Maximising the BIM opportunity: Symetri’s unique training approach for Scottish Power Energy Networks

Scottish Power Energy Networks

Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) is the Distribution and Transmission Network Operator supplying electricity to homes and businesses in Central and Southern Scotland, North Wales, Merseyside, Cheshire, and North Shropshire. They operate in three of the UK's largest cities—Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh—accounting for 1.6m (43%) of their customers, as well as three significant rural areas. SPEN has 30,000 substations (one for every 100 customers), 40,000km of overhead lines, and 65,000km of underground cables.

The organisation’s investment plan, signed off by Ofgem, the energy regulator for Great Britain, includes a commitment to adopt Building Information Modelling (BIM) throughout all parts of its distribution system.

The plan is in line with Ofgem’s RIIO* framework and includes, among many other considerations, accelerating the move to digitisation and associated activities around the centralisation of data to ensure a ‘single source of truth’ across the organisation.

Challenge: Seeing BIM benefits beyond the software

From 2D to 3D is a whole new dimension; in more ways than one
It is fairly common in the utilities sector for organisations to still be using 2D design techniques. The traditional approach often continues in such organisations where the bulk of their budgets are channelled in the areas of distribution and transmission, as opposed to evolving design. Change is coming, albeit gradually.

SPEN is at the forefront of this change, having made a commitment to introduce BIM across the organisation and move swiftly from 2D design (AutoCAD and Civil 3D) and using Vault, into the world of 3D and the limitless possibilities it opens up.

As the BIM Implementation Project Manager for Scottish Power Energy Networks, Kenny Shearer is charged with finding the best route to BIM adoption; a roll-out which SPEN anticipates will be between five and seven-years’ for total implementation.

The journey kicks off with the design and retrofit of high-voltage substations,
of which Scottish Power Transmission (a wholly-owned subsidiary of SPEN) owns and maintains over 130; operating at 400, 275, and 132kv.

“We believed that our best starting point was to get the team trained in using Revit and a whole raft of associated solutions” says Kenny. “We were all set for a very long and complicated series of training sessions to cover Revit, Civil 3D, InfraWorks, AutoCAD Structural Detailing, Navisworks, and Robot Structural Analysis; and even that’s not an exhaustive list of our initial requirements”.


Look to the outcomes

SPEN’s relationship with Symetri goes back almost 20 years, and Symetri has provided support and guidance on Autodesk design tools, data management and delivered consultancy and training around the implementation and adoption of Autodesk technology. SPEN asked Symetri for proposals on how to implement the training. It was at that point that the direction of travel for the project prompted a rethink at SPEN.

“Symetri’s response was very considered.
They took nothing at face value. They recommended that the best foundation was to look to the outcomes,  and base the training on a recently traditionally designed project to allow familiarity.” says Kenny.

“Symetri took us through a series of demos of ACC Docs and gave us a ‘tour’ around the Autodesk Construction Cloud. New vistas immediately became clear. Standard training modules were not going to work for us.

As Symetri said, our requirements were unique, given the complexity of substation design. So, they created a unique training programme to meet them”.


Solution: Clearer, Smarter, Faster

The whole organisation is benefitting
Symetri have delivered a series of 15 training courses to over users, and training is ongoing. Delivery has been via a structure of blended learning—both face-to-face at SPEN’s Glasgow location, and virtually as required. Much of the training was undertaken while Covid was at its height, so this degree of flexibility ensured that no time was lost in helping to bring the SPEN team up to speed; both with the overall BIM context and with the individual packages required by each specialist discipline.

“Symetri dealt extremely well with varying requirements in lock-down, but it also became apparent that virtual learning is not just about finding a replacement approach when classrooms are out-of-bounds but has a valuable role in extending the reach and availability of those who need to be trained”, says Kenny. “They engaged with SPEN in a positive and proactive way. They’ve been key in improving our approach to 3D design”.

Symetri’s training approach for SPEN was created with three key pillars in mind:

  • Long term vision: A holistic approach that was based on the immediate requirement for enhanced design practices for substations, but also recognised the broader context and longer-term goals of digital transformation at SPEN.

“Collecting data as you design, all tied to the asset, not only provides granularity but ensures one version of the truth. Any update now impacts everyone who will have interaction with the asset for its entire lifecycle”, says Kenny.

  • Customisation: Symetri evaluated the multiple workflows involved in substation design and recommended that SPEN’s goal of standardising processes could not be readily achieved with the use of off-the-shelf software. Customised solutions would be required together with nurturing skills across the SPEN team to enable them to identify the best tool for each task.

  • Skills focus: Those requiring training made up a multi-discipline audience. It included drafting technicians, electrical, civil, and structural engineers, and substation designers and modelers. Given this diversity of roles, a further Symetri recommendation was to split the disciplines into their own groups to ensure sharper focus on the specific skills required within each group.

Following the BIM training programme, SPEN approached Symetri to establish if we were able to support an initiative with the aim of showcasing extended reality (XR) at their annual Connections Summit.

One of the key objectives of this initiative was to make SPEN’s BIM data more accessible to a greater audience within the business and selected partners.

Prior to this engagement, SPEN did some initial benchmarking on immersive technology, to gain an understanding of the XR (VR, AR, MR) ecosystem and develop an idea of what levels of quality and experience they wanted to achieve. Further definition of the technology landscape alongside Symetri helped to raise the level of understanding and appreciation of ‘the art of the possible’ using the best-in-class technology and expertise Symetri has deployed globally across design and engineering firms.

From the initial scope to the delivery of a fully immersive experience based on using SPEN’s BIM data, Symetri were able to define a strategy creating an immersive and realistic environment. This also included assisting with the specification and delivery of workstations and the XR headsets.

The outcome of this event was to demonstrate how SPEN could further leverage their BIM data for a wider range of tasks and objectives, which included closing communication gaps, stimulating creativity, improving design decisions, and increasing the pace and efficiency of the project team. As well as targets identified in the initial scope, this short proof of concept (POC) allowed the various stakeholders in attendance to quickly understand that these same BIM assets and 3D models could be used for remote collaboration, onboarding, training, customer interaction, risk assessment and health and safety, but more importantly, elevate the overall confidence in a digital sign-off process.


Outcomes: An exemplar best practice project for the global team

All eyes are on SPEN
SPEN have embarked on four pilot projects using 3D design and modelling, pivoting on a Common Data Environment (CDE), and generally bringing the new skills to bear on reducing errors, accelerating the design process and generating wider benefits associated with the rich data collated.

SPEN is owned by the Iberdrola Group, a global energy leader. As part of Kenny’s role, he is a member of the organisation’s Global Practice Group, through which medium he is sharing and disseminating the lessons learned through SPEN’s BIM adoption, the CDE, and the end-to-end approach to design workflows imparted during the Symetri training programme. Companies in the group across Brazil, Spain, and the U.S. are watching developments closely to see how the global team can accelerate its digital transformation.

“Thanks to Symetri’s training we’re now better at modelling and the process is faster, with far fewer errors. Symetri are definitely part of our future”, says Kenny.

*RIIO: ‘Revenue = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs’


Move from ‘lines, circles and text’ to data and 3D information.

Make the move to Building Information Modelling (BIM) and ensure asset data centralisation to one single view of the truth.

Ability to deliver better projects, reduce errors, and gain faster focus on sustainability.



Training programme created specifically for SPEN’s needs, and workflows.

Holistic approach to training to facilitate greater cross-discipline collaboration and data awareness/collection.


SPEN is now in vanguard of best practice in BIM and design within their company’s group.

Standardisation in design.

Faster design, fewer errors, smarter teams.

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