Qatar aims to be centre of BIM excellence in Gulf, says UK academic

The UK academic leading Qatar down the path to BIM has said the goal of the three year project is to make Qatar a centre of BIM knowledge and excellence in the Gulf.

In an exclusive interview with Global Construction Review, Professor Nashwan Dawood, who last year received a $900,000 grant from Qatar to study how Building Information Modelling (BIM) could save it billions as it pushes ahead with its massive development plans, has described the progress and the ultimate goals of this unique applied research project.

Dawood, of the UK’s Teesside University, said researchers from the UK and from research partner Qatar University have been collecting data and interviewing engineers and project managers on some of the major projects underway in Qatar as it prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

We’re not commercially motivated to push a particular system so there’s a level of trust and we could really exchange and be honest about how things can go on and what kind of solutions can be provided.– Professor Nashwan Dawood

Their goal is to “get down to the root” of common project problems, such as delays and poor information flows, in order to develop a BIM approach that suits Qatar.

He said his team has been consulting with BIM system vendors but that the desired approach will not be software-led. In fact, he hopes BIM system providers will adapt their systems to the culture and conditions of Qatar and the Gulf states.

The goal of his three-year project, he said, is to make Qatar a centre of BIM excellence in the Gulf.

Dawood said he was awarded the choice research grant from the Qatar Foundation following previous research on health and safety in the Gulf state.

“Before getting to this stage there was lots of work I did with a partner at Qatar University through British Council funding to identify some of the health and safety issues, and the information technology that would support this,” he said.

“It became very apparent that there was a massive gap in information provision in construction processes. This manifested itself in delays, nobody taking responsibility for signing off approved detailed design documents and so forth.”

This, said Dawood, a specialist in project construction management and head of Teesside’s Technology Futures Institute, led naturally to a focus on BIM.

“The Qatar Foundation has done a lot of work on how Qatar can benefit from international research,” he said. “It’s a main funding body for applied research that will benefit Qatar, and we come as an honest broker with lots of credibility and track record to examine certain issues from a research point of view.

“We’re not commercially motivated to push a particular system so there’s a level of trust and we could really exchange and be honest about how things can go on and what kind of solutions can be provided.”

He added: “We’re here as a university, and our graduates are taking some key positions in Qatar.”

He said the challenge Qatar faces as it proceeds with its $80bn to $100bn infrastructure build-out, is similar, in some ways, to problems faced elsewhere.

“At the moment at every stage in the project information is re-created – same as in UK and Europe – and it’s being re-created because everyone focuses on their own process rather than looking at how what they do will add value to the next stage.

“So we’re going to have a look at the different processes, what sort of information can be passed, the legal issues of the information passing from one party to another, and how we can develop the concept of whole life-cycle approach. This is all the remit of BIM as a philosophy.”

He said his team has begun talking to the big BIM software vendors, through four, sold-out ‘BIM user days’ held so far since the project began. But he insists that software is not currently the main consideration.

We don’t want it to be software-led. We want it to be industry and client-led,” he said.

At the same time, he said the project will challenge the vendors to adapt their systems to the unique setting of Qatar and the Gulf.

We have to remember, construction in Qatar is different in terms of the contracting strategy,” he said. “The client has a different culture to Europe and the US, so vendors have to adapt their systems around these requirements. We’d really like to influence the software vendors to develop solutions that will fit the requirements of the Gulf market.”

He added that the outcome of the project should also be a whole-life approach to built assets, plus informed and enabled clients.

“Clients are the most important part of the whole construction process and yet people are busy passing buildings on to them and the clients are saying, well, what do I do with it now? How can I manage it?”

Dawood said the project now involves recruiting researchers, interviewing engineers on projects and in the offices of contractors to see what sort of information is being developed and how the site is using it. “We’re trying to get down to the root cause of the issues,” he said.

Access is being arranged to design information on major new projects, plus digital schedules of the work to be done.

“We’re looking at how we can model certain aspects of the process using simulation and visualisation technologies, how information can be prepared for facilities management and passed to the client.”

“At the same time,” he said, “we are reviewing thoroughly European, particularly UK, BIM standards, US standards and Asian standards to come up with a number of comparisons and what lessons can be learned.”

The project has ambitious goals.

“We have lots of ambitions to develop Qatar as the centre of excellence in the Gulf of knowledge and understanding of how to manage information in construction projects,” he said.

He added: “Qatar has ambitions with research and technology and I’m really glad the construction process itself captured the imagination of the decision makers.”

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