Do we need BIM, or just old-fashioned construction management?

3 August 2015 | By Terry Gough, Kent County Council

I’m not sure why BIM is being hailed as the saviour of the construction industry. After all, haven’t we been doing this type of thing – building buildings and managing the information needed to do so – for centuries now?

If we forget about the hype of BIM for a moment, and go back to everything we have been taught over the years either at college or university or any other institution, it was a case of starting at A and hopefully finishing at C and collecting information on the way.

So what’s actually changed? We still have site meetings, we already collect a set of minutes. Surely we still have procurement programmes too, and I’m sure to go with that, if you’re a good construction manager, you would have developed a design deliverables schedule and issued that to all the designers.

A programme of works would have been produced and maybe a schedule of design team meetings or client/stakeholder meetings to ensure that we all know what we have to deliver and by what date. As for the end of the project, a schedule of handover requirements would have been produced – I was creating these back in my youth and I’m getting on a bit now. Good quality data is what good construction management is all about.

And good data management long pre-dates the arrival of BIM. When I was a project manager at Skanska in 2002-03, we had a data management protocol in place, with file-naming conventions that were followed by all the project stakeholders, and a quality management system we followed rigorously. It was second nature.

So why all of a sudden has the industry changed, and we’re making all this fuss about BIM? With a good quality assurance or quality control solution, all of the above should be standard and happening on every site or project.

I have worked with many companies over the years where quality assurance and quality control happens from day one, so I’m not sure why we are being told that we have to get “better” at capturing information or data, or working in a collaborative manner. Are we trying to reinvent a wheel that actually we’ve already had for as long as I care to mention?

Now let’s talk about BIM, a subject which is close to my heart. When I hear “we must get better” at collecting and gathering information, my reaction is that I’m sure we could do that all day – but what we actually need is to get smarter about the information and data we need in the first place.

I feel we need more guidance on what we need to collect on behalf of clients. I’m sure a client will not have a clue what they want so will just ask for everything, so we need to get better at informing the client of what exactly the data will actually give them as an end result, and what the client can do with it. Or, when we hand all this information over, will it just collect cyber dust in a digital repository?

But as regards our own processes, if we do quality assurance and quality control correctly in our industries then surely we are doing “BIM”, which is after all collecting and storing data and information in a managed way to provide confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled. We just need to get back to basics and gather our thoughts about what it is we’re doing.

That’s why I also don’t believe we need a separate BIM certification system: everything should already be tied up in the existing quality management standards, ISO 9001 and 14001.

Amid all the hype and exhortations to achieve data better use and collaborate more, we seem to have forgotten that – as long as we’re responsible, professional construction managers – that’s what we’re already doing. If there are some gaps in the picture, I believe these are around client requirements, as we can’t always second guess their needs. As for the rest, we just need to recover our confidence, and remember we were probably on the right path in the first place.

Terry Gough is BIM Champion at Kent County Council