Joel Martineau, digital practice leader in the London office of Stantec, the international architectural practice headquartered in Canada, on how the challenges of implementing BIM are multiplied on major international schemes, and how this can be addressed.
One of the biggest challenges of delivering projects in BIM continues to be the culture shift to interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s hard enough to foster a one-team approach across the old divides of commercial sensitivity and specialist expertise when that team is geographically close enough to meet regularly and iron out any blips in person.
But what happens when the BIM delivery team is based all over the world and there’s an extra layer of logistics to deal with?
The challenges of managing BIM planning, modelling and project delivery are multiplied on major international schemes, but it is possible to address them and to implement BIM more effectively across the globe, as a current major healthcare scheme in Qatar by the London office of Stantec demonstrates.
The project involves an international team working across multiple time zones and, while technology has made it easier to collaborate remotely, the size of the team and scale of the project have demanded an exceptional level of due diligence in the planning of the project, assembly of the project team and management of the BIM process.
A key goal of the project team early on was to identify challenges prior to modelling any geometry, acknowledging that this would provide opportunities to make things better. Consequently, if we start by looking at the working dynamics of a disparate team as a potential issue, it tells us first that we need to focus on assembling a team that has a complementary blend of the right experience, skills, resources and working cultures.
To this extent, we assigned each discipline a BIM Manager responsible for overseeing the development of models related to their scope, as well as an overall architecture/engineering BIM Manager to oversee the execution of the BEP (BIM Execution Plan). This gave the various subsets of the project team a “point person” to discuss issues with and identify solutions.
These discipline leads were prompted to assign their staff to the following categories of tasks: modelling, document production, virtual design and coordination, production management, data management, design management and model management.
The architecture/engineering BIM manager then reviewed this matrix with the design leads to ensure that the project team had the right balance of people with software proficiency and technical capability. It also painted a clear picture of who was doing what, so that tasks could be assigned to the right staff with the relevant skillsets.
Defining the scope of work for each consultant and each individual member of their teams at planning stage is also vital to the efficiency of project delivery. Not only does this reduce the potential for mistakes and duplication of effort but it also ensures that there is a clear critical path for delivery of the BEP.
It’s also vital to apply full due diligence to auditing the systems and cultures of partner organisations. For example, do all BIM delivery partners use the same or compatible software? If just one of the consultants involved requires an extra step to input changes into a model due to software compatibility issues, think of the time lost across a whole project which is likely to involve numerous models. For this reason, we ensured that all delivery partners on the Qatar scheme were able to work in Revit.
While this may seem like a basic of BIM delivery, the scale and scope of an international project will magnify any areas of weakness or lack of synergy within the team. Communication is often a stumbling block that teams fail to address. Having a good understanding of workflows and processes that the team can use to collaborate while minimising the inefficiencies associated with not working in a common environment is critical.
Stantec uses Skype for Business extensively to host web conferences between the various offices. The ability to easily share your computer screen with a participant in another location allows for live review and comment of PDFs, as well as the Revit models.
To overcome the challenges associated with the large geographic footprint of the team, Stantec utilised Revit Server to provide access to the engineering models hosted in North America and the architectural models hosted in London. Offices involved in the project without direct access to Revit Server take advantage of Citrix to access the models, benefiting from the increased computing power of the server farm in Edmonton. This is especially helpful for mobile users, since the hardware capabilities of laptops are limited.
It’s vital to determine whether the project team needs to implement live collaboration or can simply exchange models on a regular basis. Both approaches come with their own unique challenges, which must be addressed within the BEP.
In the initial stages of the project, live linking was employed between North America and London. This allowed the team to work without the burden of weekly model exchanges. However, as the project progressed and the models grew in size, the decision was made to cease live linking as it resulted in long opening and save times for the models.
Consequently, Stantec used an internally-developed tool to replicate the models in a duplicate folder structure on Revit Server, allowing for the exchange of models in a seamless fashion while still employing the benefits of Revit Server.
For international BIM projects, planning is more critical than ever. Only by assembling the team, assigning roles, assessing IT requirements and protocols and implementing workflows that avoid loss of productivity while identifying times for live collaboration can a project be delivered efficiently, monitored effectively and measured accurately.