many projects and in many organisations over the years where we’ve handed the project over in a good way, but we know that there’s been a missing link, and that we’ve handed it over to an asset manager who won’t really use the data that’s come out of it, and that seems like such a waste.”

One example of TRSDC’s commitment to effectively utilising data is its recent partnership with The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), which will see it provide high-resolution satellite data of key locations at The Red Sea Project.

This satellite imagery will improve the ability of teams to track construction progress, while at the same time closely monitor the environment for any unexpected changes, and respond appropriately, if needed.

This satellite data will be integrated into TRSDC’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Building Information Models to provide seamless access to the imagery for TRSDC’s planning, engineering and environmental departments.

Specifically, TRSDC’s GIS department will overlay the latest masterplans and detailed designs onto the satellite data to monitor progress and detect clashes. The data will also be used to identify optimal routes/sites for construction activities in addition to becoming an invaluable addition to monthly progress reports.

“We’ve got a GIS platform that’s now up and running, and becoming more available to suitable parties,” Glennon says. “The satellite imagery is just another layer of data that’s in there as we’ve got lots of surveys and sensors, but the advantage is that it shows us changes over time. So, from a construction perspective, every month, we get a fresh layer on top of (existing data). That’s helpful for us to understand where things are, where things have moved, and where the progress is happening, and make the changes required for logistics and all of that.

“It can also help us if there are disputes in a contract as we have got factual data (to refer to), but personally, I think it’s more interesting for the environmental team, as they’ll get regular updates from the satellites and they’ll be able to look at the real impact of activities on site. It may not give them the answers, but it will give them an indication that they need to go and look at something,” he adds in conclusion.

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