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Building Information Modelling

Where will BIM be in five years time?

Peter Barker, BIM Academyby Peter Barker, Operations Director, BIM Academy

In September 2012, Ryder Architecture and BIM Academy got together to hold a workshop of industry and government professionals to discuss the UK's journey with BIM adoption to date and speculate "where will BIM be in 5 years time?"

Around the table were Mark Bew, Chair of UK Government BIM Implementation Group, Richard Waterhouse, CEO of RIBA Enterprises, Richard Wise, Partner at Ryder Architecture, Peter Barker, Operations Director of BIM Academy, Simon Lewis at Dickinson Dees. Also in attendance were Stewart McKenna, Mark Clasper, Andrew Greener and Craig Dickinson of Ryder, Richard Watson, Executive Director of NBS, and Stephen Hamil, Director of Design and Innovation at NBS.

Workshop attendees

The discussion was free flowing and diverse, covering design, procurement, policy and standards, technology, education and culture. The intention was to recognise success to date, identify areas for innovation and barriers to adoption, whilst recognising the challenges ahead.

There was consensus that the UK Government mandate for public sector projects has created a significant impetus for adoption across the whole industry which now seems to have acknowledged that BIM is here to stay and will have a positive impact. At the same time there was recognition that the several centres of excellence which have emerged in industry are outweighed by a multitude of organisations who are still at the very early stages of adoption.

Government strategy recognises that as we emerge from the economic downturn, we will be a smaller industry which needs to work harder, better, faster and be more agile. The biggest cost to government clients is in the management of their facilities. Government clients must have the breadth, consistency and transparency of data to understand their needs, articulate these to the supply chain and measure success. Evidence from the ongoing Ministry of Justice pilot projects is encouraging. In the outputs of COBie data drop 3 each line on the dataset has clear traceability to the originator and at completion data drop 5 there will be a traceable record of all the products as installed.

The government BIM Task Group is striving to be totally transparent and bi-directional in communicating its strategy to industry, through mechanisms such as the website and Regional BIM Hubs. Industry is expected in return to engage, innovate and use its initiative to develop its capability. All agreed that for most disciplines it will be a case of adapt or fall behind the competition.

There is a growing realisation of the importance of data structure, quality and transferability, rather than geometry alone. We need to be talking less about "the model" and more about "the data".

The power of data was brought into focus with the observation from one of the group that one of the large high street banks knows more about their customers' sociological behaviours from their credit card data than they do about their own premises.

One participant noted a recent US comparative diagram mapping CAD adoption in the 1980s and recent BIM adoption. The trajectory has been much more rapid for BIM, however from recent discussions with US practitioners it appears the US is advanced in geometric, spatial and visual BIM uses but progress in the productive use of structured data, particularly into the operational phase, seems to be falling behind the UK.

There was an observation that the management of the BIM process is starting to be perceived as a complex "black art" and is in danger of being overcomplicated by project managers seeing it as an additional service. BIM management is misunderstood by some clients who regard it as purely a technological challenge which can be simply be solved by a software purchase and training, others are intimidated by a perceived complex restructuring of management processes. The truth lies somewhere between and follow the principles of Latham – get the process right before you think of the technology. Whilst there may currently be a skills gap in this area, there was speculation that unless understanding is improved, we may have a situation involving a new profession whose purpose is the creation of over complex BIM execution plans and without adding real value to the process. Perhaps there is an opportunity for architects to re-establish a leadership role as they are usually engaged early and have the opportunity to establish a robust design management process at the outset of a project ? Whether the profession can respond to this opportunity remains to be seen.

One of the group noted that "clients are not stupid, but they are not construction professionals". "Why do clients go to projects managers and cost consultants at project inception? Because they often talk the same language." The industry needs to simplify the dialogue to properly engage clients and connect them better with cost and value opportunities. "If a client pays you to provide 10 classrooms, the project team takes the money, perhaps the client needs to learn how to say that actually they only need 3"?

Another view was that despite these leadership opportunities for architects and engineers, it is constructors who will be leading. Contractors will deliver to standards which they help establish, using their products and systems and using their people. "We may soon have a situation where the majority by number will be using 3D design and basic BIM processes and procurement will still be traditional. The majority by value however will be contractor-led and will be doing BIM properly."

It was also noted that collaborative working doesn't necessarily demand multidisciplinary organisations. There is a balance to be struck between the efficiency gained from collocation and the freshness and innovation often achieved from different organisations coming to together on a project basis and working collaboratively, however current disjointed methods of procurement common in industry do not encourage this.

One of the architects present noted that the creation and sharing of models by other design consultants is still not yet a regular occurrence. It is more frequent with structural engineers but to receive a design model from a MEP designer is a rarity. "Without the models to share, how can we effectively coordinate data and reap the benefits of collaborative BIM tools?"

Why is this? One factor may be traditional working practices such as double handling the model creation between architect or engineer and a "BIM draughtsman" which adds to the designer's costs. Designers should be working smarter to offering BIM as an inherent part of their service to add value and quality, not as an extra. Another factor may be that through lack of awareness - clients often consider that a project can develop to tender on performance specification alone, with the design only commencing once a contractor is appointed. This leads to the situation with crucial design aspects unresolved and wasteful design reiteration as the project starts on site. Another cause of inertia has been reported as the unavailability of UK specific MEP object libraries for MEP with industry standard data structure.

This led to a discussion on object libraries, levels of detail and the role of the supply chain. Some designers have developed their own object libraries in-house to gain efficiencies and are now looking to the supply chain to provide this information in an industry standard format, with appropriate levels of detail to suit work stage and intelligent links to associated data. Contractors are beginning to understand this too, they manage costs through their supply chain and BIM will allow them far more control. Someone speculated that design could become the customisation of commodity products – will this lead to architects becoming "constraint configurators"?

"The more enlightened designers recognise that standardisation of objects and processes does not necessarily lead to standardisation of design and the stifling of creativity." Take out the tedium and waste and concentrate on design quality, cost management and programme efficiency. There is the option to create bespoke designs from standardised object templates and data structures. Furthermore, we shouldn't standardise everything but standardise where it makes sense: "why redesign every fire escape stair from scratch when you can choose from a library and spend more time designing a beautiful atrium stair?"

Workshop thoughts

From a client's perspective, if they are procuring 40 buildings a year across 10 different design teams how do they get consistent performance analysis if each object is defined differently, how can they monitor and report on their asset effectively without a standard data structure and means of reporting?

Discussion moved on to appointments, contracts and insurance. "It's crucial to get the right people involved early enough and understanding what outcomes they need from the start." The example was given of facilities managers who are often not brought into the project team until construction stage and often have a poor awareness of BIM processes and technologies. This needs to change.

What will encourage collaborative working practice? Perhaps single project insurance and shared reward based on team performance, "we do this for your own organisations so why not for the project?"

More questions arose in relationship to responsibilities for downstream BIM uses: "what incentive does a design team have to structure their data for downstream use when they are only commissioned to stage
D?" In design build "who populates the data when the constructor goes to the market and what happens in the case of subcontractor insolvency?". It was suggested by several of the group that design build procurement doesn't currently lend itself to a BIM lifecycle approach.

It was generally agreed that to work to Level 2 on the government maturity model you need good BIM protocols and a team competent in the technology but you can largely use existing contractual arrangements. For Level 3 you need single project insurance and partnering contracts but insurance industry is slow to recognise this.

Finally the discussion turned to education. It was agreed that this community also needs to escape from its silos. Some universities are starting to adopt a multidisciplinary curriculum supported by BIM, but this needs to become the standard not the exception. "Why not have a combined construction degree with final years dedicated to a specific discipline and practical work experience in between?"

So all in all, a stimulating discussion which may have raised more questions than it answered. Some final thoughts from around the table:

"The problem with BIM adoption at present is that the technology is forging ahead but culture is lagging behind. The government initiative is helping but the private sector needs to recognise the need to change."

"Don't get BIM-boozled, concentrate on changing your behaviour to work collaboratively."

"In five years time, perhaps the industry will be doing what we think we're doing now?".

Related NBS information:


October 2012




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