The UK government mandated that all centrally-funded work must be undertaken using Building Information Modelling (BIM) by 2016, but it seems that many firms still do not fully understand the advantages of BIM, leading to only mandated levels of adoption and slow uptake across the wider sector. This raises the question: is the business case for BIM truly understood?
Central to the slow adoption of BIM, is the fact that BIM itself is misunderstood and misinterpreted. Many within client organisations, as well as within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) disciplines still see BIM as a technology for the construction phase for creating virtual 3D models of buildings, when in reality, BIM offers so much more to organisations, teams and projects. BIM processes are just as applicable to existing assets as to new builds. BIM is building information management – the process and approach for standardised capital project development, delivery and ongoing operational management of built assets.
One of the central pillars supporting the BIM process is a collaborative working environment, to create, exchange, manage and utilise information in a centralised area: a Common Data Environment (CDE). A CDE will be deployed by clients to assure project deliverables and manage asset information on an ongoing basis, and by design and construction firms to manage their supply chain in the digital delivery of projects.
Using a CDE configured to BIM standards (ISO 19650) and exchanging open standard file formats like Industry Foundation Class (IFC) and Construction Building Information Exchange (COBie) allows independent teams to coordinate their processes in a standardised and uniform way. This protects the client’s (asset owner) long-term interests as they’re not locked into a proprietary file format or technology, and facilitates efficient cooperation, and mitigates the risk of referencing wrong versions, or losing information.
Digitising information is hugely beneficial for construction projects as teams can improve collaboration between stakeholders in construction projects, across the entire asset lifecycle; all the way from conceptual design, through to building completion and maintenance, progressively assuring handover deliverables as the project progresses. Importantly, in the BIM process, asset owner clients can clearly specify their information needs to ensure at Practical Completion (PC) that they receive a complete digital dataset and asset records for utilisation throughout the operational phase of the asset.
Although some firms have moved from paper-based to digital processes, one of the most obvious problems they face by not fully adopting BIM and having a CDE, is that their digital records (documents, data and spatial information like drawings and models) are not centrally organised or formatted. This can result in data inconsistency and conflicts of information, when even simple tasks like finding a drawing or inspection record in support of a query or claim can prove difficult.
The second reason that uptake of BIM has been slow is the fact that the construction industry is a traditionally siloed industry, characterised by multiple designers, consultants, trade contractors and suppliers who are often constrained by traditional attitudes. The prime example being the common practice of different members of the supply chain working independently of one another. Contrary to this widely held belief, collaboration across the supply chain significantly improves return on investment for projects, which tend to be overrun and over budget.
The adoption of BIM standards (ISO 19650) and the use of CDE’s presents an ideal solution to enable effective supply chain collaboration. A CDE is a centralised area for giving project team members and estate and facilities teams access to current and trusted information. A CDE acts as a bridge between disciplines, as independent teams can securely access information that has been made available to them in a secure, controlled manner. This leads to greater levels of collaboration, productivity, and accuracy. Therefore, teams can effectively mitigate the risks of time loss, and incurring costs as a result of a lack of productivity, and/or data inaccuracy.
In the aftermath of Grenfell and Brexit, and with the Building Safety Bill recently receiving Royal Assent, compliance has become a greater priority for the industry. Maintaining a Building Safety Case for a building of structured, verified and compliant records provides the industry with another catalyst to improve information management practices and get organised. CDE’s help manage contractual risk, ensuring teams work with trusted and current information, while maintaining a robust audit trail of information exchanges and communications between project parties.
Likewise, the ability to communicate and respond to information requests, as well as, delivering, verifying and approving data deliverables ensures a client’s specific requirements are met. This accessibility allows clients to be involved at every stage of the design and build process, ensuring decisions are made in a timely manner.
While 3D modelling is an important component of the BIM design process, it is part of a wider framework for information management. Asset owning clients and AEC firms should now reframe their understanding of BIM as a data-driven, collaborative business process. Better information management allows all stakeholders across the full asset lifecycle to execute projects across disciplines, manage risk effectively, and remain compliant. An investment in BIM is an investment in the greater success of projects and the longer term health and effectiveness of our built assets.
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