Do we need BIM, or just old-fashioned construction management?

I’m not sure why BIM is being hailed as the saviour of the construction industry. After all, haven’t we been doing this type of thing – building buildings and managing the information needed to do so – for centuries now?

If we forget about the hype of BIM for a moment, and go back to everything we have been taught over the years either at college or university or any other institution, it was a case of starting at A and hopefully finishing at C and collecting information on the way.

So what’s actually changed? We still have site meetings, we already collect a set of minutes. Surely we still have procurement programmes too, and I’m sure to go with that, if you’re a good construction manager, you would have developed a design deliverables schedule and issued that to all the designers.

A programme of works would have been produced and maybe a schedule of design team meetings or client/stakeholder meetings to ensure that we all know what we have to deliver and by what date. As for the end of the project, a schedule of handover requirements would have been produced – I was creating these back in my youth and I’m getting on a bit now. Good quality data is what good construction management is all about.

And good data management long pre-dates the arrival of BIM. When I was a project manager at Skanska in 2002-03, we had a data management protocol in place, with file-naming conventions that were followed by all the project stakeholders, and a quality management system we followed rigorously. It was second nature.

So why all of a sudden has the industry changed, and we’re making all this fuss about BIM? With a good quality assurance or quality control solution, all of the above should be standard and happening on every site or project.

I have worked with many companies over the years where quality assurance and quality control happens from day one, so I’m not sure why we are being told that we have to get “better” at capturing information or data, or working in a collaborative manner. Are we trying to reinvent a wheel that actually we’ve already had for as long as I care to mention?

Now let’s talk about BIM, a subject which is close to my heart. When I hear “we must get better” at collecting and gathering information, my reaction is that I’m sure we could do that all day – but what we actually need is to get smarter about the information and data we need in the first place.

I feel we need more guidance on what we need to collect on behalf of clients. I’m sure a client will not have a clue what they want so will just ask for everything, so we need to get better at informing the client of what exactly the data will actually give them as an end result, and what the client can do with it. Or, when we hand all this information over, will it just collect cyber dust in a digital repository?

But as regards our own processes, if we do quality assurance and quality control correctly in our industries then surely we are doing “BIM”, which is after all collecting and storing data and information in a managed way to provide confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled. We just need to get back to basics and gather our thoughts about what it is we’re doing.

That’s why I also don’t believe we need a separate BIM certification system: everything should already be tied up in the existing quality management standards, ISO 9001 and 14001.

Amid all the hype and exhortations to achieve data better use and collaborate more, we seem to have forgotten that – as long as we’re responsible, professional construction managers – that’s what we’re already doing. If there are some gaps in the picture, I believe these are around client requirements, as we can’t always second guess their needs. As for the rest, we just need to recover our confidence, and remember we were probably on the right path in the first place.

Terry Gough is BIM Champion at Kent County Council

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  1. This has got to be one of the most sensible articles I have read about BIM. Hype is right, it’s time to sit back and actually understand what BIM is and what it does. Technology will not solve our “problems”, people will.

  2. BIM is not about construction or COBIE drops. BIM is about design & specification at the beginning that has to be paid for by the client!
    Otherwise we carry on with design contingencies and variations and cost uncertainty!

  3. @Paul, BIM, COBie or whatever you want to call it is about getting the design and information correct from day one. It is not about paying more or paying less for something I think we all feel has been lacking over a number of years, and that is the design and coordination of information relating to the design. BIM or COBie is about delivering a design that can now stand up to the rigours of good old fashioned quality control.

    The whole point of the TIDP or MIDP is to ensure that clients or indeed the design team are asking for the correct information/design at the right point in the programme. If we can set all of this out at Day One of the project, and that is what the Pre-contract BIM execution plan or indeed the BIM execution plan aims to set out, we can then all agree the fee’s. But I would like to caveat this with “provide a design that would actually stand up to scrutiny from your peers”.

    Terry Gough

    Swiftbuild Limited

  4. @ Terry, David and Paul.

    Interesting article.

    I’m an advocate of BIM. Especially when it works on site smoothly and a projects meet its Time, Cost and Quality contractual milestones.

    However, with the onset of 3D printing technology, AR and BIM software – will we all be out of a job in construction management ?


    Matthew Edwards
    Managing Director
    Project Programme Management Ltd

  5. BIM (Building Information Modelling) is too limiting when it comes to a facility. In my opinion BIM should really mean building information MANAGEMENT. This will encompass all the parties in a facility, owner, design team, builders and suppliers. A news flash… owners have very little use with a model as presently configured. Until the entire industry settles on an appropriate level of detail, a model for an owner’s FM staff will be useful. Until then, we should find the best tools for the entire AECO group. And it’s not limited to BIM. Thanks for letting me rant!

  6. Terry is on the money on BIM being a bit of a hype!

    What BIM promises is no more than what robust Project Management aims to achieve. However – and I say this with conviction- [BIM] 3D modelling is an icing on the cake and that should be warmly embraced! The POTENTIAL benefits in eschewing design conflicts and in facilitating better collaborative working cannot be under-estimated.

    For me that where it stops! BIM can’t run itself! Robust Project Management [PM] skills remain quintessential to getting all the juice out of BIM.

    Now we’ve got BIM…. We need more PM, not less!

    ‘Kunle Awofeso

  7. Terry,

    Totally agree and you know my thoughts on this. BIM is about driving back-to-basics best practice at all stages of the project lifecycle.

    Unfortunately too many focus on the sometimes geeky PAS documents, forgetting the other best practice standards to drive lifecycle costing, energy analysis, collaboration, design management.

    It is also about reducing the project risk, allocating roles and responsibilities to ensure that all know what they are supposed to be doing. I have seen too many MIDP, MPTD etc etc that bear no resemblance to what the project actually needs, with EIRs conflicting with the Brief, being completely un-intelligible and then BEPs that regurgitate the PAS, and not clearly and concisely defining exactly what needs to be done, by who, how and when.

    BIM should not be an add-on, but PMs should be fully integrating all best practice which will include BIM processes…

  8. I think there is a hope in many quarters that the BIM toolset will automatically create collaboration and design scrutiny, and that these benefits will arise regardless of the people using it. It would probably be more accurate to see it as a toolset for those who already have the skills to do this more tightly and efficiently.

  9. Somebody keeps removing my comments, I have posted 3 responses to this report each with valid points. I am furious!

  10. Terry, All
    Slightly unfortunate to include the Q “good old fashioned CM..”. CM allows a flexible approach when ER’s and Design are not certain. BIM as a support tool and process seeks to ensure design completeness and certainty ideally before construction begins. Perhaps the Q could be phrased as “Does BIM need IPD?” Either Q can be set against the background of growing construction disputes year and year (by value) and less than 50% of construction projects finishing on time. BIM is 80% process and people, and seeks to resolve a fractured industry through collaborative techniques and practices. I haven’t heard it being hailed as the saviour of the construction industry, although I suspect that’s a provocative statement. It should, however, be seen as a toolset to assist in reducing waste, improving collaboration and Team working and finally delivering value.

  11. @Declan, All

    Actually could BIM be called IPD?, as Integrated Project Delivery is the catch all or cover all. IPD is a project delivery method that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a single process. The IPD process collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants – simultaneously. The result is reduced waste and vastly optimised efficiencies through all phases of design, fabrication, construction and operation.

    Let’s just call it IPD or is that to easy for the industry to adopt??? or lets just muddle on with BIM or VDC and Government Soft Landings and Collaboration and anything else you may wish to call it.

    This is more than just a few PAS documents that have been created to try and help the industry as a whole, this is about incorporating all applicable BS, PAS and associated processes and procedures that fall out from all of the said documents. Currently their are some 81 BS/PAS associated documents relating to BIM – and as for GSL I have counted 16.

    I have tried to map these documents to show how they all work together but this is a huge task and one in which sometime I wish I hadn’t started but one in which once completed will give the industry something to think about.

  12. If someone has to write a set of rules (process) to ensure a job is approached properly, executed diligently and thereafter maintained correctly in order to achieve the desired outcome then are we not all guilty, at certain stages of the process, of taking money under false pretences!
    BIM (or the biggest spender in the UK, the Government) is trying to return discipline and thought process into the industry by reducing waste and thereby programme. It does not require us to do anything we should not have been doing already it just requires us to do it, document it properly and at the appropriate time!
    In construction waste and “solutions” generate poor outcomes for all.
    We are all better than that and collaboration (as championed as long ago as Latham) must be open, inclusive and embraced for the benefit of all and the maximisation of the original investment whatever acronym or tag it takes.

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