Who is Driving the BIM Bus?
By Jill Spaeh, Virtual Design & Construction Specialist
Have you ever wondered what in the world is driving the topic of BIM in the world’s largest ecosystem, construction, an industry which is literally as old as dirt (think Native American adobe, the Pyramids and Greek temples). In an industry which prides itself on creativity (La Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright), problem solving by getting dirty. Construction, literally, carries the weight of the world. Architecture and construction touch every aspect of life, regardless of place, race, or economics. So, you’re not alone in wondering how it will ever become fully digital?
Life evolves, change is inevitable, but does this make it any easier to jump on the bandwagon? Not really. There are thousands of articles to read, software to try and lest we should forget apps, apps and more apps!
We all seek a better way to deliver our ideas and solutions to the industry. We want lower costs, faster delivery, and less risk. These are the main themes we consistently hear BIM will provide, so we say “Yeah, ok, I’m in.” and you climb on and head to the back of the BIM bus, putting your headphones in on the way.
Then you glance up you take notice of the groups of people sitting at the front: A couple are looking a bit blurry eyed and seem to have numbers & letters floating around their heads. “Ahh!” you think, “They must be the software developers.”
Across the aisle a man seems to be working off of his smartwatch, using the window as a touch screen, and the girl next to him is wearing some type of goggles and she’s clearly seeing something no one else can! Of course! These are the digital technology or “tech” folks!!
But who’s that older guy in a suit, sitting alone with a leather briefcase? Is he actually reading some sort of document in a binder on real paper!!?? He looks almost governmental, and you acknowledge, rules and regulations, although a lot of time unpopular, do make people react! You realize governments and public agencies must also have a stake in the BIM game.
Software developers, digital technologies and regulatory agencies are all on the BIM bus together!
Understanding these three drivers and the influences they have on BIM adaptation within the construction industry is easier than you think. Join me as I de-mystify their powers and clarify their objectives to allow you to develop tactics to become more than just another passenger on the BIM bus.
Let’s go back to why we got on the BIM bus to begin with: To save money, reduce risk, and make everyone’s job easier for all stakeholders along the design, construction and operation stages of a construction project. All three stages have many different facets and each one of the drivers will work to achieve these results for specific reasons. However, there is a unifying theme which all three have in common: Collaboration. And there can’t be collaboration without communication.
We’ll begin with clarifying what each of the main drivers are wanting to communicate.
BIM Software Developers
BIM software developers come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some develop for specific industry players such as architects or engineers, while others focus on functionality, like mapping geographic locations to build site maps. Regardless, they all try to provide tools for seamless collaboration between all the “players” in a project. They want their BIM software to allow architects, engineers, construction managers and all involved in a project use data to plan, coordinate, visualize and test solutions in a collaborative atmosphere. Developers want their BIM enabled software to make life easier, regardless of how the BIM data is being used. However, ease of use can’t be everything. Value must come from addressing both fundamental and specific challenges of a project. A key component of BIM software must be to provide a way for the various software suites to “talk” with one another. This is called interoperability and describes how different software and calculation tools interact and communicate with one another. This is critical for manufacturers as it provides them with the opportunity to create products and services that can be integrated into the BIM work plan methodology.
Digital technologies, on the other hand, are working to infuse themselves in one of the least digitalized industries in the world. Construction runs barely ahead of the fish and game industry when it comes to digital integration. Even so, it has achieved a growing position among disruptive technologies. There are many digital technologies for use in construction and BIM is an indispensable methodology for building design. BIM technologies look to improve the overall track record of construction projects through utilizing applications such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), and IoT (Internet of Things) by utilizing the data in the intelligent BIM models. The industry will be looking to these disruptors to help reinvent how construction projects are managed and delivered.
AI, for example, uses BIM data to explore different aspects of a construction project such as site logistics to help improve safety far quicker than the human mind can. VR can use the data of a BIM model to create a virtual world so that stakeholders can interact with the spaces and the materials which are in the project. In this virtual world customers and investors can test and compare different materials alongside other components in the project. Regarding the Internet of Things, these systems allow information gathered through smart devices to transmit and exchange information to achieve certain results. An example of this would be sensors within a buildings mechanical system which can regulate the amount of energy it is consuming. These technologies in one form or another can use the data from a BIM model to calculate costs, measure sustainability, increase safety and demonstrate product uses. The overall idea is to utilize and simplify the design and construction process, making life easier by doing more with the data you currently have.
Mandates and Legislations
Now to the gentleman with the leather briefcase and folders. Across the globe governments and legislative bodies are mandating and regulating the planning and construction of publicly funded projects to be delivered using BIM. The main drivers for this are the more efficient use of public funds, a reduced level of risk through more transparent processes and to help drive economic growth in the construction sector. The hope is that by the streamlining of processes using BIM data, there will be a more efficient use of resources and savings in time and money. It has been shown that there is a $265 billion annual profit potential for early disruptors and digitalization is one of the nine main disruptive shifts to take advantage of. In many places there is a push to simplify the overall permit process and to establish better communication among the various agencies involved in public works projects. In many countries’ infrastructure leads the charge with government buildings and schools’ common topics for improvement. Construction is a clear indicator of a location’s economic stability. Agencies see BIM as a tool to improve long-term planning and to help drive economic growth.
What becomes clear just as the landscape changes when looking out of the bus window, is that the digital transformation of the construction industry is rapidly evolving. The time is ripe for change and with these mandates, firms are forced to move or get left behind. McKinsey research on digital competition shows that companies that take bold first moves, or quickly follow the lead of those that do, gain significant advantages over slower-acting competitors.
I am not going to sugarcoat it, even with the drivers clearly identified and their motives discussed, it’s still a bus, not a high-performance Ferrari. Even with software developers, the tech industry and governments taking notice and investing in the BIM methodology, it will probably take an entire generation to agree on how to do it and another for true transformation. Does this mean we shouldn’t try? No, it just means we must believe in our aims because our intentions are honorable, and work together to move forward and dare to dream the impossible.