Russell Lloyd, head of cost management of consultant Rider Levett Bucknall and member of its global BIM committee, describes how BIM can help quantity surveyors, but it won’t be replacing them any time soon.
RLB is global consultant – do you have a global BIM strategy?
We have 120 offices around the world and we are implementing the use of BIM on a global basis. Historically each country has done their own thing, but in the last 18 months we’ve set clear global objectives, sharing ideas, training and internal protocols, whilst acknowledging that each country’s maturity level varies.
I would say Singapore (where BIM is mandatory), Hong Kong and the UK are leading the way. Australia perhaps to a lesser extent because there is a slower take-up by the designers/architects there.
Why is the head of cost management looking after BIM?
For us BIM is inherent in the service we provide – not a bolt on, so it makes sense for it to be integrated within cost management. Our largest service offering is cost management; hence we started with quantity surveying and are gradually expanding to other services.
There’s general nervousness in quantity surveying that BIM will replace the role in some way, particularly in the measurement of quantities. With time it might take that skill away, but BIM is a tool which enables us to undertake our role better.
All of our staff across the business are trained with a general awareness and guidance on BIM. Project-specific staff are trained to a higher level. This team of experts is growing all of the time as more projects adopt BIM.
Project staff, for example, interrogate the BIM file with a variety of design/interrogation software which helps non-designers verify the accuracy of the file, which may have been created using a number of different packages. Designers/architects like the fact we’re using different software as it means they get fewer queries.
Is that happening at the moment? Are you using BIM to extract?
If QSs think you can just push a button and the quantities are automatically generated it’s a bit naive. It’s not really that black and white. There’s still a level of interrogation, understanding and interpretation required on a project-by-project basis.
Quantity extraction also depends on the level of detail within which you are working. We have found that the quantity surveyor still needs to understand and interpret the model. If we attempt to do this automatically there is too much opportunity for error.
We’ve found errors of up to 50% extracting quantities on unfederated models. In the near future it will save time and make us more efficient as BIM progresses and models become more accurate and complete.
How long have you been using BIM in the UK?
RLB has been working with BIM for eight years. As BIM is based around a design we can’t dictate its use on any particular project; hence we are dependent on the architect and/or client taking this decision.
To date our BIM projects tend to be the public sector clients, large complex projects for the private sector or when the client wants to use the asset data in the BIM file to populate their computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) systems.
We are also working with BIM in services, for example we delivered the first integrated BIM and Government Soft Landings project at King’s College in London, and are working on projects using the data from the BIM file to populate the client’s CAFM system prior to the building becoming operational.
However, similar to the issues with quantity extraction we have experienced issues integrating BIM data into CAFM systems. On some early projects we have found it necessary to extract asset data from the BIM file, manipulate it to provide the correct information in a useable format and then import into the CAFM system.
Whilst this has got better recently, it is not as seamless as the impression as the marketing would like us to believe.
So, are your clients by and large pushing for BIM?
The use of BIM is quite mixed across our client base. We do find resistance from clients in the private sector who think it adds costs with extra fees for BIM consultants and who do not need the information for asset management.
However, in our experience private sector clients that require a fully populated CAFM model do dictate the use of BIM. In the public sector, where despite there being a mandate to achieve BIM Level 2, we are finding that it’s not being adopted 100% across all projects.
Overall how would you describe your experience?
Our project-specific teams have been through a big learning curve and while in the early days I wouldn’t say BIM created efficiencies due to teething problems and was an investment, on large complex projects the collaborative approach now delivers benefits to many project stakeholders.
The best projects have been where we have really collaborated from the offset with the design team and so the BIM model has been built to suit the teams’ and our requirements. BIM is on a journey and we are committed to it. We’ve invested a great deal of time and money into BIM – apart from local training, the fact that twice a year we bring 25-30 people together from around the world to share our ideas and extract best practice is a testament to that.
Any tips for cost consultants taking up BIM?
BIM is more of a collaborative way of working than a straightforward technology solution. As ever, harnessing BIM needs good planning right from the outset and every member of the team needs to know what they are doing and buy in to the collaborative approach as well as understanding the limitations of the BIM files they receive.
What about other innovations?
We’ve developed our own software (RLB Field) for onsite live reporting of programme management, cost estimating and surveys.
RLB Field allows us to capture information out on site in the field with a tablet which can then be directly uploaded to collaborative cloud-based tools. We decided to develop our own system rather than buy off the shelf because we have the capability to do it, and we were keen to meet the requirements of each individual client as one size doesn’t fit all. For RLB and our clients this has been a real game changer.
We are currently expanding the use of RLB Field into other areas, producing health & safety audits and inspections, fire risk assessments, snagging, site supervisors’ reports and space utilisation surveys.