Balancing BIM progress with challenging economic realities

Jonathan Hunter, chief operating officer of Elecosoft, considers the role of BIM in improving the industry’s readiness for change.

The collapse of a mega-contractor and service provider has sent shockwaves through the construction industry. Of course, construction had already recognised its economic vulnerability and acknowledged that it had work to do to improve productivity, but this latest body blow is something every company will agree it could do without.

Whether impacted directly, or as part of the ripple effect, construction companies are facing 2018 and beyond not only with the ongoing challenge of BIM and digital transformation, but also a growing list of other urgent priorities.  

Alongside coping with BIM, adapting to the sector’s skills challenges, and the spectre of Brexit, better risk reduction and improved cost management have leap-frogged to the top of the priority list. 

Protection of the business and its reputation, plus prudence in business and contract decision-making are, arguably, now as pressing for construction businesses as the pursuit of improved productivity and transformation for the digital age.  

One thing seems crystal clear: progress towards total integration of BIM into the value chain must continue. The imperative remains: to move towards more open, collaborative, interactive working and enable the free exchange of rich, 3D and added-value information about every build.  

Most larger construction contractors have now embraced BIM to a significant degree, but many smaller players, subcontractors and product manufacturers have a lot still to do. Meanwhile, many owners and their FM providers are yet to see much value from BIM – something which will become increasingly essential as the attention shifts from Level 2 to Level 3.

Yet, how can all organisations balance the drive for BIM with their other pressing needs? Could the transformation towards BIM hold the keys to improving company and sector resilience, and ability to adapt and overcome its current issues?  

We believe so. There are four key pillars which show the role BIM can play:

1. Visibility

The current climate is changeable, and it’s increasingly vital for companies to be able to see not just further ahead on all their activities, but to do so in more meaningful ways.

More and more companies are leveraging 4D BIM to do exactly that. It delivers powerful visualisations from a blend of programme plan data, as-built progress information and even “what if” scenarios, which inform not only project decisions but directly underpin client confidence and communication.

Visibility informs business decisions of all kinds: the ability to see information clearly and consistently across multiple projects delivers a far better appreciation of overall progress, cash flow factors, and even risk, as well as enabling project leaders across the business to work more efficiently together.

2. Value

We often talk of the “value chain” in construction. Nowhere is the potential to build, boost and share that value clearer than in relation to BIM.

There is a growing expectation that the rich data that can be amassed in BIM models must be made maximally accessible and useful for end users and those tasked with O&M, yet there is significant further progress required by contractors to deliver such information.

The needs of this community may not have been the top priority during the journey to Level 2 BIM, but they are central to the Level 3 strategy. All value chain contributors will need to think more about the long-term, and how as-built information will evolve and be enriched to inform FM, asset management, and the planning and management of built estates.  

The full power and value of data can only be realised by holding data in a common environment and investing at each stage to ensure data integrity. It not only enables collaboration of different specialists around a single accurate version of the truth, ensuring better decisions. It also enables value to flow unimpeded as responsibility is passed from designer to builder, through to the end user, operator and owner of built assets.

3. Time certainty

Never has it been more essential for construction companies to deliver on their promises, both at a brand and a project level. Meeting completion deadlines is a political hot potato, not just on PPP contracts but across infrastructure and housing projects – and thus a majority of all construction.

Here, it is less the technicalities of BIM than the principles it espouses which are critical. That means integrating the right expert perspectives earlier, to avoid any and all foreseeable delays, maintaining amazing lines of client communication and, of course, the tightest possible programme and progress management based on accurate, timely information captured into BIM-capable project management systems.  

Adoption of modern methods of construction such as offsite manufacturing will play acceleration roles, as well as avoiding onsite skills gaps.

4. Cost certainty

Construction projects are always vulnerable to the cost implications of client change and external circumstances. When times are uncertain it is critical to exert maximum care and control over cost estimation and tracking. 

Thus far, this has often been managed at slight disconnect from other aspects of project management. Yet 5D BIM could provide a basis for smart QS and cost estimators to play more influential and important roles. It’s something Elecosoft has worked on directly, as we brought our own Bidcon and Powerproject BIM solutions together. 

These represent only the tip of an iceberg of potential benefits that BIM-led digital change and modernisation will deliver. We urge companies not to let challenging times distract or detract from BIM progress, or from the amazing digital transformation that is so far underway. 

The enormous advantages that BIM offers to improve visibility, value, time and cost certainty will directly help construction players of all sizes and types to re-establish their stability, and the industry’s reputation, despite a turbulent economy.

As a number of significant BIM projects start to mature, this was always to be the year when the business benefits of BIM would start to emerge and really be felt. Now it will also be a year when we hope that smart companies will realise just how big a contribution BIM can make to making smarter decisions, retaining better control, improving cost management and reducing overall risk for businesses, not just projects.

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