Analysis

Beyond efficiency and towards advantage

5 April 2012 | By Dominic Thasarathar, senior industry programme manager for construction, Autodesk

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is everywhere these days. Perhaps you’re a convert, perhaps you’re a sceptic. But one thing is certain; BIM is here to stay. Yet, within this statement lies a paradox.

So far, BIM has been used or discussed in terms of reducing cost, cutting schedule, improving quality and providing further productivity benefits. But what happens when the majority of companies – your competitors – all have easy access to that capability?

Early BIM adopters have the advantage for the time being. But as more companies turn to BIM-based delivery, either through choice, or in response to client demands (witness the government’s impending BIM mandate), the industry will reach a tipping point. How will you manage BIM for advantage in a BIM-saturated market?

BIM’s efficiency and productivity benefits won’t change. But to gain sustained advantage BIM must be used in a more strategic way: taking it out of the project and into the boardroom.

The key components to such a strategy will be something each company needs determine for themselves.  But, areas you might want to consider are: how consistently you use BIM across your projects, how much you push the BIM ‘envelope of functionality’ and how you exploit BIM-based information.

Optimised Delivery: Advantage from Predictability

Repeatable, consistent, optimised use of BIM to deliver projects will help differentiate you from a company that uses BIM, but does so differently on each project. How confident are you that you have known inputs, benefits and costs before you implement BIM on a project? How many times have your benefits been eroded or costs escalated over the course of a project?

In the same way as you have existing project delivery models and processes, you can create “BIM-enabled” versions. These provide the confidence to respond to tender invitations knowing that for a prescribed investment of time, money and people, you’ll get a predictable result. BIM becomes an overhead on your projects in the best possible way – not an unpredictable CAPEX.

You can keep a tight rein by creating a central group to capture the innovation at the project coalface, quantifying and qualifying it and incrementally improving those templates. You’ll know you’re there if you don’t have to ask the question “how will we use BIM to win and deliver this project?”, you’ll just do it.

Business Alignment: Advantage from Added Value

The very nature of BIM makes it an ideal platform for experimentation. When you see an opportunity to expand your reach and add value, consider how BIM could support this. As BIM usage moves beyond the spatial and into the analytical, what work-flows of the built-asset lifecycle might be up for grabs for service provision – energy performance modelling, total cost of ownership modelling, embedded carbon modelling, project cash-flow modelling?

Consider how BIM might improve management decisions. With so much project information ‘under one roof’, how might it be plugged in to both your project controls functions and ultimately rolled up to your enterprise control functions? Could you consider using BIM as the source of progress capture to feed your Earned Value Analysis requirements?

Construction Intelligence: Advantage From Information

Business intelligence tools have been around for many years in the wider economy. The underlying practice is to search large amounts of data to extract useful information or spot patterns.

Why not apply the same logic to the highly structured information associated with BIM-enabled projects? Could you, for example, aggregate structural steel requirements across all your projects and negotiate a lower unit price as a company? Could you identify the performance of sub-contractors to see who has consistently under or over-performed? Could you identify improvement opportunities in your work processes?

These concepts are only suggestions. Each company will need to determine for themselves how they can stand out from the crowd. The answers are out there, some will likely come from the construction industry, others from the lessons of other sectors who’ve been through similar change.

BIM’s efficiency and productivity benefits won’t change. But to gain sustained advantage BIM must be used in a more strategic way: taking it out of the project and into the boardroom. – Dominic Thasarathar