Analysis

Preparing for the BIM bang

8 March 2011 | By Mark Bew

If UK companies are to adopt fully integrated Business Information Modelling, they need to prepare their teams for the transformation in working practices.

It’s been Two decades since BIM was first mooted and we still await significant adoption in Europe. But does it work and is it worth pursuing in the competitive, low-margin UK market? The answer is yes, but it is important to be aware of what is involved and have a clear plan of how to proceed. If that’s in place, companies can adopt an evolutionary approach over a number of years by formalising company processes and integrating them with technology.

There is no better time to look at BIM. With little investment in capital projects and clients struggling to hold down the spiralling costs of the built assets they have, BIM can help by taking waste out of current processes. It can also be used as a design tool for new projects to ensure “whole-life cost management” is front of mind from the outset. 

With construction and infrastructure under increasing scrutiny for its environmental impact, the ability to view environmental information should be another big driver for the adoption of BIM.   

Not all businesses will adopt systems and technologies at the same rate and BIM users will need to undergo a managed process of change, covering their internal organisation and how they interface with their supplier base and clients.

The industry’s progress can be categorised into four adoption levels:

  • Unmanaged CAD, probably 2D, with paper as the most likely data exchange mechanism. Project executives have low levels of trust in the available data, so they prefer to trace and deduce it from 2D records. The data captured is rarely analysed sufficiently to allow improved performance on the next project.
  • Managed CAD in 2 or 3D, perhaps with an online collaboration tool providing a common data environment for members of the project team, which helps with information consistency and the sharing of project data. However, commercial data, such as estimating and invoicing, is still managed by standalone finance and cost management packages.
  • A managed 3D environment held in separate BIM tools for each design discipline, with attached data on issues such as procurement, finance and supply chain performance. But commercial data is still managed by a separate enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with little integration to the BIM model.
  • The Holy Grail – fully open process and data integration between all current systems, enabled by the industry-standard IFC file format.

Most businesses are currently working at Level 2 with the Managed CAD environment model. But how do major contractors, SMEs or one-man bands get onto the BIM evolutionary trail?

First, companies need to understand what they are realistically capable of.

How ready are your people for change? This is especially important with respect to your leadership team.

Companies then need to create a work environment that encourages the adoption of technologies and new ways of working. Have you considered Generation X, harnessing their attitudes and capabilities to blend them with the grey hairs of experience? How will you work with third parties, do you trust their data or are you going to retrace it all?

Our best teams are busy, it was ever thus. But give your busiest team the most important project for your future and you are more likely to succeed, as they will inspire the rest of your organisation. Don’t view this as a Friday afternoon project for your CAD team – these technologies touch every part of your business and will have more disruption and impact than implementing an ERP system.

Finally, the choice of technology and software may be one of the more simple debates. Whatever your choice, stop viewing it as the big decision – there are more fundamental issues to consider.

In the retail, automotive, electronics and aerospace industries, transformation only came about through the adoption and continuous development of modern processes and technology. We have failed to maintain parity with these sectors and, with the divergence increasing year on year, we mustn’t get left behind.

Mark Bew is chairman of UNIT4’s BC User Group, chairman of BuildingSMART and director of business information systems at URS/Scott Wilson