Why the ‘I’ in BIM must be respected

The newly-formed UK BIM Alliance recently held a series of workshops about BIM Level 2 for professionals across the entire design, build and operate spectrum. Despite some (friendly) disagreements, several common themes stood out, writes Anne Kemp.

One theme is that building owners, clients and other stakeholders still don’t always “get it”. They like BIM purely as a visualisation tool and enjoy the “wow” factor of navigating a 3D building model, especially if a little virtual reality can be thrown in too.

However, when it comes to the valuable information that is handed over as part of the BIM model, they are often not sure of the significance or what to do with it.

Some are also confused by the complex, technical discussions about formats and standards. While BIM mainly belonged in the upstream reaches of a project, the architects and engineers developed standards and protocols that didn’t necessarily suit the construction teams and supply chains further down the line.

Consequently, BIM discussions are often deeply technical and far too complex and without the much-needed emphasis on the value proposition.

Apparently, more data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity. Developing technologies look set to accelerate this growth even further: electric cars, drones, indoor navigation, to name but a few.– Dr Anne Kemp, UK BIM Alliance

Each of the workshops came to a similar conclusion, though they did so independently and expressed it in different ways. “Why not just call it information management?” was a typical comment. But others spoke about digital transformation.

This seems appropriate: the UK BIM Alliance brings together a group of around 50 organisations and BIM drivers such as the BIM4 Group and BIM Regions to maintain momentum on Level 2. Meanwhile, the UK BIM Task Group is largely focused on defining Level 3 and has reformed as Digital Built Britain.

When BIM was first discussed (some say it goes back to the 1960s, but let’s say in the 90s) it really was a radical concept and if the technology had been sophisticated enough at that stage and the industry was ready for it, design and construction could have spearheaded the whole digital revolution. 

However, now almost every other industry is talking about the need for “digital transformation”. Look how the retail industry has been changed beyond recognition with the emergence of online shopping. It really hasn’t had the luxury of debate or any choice.

The finance industry has undergone a similar shift as digital native businesses such as online price comparison sites have disrupted their traditional world and online banking has driven a rethink about retail banking bricks and mortar.

This is resulting in a huge increase in data. Apparently, more data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity. Developing technologies look set to accelerate this growth even further: electric cars, drones, indoor navigation, to name but a few. Satellite images are adding to the information we have about the world.

For example, Digital Globe and Mapbox are making available 30cm imagery base maps of hundreds of cities and areas of interest, while Urthecast and Nasa bring us live high definition videos from the International Space Station.

Meanwhile, businesses are analysing their own “big data” to gain insight into trends and predict future behaviours such as what we will be buying, eating and drinking.

Of course, encouraging clients, building owners, facilities managers and others who maintain and manage the built environment to see BIM just as another source of information could be counter-productive. They are already being told that the Internet of Things and smart buildings will be providing them with more data than they currently would know what to do with.

Read more from Dr Anne Kemp

So collaboration and ongoing discussion is the only way forward. But I guess this is the difficult part for the industry and why Level 2, or Collaborative 3D BIM, is proving elusive for some. Especially as we are looking at it not just for buildings, not just for design and construct – but for whole life and for integrated operations and use

But BIM data is data with context, within their building, enabling analysis for fire standards, acoustics, structural performance and energy usage to name a few. All practical studies that will help maintain safe and healthy buildings.

But, of course, to make this work there must be consistent standards. So, including those downstream of a building project in defining these is becoming a necessity.

This also should involve the manufacturers of building products who are still unsure as to what data to include and how to protect their intellectual property if they give away all their product specifications. Downloaded building objects can be too large for the model if they contain too much data, so decisions must be made – and standardised.

This way, BIM becomes one of the missing pieces in our new complex and parallel virtual world, where all data, whether it’s engineering or other building data, geographic information systems, or operational data such as energy usage, is fully integrated rather than kept in silos.

Collaboration in this way will take some changes, but by being less adversarial and more cooperative, we will all be able to achieve more than we would if working alone.

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense,” said Gertrude Stein way back in the early part of the 20th century. We’ve got to keep our collective sense – by agreeing on the data needed and then making it accessible and meaningful.

Ultimately, the outcome of a digitally transformed construction and built environment should enable the improved efficiency and integration of public and private services, ensuring greater return on investment, better value for money, enhanced business opportunities, plus increased resilience for our infrastructure, our environment and our economy. 

Anne Kemp is chair of the UK BIM Alliance

Image: Vladimir Timofeev/Dreamstime

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