According to Neville Glanville, Building Information Modelling (BIM) should not only be about 3D data but also about ensuring that every organisation has quick access to the in-depth information needed to drive effective cooperation and collaboration at every stage of the design, build, and operate lifecycle.
The government’s commitment to Building Information Modeling (BIM) is aimed at maximising capital investment and realising a 20% reduction in lifetime costs. It is also about changing the culture between the client and the rest of the supply chain, replacing traditional, adversarial business practises with a collaborative approach that should drive innovation. As such, it deserves a lot of credit.
The key to realising this vision is to foster simple, effective collaboration across the infrastructure lifecycle’s design, construction, and operations aspects. By breaking down these traditional silos, you can reduce duplication, reduce errors, streamline processes, and improve collaboration.
Fortunately, interest in BIM is growing rapidly. However, there is considerable misunderstanding about what BIM adoption means for organisations at various stages of the supply chain. While the majority of new bids now require some level of BIM compliance, the requirements are frequently ambiguous at best.
As a result, there is a real risk that companies will either impose costly technology choices on their partners across the building supply chain, from mechanical engineers to contractors, or they will be coerced into making technology choices that fail to reflect other key business requirements simply to achieve BIM compliance. Regrettably, this will be done at the expense of approaches that incorporate coordinated technologies appropriate for the various roles and tasks.
Unfortunately, the industry’s message is that BIM is a design-led initiative that relies on construction companies using the same 3D tools as their design partners to create a single source of project information. This is false on multiple levels, ranging from the 3D assumption to the single data source approach.
The single data model is not only expensive and difficult to implement, but it also does not work. Organizations that have tried this model quickly discovered that because of the many disciplines involved, information becomes federated, and the single model devolves into multiple uncontrolled data silos.
Let us clear the air: BIM, when done properly, is about information sharing enabled by information mobility (across engineering disciplines and the infrastructure lifecycle). It gives contractors and owner operators access to critical design data that can be used to improve efficiency throughout the construction and operations processes. Yes, it promotes the use of 3D throughout the industry, but not only 3D. 2D data is still important, as is information stored in documents, spreadsheets, and other databases, all of which contribute to a comprehensive BIM approach.
BIM is, in fact, about determining the best way to manage, secure, and trust information from multiple sources, authors, and systems. Ultimately, it is about developing an asset model from the start that can be used consistently throughout the project to drive efficiencies and improve collaboration.
Despite its name, BIM encompasses both information management and information modelling. It allows a contractor to enter design information into project planning software and resolve potential conflicts before arriving on site. It also allows for the exchange of space information with facility management teams.
The following are the key questions that organisations must ask:
- What information do we need to share?
- Is a read-only format sufficient?
- How can we protect intellectual property while also ensuring information consistency?
Of course, the BIM vision would be easier to achieve if the industry had a common standard for information sharing that all IT vendors had to support. Without it, the process must be evolutionary, leveraging existing IT investments where possible in a more collaborative environment.
Consider any building component, such as mechanical equipment. There is information on multi-disciplinary design to coordinate with the tools and systems best suited for each discipline. Then there’s design and presentation data in 3D models, layout data in 2D drawings, schedule data in spreadsheets, procurement data in estimating and purchasing databases, specifications in documents, construction changes in transmittals, field changes in mark-ups, not to mention approvals history and audit trails in workflow systems, site photographs, and maintenance data and operating instructions in PDFs. All of this is the building’s information model.
Using a collaborative platform and technology to share and integrate information, as part of an incremental approach that includes all of the specialised design simulation and analysis software best suited for each project role, will best assist the industry in achieving the desired widespread adoption of BIM.
The government’s stance on BIM is admirable. Demanding Level 2 compliance by 2016 is pragmatic and attainable, and it promotes the very real promise of intelligent infrastructure that performs better in terms of energy and cost efficiency, resilience to natural and man-made disasters, and safety. However, while industry adoption and interest are encouraging, it is critical that organisations take a step back and thoroughly assess their information needs.
BIM is a business process, not a technological solution. BIM enables organisations to improve the quality of building design, reduce costs, and achieve the collaborative workflows required to drive true innovation when the right workflow and processes are defined.