BIM - Building Information Modelling
(Better Information Management!)
What was BIM?
It is widely agreed that the term Building Information Modelling or BIM was poorly chosen, as it misled many when they first started down their digital transformation journey. We know that it’s not specifically about buildings (structures) or building (construction) and we are also certain that it is not just about 3D models, although many would try to convince you otherwise! Other interpretations of the acronym such as Better Information Management have come closer to what was intended.
What it isn’t
Having worked with over ten thousand industry professionals in this area since 2012 and getting an understanding of how they are tacking this, we are certain what it isn’t! We can categorically state that BIM is not a document, a standard, a drawing, a video, a virtual reality file, a sensor embedded in an asset, a piece of isolated metadata, a physical product, a 3D pretty picture, a checklist, clash resolution or a GIS system. Each of these are important pieces of information, but on their own they have limited value only when they are connected with each other and managed in a way we can easily find and trust them do they come close to what BIM is asking us to do.
What do you see when you look at this?
In 1921 Hermann Rorschach created the Inkblot test, it is designed to assess the subject on their personality and whether they might be suited to certain work or tasks. Each subject interprets the inkblot differently according to their experience, skills, knowledge, desires, wants, needs and fears. This is in essence the same way we interpret and approach BIM. Depending on where we are focusing our minds, where our money comes from and our specific objectives, we interpret BIM to suit. This has to stop. The single interpretation that needs to be communicated to everyone involved is the clients which in turn is based on the needs of the end user, which in most cases is the consumer but is also to a lesser degree the operator and maintainer.
Where are we now?
It’s about a decade after the UK set its BIM mandate. 10 years after the construction industry was challenged, yet again, to modernise! 10 Years of organisations setting standards, selling consultancy, certifying people and telling the world that they have achieved Level 2! So, have we achieved it? Are we delivering the golden digital age that gives us whole life cycle value for money and drive a better economy for future generations?
Well, not really, no.
It may sound a little pessimistic and it in no means takes away the blood, sweat and tears shed by a good many hardworking members of the BIM world, but on the face of it, it is clear that we are currently sitting in a trough of disillusionment. We’ve been through the initial panic of working out what it was all about, watched all the amazing presentation with pretty 3D graphics, heard all the sales talk about buying “BIM out of the Box”, struggled to get the clients to understand, define or pay for the digital asset. We have seen many standards written, most are open to interpretation and woolly, some are excellent but where are we and why are we here, in that trough?
In the real world there are two things that make people do things. Money and Law. Neither of these things have been tackled to a point where they will guarantee a digital delivery. There are more granular reasons that we sit in this trough and this first chapter will cover a few of them.
Low hanging fruit
As with many hard tasks, we have been guilty of tackling the low hanging fruit first. This is unsurprising as many organisations still struggle to convince those with control over the finances to give some budget to deliver the digital asset. There are exceptions and if that’s you, well done, but you are in a minority!
Our first thing in this category is CapEx, (Capital expenditures, are funds used by a company to acquire, upgrade, and maintain physical assets such as property, buildings, an industrial plant, technology, or equipment.)
As Owner organisations have been shying away from BIM through lack of funding and understanding, the contractor, be they designer or builder have been tackling the problem. This has been great for the owner as much of the work needed is being done for them, however as with anything done for the wrong reasons by the wrong people it has missed the point of the “whole lifecycle” where both CapEx and OpEx are considered together. It was inevitable when you look at the vast array of technology and sexy visualisations that can be used during this phase. However, because of this much of the benefit has been with the contractors, consultants and technology vendors, rather than the owners, operators or maintainers, who are now starting to question what are they paying for?
On the positive side much benefit has been gained in the design phase through better coordination, interface management and planning and this has certainly lowered the risks because it’s cheaper to build many times in the virtual world than it is in the physical!
One of the biggest issues we have and it’s a subject we will be tackling later in its own right is VALUE. Historically we have put value in steel and concrete and the digital asset was just an optional add on. With no value, the digital asset is always the first thing to fall by the wayside when the project starts going over budget or is pressed for time.
In my honest opinion, the level system introduced with the infamous wedge diagram became a hindrance right from the beginning. Not only did it start with the acronym CAD, which gave the wrong impression to many organisations, but it started a spiralling contest of who could call themselves “level 2 certified” first. This competition whilst healthy in getting them to engage started to unravel when a clear definition of this level wasn’t forthcoming. Even now 9 years later it can be interpreted many different ways and only comes down to what the client is asking and paying for. Whether you are sticking with the 1192 suite of standards or have moved onto the international ISO19650 ones, the thing to concentrate on is doing better information management in all tasks and phases.
I think most people have got the message by now, but it is still worth underlining here. BIM is not a 3D pretty picture, no matter how much CAD information you attached to it in one unwieldy file. Admittedly it is an important piece of information and has a great impact during the early stages of the lifecycle but is typically only 15% of the information deliverable and this must be reflected in its priority.
As we stated earlier, delivery partners can only do what the client asks them to do and pays for them to deliver. For the last 9 years clients have mainly (yes there are exceptions) set their requirements in a very woolly way, hedging their bets on, “if we don’t clearly define it, someone else will take the responsibility”. Writing a good set of Organisational Information Requirements (OIR) isn’t an easy task, distilling this into further detail of the Functional Information Requirements (FIR) and Asset Information Requirements (AIR) can be a massive undertaking especially when looking across the entire lifecycle and down to a granular level. So, this has mainly been ignored or partially done by the wrong people. We’ll discuss this further in another chapter.
At the beginning the clients saw the mandate and made moves to try to understand it and procure the digital asset. Then the mandated deadline came (2016) and went, yet no one was penalised for not doing it. This gave organisations pause for thought as they realised there was no real comeback if they didn’t do it. In my opinion the mandate should have been split into two. Clients needed to conform to the Government Soft Landings (GSL) and Delivery partners to aim for the Level 2 capability.
The situation isn’t helped by client organisations financial structures. Most split their budget between CAPEX and OPEX, each is jealously guarded by its manager and the chances of OPEX giving CAPEX some of their budget, so the OPEX can save money in the long term is very small.
This issue is just the tip of the iceberg when we look at the budgets for the owner organisation as a whole. A good proportion of owners have relatively short management cycles. We see this in governments failing to do what is right for the long term because they want to be seen to deliver something during their term in office. As a CEO, who will be in post for a few years, why should I open the “can of worms” and spend money on something that will benefit my successors? It will negatively affect my golden goodbye!
A way of solving this, would be to look at outcome driven pensions/ golden goodbyes. The CEO won’t get a lump sum now but will be paid a certain amount every year in perpetuity, depending on the performance of the asset. This may focus the mind somewhat!
The last issue we face in the budgetary world is the weighting during the CAPEX phase of the project. Historically we put most of our money into the construction phase, as this is where the biggest risks and material costs are. This shows how much we value steel and concrete over the digital asset! If there were a significant shift of finances into the earlier part of the project, we would be able to iron out all the issues and ensure all parties are engaged before we got to site. But with money historically released in packages that favour the construction phase, a fundamental change in the way we fund our projects is needed. There is an answer to this...
COMIT are keen to see BIM deliver on its potential and are actively involved in its promotion and development. COMIT's Director, Iain Miskimmin, is a BIM advocate and part of the government's BIM Task Group.
If you want some BIM advice, it won't cost you a thing. just get in touch.
As part of the UK governments construction strategy, BIM has been mandated for use on all government procured construction projects after 2016. However, it has been taken up by many of the private owners, through the benefits they can see.
If you are new to BIM then the BIM Basics section will help you get up to speed.
If you are a small contractor, then you might like to get involved with our BIM on a budget initiative. This is currently at an early stage and we are looking for people interested in getting involved