Comment: Andrew Barraclough – BIM is the answer, but also raises questions

Increasingly we are being asked to deliver data in the requests for proposals we receive. Of course, this is a good thing – clients have begun to recognise that the really big benefit that BIM delivers is throughout the operational life of the asset.– Andrew Barraclough, group design director, Wates

It’s now very clear that BIM is winning the hearts and minds of the most hardened sceptics and is beginning to deliver on some of its promises. We all need to recognise that change takes time and perhaps particularly so in the construction industry, which is often perceived as stuck in its ways, hugely fragmented, not to mention undercapitalised. The BIM journey will be a long one and it’s likely we’ll still be debating and implementing new ways of making BIM more relevant for the next 10-20 years.

At Wates, which made a commitment to invest £5m in BIM in 2013, we see our role as the “expert integrators”. On the one hand, we work closely with designers to interpret their vision and, on the other hand, with the supply chain to fabricate, manufacture and ultimately construct the quality product our clients expect and demand. So what have been the challenges so far?

Fundamentally, as recipients of design information, we require well-constructed models with great geometry and data. These basic ingredients provide the platform from which we can do so much more, ie create 4D programming, 5D costing and 6D Facilities Management.

However, the quality of the geometry and data we receive is hugely variable and this often means we have to rework elements of the model to make sure it is robust before we can develop it to the next stage. It is therefore essential that we carefully select designers who have demonstrable BIM competency and, where we’re not able to do so, carry out BIM audits as we receive models. 

If one were really sceptical, it would be easy to think that some designers are masquerading under the banner of BIM and simply using it as a mechanism to efficiently deliver a conventional 2D data set. The old saying holds: “Rubbish in – rubbish out”!

One of the immediate benefits BIM provides is the ability to deliver higher levels of coordination assurance. Many organisations have focused their BIM business case on the return on investment by avoiding the resource expenditure and capital cost associated with clashes. Conventionally, the Design Team Leader would have the coordination responsibility and this should also be the case in the BIM world. 

But this raises two interesting questions. First, does the Design Team Leader have the skills to create and interrogate federated models where numerous single discipline modes are brought together as one? Invariably the answer is “no”. Second, who should have this coordination responsibility when it comes to federating all the models from the supply chain? Some would agree this remains the responsibility of the Design Team Leader because after all, they’ve always reviewed the 2D drawings prepared by specialist sub-contractors with contractor design portion responsibility.

In reality, we’re finding independent BIM consultants are delivering these services and our own internal BIM coordinators are also being drawn in to fill this gap. It remains to be seen whether the current trend simply reflects the transitioning nature of the market or if this becomes the new status quo.

If we thought delivering great geometry is a challenge, it is nothing compared to the challenge of delivering great data. Increasingly we are being asked to deliver data in the requests for proposals we receive. Of course, this is a good thing – clients have begun to recognise that the really big benefit that BIM delivers is throughout the operational life of the asset.

However, the delivery of an Asset Information Model requires clear definition at the outset so that the project BIM library of components, assemblies and equipment can be developed in line with the development of the design. Unfortunately, there are few clients able to clearly define their requirements at the outset and this therefore leads to retrospective work, which is both inefficient and time consuming.

This also raises the question of how “asset rich” data – beyond that normally provided by specifications and operating and maintenance manuals – should be delivered. Principal designers are generally saying that delivering this data is above their basic service and many would agree with that view. Whatever the outcome, it seems evident that the development of “asset rich” data will become a new area for growth and no doubt this will create a new business stream for entrepreneurial BIM consultants.

At Wates, we have chosen to implement BIM by careful selection of pilot projects across the entire business. We see BIM as a huge change programme. We know that influencing long-established working practices will be challenging but there’s no point trying to “boil the ocean” by trying to change everything overnight.

Our aim has been to select projects and project teams that can demonstrate the appetite and capacity to take on this new challenge. We know we can’t deliver BIM Level 2 on every single pilot project and nor would it be appropriate to do so; but collectively we can achieve this standard and individually there are lots of great success stories.

An important part of our strategy is communicating these successes to all our operational teams so that they can see the benefits. We have great support and belief in BIM among the senior leadership team and we are now aspiring to adopt this consistently across the entire business.

We have a some way to go to reach our internal ‘tipping point’ where BIM becomes ‘business as usual’ but the nay sayers are becoming listeners and will, I hope become supporters in time. Certainly they no longer demand evidence of cost – value benefit before they commit to this great new way of working and we take that as a welcome sign of the argument being slowly, determinedly and intelligently won.

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  1. BIM is being used as a buzz word by a lot of people who do not fully understand BIM or are asking for it when their project does not warrant the need for BIM There are real cost benefits but only really for major projects with major systems

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