3D views: collaboration platforms – Are BIM precursors now front runners?

When it comes to “BIM tools” most people would think of Autodesk and Bentley ahead of Conject and Asite. So BIM+ has sought 3D views on the BIM strategies of the industry’s cloud-based collaboration platforms.

John Adams is 4BIM product manager at 4Projects by Viewpoint

David Glennon is a director at engineering consultancy URS, responsible for BIM strategy and delivery in the Europe, Middle East and India region 

Paul Wilkinson is a communications consultant, blogger and collaboration platform expert.

There’s a general view that collaboration platforms have been slow to get off the mark on BIM, do you agree?

JA Bringing BIM into the cloud has been less about the collaboration platforms being slow off the mark than the real world constraints of internet browsers. Until recently the most popular internet browsers couldn’t support the 3D graphics required to make tools like 4BIM possible.

DG No, I disagree. The major collaboration platforms are reflecting the current state of industry. Most clients, as well as the supply chain, are still at the pilot stage for BIM so there is a lack of consistency in delivery at an enterprise level. This is starting to change. As a result, vendors will be able to deliver robust solutions for teams to use across a range of projects. In my opinion, vendors are doing the right thing – they have been active in research and talking to those who are actually delivering projects now.

PW I disagree too. Some collaboration vendors had BIM strategies long before the 2016 target was set three years ago. Richard Vertigan was advocating model-based working before he founded 4Projects in 2000; and Asite were talking about collaborative BIM in 2006. And all SaaS vendors preach the concept of the Common Data Environment (CDE), having provided web-based access to shared project information for years.

Where have they been most successful in BIM, and where are they still getting up to speed?

JA The need to share, view and collaborate around massive data rich models from a variety of locations has been an issue for longer than the term BIM has been in use. Providing robust and secure Common Data Environments so that models can be held centrally rather than the data being proliferated to every project stakeholder’s PC is where we’ve been especially successful to date. The next big challenge is to create a truly collaborative process for capturing project information as it’s created, whether that is in the office, the site cabin or with boots in the mud on site.

DG Collaboration vendors are strongest in the areas where they have many years of experience, in particular enabling members of the supply chain to collaborate. The basics of moving and storing large amounts of data securely, which are aligned to both British Standards and specific contract requirements and that have audit capabilities, are still required. More work is also needed to enable the movement of the data that is embedded or attached to models across multiple platforms. This is already starting to change now that some platforms provide the ability to view and interrogate the data.

PW Hosting and sharing model files is little different to sharing CAD files, so adding some model-viewing tools was easy. More challenging is sharing the data within federated models, as this requires a wholly different approach, deploying model-server technologies. 4Projects and Asite are well advanced, as, less publicly, is Unit4 Business Collaborator.

Have the delays in completing the definition of Level 2 BIM been a problem for collaboration vendors?

JA It would be fair to say this has caused some issues around complex issues like COBie, but in general the BSI B555 roadmap (June 2013) has really helped collaboration vendors to focus on the real industry pain points.

DG It’s debatable whether there has been a delay in completing the definition of Level 2. Certainly it continues to be refined but ultimately it’s down to industry to define what Level 2 means now. The challenge is to evolve its requirements as industry matures. The success of collaboration platforms will hinge on vendors and industry working together to find the right solutions – otherwise vendors create software without understanding clients’ needs and challenges.

PW Again, 4Projects, Asite and Unit4BC are actively developing their model data-serving technologies but cannot finalise full Level 2 support until NBS’s BIM Toolkit becomes available next year. Such BIM innovators should then quickly adapt their platforms to the completed definition, others may take a little longer.

What are collaboration vendors doing to take their services to the field, ie availability on mobiles and tablets?

JA To reach the goals of level 2 and beyond being able to capture data at the point of creation and feed this back to the BIM model the industry needs the collaboration vendors to create streamlined processes for mobile device users. Again, this has been delayed more by the development of mobile technology than a lack of clarity around the need.

DG It’s early days and I’m sure there are still plenty of project teams who couldn’t tell you why they would want BIM in the field even though there are a number of technology vendors making BIM and collaboration platforms available. The majority of collaboration vendors already possess the functionality to make data available in the field via web browsers and smart apps.

PW As with BIM, some moved early on mobile access (2006 in Conject’s case). Most systems can be readily accessed via the web on mobiles and tablets, but if there is poor or no connectivity, not all vendors provide apps. Vendors’ mobile BIM provision is patchy, though Asite’s cBIM and Adoddle Field (launched in March) delivers BIM access. New market entrants are also developing mobile-centric BIM apps: Sitedesk, for instance, gives users on-site BIM access on iPads and Windows tablets.

How do you think things will pan out over the next two years for collaboration vendors and BIM? 

JA It’s a massively exciting place to be right now as the UK approaches the 2016 mandate and many countries are watching our progress. The collaboration solutions that really deliver a level 2 CDE solution which proves the validity of the PAS1192:2 processes have a positive effect on efficiency of project delivery can only see their business grow from strength to strength in the UK and internationally.

DG As the industry matures and everyone’s requirements, from asset owners to manufacturers, start to standardise, there will be real opportunities to exploit the collaboration strengths that have developed over the past decade. Big data and analytics are a potential technical opportunity for vendors, however, it’s vendors’ deep understanding of the processes at a project level and their relationships with companies that will open up the market. There will be interesting times ahead.

PW Once Level 2 is crystallised, attention will quickly move on to Level 3. Among other things, I expect we’ll be talking about secure long-term data re-use, the “semantic web” and “linked data” concepts. Unit4BC, in particular, is already discussing these in its product road map.

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  1. 1st year Construction Management part time student
    Please could you help me find some information on how Building Control or regulations is addressed in BIM. As part of my dissertation I’d like to look at how BIM incorporates Building Regulations to ensure a design meets required standards? How is the process checked to ensure an element of the build is built correctly and expensive reworks are not necessary or the risks are reduced or eliminated. Recently listened to a webinar on “The completion of level 2 BIM – What does it mean for you” but could not send my questions to the guest speaker (JOHN ADAMS).

  2. Very informative discussion, thanks

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